We are capable of understanding our connection to both realms, in no small way, due to sound and music, an audible expression of the energies which flow between the two, and shape our realities. The vibrational nature of the universe is effortlessly experienced when listening to music, as music opens the heart and distracts the thinking mind. Music may stimulate, inspire and assist to heal and fulfill the sensitive listener. Sings Irish songwriter Van Morrison: “Smell the sea and feel the sky / Let your soul and spirit fly / Into the mystic…”
Conscious connection to the natural vibration at the root of all being is an important step in achieving greater well-being. Sensing the interconnected oneness of all life has a powerful healing (i.e. to become whole) effect on the organism and soul. Music connects the listener with the universal life force via chanting, singing, playing an instrument, or listening to recordings or performances. Connecting with inspiring, positive and healing sound vibrations, and even silent meditation where the sound or absence of it is visualised or imagined, listening to the inner quiet, will clear, calm and soothe the heart and mind.
The power of sound and music lies in the way it can enhance the mood or disturb tranquility. As all sounds, words, music or incidental noise form vibrational patterns of some kind, awareness of the healing and damaging effects of these sounds make for better, more informed choices when considering lifestyle and entertainment. Noise has become an all-pervasive, often inescapable, aspect of everyday life. The city resounds with moving traffic, construction sites and ringing levels of inaudible or near-inaudible white noise.
Music is all-pervasive in shopping malls, in movies, commercials, on the radio, television, in clubs, restaurants and from neighbors’ parties. Some may find this presence invasive, even offensive at times. Not least because the soul of music is easily diminished by the dominance of the technology used to create it and commercial considerations often outweigh artistic expression, compromising the sense of wonder, the magic of the gift of beautiful, soul-stirring music.
Reclaiming the beauty and positive influence of music and sound in our lives is easy enough to accomplish. Sound is energy – we should use it, like any natural resource, wisely. We can practice to replace ugly, dissonant swear words and angry or discontent feelings with loving, kind words and thoughts. We can turn down the volume level of our televisions or switch them off altogether more often. We can choose where we shop and go for our entertainment, and we can certainly choose the music we listen to in our cars and homes.
Music has been used as a means to spiritual communion, a form of communication, an expression of higher consciousness, an audible manifestation of the higher vibration of the universe as the spiritual essence of a musical note may be likened to the nutritional value of food. Music captures spirit like the essence of a flower may be captured in a flower essence.
The practice of mantras and chants, the singing of hymns, dancing and moving to rhythmic beats or listening to music in any form, has connected listeners with a direct experience of the spirit world in all cultures throughout the ages. An essence of yoga practice is the chanting or incantation of the single, cosmic universal tone, the ‘Aum’ or ‘Ohm’ sound, a sound symbolizing the presence of prana. Sending this vibration through the body has a profound salutary effect on the nervous system that is, at once, like yogic breathing, invigorating, cleansing and calming.
Music, with its rhythmic, melodic and harmonic structures which determines whether it has a pleasing, pleasurable, feel-good or jarring, distorting effect on the being, must ‘breathe’ effectively to function effectively. As famous jazz musician Miles Davis said: “It is not only the notes you play that matter but also the one’s you don’t play.” Musical voice is determined by phrasing, the way a singer or instrumentalist accentuates the volume of the different notes and alters the spaces between the notes for them to stand out more, or less. The result, subtle or dramatic, is the effect that allows music to breathe.
Breathing during meditation and asana likewise determines the timbre and tempo, so to speak, the passionate giving and the quiet holding back of the practitioner, adding subtlety to the practice, reaching out to spirit, yearning to feel spirit by sensing life in every breath and in every movement. Pranayama expands the life force by altering the breathing tempo, length and speed, altering the phrasing of the breath by adding pauses between breaths. This exerts a profound influence on the physiology, and on the mind, influencing the way we practice yoga, and on our everyday moods and energies.
We are always surrounded by sounds, from the heavenly overtones of a choir in a cathedral to the rush of the sea to the din of cars on a highway, sounds and more sounds. Listen attentively, listen ‘between the lines’, discern what is not expressed, not only what is. Immerse yourself in nature, become one with the flow of its energies, attune to its rhythms, audibly observe its silences and actions.
Allow the breath to help you get more in touch with your inner being by expanding your awareness of the outer world in relation to your inner experience. Develop your intuition, learn mindfulness, the art of life; train body, mind, and spirit at the same time – let music, poetry, prose, pottery, graphic design, flower arranging, gardening and ordinary tasks all serve your Zen-like quest to distill the essence of human expression.
Become aware of the flowing presence of breath in an inspired, well-executed line drawing, or in a line of beautiful poetry, or a song lyric. There are also musical lines waiting within each one of us, ready to flow; ready to express the song inside which we’re all born with – that energy-frequency that makes us unique human beings. When we mindfully tune in to this frequency we become, and express, our true selves, we get to the heart of the matter, and can enjoy an everyday spiritual experience of life. Life then becomes a meditation, and the meditation an uplifting force powered by prana.
The temple bell stopped
but the sound kept coming
from the flowers – Matsuo Basho, 17th century Japanese Zen-Haiku poet
This article appeared in the winter 2008 issue of the South African yoga quarterly, Yoga Awakening Africa.