I am looking forward to exploring and sharing my love of the “Yoga of Sound”, and specifically mantra, with you. Along the way there may be musings on the origins of language, the use of sound in various mystical traditions around the world, and the subtle aspects of the Yogic system.
Let's begin with a very brief introduction to mantra. What is a mantra?
Mantras are primal sounds, Sanskrit syllables, and/or Sanskrit words. They arose within the minds of the ancient Indian Rishi(ki)s, ancient Seers, while in deep meditative states. A mantra can be one syllable, such as Om, or a multi-verse hymn.
Around the year 3000BC these mantras were written down in the Rg Veda and became an integral part of priestly rituals. Prior to this, the mantric tradition was oral and may go back as far as 7000BC.
The word “Veda” comes from “vid” which means “to know” in the sense of knowing something directly through experience. The “a” denotes “flow” or “continuum” and refers to universal consciousness itself. So "veda" means pure, experiential knowledge.
You may be thinking, “Interesting but so what?! Why should anyone chant or recite these now?” Good question. Especially when we live in a world where we can practice Hatha Yoga at the corner studio, have a global menu of exercise to choose from at our local gym (Zumba anyone?!), learn Buddhist meditative practices, incorporate Mindfulness techniques into our day, see a trained depth therapist, etc, etc. We have such a plethora of tools available to promote peace of mind and holistic health. In my opinion, sound has a way of shifting our Being deeply and directly like nothing else I have ever experienced.
Mantra comes from “manas” meaning the mind and “tra” meaning instrument. A mantra is therefore an instrument of the mind. When you chant or recite a mantra you are tapping into a vibratory experience that some say arises from the deepest level of the collective unconscious. You are turning inwards, tracking back from gross, audible sound, to sound in one of its most subtle states. By tuning in to this level of awareness, you are tuning in to basic primal, archetypal energies that are manifest in both the external world and in your psyche. When you go even deeper yet, you ultimately track back to the source of sound itself: the ground of consciousness.
My own interest in mantra was sparked at my very first weekend Hatha Yoga workshop 15 years ago. My bad back had landed me in a yoga studio and I, like many, found it a great way to get back in shape. At this particular workshop, we did poses, chanted, and meditated. I have always loved singing and the next day I plunked myself down on a floor cushion and spontaneously began chanting. I ended up chanting for hours. And then a series of experiences started unfolding within me that had absolutely no precedence in my life. I was, frankly, flabbergasted. And I was hooked.
But my interest in the “Yoga of Sound” began long before that as a teenager. I studied piano and voice for years and played flute, clarinet, and saxophone as a teenager. At age 14, I read “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin. I was amazed at the place sound had for Australian Aboriginals who believed that they sang their world into existence. Introducing one chapter, Chatwin refers to the ancient Egyptians, who felt the seat of the soul was in the tongue and who steered themselves through life with their tongue as a rudder. Having read this, I promptly sought out a huge piece of cardboard along with an etymological dictionary and set about creating a word map (“Sound”, “Harmony”, “Melody”) and was soon making connections to the breath (“Inspiration”) and landing myself in the realm of psychology and the soul. Questions spun off the edges: What was music? What was sound? Where did it arise from? What could it do? I frequently returned to this map adding other concepts, findings, and connections. I carried this around with me for years from house to house, from city to city.
I went on to complete degrees in both psychology and music at university neither of which completely responded to this deeper search. And then all the threads starting coming together when years later I discovered that sound was a transformative path within yoga and that it had multiple branches.
But I’ll save that for the next blog post! Stay (at)tuned….
Oh, and by the way, if you feel inspired to join me live at Yoga on the Park in Montreal on Oct 23 @ 1:30 pm for an immersion into mantra practice, click here to register.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.