Using music and sound to connect to a higher state of consciousness is a common practice of 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 nada yoga, described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as one of the most powerful and fruitful meditation techniques to still the mind.
Nada yoga is a practice of deep internal listening with the goal of hearing the sound of anahata nada, one’s own inner, unstruck sound that is inaccessible to others. This mystical sound ranges from loud drums, soft flutes, buzzing bees and shimmering gongs to the “sound of clouds.”1 The sounds of anahata are produced and heard from within sushumna, the central energy channel, and these sounds will be especially loud in the “ear of the heart.”2
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The technique of nada yoga described in the HYP is an advanced renunciate practice. To hear the sound of anahata nada, a practitioner must dedicate years of preparation and practice to perfecting hatha yoga techniques. The primary stage of nada yoga is pratyahara, turning off the sense organs and tuning into the inner aliveness of being. The two other preliminary yoga practices are dharana, one-pointed concentration, and dhyana, sustaining dharana for several minutes. Most importantly, the sushumna nadi, where anahata is produced, must be purified with a dedicated pranayama practice.
Most modern yogis will not have the time, dedication or desire to reach this advanced stage of yoga, but there is an external (ahata) nada yoga practice that is accessible for any practitioner of yoga. To practice ahata nada yoga, select some soft, calming music to listen to while sitting in a comfortable meditation pose. Focus all of your attention on the sounds of the music, and when thoughts arise, bring your focus back to the the music, or ahata nada. I recommend creating a playlist of songs for the amount of time you want to practice and using headphones to seal your focus on sounds of the music. Meditate on these external sounds for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day using the same type/style of music. Over time, you can slowly turn the volume down to strengthen your listening abilities and concentration.
Music can be a powerful spiritual tool. The ability to discover, listen and focus through ahata nada is an accessible way to hone your concentration and deepen your yoga practice. And while neither anahata nor ahata nada are especially easy, learning to listen with your full attention while simultaneously quieting 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 to be more poetic as well as more open to an experiential and subtle experience of this sound.
2. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4:67. “Dakshine karne” is directly translated as “the right ear.” Right can also mean “true, correct, appropriate” and in the context of the text it makes more sense to use the “true, correct, appropriate ear”, which in this practice would be the “ear of the heart.”