The Yoga of Sound
Why do we practice yoga? Of course, we want to feel calmer, more limber, balanced and strong. But beyond these perfectly good practical ends, the ultimate goal of yoga is to connect to our true nature, to a deeper Self that is beyond conceptual thinking, and can be understood as a state of pure awareness. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (an ancient text considered to be the main authority on yoga, translated multiple times by various scholars) defines yoga as “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. (Sutra 1.2) When our mind becomes one-pointed and we get even a brief reprieve from our everyday thoughts, we can get a glimpse of this awareness.
What role does sound play in guiding us towards the goal of yoga?
The Yoga Sutras outline an eight-part process that guides us on this path. The eight parts are traditionally called “the eight limbs of yoga”. What role does sound play in guiding us towards the goal of yoga? Engaging with sound involves the sense of hearing, and senses are addressed in the fifth limb, called pratyahara - commonly translated as “sense withdrawal”. Pratyahara can be seen as a link between the first four limbs, which define moral and physical practices (yamas and niyamas - ethical rules, asana - posture, pranayama - breath), and the final three, defining mental/spiritual practices (dharana - concentration, dhyana - meditation, and samadhi - bliss).
Our senses are what connects the inner and outer worlds.
Our senses are what connects the inner and outer worlds. Simply by looking at a tree with the leaves turning yellow outside my window, my thoughts can easily wander to the changing of the seasons, to thoughts of passing time, to the past and the future. Rather than enjoying the beauty of the changing seasons in the moment I am easily drawn into a trance of anticipating the future or feeling wistful about the past. In daily life our senses constantly draw our mind outward and make us react to our surroundings. Yoga teaches us self awareness, so our attention can be more intentional and we are not as easily distracted by the senses.
But finding an inward focus does not really mean shutting off our senses. Rather, we turn the senses inward. We can be aware of sense perceptions without the distractions our mind brings. We can use our senses to bring us into greater inner awareness, rather than distract our attention by drawing us outward. Sound helps us with this inward focus. Glimpsing the inner light, the senses contentedly dwell within. (Sutra 2.55, translated by Nischala Joy Devi)
sound... can serve as an internal focus
We can trace two different paths that our perception of sound may follow. When we are in our everyday consciousness, hearing a sound creates images and thoughts in our mind, which, in turn, draws our attention outward:
Sound > Perception > Image > Thought > External Focus
Perception of sound in a meditative state, on the other hand, can bring us into greater awareness and serve as a an internal focus to bring us into the Self:
Sound > Perception > Awareness > Self > Internal Focus
To experience the meditative nature of sound, connect to one of our virtual Sound Bath sessions.