As both a musician and a meditation teacher, I’m naturally very interested in any spiritual technique involving sound and music. That could be anything from sound healing instruments such as singing bowls, to exercises like the one I’ll be discussing today: Nada Yoga.
Many people recognise the name Nada Yoga as a form of meditation technique. However, it is more than just an exercise and is in fact a philosophical system described in detail in the classic manual by Svatmarama, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. I learned this method many years ago when I was touring England onstage. And what immediately struck me about it is how effectively it makes us feel one with the universe.
The central premise of the Nada Yoga philosophy is that everything in the universe is created out of vibrations called Nada, as is detailed in various vedic texts. By using the vibrations of the self (Anahata) and of sound (ahata) we can heal spiritual and psychological conditions and we can achieve union between the self and the cosmos.
When we practice Nada Yoga we begin by listening to sound in the conventional way, that is listening to external sound audible to the human ear. And then we turn our attention inward and use the Anahata (Heart Chakra) to listen to the sound of the self. This, in turn, opens the seven chakras. It is a practice that is closely related to the culture of India, where music is a very spiritual thing. Indeed, Hindu Gods each have their own dance and many play instruments, such as Krishna’s flute, Saraswati’s veena, and Ganesha’s drums. And so sound-based exercises such as Nada Yoga meditation are perfectly at home in the cultures of India.
What Does Nada Yoga Mean?
Nada is a sanskrit word that means tone or vibration, and yoga means “union”. So, when we talk about Nada Yoga we mean that we are “Achieving union through sound and vibration” .
In the vedas it is written that the universe was created by Nada Brahman, the pure vibration that is the same as “Om”. We connect to this divine sound through meditation.
When we practice Nada Yoga we tune into our own “unstuck sound”, which is a sound unique to us that no one else can hear, that is, the “Anahata” sound. Your own Anahata sound is unique to you and could be anything from a loud drumming to the sound of flowing water. It is a sound that is both produced and heard within our central energy channel called sushumna. We come to hear this sound after much disciplined practice of pratyahara (the fifth limb of yoga described by Patanjali) and various meditations such as dharana. However, there is also a generally agreed upon version of Nada Yoga meditation, which I will explain below.
How To Do Nada Yoga
When we practice Nada Yoga we progress through the four different types of sound. They are:
- Vaikhari: External sounds
- Madhyama: Mental sound
- Pashyanti: Subconscious sound
- Paranada: A transcendent sound beyond the senses.
To hear our “Inner Sound” we must begin by listening to the sounds around us. When we continue to meditate on the soundscape in this way we gradually become aware or our own inner sound, which could take various forms. We can then meditate on this inner sound as we would meditate on any other object such as in Buddhist Samatha, yogic Dharana, and other single-pointed-focus meditations. This strengthens our samadhi (concentration) and helps us to achieve union between the self and the cosmos.
Guided Nada Yoga
- Sit comfortably with good posture. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed. Close your eyes.
- Take a few deep, mindful breaths.
- Begin to recite the mantra Om. Aim to do so in a relaxed way, not forcing the sound, just letting it come and go as it will, like you would do in regular mantra meditation.
- Focus your mind on the sound of “Om”. Some teachers recommend doing a body scan meditation while you do this. This is not a traditional part of Nada Yoga but can be beneficial, so feel free to do so if you like.
- After a while, stop making the sound “Om” audibly but do allow your mind to continue to create the sound automatically as though it were a thought. Focus on this mental sound.
- Now begin to become aware of the sounds happening within your body, such as your heart beating and your breath.
- Now become aware of the subtler sounds within. Is there one ever present sound? Allow your mind to rest on this sound.
Benefits of Nada Yoga
As a meditation teacher I’ve found that there are some ways in which Nada Yoga is more effective than other meditations, and some ways in which it is less effective.
For starters, it is one of the most relaxing meditation techniques. The way in which we gradually lead the mind from outer sound to inner sound serves as a gentle path to inner peace, one with which even beginners can start to relax quite quickly. And because it is so relaxing it is also fabulous for sleep.
I also find it wonderful for insight. Once we become accustomed to meditating on anahata, we can use it as a screen against which we can realize the reality of other “things”. Just as in Vipassana when we use the breath as an anchor to explore the true nature of phenomena, we can do the same with Nada Yoga, only replacing the breath with the sound. The silent focus on Anahata allows us to explore the nature of the mind, such as by noticing how the mind creates and attaches to the self, the “I”, through a process that the Pali Canon describes as Ahamkara and Mamamkara (“I-Making” and “Mine-Making”). And insights like these are incredibly important in the process of awakening.
It is also a wonderful bridge for people who have only ever done breathwork and used apps to start to explore more spiritual meditation techniques.
However, I will say that for sheer focus and concentration, I find some other methods more effective, most notably Samatha, Zazen, and Dharana.
Nada Yoga is a wonderful sound based meditation suitable for all comers, regardless of their level of experience. It is one of the most relaxing forms of meditation and can help to alleviate insomnia. Highly recommended for relaxation, but for focus and productivity you might like to do Samatha or Zazen instead.
Also read my guide to other yogic meditations.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison