The use of music and sound to connect with a higher state of consciousness is common in most spiritual traditions. This is especially true in India, where many of the Hindu gods and goddesses are musicians: Krisha plays the flute, Saraswati holds a stringed veena and Ganesha created the tabla drums. There is also a “yoga of sound” called Nāda yoga, which is described in Hatha Yoga Pradipika as one of the most powerful and fruitful meditation techniques for calming the mind.
What does Nada Yoga mean?
The Sanskrit word Nada means tone, tone or vibration, therefore Nada Yoga usually means “union through sound” or “yoga of sound”. The ancient Vedic texts say that the universe was created as a pure vibration. They called this cosmic sound Nada Brahman, and it is the same sound vibration as the Om mantra. Nada Yoga is an Indian spiritual technique that allows you to turn your perception of hearing inward and listen to the pure sound of your inner mind. This sacred sound practice also uses chanting the Sanskrit mantra and listening to meditative external music like Indian classical music.
The unbeaten sound
Nada Yoga is a practice of deep inner listening with the goal of hearing the sound of Anahata Nada, one’s own inner, unbeaten sound that is inaccessible to others. This mystical sound ranges from loud drums, soft flutes, humming bees and shimmering gongs to the “sound of the clouds”. 1 The sounds of Anahata are generated and heard in Sushumna, the central energy channel, and these sounds will be particularly loud in the heart chakra or in the “ear of the heart”. 2
Nothing yoga techniques
The Nada Yoga technique described in Hatha Yoga Pradipika is an advanced practice of renunciation. Hear the sound of Anahata NadaA practitioner needs years of preparation and practice to perfect hatha yoga techniques. The main stage of Nada Yoga is Pratyahara, which turns off the sense organs and adjusts to the inner vitality of being. The other two preliminary yoga practices are dharana, one-sided focus, and dhyana, which are held for several minutes. Most importantly, the sushumna nadi, in which anahata is made, must be purified with a special pranayama practice.
Most modern yogis will not have the time, commitment, or desire to reach this advanced level of yoga, but there is external (ahata) nada yoga practice this is available to any yoga practitioner. To practice Ahata Nada Yoga, choose some soft, calming music that you can hear in a comfortable meditation pose. Focus all your attention on the sounds of the music and when thoughts arise, focus again on the music or ahata nada. I recommend creating a playlist of songs for the time you want to practice and using headphones to focus on the sounds of the music. Meditate on these external sounds with the same type / style of music for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day. Over time, you can gradually decrease the volume to improve your hearing and focus.
Music can be a powerful spiritual tool. The ability to discover, listen, and focus through Ahata Nada is an accessible way to improve your concentration and deepen your yoga practice. And while neither Anahata nor Ahata Nada are particularly easy, learning to listen with full attention while stilling the mind is a valuable and rewarding skill that will benefit you in many areas of your yoga practice and life.
1. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4:87. “Jimuta” is commonly translated as “thunder”, but the direct translation is “sound of clouds” which I find both more poetic and more open to an experiential and subtle experience of that sound.
2. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4:67. “Dakshine Karne” is translated directly as “the right ear”. Right can also mean “true, right, appropriate”, and in the context of the text it makes more sense to use the “true, right, appropriate ear”, which in this practice would be the “ear of the heart”.