Nada Yoga and Our Amazing Human Voice

Have you ever taken a moment to contemplate the miracle that our human voice is? It took millennia for us to develop a vertical voice box of this length, four vocal folds that are moved by hundreds of tiny muscles, a tongue that moves inside the vocal cavity pushing its back or its tip against […]

Have you ever taken a moment to contemplate the miracle that our human voice is? It took millennia for us to develop a vertical voice box of this length, four vocal folds that are moved by hundreds of tiny muscles, a tongue that moves inside the vocal cavity pushing its back or its tip against specific areas to articulate phonemes. 

Plus, did you know that you have more than one voice? You have the voice that others hear when you talk, the one you hear when you talk as well as your “inner voice” that you hear when you don’t say anything out loud but that you can hear in your head. 

The term “voice” (Latin vox) comes from the Sanskrit vāc वाच्, a Vedic Goddess that condensed the Cosmic vibration into manifested sound, including speech and chanting. So, to start, our voice is divine. And yet, how many of us truly appreciate it, listen to it, craft its utterance, or are simply curious to know how it works? Not enough! In fact, many people don’t like the sound of their own voice when they hear it in a recording. There are physiological reasons for this. When we hear ourselves talk in the present moment, we receive the vibration of our voice not only from the air and into the ear canal, but also from bone conduction, which makes the vibration lower and slower, resulting in the effect that our voice sounds, for us, deeper and smoother. On the other hand, when our voice travels in the air, it is immediately higher in pitch than the one he hear. 

Moreover, when we listen to a recording, we also “discover” certain vocal traits that have become so habitual that we can’t hear them, such as the way we inhale, or repetitions of non-verbal sounds such as hmmm or verbal sounds that are not functional to the meaning of the message such as like or other expressions that are culturally specific. 

Here is an excellent TED talk that illuminates why many people don’t like the sound of their own voice.

Nada Yoga, the Yoga of Vibration, Sound and the Voice, offers us many healthy tools to develop deep listening skills and train our voice to become more elastic, supple and toned. The fundamental, and yet quite advanced, sadhana to start with is the understanding and practice of the Sanskrit alphabet. 

The letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the varna mala, a necklace of sacred phonemes, was first heard by the sages of sanatana dharma, the Rishi. Language was therefore not “invented” by humans to be used as a tool for communication.

Mantras are sacred sounds which combine the “seed vibration” of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet to create longer formulas that invoke and evoke the names of divinities such as as the Sun, Savitri, or Ganesha, Shiva, Durga. Mantras are breath and its energy, prana, made audible and visible (in their written form). Yoga practitioner and sound healing Russil Paul quotes the result of the research of doctor and yoga practitioner Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, ” Mantra stimulate the secretion of the pituitary gland, which is located only millimeters from the palate. These secretions strengthen our immune and neurological systems, protecting us from disease and negative emotions. In various clinical and therapeutic applications, chanting has been found to control the production of stress hormones and increase the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.” (Paul, 2004:6)

In ancient cultures and in the folklore of many societies, sounds – and particularly prayers and ritual formulas such as mantras – were and are used to polarize the bodies of man and regain a state of balance and harmony. In the Mediterranean world, the Egyptians, and much later the Greek with Pythagoras, studied the relationship between acoustic ratios and their effects on the human body. We know that much of the wisdom of these cultures came from India and that Pythagoras himself either traveled to India or studied with Rishis traveling through the Middle East and the Mediterranean (see H. Kahn). In Southern Italy, where Pythagoras founded his school, music has been used as a healing art in a method that I conceptualize as acoustic homeopathy: the musicians/doctors see the dis-eased and try to diagnose the illness of body, emotions and mind by playing certain tunes. Once the vibration of sound matches the vibration of the affliction, that tune is played for a certain period of time, in small dosage but consistently, until the vibratory patterns match each other and neutralize themselves. This is the basis of the healing of the ritual of tarantismo, for example (see Biagi).

Studies in the field of vibration show that sound can change and affect these vibratory patterns that constitute what we perceive as reality. The work of Japanese Emoto on water crystals speaks to this phenomenon. Emoto, took pictures of water crystals taken from various springs or taps, and also experimented with sending positive or negative thoughts to water, sending prayers, and exposing the water to different styles of music. The crystals showed dramatic changes in their shapes, from harmonious (under the vibration of prayers and good, positive thoughts and words) to chaotic (under the influence of negativity). Hans Jenny, a Swiss scientist, investigated the field of vibration and called his results cymatics. He showed in beautiful images how sound vibration applied to water and sand modify the inner structure of matter.

If various sounds can heal various afflictions, then the Pranava AUM, Sound of All Sounds, can heal them all. Embracing the ancient Rishis’ wisdom and the modern scientific results that all is vibration and that all comes from the Void or Brahman, what is more auspicious and efficacious that intoning the vibratory sacred Mantra that is the closest we can get to that state of Perfect Stillness and Absolute Reality?

Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj describes the AUM as follows, ” The OM or AUM in Sanskrit is called the Pranava. Pranava means “that which has eternal existence, that which exists prior to the concepts of planes, the birth of God’s beings, creatures or things”.  AUM is the name of God in vibration, in sound. To intone the Pranava AUM, the “Mantra of Mantras”, the “Sound of Sounds”, is to intone, to evoke, the most potent of all powers in a Mantra, a vibratory rune. Every possible agent of sound that can be produced by man [humans] must be draw into action to intone the Pranava Mantra. It is made up of three vibratory sounds- “A”, “U”, “M”. The “A” (ah) is a guttural sound which muse begin in the Manipura Chakra, the Solar Plexus, and is the lowest sound that can be produced by the human. The Pranava continues evolutionarily upwards on the outgoing breath so that the “U” (ooh) emanates from the back of the throat, then along the tongue as a palatal sound, the continues forward against the teeth as a dental sound, and finally, as a labial sound at the lips. The final “M” (mmm) is sounded as the Pranava evolves upwards into the nose as a nasal vibration and finally reaches the height of sound evolution as a cerebral sound as it leaves the top of the skull. The sounding of the Pranava AUM thus encompasses every sound made by man.  Therefore, it is thought to be a fitting term for God. The Pranava AUM is the most profound of Mantras, devoid of language inadequacy and semantically correct.” Yoga Step by Step

In her article “Striking Sparks…. Making Fire,” Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani details the importance of making and keeping a fire, Homa, in the ancient Indian household (home) and the necessary tools for the traveler, the fire sticks:”These sticks were a “life off” bestowed upon one either by Guru or father. The fire sticks are a pair, consisting of the flat lower stick, known as the Aranim Kritva. This has a small groove cut in the center, into which the Cottara Aranira, the upper stick, fits. To create the fire, the upper stick must literally be drilled into the lower stick with exactly the right speed and pressure. The upper stick moves a full circle to the left, stops for an instant, and then returns for a full circle to the right. The heat builds up. The process must not stop, otherwise the point of friction will defuse and ignition will not occur. Repetition (Abhyasa), constant action without stop, is the key to creating fire. Incessant, unrelieved friction and intensity of unbroken effort alone will produce the sparks which create the fire.”

Quoting a passage from the Svetasvatara Upanisad (1-14), Ammaji unveils the process of making fire as a metaphor for the process of enlightenment involving the Pranava AUM:

Svadeham aranim kritva, pranavam cottara aranim Dhyana nirmathanaabhyasat, devam pashyen nigudhavat

Make your whole being the lower fire stick, and the Aum (the Pranava) the upper fire stick. Ignite the fire within by the power of the Adhyaan, your meditation, and touch the hidden source.” Read the full article here.