‘If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears but through every cell in our bodies.’ ~ Dr Mitchell L Gaynor
Sound has an intensely immersive power. It is heard by the ear yet felt throughout the entire body. Sound has a powerful impact on our mood and state of being.
Sound plays a large role in the teaching of Integral Yoga through the incorporation of lyrical and instrumental music, the practice of mantra chanting, the listening to the sound of the breath in yogic breathing and pranayama, the observation of thoughts in Dhyana Yoga and Jnana Yoga, and the playing of Himalayan singing bowls in a sound bath.
As far back as historical data teaches, sound has played an important role in direct first-person human experience. All cultures across the world have adopted aural modalities for expression, meditation, introspection and healing. Current medical and scientific research suggests that music and sound are some of the most effective instruments that can be used to facilitate patient recovery from surgery, trauma and the healing of certain stress-induced ailments. Ancient beliefs and practices concerning sound converge with modern knowledge and technology, which are in turn influencing the development of new theories in science and medicine. Sound can enhance transformative therapies to help relieve mental, emotional and physical suffering. Scientific evidence coupled with some proven efficacy of integral modalities can be used to help health professionals, therapists, and individuals to craft effective sound-based personalised healing therapies and treatment plans that encourage both individual and collective mental, emotional or physical health and psychological well-being.
Sacred Sound Across Cultures: Ever-Ancient, Ever-Modern
Sound Work is an umbrella term that refers to integral modalities that draw upon various practices, approaches and techniques. Sound Work can be any form of vibrational healing, therapy, meditation or other contemplative practice that is based on sound and/or music. This integral modality draws upon aspects of music and sound to improve physical, mental and emotional health and psychological wellbeing.
‘Creation myths stretch across the world and although their stories differ the similarities that bind them is often sacred sound.’ ~ Rachael Burnett
Sacred Sound Work might include one or more of the following four:
1. Listening to or meditating on/with sound
This practice is a stillness meditation. It could come in the form of guided meditation, guided relaxation or sensory performance that is built around sound and music. This practice could also include sound healing and sound baths or gong baths that use Himalayan singing bowls, gongs and tingsha as one-to-one sessions or group sessions.
2. Dancing or moving the body to sound
This practice is a movement meditation. It might come in the form of ecstatic dance (a free-flow form of dance), Koasikii dance, dynamic meditations among various others from the classical Tantra text Vigyana Bhairava Tantra that were popularised by Osho in the 1960s, or a style of modern yoga known as Tripsichore Yoga that combines yoga and dance in a form of vinyasa or flow.
3. Creating sound by singing or chanting
This practice is a generative meditation. It might include singing in solitude or in group. It also includes chanting mantra either voiced out loud, whispered/mouthed or internally/mentally, also practiced in solitude or in group, with or without supportive aids such as mala beads, rosary beads and so on, depending on the practices and cultural roots. Singing kirtan or other devotional words, affirmations, sentiments and the recitation of ancient philosophical, religious or spiritual literature is another that can also be practiced in solitude or in group. In ancient India, it is known as Naad Yoga or Nada Yoga, also known as the ‘yoga of sound’ first appearing in the fourth and final chapter of the 1500CE text Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Svatnarama. In shamanic practices, such as Ayahuasca ceremonies, shamans sing Icaro (often translated as magic songs) to the plant to connect with its divinity and power.
4. Creating sound by playing a musical instrument
This practice is an expressive meditation. It involves the creation of music/sound that is usually free flowing. Some musical instruments might include human voice with or without indigenous instruments such as pan flutes, harps, drums, pipes and other percussion instruments such as rattles and bells. This might be practiced in solitude or in group.
Sacred Sound Work is Attentional, Attitudinal and Intentional
Like all meditative practices, Sound Work and the practices previously introduced require a mental-emotional-energetic disposition that is attentional, attitudinal and also intentional. For sacred sound to have an impact on an individual or group, full attention must be committed to the practice. For sacred sound to offer a meaningful and profound experience to an individual or group, a particular attitude of openness and expansiveness must be brought to the practice. Additionally, setting a form of intention with a clear theme, in the case of the significance of the repetition of particular words, texts, mantra or sound especially, creates an intentional practice for the person or group.