Tag Archives: yoga

Learn to Listen to the Music of Silence

This week I returned to yoga after a long six-month drought.  Aside from feeling like a winded sprinter in the first 15 minutes, I was most surprised at how my mind, which normally falls to quiet stillness during meditation, could not find peace. I know it has a lot to with my less-than-desirable level of fitness, but it got me thinking about space and how I could cultivate it in the present moment.

In the last year, jazz improvisation has taught me a lot about listening for the space in music and finding opportunities to punctuate the silence with small musical phrases. More importantly, though, I’ve learned how to linger. What is that you ask?

It’s the exact opposite of trying to fill all the silence with sound and just letting one note ring and fade back to silence before moving to the next note. When I first started improvising, I often felt like the music was threatening to run me over if I didn’t keep up; I was left dizzy and floundering in the dust of partial and poorly executed phrases.  After witnessing a few of my flustered attempts, my teacher tried a different approach, “Hold a note and let it ring, give it space than move,” he said. “You have all kinds of time to make the next note, there’s no rush.”

The wonderful simplicity of this lesson was so freeing, that I seldom find myself struggling to link phrases together anymore. When I feel like I am getting ahead or behind of the song I am playing along with, I just pause, reset and resettle into a groove. Normally, if I feel this way it’s because I haven’t allowed myself to listen for the spaces the other musicians leave for me to discover, like little gold nuggets.

Sound and silence is just as important in vocal improvisation and chant as it is in jazz. I recently came across an excerpt of the book “The Yoga of Sound” in which author Russill Paul makes a beautiful observation about sound and the human ear:

“The ear is feminine and soul-like because of its receptive, deep, interior, mysterious qualities. This is why the quality of our hearing and kinds of sounds we hear are important; we derive healing and nourishment for our soul from the process. In other words, to neglect our ears is to neglect our soul.”

So how do you find space and silence in your daily lives?  If this concept of listening for silence is new to you, I encourage you to try it.  It really is music to your ears.

Calling Kali: Reclaiming my Voice and Courage through Sacred Chant

My journey through sound began at a very early age. From the age of three on, I can remember getting a healthy dose of American Bandstand along with my Saturday morning cartoons: grooving to the hits of the day.

There were the long winter nights listening to my Dad’s reel-to-reel recordings of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells that sent currents of electricity up my spine, and Isao Tomita’s interpretations of Claude Debussy’s Reverie and Golliwog’s Cakewalk that could reduce me to tears and then have me laughing hysterically (they still do more than 30 years later).

Then there was my cherished record player that introduced me to the voices of Motown, George Harrison and Ricky Skaggs.  It served as a backdrop for many hours of blissful vocal exploration.

My love of singing continued throughout grade and high school, giving me many opportunities to hone my skill and share my first love with people from around the world.

Fast forward 18 years later. I am sitting in a yoga studio quietly contemplating what I hope to discover from a summer-long workshop designed to put me touch with my personal sound and the six energy centers, or chakras, of my body.   “What do I sound like?”, I wondered. After nearly two decades, the only signing I had done involved singing along with the car radio and a couple of stints of Karaoke at company Christmas parties.  I realized that I had no idea what I sounded like unaccompanied and striped to my essence.   It had been even longer since I had sung without an agenda and had enveloped myself in the rush of harmonics that I heard and felt to my core as I vocalized on the fly.   “I can do this. I need to do this,” I said, at once exhilarated and petrified.

Each class started with a group chant that progressed to call and response and finished with each of us choosing two or three Sanskrit seed syllables to weave a tapestry of vocal invocation using only our inner knowing and our sound to carry us from note to note.

One evening, during the call and response portion of class, as the instructor led us in chant, I felt my usual sensations of serenity and calm, but somehow tonight was different. I also felt a growing wave of heat and vibration that traveled through my arms and legs and left me feeling extremely energized.  Even at 10 o’clock that evening, after three hours of chanting, I felt that I had energy to burn and couldn’t settle down. “Wow!,” I thought. “What I had I tapped into tonight?”

I received my answer the following Tuesday evening.

While discussing my previous week’s experience with my classmates and teachers, I pondered that the  seed syllable “Krim” (Kreem) must really hold some significance for me, as it kept me unusually energized. The teacher who had led the chant paused, looked surprised, then smiled and said, “The fear you had wanted to put aside, well, you didn’t just move it, you demolished it.”

It turns out, the intended syllable had been “Eim” (I’m) which Eastern Hindu, Vedic and Tibetan Buddhist traditions define as “Develops and manifests spiritual knowledge. Used to achieve good education, memory, intelligence, musical skill and spiritual endeavors”

While with Krim I had chosen to express, “Seed of the Hindu goddess Kali, goddess of creation and destruction.” Chanting this is said to produce an accumulation of kundalini power at the base of the spine.

Whether by accident or intuition, I had called upon the energy I had needed to speak my truth. The same innate energy I tapped as a three year-old, and as a teen, as I lost myself in sound.

How has sound affected you or your clients?  What have you learned about yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually with music and sound as your guide?  I would love to hear from other practitioners, teachers or students who actively use sound in their practices.