The Yoga of Sound-Healing & Enlightenment Through the Sacred Practice of Mantra
Written by Russill Paul (Navato, CA: New World Library, 2004; ISBN #1-57731-429-8)
Reviewed by Ramananda Das (Richard Brookens) - Enlightened Practice Magazine Column, Oct/Nov '04.
In December, 2003, I had the pleasure of accompanying Russill Paul on Tablas, Clay Pot, and Soprano Sax during his concert and workshops at Something Yoga in Boca Raton, FL. Russill sings and accompanies himself on keyboards and a Mini-Sitar. He is returning during the first weekend of December 2004 for a second series. During his first visit, he taught about the four streams of sound in Yoga: Shabda, Shakti, Bhava, and Nada. Even those of us at the workshop who had taken part in many Kirtans found that we were unaware of the distinctions between these four types of yogic sound.
In Russill Paul's new book, The Yoga of Sound-Healing & Enlightenment Through the Sacred Practice of Mantra, he not only explains the historical, spiritual, and scientific context of mantra in these four streams, but with the included CD, readers can hear and practice specific mantras, integrating them into a personal practice that will transform their consciousness. In the foreword Wayne Teasdale explains that "This is sonic mysticism, a reality we can all encounter in our lives if we open ourselves to the experience. Sonic mysticism is the spirituality of sound expressing the Divine Reality." I hope to touch upon the main concepts of this wonderfully written book in this review, in the hope that you, the reader, will go out and get your own copy. In addition, to experience the full power of this work, I could do no greater service to my readers than also recommend the upcoming concert/workshops led by Russill in December.
The book is divided into five sections. In the introduction Russill outlines his book as follows: Part one, "Yoga" deals with understanding both sound and yoga in a broad, deep sense. I will also discuss how the Yoga of Sound relates to, differs from, and complements Hatha Yoga. In part two, "Mantra," I will extensively address the subject of mantra, which is the language of yogic experience. In part three, "Tradition," I look at the four streams of sonic mysticism: Shabda Yoga, Shakti Yoga, Bhava Yoga, and Nada Yoga. I will further discuss the function and significance of various kinds of mantras within the context of these four streams and styles of Sound Yoga. The Yoga of Sound, as I am offering it to you, is an integration of these four streams. In part four, I have broken down the practice of the Yoga of Sound into five elements: posture, the breath, sound, movement, and consciousness. Finally, in part five I will show you how to implement the knowledge you've gained through this work into a daily practice and continue your exploration of this amazing path.
In part one, "Yoga," Russill discusses how, as a culture, we have become so visually oriented that our sense of hearing has atrophied. "In various clinical and therapeutic applications, chanting has been found to control the production of stress hormones and increase the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers." He also makes the case that " to neglect our ears is to neglect our soul." Discussing the connection of Hatha Yoga and Sound Yoga he asserts that Hatha Yoga was designed for building the physical body and Sound Yoga for connecting to the Spirit and Divinity of the soul. He goes on to state that "Mantras, as sonic structures of energy and consciousness, form the basis of the Yoga of Sound in the same way that postures or positions (asanas) form the basis of Hatha yoga practice."
In part two, "Mantra" the use of mantra is discussed in general terms. Russill Paul states at the beginning of this chapter that because "they are difficult to understand and because they developed in one particular religious context" his objective here "is to anticipate some of the common reservations about mantras and remove any mental or emotional blocks that stand in the way of our using these amazing tools of the spiritual life." He also discusses "interspirituality," a simultaneous combination of paths. This is a subject he is in a unique position to understand as he was born in southern India into a Christian family and left home to become a renunciate at an ashram under Father Bede Griffiths, a Christian monk who used many Hindu traditions, including mantra. He explains Hindu philosophy, the power of the Sanskrit language, quotes Jesus and the Buddha, and enlightens us about different types or uses for mantra. Finally, he talks about how we might build a sonic community with mantras and what a set of mantras might mean for us in a daily practice, stating that "limiting your spiritual practice to a collection of mantras without regularly practicing a core mantra will not effectively bank the spiritual energy generated by your practice; it only assuages a superficial need for spiritual consciousness."
In part three, "Tradition," the four streams of Sound Yoga are explored in depth, relating the historical context and specific use and intent of each. Shabda Yoga, which uses Vedic Mantras, is oriented towards the cosmos and focuses on combining "sound, word, and meaning to generate flashes of intuition, spiritual perception, and poetic inspiration." The awakening of intuition is attained by the proper use of grammar and phonetics, making the whole greater than the parts. The mantras can be considered vehicles of the spiritual realm, transporting not only the practitioners but also listeners to higher states of consciousness.
Shakti Yoga, rooted in the body and coming from the Tantric tradition, views the individual letters of the Sanskrit language as being "sonic structures that form the basic building blocks of the universe." This tradition uses basic sound structures, or bijas (seed syllables), to connect with ourselves, wielding the "energetic force (Kundalini), awaken siddhis (spiritual powers and perceptions), and lead to the realization of ecstatic union that is both sexual and spiritual."
Bhava Yoga uses devotional mantras, "transforming past transgressions into a positive force and preventing future misdeeds." Bhava Yoga is used in Kirtans by Bhakti Yogis and is a path to spiritual ecstasy in a form free of "the precise use of ritual, posture, and sound" of the Vedic tradition and more easily accessible to many than the "wild, untamed, eccentric Tantric tradition." Russil Paul goes on to explain that "Vedic Mantras, which establish the expansive connections between individual consciousness and the rest of the universe, are brought home to the locus of the physical body through Tantric mantras. Both macrocosm (Shabda) and microcosm (Shakti) are then transformed in the crucible of the heart through the practice of devotion (Bhava and Bhakti)." They are like "three sides of an equilateral triangle that symbolize the three levels of consciousness: physical, psychic/psychological, and spiritual."
Nada Yoga does not focus on mantra but deals more specifically with musical intervals, scales, deep listening of both silence and of specific sounds for healing, harmony, and yoga (union of the self). He discusses the Chakras in a musical context and the healing role of artists as Nada Yogis. Also discussed are rhythm and entrainment: "the tendency for two oscillating bodies to come into phase with each other so that they vibrate together." In Russill Paul's view, Nada Yoga "is like a circle that passes through the three apexes of this triangle, encircling them all in its scope of sound, music, and meditation. In actuality, Nada Yoga is like a great river that merges the streams of Vedic, Tantric, and devotional sound, and carries them toward the vast ocean of consciousness."
In part four, "Practice," we are instructed in posture, the breath, sound, movement, and consciousness. The time of day and duration and number of mantra recitations, creating an environment for spiritual practice, suggestions on how to deal with distractions, diet, and guidelines for proper and effective yoga practice are also covered.
Finally, part five, "Integration," deals with the combination of all these parts into a regular practice. Russill likens it to a garden. " Prepare the soil with the elements of Sound Yoga, then plant your mantras."
What a treasure we have in Russill Paul. His teachings in The Sound of Yoga are truly important and meaningful for the modern yogi, filling a gap that has been widening in the Western approach to yoga practice. In this book, we have the tools for our own individual path towards spiritual ecstasy and enlightenment. Please buy a copy, study, and use the included CD. And don't forget to put the upcoming concert/workshops during the first weekend in December on your calendar.
Ramananda Das (Richard Brookens) is certified in Sivananda and Kundalini Yoga. He currently teaches Yoga at Barry University in Miami Shores, Spa Atlantis in Pompano, and Yoga Connection in Plantation. He also plays woodwinds (saxophones, flutes, and clarinets) and hand percussion (tablas, clay pot, et al), and regularly performs professionally in the local area. He has also performed throughout the United States, the Carribbean, and in Panang, Malaysia, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Europe. He has released two CDs of original World Fusion Music, and three meditation/relaxation CDs on his Yellow Bell label. Contact him, listen to free samples from his CDs, and view pictures of some of his performances and World instruments at www.yellowbellmusic.com.