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Sound and Breath

written by Emily Peters, LMT

My life is devoted to the study and synthesis of sound and breath.  Before I was conscious of the fact that I was studying these disciplines, I was laying the foundation for a life of exploring the intricacies of breath and sound.

It all began at the beginning: I was born into this world with a song in my heart. At a very tender age I followed this desire into the world of classical singing. I took voice lessons and joined every choir, chamber ensemble, and band within my reach. My love of music was so great that I also picked up viola, violin, French horn, piano, and – for a few fleeting months – marching bass drum.

As I grew older in a collective reality that glorifies linear thinking, I rationalized that I could never support myself as a professional singer, then I even believed that I didn’t want anyone to hear my voice. My extreme shyness dictated that it was just too personal to let anyone hear me. So, my love of music remained close to my heart as I channeled my creative energies into a college degree in clothing design and a minor in fine art.

photo of the author at Cape Kumukahi Lava Flow in Hawai'i visual effect created by Vera Arias, photo by Mariel Zavala Gonzalez

photo of the author at Cape Kumukahi Lava Flow in Hawai'i
visual effect created by Vera Arias, photo by Mariel Zavala Gonzalez

Another brick in the foundation of my life in sound and breath arrived in my late teen years, when yoga found me in the form of Iyengar Yoga. Here, in these weekly classes, I began to see that the breathing techniques I learned through vocal training were nearly identical to the pranayama practices delivered by the skilled and spiritually centered Iyengar Yoga teachers. The language for delivering the teaching was decidedly different, but the goal was the same. That goal was to actively engage the diaphragm muscle, the intercostal muscles and the body-mind in focused breath control to produce a strong and beautiful vibration. The feeling within me was the same too. Both singing and pranayama induced a sweet, easy, peaceful euphoria.

Fast forward to three years ago, when Kundalini Yoga found me. I was immediately and mysteriously attracted to the Aquarian Sadhana practice, which is a daily yoga and meditation practice performed at the magic hours of 4-6:30 AM. In the course of my research, I found that almost every spiritual tradition highly recommends practice during these pre-sunrise hours. In kundalini, it’s called the Amrit Vela (the ambrosial time), in wicca and occult traditions it is called the Witching Hours. In Vipassana meditation, the practice begins at 4:00 am, as well. Nearly every morning I fervently rose from sleep to arrive on time for this group practice of chanting, kriya (yoga in action), and mantra. This practice touched my soul in places long burried. . . including and especially that highly protected nook in my heart where the deep love of singing lived in hiding.

I dove heart-first into the intensely healing breath work and pranayamas of the kriyas and meditations. I gave my wide-open heart to singing the mantras every morning. Layers of suppression peeled away daily through the gift of this ancient science of breath, sound and movement. My gratitude for this practice and its presence in my life runs deep.

As my practice of Kundalini Yoga developed, I studied the Naad (or sound current) and Prana (or primal life-force energy) through experiencing daily practice of Hatha and Kundalini Yoga, through singing and chanting, and through reading books on Yoga and sound. At the same time, my skills and knowledge in the world of healing arts were maturing, and I found that breath is an integral piece of therapeutic massage, too! The very foundation of Hawaiian Lomi Lomi is the breath. In this sacred lineage, the HA breath – or the deep releasing out-breath - is our most powerful healing tool.

Yours Symmetric Relation by Loris Cecchini from the Wellwave Vibration collection

Yours Symmetric Relation by Loris Cecchini from the Wellwave Vibration collection

Breath is the densest form of Prana or Qi. Its myriad forms are all the most powerful tool available for healing, strengthening, cleansing and balancing the body, mind and soul. Dhvani (or audible sound) is so closely related to breath that the two are nearly inseparable. The breath, no matter how soft, generates audible sound. The human voice only generates sound with the presence of breath, and the quality or texture of the breath directly influences the sound generated. A powerful breath creates a powerful sound. A weak breath breeds a weak sound. A breath full of peace begets a sound full of peace.

Breath and sound are so inseparable, that the Indian philosophy on sound would place sound as the generator of not just the breath, but everything in existence:

 

“Sound is conceived to be the specific quality of space. The physical basis of sound is traced to a mechanical impact which generates vibrations in the molecules of the object struck, which in turn impinge against surrounding molecules of air to produce sound. Sound expands in space as waves propagate in an ocean, and it is said to increase in successive concentric spherical layers of filaments which emanate from one another. Further, it is maintained that sound can be distinguished into decreasing orders of subtlety: Sphota or transcendental sound; Nada or supersonic sound which can be but is not necessarily heard; and Dhvani or audible sound. The articulate sound we all experience is Dhvani. . . By repetition of sound syllables, vibratory rhythms are created in the body to awaken the psychic fields. Everything from the subtlest idea to gross forms of matter is a product of the coagulation of simple or complex combinations of vibrations. Every object has its norm of sound as an accompaniment of its energy. Vibration, therefore, is one of the numerous results of sound and not, as is commonly held, its cause.” [1]

This is an interesting paradox. Though our gross, physical senses tell us that breath creates sound, deep exploration in mantra and meditation revel that sound also clearly creates breath! In my experiences with chanting and singing, the vibration within me precedes and influences both the audible sound and the breath. The beautiful thing about this paradox is that the vibration of the breath and the audible sound directly influence the vibration within me. There is a palpable difference in the way I feel and at the beginning of chanting or singing mantra and the feeling I vibrate at the completion of the practice.

Sound is the foundation of Every Thing. In the collection of gross matter we call the human body, getting in deeper touch with our breath and generating sound through chanting and singing is one of the most direct ways to return to our original state of peace. Studying and experiencing sound and breath are tried and true ways of remembering our collective birthright of living in a consistent space of contentment and harmony with ourselves, with each other, and with our environment. I am so grateful for this life’s work in sound and breath. The internal awareness it engenders is profound, and it is the hope of my heart that it touches you with insight and sincere power too.

 

[1] The Trantric Way: Art, Science, Ritual by Ajit Mookerjee and Madhu Khanna