Naad Yoga is the yoga of sound. All experience has a sound – whether expressed aloud or not – and the mastery of that sound, that vibration within ourselves enables us to shape our experience and our life.
Through contemplation, which is essentially an inner listening, we tune in to our mind and soul: we become aware of the emotions that drive us, the motives that animate our mind and the longing of our soul. By listening to music set in Raags – specific moods translated into music – we create a bridge between our inner world and the outer world. This bridge allows us to directly communicate with our mind, alter our emotional state and to better understand our inherent nature.
In turn, by working with our voice and learning to express the mood of each of the Raags, connecting emotion, pitch, tone and rhythm, we are able to better relate to our environment. Naad Yoga lets us develop our emotional competence by guiding us to consciously feel our emotions, release emotional blocks and trauma and find healthy ways to express our feelings.
When we grow up, we are taught to use our body – walk, dance, climb etc and our intellect, so we can speak foreign languages, calculate, write etc. But we aren’t taught how to navigate our emotional landscape. We learn by trial and error, bouncing from approval to rejection by our environment and developing mental – emotional patterns and coping mechanism in order to align ourselves within society. Often this leads to varying degrees of emotional repression and denial of our true feelings. In recent times there is more and more evidence that these bottled up emotions and survival mechanisms cause problems: mental health issues, stress and burnout are the result and even various physical illnesses are now linked to emotional causes. This is where Naad Yoga closes the gap: a gap between soul & mind, self and other. It offers techniques and teachings which can bring us back into balance, back in touch with our emotions, back to our true self; it allows us to express ourselves fully, to truly know ourselves.
Naad Yoga is a continual process of going inward and outward through listening and expressing: it is sound that provides the map, the points of reference, by which we recognise our own experience and that of others.
If we follow the path of sound inward far enough, we will trace its expression back to its origin: energy beyond sound, with the potential to turn into anything, a vibration that is the source of everything – Creator and Creation. Once we have felt this oneness of self, universe and Creator, we have found our true nature and resonate with it.
This alignment with the oneness of everything allows a person to flourish because there is no stress. There is simply the truth of what is, and the person who has realised this can simply – and fully – be.
The Yoga of Sound
Sound is at the core of human awareness. When we are born and when we die, hearing is the first of the senses to appear and the last to disappear. Sound offers a key to conscious mastery of our life by unlocking life’s mechanism and Naad Yoga allows us to turn that key.
The Sikh tradition incorporates a highly developed form of Naad Yoga created by Guru Nanak (the first Sikh Guru). It embraces the ancient Indian musical system of Raags (Ragas). ‘Raag’ means ‘mood’, and each Raag evokes its characteristic emotional state by employing a particular combination of notes with rules of tone and emphasis.
The scripture Siri Guru Granth Sahib contains 60 Raags, individually prescribed for the recitation of the shabads (sacred verses) that constitute most of the text. The title of each shabad instructs which specific Raag should be used to sing it. This alliance of music and words gives access to a deeper message beyond intellectual understanding.
The rendition of the sacred verses of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib in the prescribed Raags is variously called Gurmat Sangeet, Kirtan, Sikh Music and Naad Yoga. The internal process is the same, whatever the name.
When all the musical instructions in their titles are applied, the shabads can be a pure and true medium for Naad Yoga, guiding the mind through the maze of moods towards the consciousness of the soul and the Creator. Each mood is grasped in a positive context – the protective wisdom of the soul – and can be cultivated or released. The soul is the part of our consciousness that is ‘plugged in’ to the energy source of truth and love, and when it is allowed to sound, it leads the mind there too.
Yantra Tantra Mantra
Carefully chosen tools and techniques assist in achieving the goal of Naad Yoga.
Yantra means ‘tool’. A musical instrument is a helpful yantra, supporting the voice and reflecting the player’s state of being. We teach six instruments created or promoted by the Sikh Gurus: Rabab, Saranda, Jori, Sarangi, Taus and Dilruba.
Tantra means ‘knowledge’ or ‘technique’. It includes the skills of singing and playing an instrument, the knowledge of the rules of the Raags and their effects on the psyche, and the pronunciation of the shabads.
Mantra means the power of a particular sound to effect change – to re-mould our experience in an instant, thereby creating a solution. When yantra and tantra come together as instrument, musical technique and knowledge of the shabad, there is the potential for a mantra to be created, provided the person engages his or her soul and life experience with the making of the sound.
Misconceptions about Naad Yoga
Physical exercise: although Naad Yoga does benefit the body’s health, as well as that of the mind and spirit, it does so by means other than the physical poses that the word ‘yoga’ suggests to many people. Some physical exercises are recommended to develop the fitness that will help in the practice of Naad Yoga. These may overlap with some of those taught in other yoga classes, but they are only a small part of our training: the purpose of Naad Yoga is the experience of union with the Creator and Creation through sound, with all the possibilities this opens.
Musical entertainment: music demonstrates how sound communicates on a more universal level than words. All cultures celebrate it and use its influence for enjoyment and profit. Naad Yoga goes deeper, in order to discover the even greater potential of sound and music: as an exact science and art to awaken the consciousness, master the mind and heal the body.
Religion: yoga is a technology meant to enhance our inherent human capability through the realisation of truth, enabling us to be at one with everything. Truth is not exclusive to any particular religion (though they may all have originated in it). It is equally accessible to everyone. The truths of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib are timeless keys for achieving one’s optimal spiritual potential. They were experienced and recorded as such by the Gurus, and only later taken as the basis of the Sikh religion as an institution.