I am a life student and practitioner of Nada Yoga and sound healing with the singing bowls, bamboo flute, gong, mokugyo drum and voice. I would like to explain simply here what these processes are, with some examples, as well as share my initiation into the journey.
What is Sound Healing?
Also known as vibrational medicine, sound healing uses sound and vibration for healing on the physical, mental and spiritual levels (explained further below in Tibetan singing bowls section). Everything that exists is vibrating with energy, including the body cells. When an organ or tissue is unbalanced, vibrating ‘out-of-tune’, disharmonious, not at ‘ease’, it leads to ‘dis-ease’. Sound healing works to restore the bodily organs to harmonious resonance with the whole being.
Himalayan singing bowls, gong, tinghsa, dorje meditation bell, Indian bamboo flute (bansuri), sitar, harmonium, kalimba/Zimbabwean mbira, West African djembe drum, South American pan flute, handpan, Australian didgeridoo, wind chimes, tuning fork, shamanic rattle, Aztec rain stick, and the human voice are just some instruments that have been historically used to produce healing sound.
What is Nada Yoga?
Simply put, it is union with the divine self through sound/vibration. It is an ancient Indian metaphysical and philosophical system based on the premise that the entire cosmos and everything existing in it (including humans) is made up of energy vibrations. Sound as we hear it is merely the audible range of these vibrations.
Nada yoga is a reverential approach to sound, which carries spiritual weight more meaningful than merely sensual stimulation. Sound and music can be intermediaries to achieve deeper unity with both the outer and inner cosmos.
“Nada” (technically “naad”) is the primal sound or vibration, and originates from the Sanskrit word meaning “flow of consciousness.” “Yoga” (technically “yog”) means union, that is, spiritual union of the individual consciousness with the cosmic consciousness. Nada yogic philosophy discusses 2 types of naad: aahat and anahat. “Aahat naad” is what we physically experience as sound, whether noise, music, or pure tones, received by the ears and interpreted by the brain. We gradually purify random sound to organized sound (music) to simpler and simpler mantras, to pure tone sound, eventually ending in silence. “Anahat naad” is the ultimate aim of the nada yogic practice. It is the “unstruck sound,” the “sound of silence,” produced from the sahasrara chakra above the crown of the head, and received by the anahata chakra at the centre of the chest. This sacred sound once received opens up ones chakras, ultimately leading to union with the divine consciousness.
(If only it was as easy as it sounds! Pun intended.)
AUM_ or Om
Om is the beej (seed) mantra chanted at the start of longer mantras, where the “o” sound combines the Sanskrit “a” and “u” sounds of the pure AUM ideally pronounced in fullness when chanted alone.
Himalayan/Tibetan Singing Bowls – history and theory
These ancient mystical tools have a long spiritual history from their origin in the Himalayan mountains. Their oldest known use dates back to the pre-Buddhist period, by the Bonpo shamans of the Himalayas. With the dawn of Buddhism, bowls were used by initiates to collect food donations. Eventually the sound of the bowl grew as a tool for meditation and healing. It is more correct to refer to the bowls as Himalayan than the more common label as Tibetan as their origins lie across the mountain range.
In their modern-day usage as tools of healing, they work on 3 levels: physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual. Physically, the human body constitutes approximately 60% water, with even higher concentrations in the organs. Water molecules resonate and thus strongly vibrate with the vibrations from the singing bowls, thus physical blockages in the body are literally shaken up as the bowls are played around or on the body in what can be called a cellular massage.Furthermore, Japanese Dr Masaru Emoto found that the molecular structure of water changes according to what thoughts or sounds are fed to it, forming beautiful crystalline structures when given loving words or beautiful music. When played live, the singing bowls produce not just one note but a range of harmonics, some of which we can hear and others which we can’t – all contributing to the resonance of different body cells and the healing process.
The bowls produce very steady, regular sound waves that send the brain into deeply relaxed and meditative states. When 2 bowls of similar pitch are played together, entrainment of waves produces binaural beat tones, naturally (see Binaural Beats below). Several participants in my singing bowl meditations have reported being unsure if they were awake or asleep – this is telling of the deeply meditative theta state. The chattering of the mind and emotions of the day fade away as the brain tunes into a deep relaxation.
Finally, when used for holistic healing, the bowls are associated with the bodily chakras, and used to activate and cleanse these energy centres that interact with aspects of our daily lives – from family and roots, to love, to spiritual awakening.
The singing bowls are made from an alloy of metals, including copper and zinc (brass), usually tin (bronze), and whichever other metals are available at the time of making such as iron, lead, gold and silver. The process of hand-hammering a singing bowl is a long and laborious process of melting and moulding before the bowl is ready for sanding and polishing.
When stroked around the edge, the bowl produces a melodic tone sounding like a human voice singing, hence its name. The bowls produce a very pure and tone, like the Omkara used in Nada Yoga to reach deep meditative states.