Supplied by Anahata Yoga Retreat Centre
It is that time of year again where we are about to enter a significantly beneficial astrological period.
In India, these months are at a time of changing seasons, and it is a time set aside for practicing sadhana – a set period of intensified yoga practices. Traditionally the main part of that sadhana involves chanting.
We have the pleasure of welcoming back Swami Muktimurti of the Satyananda Yoga Academy, Australasia.
She will share with us how the power of sound and vibration are a part of yoga and how these tools can be used to expand our consciousness.
What came first, your love for yoga or your love for music?
They came together because I started doing yoga as a school girl. I was lucky enough that it was an option for our sports election when I was in High School at about 14. I tried the yoga and liked it very much. The teacher we had, who was very gifted at teaching to teenage girls, left at the end of the second year I was doing it to go live in India and the class was taken over by someone who wasn’t so gifted.
At that point I started seeking out our Ashram at Mangrove Mountain, which is not that far from Sydney where I lived, and as soon as I came to the Ashram I was introduced to the practice of kirtan which is a chanting practice.
This was my first involvement with actually making music as opposed to just listening to it. So it was very much intertwined – yoga came first but the musical aspect was very quickly behind that.
You are also known as an expert on the science of Nada Yoga. What is ‘Nada Yoga’ exactly and can anyone practice this?
I don’t consider myself to be an expert – I’ve just been fascinated by it for so many years and there are not many people in the West teaching or practicing Nada Yoga.
Nada is usually translated as meaning sound. The etymology of the word translates as flow or stream. Nada yoga techniques usually involve any of the practices involving sound, whether it is a very subtle sound or out-loud sound, if you know what I mean.
You can have a mental mantra repetition for example which is still a Nada Yoga practice. It’s chanting, mantra and various types of mantra meditation that involve very simple chanting or lengthy chanting, melodic chanting, kirtan, the singing of bhajan (which are like long songs with multiple verses in them) or chanting from the ancient Vedic scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas themselves and the Upanishads etc.
Is Nada Yoga is only for those with a musical background?
No. It’s an unfortunate aspect of our culture in Australia, and maybe something similar in New Zealand, that we’re not encouraged to make music in front of other people unless we think we’re really good at it.
Many people have had unfortunate experiences at school, with siblings or with families who have laughed at them and teased them and told them to stop singing as children. We have a kind of cultural paradigm that you can only make music if you have acknowledged music skill.
Nada Yoga is a way of encouraging everyone to express themselves through musical avenues that can start from the very very simple, that are within the grasp of anybody. Through practice one of the nice side effects is that one becomes more skillful at making music, but it’s not the reason for doing it.
I came from a background like that because my family didn’t make music. We listened to a lot of music but there wasn’t any singing or playing of instruments. The year I was old enough to join my school choir they cancelled it, and we weren’t a religious family so there was no church going or learning to sing songs that people sing in those circumstances. I’d never had an opportunity to sing or use my voice at all until I came to the Ashram and started singing kirtan. Then I discovered that not only was it possible to do so, but I actually had a flair for it which I would never have discovered otherwise if I had not been put in that situation.
It has been such a source of joy and inspiration for me in my life that I’m very enthusiastic about encouraging people open that door for themselves also.
It has been said that the perception of sound vibration is the first contact with our environment while in the mother’s womb, and hearing is the last sense as we leave our bodies.
Is this related to the reason music and sound have played such an important role for humans throughout history, and from your own experience can you give us an example of how sound can affect the way we feel and think?
I can’t remember being in the womb and I don’t know yet what the last sense I will experience as I leave my body will be, but I would believe that sound most probably is that so I do resonate with that.
It is also said that sound is the closest thing to our mental process that comes from outside our mentality. It’s closer to us in a sense than touch and smell and all the other senses and if you think about how our state of mind is affected by what is going on with music for example, that’s very obvious.
We can be moved by music, or stirred, or our emotions can rise and fall accordingly to what we are hearing musically but this is also happening just through sound and tonality and this is where the science of mantra is very much an important thing.
Our tradition teaches that the soul purpose for practicing mantra repetition is to transform the consciousness in a positive direction.
It doesn’t have to be from a linguistic point of view because the science of mantra deals more with the combination of single syllables in a particular sequence that has a specific effect on the mentality and the consciousness.
For example a very well known mantra is ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. You hear that a lot when you start doing mantra practice or attending kirtans for example. Linguistically that mantra is saying ‘I salute Shiva’, but it’s not a mantra because of that. It’s a mantra because every single syllable – om – na – ma – shi – va – ya – added in that combination has a positive transformative affect on your consciousness. That’s why it is a mantra.
The linguistic aspect is always secondary. Yogically we tend to go from the mantra perspective rather than the cultural perspective, which is very much tied up with what people’s personal ideology might be or their religious background for example.
Yogically it’s not tied in with that. We do mantra practice to transform the consciousness and I’ve found in my experience that it really happens. You have those times when you’re feeling unsettled or rattled. You just go off somewhere and do a mantra practice and it’s an instant calming down of the turbulence.
We’re all so subject to our emotional turbulence, our ups and downs. It’s just surface turbulence and rationally we might know that, but we’re still tossed around by those waves and feelings. And if we can find within ourselves a perspective to really see that it is just turbulence and calm down the turbulence, it creates serenity in life and the ability to face the same things we would be facing anyway but more equanimity.
In Nada Yoga especially it is believed that everything in the universe is made up of vibrations – whether it’s particles vibrating at a certain frequency that make up physical matter or on a more subtle level like thought and feeling.
All yoga practices, but especially Nada Yoga, are aimed at bringing those vibrations within our own self into a state of harmony. It’s not that we’re trying to create some sort of set up where you no longer have difficulties and problems in life because that’s part of being alive. They’re still going to be there, but if our vibrations are in harmony then the way we face those difficulties and problems and the way we deal with them and overcome them will be in a harmonious way.
I’ve known people to use Nada Yoga techniques as a pain relief – people that have had some injury and suffered a great deal of pain – and they’ve told me afterwards that the Nada Yoga practices seem to really help which surprised me at first because I’ve never thought of it from that point of view, but when I did think about it, it made complete rational sense because again it’s all about bringing the vibrations into harmony on the level of gross matter right through to the more subtler levels of mind.
Over the last few years the practice of ‘kirtan’ has become more and more popular. Can you explain kirtan and what role you see for kirtan in our modern world?
Kirtan is hard to explain. The literal meaning of the word, which is a shortened form of the word Sankirtan, is ‘repeated praise’.
Often with the kirtans there is a long string of different words which are names for particular positive qualities that we may want to develop or strengthen or bring to the fore, which are symbolised by these names.
In the Indian culture they’re also symbolised by deities and gods and goddesses for example, but yogicly it’s more that they’re symbolising our own potential that is inherent within our own nature that we wish to bring out.
The words with the melody and the consistent rhythm being sung call and response within a group – (it’s like the ball is being thrown back and forth and as it goes around the group with repetition, the energy enlarges and gets bigger as you go along through the kirtan) – all of that is a vehicle for expressing our emotional energy towards something that we hold in reverence.
Yogicly it is understood that every human being on the planet has something they hold in reverence by whatever name they want to call it, whether it is God, Allah, Krishna, Mother Nature or human potential, whatever it is, there is something that we hold in reverence; and so kirtan is a combination of words, melody and rhythm sung in this particular call and response method.
It is simply that way to express that emotional energy, and you know how powerful that can be, towards something higher than the self, and through repetition one gains an entry into a meditative state.
That is kirtan in a nutshell. It’s different for everyone in the way they might like kirtan. Some people might like it when it’s fast and exciting and everyone is up dancing and other people prefer it when it is quiet and meditative and sitting introverting with the practice, and everything and anything in between, and all is good.
All is appropriate depending on the person and the circumstance and the place and the time of day and all of these sorts of things.
In April, you will be leading a 9 day retreat at Anahata Yoga Retreat called “Mantra, Meditation and Reflection”. Can you tell us a bit more about this retreat?
This is a particular time of year called Navaratri which comes twice each year. The first one in the year is between March and April, and then it comes again in September – October.
Navaratri itself literally means nine nights, and it’s a nine day or nine night period of time where we do concentrated sadhana. Sadhana is when you do any spiritual practice or yogic practice a little more intensely than you would in your normal daily program for a set specific period of time.
This is a nine day one, consisting of several sessions of chanting sadhana.You can add to that a little bit of austerity which makes the experience more potent. It’s not an easy thing for the human mind to be held in a strict timetable like that. That’s why it is only nine days. Then you come out the other end with that feeling of accomplishment.
According to Vedic astrology this is the optimum time for doing practice because we are more receptive to it. So it’s a very valuable time to do an intensified yogic practice. It is said that one hour of practice during this time is equivalent to one hundred hours at any other time.
If you feel ready to experience this retreat, you can book directly through Anahata Retreat
The retreat will run from 10th -20th April. If you are unable to come for the full 9 days, why not come and join us for a Mantra Weekend of transformational chanting and fire ceremony. For more information please email Anahata or call (03)525-9887.