Music in Yoga Training – a limiting or accelerating factor? (2005)

Geza M. Timcak & Ivo Sedlacek

 

 Music is a sound system, which may be a distractor, concentrator or an accelerator of mind. Every music, every single tone or sound have a particular effect on the human energy system. Thus e.g. the effects of beat, classical European, Indian, folk, ethnic, new age or Savita music may be totally different. Some musical structures may inhibit the wandering of mind, some provoke it. Some music may lift the mind, other may push it down. Some music may sooth and relax the body, some may distract it and bring it out of balance. The contribution deals with suggestions for using/not using music in yoga training.

 

INTRODUCTION

Music was used in yogic training since time immemorial. Indian music, for example, is specially well fitted for supporting mental and spiritual yoga training, but has limitations, too. This presentation gives an outline of the main types of music used in spiritual and yoga training and shares recommendations for optimal use of music in individual and group yoga training. It would be almost impossible to give a full account on all uses of music in the yogic and yogoid training styles. First let us define what we would call music. For our purpose, music is structured sound, where the height, stress, tone, rhythm, succession and structuring of sound elements is used for expressing (and inducing) states of mind – moods, feelings, impressions, thoughts. Music sensu lato would include also natural sounds of musical character. Therefore chanting – as we know it in mantra yoga – would also come under music. The moods related by music are not always universal and are often culture dependent. Their cross-cultural application does not always bring the same result as in the home culture. But still – there is something in music which is universal. Something which can deeply touch heart and soul of any human, at any time, at any place. What is it ? In most of cultures sound and music were considered sacred. If we look at the symbolic descriptions of the beginning of this universe, we can mostly see the same – “In the beginning there was a Word”, “The Óm signifies the beginning, middle and end”, etc. The “word” means here primordial vibration. Music is considered to be a reflection of that Infinite vibration which is the source and the moving Power of the manifest universe. At the same time body, mind and soul are also a kind of vibrational “music”. We can thus say that everything is “solidified” music. Modern science finds that human body, mind and soul are extremely sensitive to music, sounds and vibrations. Music and sounds can influence and change many bodily and mental aspects and processes in a human being (but also in animals and plants). No wonder that music, in its original role was always considered as a means to 1) soothe, relax and heal 2) elevate the mind (bhakti, religious music) 3) induce altered state of consciousness 4) achieve magical changes. Nowadays – in a paradoxical way – music is so freely available in thousands of varieties from thousands sources that its original mighty power was somehow forgotten. Music is often played and created just to entertain the masses, for commercial purpose, as an intellectual construction etc. All this dilutes its strength. Nevertheless, if we try to delve deep in the hidden aspects of our own being (e.g. through yoga), music can certainly help us in many ways – can help us more than we can usually imagine.

 

MUSIC AS A NON-VERBAL LANGUAGE

Music is an age-long way of communication of feelings and/or thoughts and ideas. It is difficult to track down the entire history of music, but as it was already mentioned, the early (pre-vedic, vedic) yogis discovered that sounds have definitive energetic charge, that if the sound is coupled with tone, height modulation and rhythm, they have strong effect on mind. In case of proper design, it enables reaching non-ordinary states of consciousness. If we realise that mantras are not used for interpersonal communication, but for tuning the mind to non-ordinary levels of perception, mantra chants can be understood as a strong, non-verbal means of communication in spite of the fact that mantras may contain meaningful words or have grammatical structure. Music as such “speaks” or induces feelings etc. through musical means and without words. The quality of music – from the point of view of applicability in yoga – depends on the vibrational effect on the mind and body, but the response to music is a very individual affair. Nevertheless, classical Indian music (sensu lato) can be used as an efficient means for inducing moods. In yoga training, meditative or relaxation moods are the most frequently desired. Thus mantras, chants of classical texts, ragas, Tibetan bowl sound, tuned glass, didjeridoo etc. are the most frequently used non-verbal mood inducing tools. Classical European music is sometimes more difficult to use for meditation as it “speaks” to the mind and usually makes difficult to detach the mind from the content of this music. The most suitable music for supporting relaxation and meditation comes from the older periods where the music was mostly considered to be an expression of religious and spiritual moods.

 

MUSIC IN ANCIENT YOGA TRAINING

As we can see from ancient paintings, at the yoga ashrams musical instruments were in use and evidently they were used also as a training supporting instruments. Vedic chants, chanting mantras, puranas – all create a flow of melody (although in this case a relatively simple one) which induces concentration in the listening mind. At the same time it always contains a deep meaning, a powerful universal energy which we can connect to. Indian classical music which later developed from this deep and powerful ground, was originally meant as a full sadhana – a musician had to penetrate deeper and deeper layers of the musical lines and structures till he reached the point of merging with the Primordial vibration.

 

MUSIC IN CONTEMPORARY YOGA TRAINING

Contemporary yoga training uses music mainly for relaxation and for guided meditations. Some schools use music as a background for practising asanas and pranayama, too. If we analyse the range of musical types used in yoga training we see the following types: Mantra chants (with or without instrumental support). They can invoke strong moods, influence the subtle energy fields within us and direct our consciousness towards higher realms. Bhajans – usually chanted verses. They invoke moods through their content, musical construction and atmosphere they create, repeated melodies and a devotional text content often connected with certain mantras. We can say that group chanting induces much more powerful and inspiring mood comparing to individual chanting. They may or may not be linked to special orientation of a given yoga school. European music. We can observe that the main line and content of classical European music till the baroque period was mostly spiritual – devotion and praise of God was the main topic and inspiration of most of the compositions. Most of the works of Bach, Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso and many other composers of those periods can be considered as the highest musical mysticism, literally “the music of the spheres” and can very effectively induce very inspiring and devotional inner mood in us. Often more, than for example contemporary Indian classical music which is very much influenced by many superficial aspects like the need of commercial success, exhibition of virtuosity and so on. In the later periods (classicism, romanticism and so on) the European music has slowly abandoned the spiritual dimensions and became more academic, more connected with the personality of a composer. However – for relaxation and guided imagery proper European music from the later periods may form a very good background. Modern music, as it has usually a dissonant and less structured form (very calculative, theoretical and experimental), can be used only for training pratyahara, though even there are exceptions. Non-European native music has a very varied character and its use in yoga training needs a careful consideration – depending on the cultural/racial composition of the trainee/s, the time and place as well as aim of training. Simple resonant instruments (like Tibetan bowls, gongs, tuned glass, didjeridoo) and drums are perhaps the most frequently used instruments for special parts of yogic training. The appearance of keyboards on the musical ground made the appearance of countless “special effects”, but as very often the inspiration and inner experience of the composers (well, perhaps “syncretisers” would be a better word) does not satisfy a level needed for composing music for yoga training, care is needed in the selection of music for relaxation or meditation. The lack of a natural, sensitive touch between the musician and his instrument, and a huge spectrum of very cheap but still in a way amazing effects of electronic instruments bring sometimes the synthetiser music to a category of beautiful but rather “artificial flowers”. The beat-dominant modern musical styles, though very suggestive and though they indeed induce frequency following response from the audience, were found to have negative impact on human health – both physical and mental.

 

For dynamic exercises (special pranayama, transpersonal techniques etc.) music (especially live music) can work as an extremely accelerating and intensifying factor.

 

Conclusion: Today we a huge selection of all possible music. However, before applying it to yoga training support, we have to consider 1. that its effect depends on the right choice, 2. that even the best recording cannot surpass live music using acoustic instruments – as in live music there are so many aspects present apart from the musical construction itself, which create that inspiring, invisible connection between a musician and a listener and between a musician and a source of his inspiration. The music created at a very moment of listening can open many inner worlds of a listener. The disadvantage of this approach is that specially trained musicians are needed for such task and not many of us can have a personal musician who is able to play for us any time we need it. Thus the musical recordings become the main source of music for yoga training.

 

HOW TO SELECT THE RIGHT MUSIC

Music has a direct influence on the body and its physiology. Every cell is sensitive to sounds and music and reacts to it. Music influences also the mind and the emotions. This in turn effects the physiological dynamics. Furthermore, special music can create a feeling of peaceful environment around us, an atmosphere which spontaneously relaxes our body and mind, which enhances our ability to concentrate, meditate etc. Certain music can also very easily connect us to higher spheres, to open meditative and religious moods in us. But the main question remains – WHAT KIND OF MUSIC is suitable for all that, which type of music can be successfully used for relaxation, healing purposes, creating a peaceful environment, inducing a meditative mood, calming the mind etc. ?

Such music should have two basic characteristics:

1. It is created with a positive, devotional attitude, with the aim to become just an instrument of higher inspiration,

2. The musician/s creating the music has to be a master of his instrument and has to understand deeply the principles of musical language.

If these two conditions are fulfilled, it is very likely that the music we are listening to can inspire us in many ways

 

Referring to the special subjects of yoga training, let us consider the use of appropriate music for different areas and stages of yoga training.

1. Creating a quiet and inspiring atmosphere

As yoga and meditation practice usually mean a certain step outside our rushing routine life, it is very useful and important to be able to create quickly and effectively such an atmosphere. Here, proper music can serve us very well. It is amazing, how well it works. Listen for example to the sound of a gong – Isn’t there a difference between the moment before the sound and after? One can feel that the atmosphere became more quiet, our mind more sharp, relaxed and concentrated. (the same experience tends to come when listening to Tibetan bowls, tanpura etc.) There are many recordings of this type that can help us in this way.

2. Group practice of asanas, pranayama, meditation exercises, which require a complex attention – here just the background music of the above mentioned type (if at all) seems to be really useful. Music with complex structures and meaning could be rather a distracting factor.

 

To conclude, we can say that music – when appropriately used can enhance the effects of yoga training. Acoustic instruments have more penetrating effects than electro-acoustic instruments. The strongest effect can be achieved by live music. Recorded music has, however, sufficient strength to affect positively the training. Music has to be applied with sense and over-indulgence in music may make cause music becoming ineffective. For advanced, intensive yoga training direct musical support is not substantial (and at times disturbing), but for beginning and intermediate level it can be of a significant help in creating and keeping the right mood. It is not recommended though, to have music constantly on. It has to come as a “gift”. Barely audible (almost subliminal) background music can be had for greater length, but here a very careful selection of music recordings are to be made as this type of music presentation slips into the mind of the practitioners almost unguarded.

 

But still, apart from the above mentioned possibilities, music can also act as a main and very powerfull tool for inducing and supporting many inner processes during yoga and spiritual training. This approach have been widely developed by our team and is presented on a number of workshops and seminars on Savita Yoga.