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The Yoga of Sound
Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant
By Russill Paul
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Russill Paul
All rights reserved.
BALANCING VISION AND SOUND
The human species suffers from a pervading imbalance because the eye dominates the ear, which corresponds to male forms dominating the female. Many of our problems, ranging from unrest in our relationships to international conflicts, can be minimized through reevaluating the way we view, utilize, and relate to sound — and, consequently, to the feminine in our lives. The Yoga of Sound can help us find balance for ourselves, our communities, and our world.
Much of the information we rely on comes to us through our eyes. This information can be measured, analyzed, and categorized — all processes of the linear left brain, also known as the masculine brain. To be successful in our society, we develop the left brain — often to the neglect of the right brain, which coordinates the artistic, intuitive, and feminine aspects of awareness. From the time when we wake up on a workday until we go to sleep at night, we must continually jerk ourselves into the analytical, organizing power of the left brain. Like the edge of a Neanderthal's spear, we must keep our left brain sharp throughout the day to provide for our families and defend ourselves from the predators of modern civilization. If we lapse into the artistic feminine brain, we might lose our ability to drive a car, cross a road, get money from an ATM, or communicate in a business meeting. Even our weekends and holidays, filled with the efficient execution of tasks and lists, are dominated by left-brain activities; we are constantly sifting through our options.
The left brain is about doing; the right brain is about being. One of our greatest difficulties these days is getting our linear, thinking mind to take a break. For instance, preoccupation with a problem, anxiety about an approaching outcome, or depression resulting from a difficult relationship can take over our mind and emotions. Harmonizing the flow of our thought patterns creates spaciousness in the mind and gives us perspective on our thought processes.
The main reason for taking vacations is that our feminine mind is starved most of the year. We only rest in the feminine mind when we eat, have sex, or sleep — and many of us have trouble sleeping because the left brain won't let go. The feminine mind relishes experience and takes in the whole rather than objectifying a part. All too often, we find that our thinking, describing mind invades and violates our moments of experiential absorption, diminishing even the short periods we set aside for ourselves.
"Yoga is chitta vritti nirodha," begins Patanjali's famous set of aphorisms known as The Yoga Sutras. In English, this means that yoga is the cessation of the movements and modifications of the mind. Present-day spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, has eloquently demonstrated this primary yogic principle by awakening people to the "off switch" that stops the thinking mind — or at least gives it a short rest. When we turn off that switch, the feminine mind is allowed to function and we find balance in our lives.
Here is another way of looking at these two forms of mind, which are represented by the two hemispheres of our brain. Typically, the left brain is governed by the ego, which is geared toward achievement, success, and doing. The right brain, on the other hand, is governed by the soul, which is engaged in processes for their own sake, without judgment of any kind. Since the right brain is free from the desire for specific outcomes, the soul can delight in the experience of being.
The Yoga of Sound is concerned primarily with the recovery and reconstitution of soul energy. And, as Western yogis seek to develop their own unique identity, the role of yogic music, sacred sound, and mantra is crucial to the soul of yoga as it develops in the West.
STRESS AND THE IMBALANCE OF THE VISUAL
Not only do external pressures cause us stress, but getting stuck in the left brain exacerbates that stress. Unfortunately, for most Americans television has become the standard way to relax and control stress. While television can help us relax and unwind after a long, hard day at work, it also bombards us with a tremendous amount of negative information that concentrates fear and anxiety in our bodies. Michael Moore's brilliant documentary Bowling for Columbine demonstrates how American television creates a culture of fear that is completely out of proportion with healthy caution.
Excessive television watching also reduces our attention span because we become conditioned to expect an unnatural level of stimulus and variety. This becomes a major barrier to spiritual development because the effects of healthy spiritual practice are often subtle and can go unnoticed by someone whose senses are overstimulated. Furthermore, the rapid segues from one scene to another in many television and movie productions, together with the onslaught of aggressive advertising, translate directly into our disembodied, disjointed lifestyles. This lack of continuity in our consciousness contributes to the ease with which we are drawn into the drama of the ego. Layers of stress build on each other, leading us to become quick in our judgments, which then contribute to a deepening skepticism, especially around spiritual practices. Such patterns have got to change if we are to find meaning, balance, and fulfillment in our lives.
Although we do our best to compensate for the imbalance between our left and right brains, we find that unresolved energy tends to accumulate. This accumulated energy can cause discomfort and blockage, or it can spill out in undesirable ways, often embarrassing us and harming our relationships. Many of these energy problems are subtle and unconscious, while others are more visible: sudden outbursts of anger, irrational fears, dejection, a sense of isolation and loneliness, and even deep depression that comes on without warning. When we fail to harmonize our emotions, and when we lack the means to properly release accumulated energy, these conditions eventually lead to discomfort, disease, and, in the worst cases, death.
Through the proper and systematic application of Sound Yoga, many of these conditions can be monitored and managed effectively, creating more desirable life situations and better health. Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, a medical expert and yogi, informs us that yogic mantras stimulate the secretions of the pituitary gland, which is located only millimeters from the palate. These secretions strengthen our immune and neurological systems, protecting us from disease and negative emotions. In various clinical and therapeutic applications, chanting has been found to control the production of stress hormones and increase the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. Thus, there is also a physiological benefit from the use of sound as a yoga practice.
On a deeper level, the voice serves as a barometer of the soul's condition, reflecting our fears, anxieties, and negative emotions as well as our joys and strengths. Through conscious development of the voice, we can affect our body's chemical, psychological, and spiritual experiences. The Yoga of Sound generates a unifying power that allows us to experience life as a seamless piece of music with varying themes and textures. We learn to fulfill each of these themes as we move on to new ones, resulting in better resolution of our life experiences.
As we learn to combine authentic relaxation and balance with the right kind of energy stimulation, we will soon be on the road to true health and happiness. To get started on this journey, we must first understand how we treat and respect the power of the eye in relation to the power of the ear.
THE EYE AND EAR AS SYMBOLS OF POWER
It doesn't take much to notice that art classes are the first to be cut in our education system, that intuitive responses often draw scorn in our professional environments, and that — despite our sophistication — insensitive and derogatory clichés about the female sex continue to plague our language. Art and intuition are both strongly generated by the right brain, which we consider feminine. To rectify this condition, we must recover our capacity to be a listening people. German musicologist Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that we, as a species, are suffering from "ocular hypertrophy" — an exaggerated and unnecessary growth and complexity of our visual function. Hypertrophy results from excessive nutrition. In this case, the "nutrition" is the rational, analytical knowledge received by the eyes.
In Berendt's inspirational work The World Is Sound, Nada Brahma, he explains that, in ancient indigenous cultures, the eye was symbolized by an arrow. The eye and the masculine brain are strongly connected; the eye sights its target and, like an arrow, speeds toward its object, violently penetrating it. The eagle's eye, which is seen as the ultimate development of this faculty, can observe from a distance, focus on a single part of its prey, capture the animal, then dissect and consume the part. This is exactly how the eye, as well as the egoic "I," approaches and absorbs knowledge: by tearing it apart and consuming it.
The ear, in ancient cultures, was associated with the conch shell, which also resembles the gateway to the female reproductive organs. The ear is feminine and soul-like because of its receptive, deep, interior, mysterious qualities. This is why the quality of our hearing and the kinds of sounds we hear are important; we derive healing and nourishment for our soul from the process. In other words, to neglect our ears is to neglect our soul.
TRUSTING OUR EARS
It is estimated that the ear is about ten times more accurate in its perceptions than the eye. For instance, there is nothing comparable to an "optical illusion" in the auditory realm. Experiments have also shown that no other sense organ can register impulses as minimal as those perceived by the ear. Furthermore, the ear can register sounds across a huge dynamic range, far greater than that which the eye can perceive without damage. The ratio of intensity between the faintest and loudest sound the human ear can hear is one trillion to one.
Hans Kayser, a German scientist who developed a theory of harmonics in the 1920s based on the law of Lambdoma, explains that the ear is the only human sense organ able to perceive both numerical quantity and numerical value. For instance, not only can the ear recognize numerical proportions in music, as in the octave 1:2 or the fifth 2:3, but at the same time it can hear values that it perceives as specific notes: C, G, F, and so on. (Nonmusicians will understand the ratios of musical intervals when we approach the study of Nada Yoga in chapter ten.) In other words, the element of sensing (the tone) is fused with the element of thinking (the numerical proportion). The ear is the only organ capable of doing this with remarkable precision. This is why, as Joachim-Ernst Berendt explains, "even an unmusical person can hear whether an octave is correct or not, because his ear can actually measure whether the higher tone really swings with a frequency twice that of the lower one. But nobody can see that a color emits a light frequency twice that of another one." My point here is that the ears have amazing accuracy and unitive powers; "they can translate mathematical quantities into sense perceptions, conscious experiences into subconscious impressions, measurable things into immeasurable ones, abstract concepts into matters of soul, and vice versa." This unique capability allows the ears to function as a gateway to the soul.
THE EAR AS GATEWAY TO THE SOUL
By not paying enough attention to the sonic aspect of situations, we are neglecting the feminine counterpart of our visual experiences. Sound is powerfully linked to our feelings; it causes our cells and tissues to vibrate, activating a range of experience far beyond what the eyes are capable of perceiving by themselves. Obviously, we need both hearing and vision to feel complete and to protect ourselves, yet too frequently we ignore the information that comes to us through our ears and registers in our soul. There is a level of truth in this information that we have not learned to address, perhaps because of the deep introspection that it requires, and certainly because we do not trust this sense organ sufficiently. Imagine your boss or coworker saying something to you, and you replying: "I hear you, but there is an emotion underneath your words that indicates something else. Can we talk about that?"
Here is a simple experiment to demonstrate the ear's power. First, turn off the sound on your television and notice how your awareness is drawn out of your body and into the television screen. Next, turn on the sound, cover your eyes with both palms, and just listen to the program. Notice how your awareness deepens and how strongly you are drawn into your body. Finally, open your eyes and observe how much life, energy, and meaning the sound brings to the visual. You will also notice how, when vision and sound are partnered, your body awareness is drawn more strongly into your visual encounters — a stark contrast to the no-sound visuals you first experienced. Vision is an awesome capacity, but we need to become more conscious of how our culture neglects the ears in favor of the eyes — and what's at stake when we allow this to happen.
Joachim-Ernst Berendt cautions that people who live mainly through their eyes lead not only a diminished spiritual life, but also a less "precise" life than those more attuned to their hearing. We do not realize it sufficiently, but helping our children develop their hearing skills will guide them more safely through life's challenges. Better hearing increases self-awareness. Our eyes, if not complemented with effective listening skills, can easily deceive us.
Psychologists often remark that one of the most common complaints in counseling is that the other person is not listening. As sound yogis, we learn to listen not just with the mind but also with the whole body. This complete listening allows for bidirectional communication, which is vital if we want to function powerfully as a team, whether within our family, among our friends, with professional colleagues, or in an educational setting. This wholesome attunement replicates the optimal function of any living organism, whose cells share information through resonance. Molecular biologist Candice Pert, in her groundbreaking work Molecules of Emotions, explains that hormones and neurotransmitters throughout the human organism communicate with each other through distinctive vibrational sympathies. In other words, when there is harmony in the body, our cells are humming along with an empathic music that minimizes dissonance. To fall out of tune is to break down communication among our cells and to literally lose the music. The same applies in our businesses, schools, governments, and families.
Sound is closely associated with the soul — the part of us that reflects something deep and eternal. This is why most illnesses indicate soul issues, and why therefore both sound and music — the language of our soul — can help restore our health. As mentioned, many ancient cultures viewed physical illness as a lack of harmony in the body; they used sound and music to restore this natural condition. A "sound body" literally produces harmonious music. Western health practitioners are beginning to realize the role of sound and music in the healing process as exploration, discoveries, and miracles in music therapies continue to gather force.
Women have always been closer to their bodies than men due to hormonal processes that are rhythmically attuned to nature. I believe that the biological capability to nourish a child in the womb and birth it into the world renders women naturally more comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality than men. Feminine qualities such as love, endurance, compassion, intimate wisdom of the body, and the capacity to nurture, birth, and connect deeply with others can be reinstated in our lives and our society by developing our ears. Sadly, modern life has forced many women to allow the masculine in them to dominate, greatly depriving Western culture of the nurturing power of the feminine. The fact that outward physical appearance dominates our appreciation of true beauty — and often prevents us from discovering the deeper essence of a person — is another indication of the value we place on the eye over the ear.
Excerpted from The Yoga of Sound by Russill Paul. Copyright © 2004 Russill Paul. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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