Heart Beats Bhakti

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I take a breath and look around the circle, dancing flames glinting off altar stones and sweaty foreheads. 

"So, my friends.  Now that we have completed our introductions, it is time to make some noise!"  A few nervous glances, some shifting of feet.  "For now, you are welcome just to listen… and feel."

And so it begins.  The drum builds, the rattles shiver.  The Mantras and Icaros begin, rising and falling in haunting repetition. Sometimes, my voice is the only one to sing.  Most often, I am quickly joined by an overwhelmingly beautiful wall of sound as the circle is helplessly caught up in the magic.  Voices dance and glide, rhythms beat through hearts.  The climax rises, surges of song swelling from somewhere deep inside.

And afterwards, silence.

For those who have been a part of our vibrant Kirtan circles, discomfort will have dissipated long ago, sifted out in the shivering rhythms of our breath.  As with any practice, the proof is in the doing, and here, doing means enveloping yourself in a myriad of healing harmony.  But why, you might ask, do we spend so much time singing when we are "supposed to be" yoga teachers?

The truth is, sound is yoga.  Yoga, far more than the practice of stretching and breathing, is a lifestyle of being close to source… of shedding the impressions and scars that make up our mind and strengthening the innate, responsive, primal connection we have to all things. Nada Yoga is based on the premise that the entire cosmos and all that exists consist of sound vibrations; something echoed by modern day quantum physics, which says that at the fundamental level, matter is no different from vibration.  The most elemental state of vibration is that of sound. While the Yogis were entering mystical states through mantra, the shamans of Asia and the Americas were exploring trance states through chant, indigenous tribesmen of Australia and Africa were restructuring their reality through rhythm and dance, and cats of all sizes were developing a bone-regenerating purr

Nowadays, neurological imaging has shown changes in blood flow to the brain, in addition to other biological markers of increased well-being, when experienced meditators are engaged in chanting meditation. Not only that, but sound has proved to be extremely effective at healing a large number of physical, emotional and psychological disorders. By constant repetition of the mantra, we regulate our breathing patterns and heart-rate. Different types of song produce different results - high frequencies activate and low frequencies calm. Binaural beat frequencies mimic the theta waves of the meditative state and synchronize the left and right brain - something that Tibetan Buddhist monks have known and emulated in their chants for thousands of years.

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Everything has a resonance frequency - an innate, balancing vibration - including the human body and all of its organs.  When something vibrates at its resonant frequency, it receives energy from its surroundings. Resonance is something that is increasingly being credited as the reason why intention can result in manifestation, and the reason we may feel spiritual connection or dissonance with people, emotions or places.

Sound and music are the link to connecting to our deepest vibrations, and can be used to heal physical ailments, clear psychological blocks and connect to our energetic systems. In yoga we commonly chant in Sanskrit - one of the earliest languages, said to be an echo of the fundamental vibrations of the things it describes.  The science of cymatics illustrates the beautiful, mandala-like patterns that ancient Sanskrit mantras create when their vibrations pass through water. With humans being mostly made of water, we are effectively producing these transformational radiations through our entire body, invoking the fundamental intention of the chant within us. 

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And  in order to produce a full and beautiful sound when we sing, we must be fully relaxed. Not just surface-relaxed, but muscle-meltingly, jaw-slackeningly, heart-openingly relaxed.  Self consciousness makes us tighten up - so when our ego becomes involved in our singing, our throat and chest close, constricting the very instrument we use to share our sound. Even when we are listening, shame or discomfort causes us to become involved in our internal world and unable to feel the effects of the sound. 

In other words, the very process of sharing music requires that we let go of ourselves.

More than that, when we open and close a space with the sound of Om, or Aum, we are invoking the most ancient and fundamental vibration of all - the sound of the universe itself.  In chanting, we are invoking simply a mirror of the true sound of existence, the Anahata Nada, or "Unstruck Sound." Literally, this means "the sound that is not made by two things striking together" - or the sound the silence itself makes. This sound is the frequency of energy that connects and joins all things together, and by clearing our minds with the purifying vibrations of song, we create space for it to emerge. As Jeremy Yudkin writes: "music on earth (is) a reflection of the greater 'music of the spheres', a harmony created by relative distances and rates of motions of the planets - a harmony that is constantly present, if only people are sufficiently sensitive to hear it".

In scientific language, the Earth's atmosphere's resonant frequency - the Schumann Resonance -  vibrates at a  frequency that entrains all brains on the planet into their natural alpha/theta wave state - to the extent that astronauts are fed this frequency in order to stay healthy.  It is thought to be synonymic with the Chinese “Yang” that, when balanced with the “Yin” geomagnetic waves from Earth, keeps our energetic systems flowing. When we take away the warping effect of our thought, we clear ourselves to be able to truly align with the deeper frequencies that keep us alive.  And this, in essence, is Being.

In a swell of heart-exploding, lung-bursting vibration, our song finishes.  For a few moments, we sit, eyes closed, in a bath of undulating reverberation, an anti-sound that compliments the expansion with a contraction to the centerpoint of all.  "Poetry is the art of letting the primordial Word resound through the common word."  It is in this silence that the Nada emerges.

I look around the sacred circle.  Eyes are closed, eyebrows raised, souls merged with spirit in an otherworldly dance. Do I tell them about the theta waves, the increased bone density, the decreased heart rate?  Do I tell them about the regenerating powers of nitric oxide caused by certain vibrations, the harmonization of excessive thought, the recovery from post traumatic stress and depression?

No. Not at this moment. Right now, the silence speaks.  There is a shimmering of stillness after the activity.  Waves of vibration settle over us like a blanket, soft and enveloping.  Pulses of colour radiate under eyelids.  Breath rises and falls along a central column of being.  And, almost from a distance… a clear, resonant hum.

Now, I let them feel their souls, speaking through their hearts.  I let them feel their spirit, merging with light.  And when their minds enter back in, I let them make them up for themselves.


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Julia is YA-certified at the ERYT-300 level and has facilitated both RYT-200 and RYT-300 teacher trainings for several years. A co-founder of Kula Collective, Jiya has a degree in Physics from Imperial College, London, and is a musician, writer and sound healer, who seeks out native chants and medicine songs from around the world to complement her work.

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