The ancient practice of nada yoga is not complex. It is the yoga of listening. It is a journey from the noise of the external world inward to a place of peace and bliss, to the source of the transformational power of sound-the nada. By meditating on the inner sacred sound of the nada, we can release ourselves from mind chatter and obsessive thinking. We can still the body, quiet the mind, and open the heart to create a state of mind where joy naturally arises.
Sharing his experiential understanding of the classic Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Baird Hersey offers precise, step-by-step instructions on how to find the inner sound of the nada. He explains the first three levels of sound-first, how to truly hear the ordinary sounds of the world around us (vaikhari); second, how to quiet the sounds of the mind (madhyama), such as sound memories and internal dialogue; and third, how to access visual sounds (pashyanti), tapping in to our ability to see sounds and hear colors. Mastering the first three levels prepares one for the fourth level of sound (para), the heart of the practice that connects one to the inner sound of the nada. The author pro-vides detailed exercises to guide you through each level of sound and instructions for a daily nada yoga meditation practice.
Hersey explains that by focusing our minds on this internal sound we reunite our essential self with the eternal and infinite. In this re-union we find bliss in both body and mind, an uplifted spirit, and heightened states of consciousness.
About the Author
BAIRD HERSEY is a musician and National Endowment for the Arts Composition Fellow. He has composed extensively for television and for organizations such as Harvard University and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. A student of yoga and overtone singing since 1988, he studied ashtanga yoga with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois for 9 years, Vedanta for 12 years with Swami Chinmayananda's student Shubhraji, and chant with the Gyuto Monks of Tibet. In 2000 Hersey formed the 9-voice overtone choir PRANA, which regularly collaborates with renowned kirtankar Krishna Das. Baird Hersey lives in Woodstock. New York.
People ask me, "What is your experience when you chant?" I don't know what to tell them. What I do is a little mystical and mysterious, even to me! I can't even explain it. When I sing I start to release my thoughts and feelings and the stuff of the day. I start to get quieter inside. I am singing to that loving presence that is represented for me by my guru Neem Karoli Baba. I don't necessarily think about him, Maharaj-ji, as a person when I'm singing. It goes deeper than that.
The whole idea of chant is to release ourselves from the obsessive thinking that holds us prisoner. It is not only to be focused on what we are experiencing in that moment. It is to simply chant and allow the practice to work on us. Three hours go by and I can't tell you what happened. I am just the instrument. Maharaj-ji picks up this rusty old pipe and plays beautiful music on it. He puts it down when he's finished, and I go home and watch TV.
Every repetition of the divine names I sing, every single one, is a seed that gets planted. I am scattering seeds. In some sense, Maharaj-ji is using me to plant the seed of the name in everyone who comes. That seed will take root and grow according to its own time, when the situation is ripe. I believe that's Maharaj-ji's way of blessing people and transmitting his love and presence to them. It's completely under the radar and different from what we might experience at the moment. We might feel high or we might feel open or relaxed, but he is transmit-ting his presence to us through the repetition of the name. My only responsibility is to sing to him and sing to that loving presence with as much intensity and as much sincerity as I can.
Nam, or name, is not necessarily names the way we think of names. These names are roots, root causes of further manifestation. As we repeat these names, or mantras, or make sound with a certain intention, we follow that flow back and in. Through the repetition the flow of thought begins to take the shape of the sound, which is a deeper, more real shape. We gradually become, or realize we are already, in a deeper level, closer to this sound. Nam is the name, the Word, and "in the beginning was the Word." So this sound is what the original name is.
When I sang rock and roll, folk music, blues, I was assuming a persona that I felt I needed because I didn't like myself. I was trying very desperately to be someone else. That fulfilled a purpose for me at the time because it allowed me to feel better about myself. I could emulate these blues guys and these rockers and be a person like that. Chanting is about as opposite from that as you can possibly get. The whole purpose of the chanting is to let go of all those personas, to let go of any thoughts about anything, and simply bring your attention back to the sound of the name.
We train ourselves that way, to have that ability to let go of functions throughout the day. We get used to that movement of letting go, that feeling of letting go and coming back to the chant as the object of attention. We acquaint ourselves with the feeling of being released from the obsessive stuff over and over and over and over again. So when the shit does hit the fan and we get a heavy blast of some negative emotion, we have this functioning in us already. That negative emotion may not last a year and a half, it may only last three months. We don't know why we're not feeling as bad as we used to as often as we used to. It is a process that keeps going on. We train ourselves to let go and come back to a deeper and quieter place over and over and over and over and over again.
At the end of an evening of kirtan, there is a deep silence that arises naturally and spontaneously. Saint John of the Cross wrote, "In the Beginning the Father uttered one Word. That Word is His Son and He utters him forever in everlasting silence. It is in silence that the heart must hear." The silence in the sound is always there. The silence is the absence of the small "self." The silence is the reality.
When people sing and really get into it, they are disappearing. They are enjoying. They're not enjoying that they are enjoying. They are just enjoying. They have left that meta-judgmental thing behind. So when they stop singing, that silence just mushrooms out and blossoms immediately because of the absence of ego-centeredness in the room. That's what sound does.
I have always been fascinated by sound. Even as a small child it was a constant source of excitement, joy, and mystery.
One of my earliest memories of live music was my mother taking me to a Memorial Day parade when I was five. Hearing a huge military marching band up close for the first time was absolutely thrilling. When I felt the power of the sound of the massive low brass section, a chill shot up my spine.
At age six I would sit at the piano for hours, playing over and over the three songs my siblings had taught me.
My father used to tell the story of how he came across me one morning listening to a record of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." When he returned five hours later, the song was still playing.
As a child my father studied violin and had planned to become a concert violinist. When he got to college he realized that he also loved writing. He had to choose between spending four hours every day practicing violin or spending that time writing. He chose writing. He made the right choice. He had a long and successful career as a journalist and author. By becoming a musician, in my own way, I have followed his road not taken.
Musical theater composer Richard Rodgers gave me my first "music lesson" when I was six. He sat with me at the piano and had me pick out three notes. I was absolutely awestruck as he took the three notes I had tentatively chosen and instantly made them into a song. He then told my father he thought I had musical talent. We all knew where the talent truly lay.
My formal musical training began when I was seven. I took les-sons on a small wooden flute called a recorder. I was a terrible student. Because I never practiced, my lessons were little more than me noodling around trying to find the right notes. When I was nine I sang and played recorder in music classes at school. By this time I had overcome my own propensity for noodling and had a very low tolerance for the noodlings of others. I guess we most dislike in others the failings that we carry in ourselves.
It was the days of the Hi-Fi and my father put together a good one for playing LPs. The house was always filled with music: Rachmaninov, Mozart, Bach, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Odetta, The Weavers, Josh White, "Oklahoma," "My Fair Lady," "The Music Man," and many, many others.
My family also owned a small reel-to-reel tape recorder that I commandeered for my own use. As well as recording music I did sound experiments, such as recording dripping water and playing it back at a higher speed to bring out its rhythmic patterns. My mother would recount how, as a child, I had played melodies on the standing radiator in my room by hitting different parts of it with sticks. She took me to many wonderful concerts and shows, among them Ravi Shankar, Ray Charles, Howlin' Wolf, Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, Marcel Marceau, and many Broadway shows. At the original production of the "Music Man," I was shushed by a man sitting in front of me for singing along with all of the songs I had heard so many times on our Hi-Fi at home.
The music of the late 1950s and early 1960s played continuously on my green Zenith "Racetrack" radio that was a hand-me-down from my older brother. The music of Brenda Lee, Jackie Wilson, The Flamingos, Sam Cooke, Patti Page, and The Everly Brothers, all drew my ear and provided a refuge for me. I wrapped their sound around me like a comfortable, warm blanket to give solace to my preadolescent heart.
I started playing my first real instrument, clarinet, when I was thirteen. I then moved on to saxophone. The following year I took up gui-tar to fill a vacancy in a rock band at my high school.
As a teenager I was fortunate to witness the beginning of one of the most important cultural phenomena of the twentieth century: The Beatles. I was at their first public performance in the United States. It is widely believed that the first time they played in America was the Sunday night broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show. In fact, it took place at a rehearsal on that same day and was much longer and more involved than the show that aired that evening.
Seeing them play, hearing their sound come to life, watching the reaction around me, all made me wonder, what is it about sound that is so powerful?
In 1968 I worked on the film crew for Monterey Pop, a documentary about the very first rock festival that took place in Monterey, California. When I wasn't recording sound with one of the camera crews, I watched the performances of Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Booker T and the MGs, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and many others. Again, I wondered what it was about making sound that was so impactful to the thousands of people gathered for the festival.
From that point forward I dedicated myself to becoming a musician. In my senior year in high school, and then in college, I studied composing, orchestration, arranging, and guitar. I then went on to a career in music, writing and playing in many different styles. I have played in rock bands, led a jazz big band, composed symphonic and choral music, written music for TV, and I now lead a nine-voice vocal group, Prana. In a career that has spanned more than fifty years, I have recorded twelve albums.
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