By Kathy Ryndak and Gord Riddell
OMMM. the sacred sound for the Divine force of the universe. It is the most well known of all mantras, no longer belonging just to the East. It is the original deep note of timeless reality. OM is the essence of all sacred knowledge helping us to move through the walls of the ego to open us to the vibration of a higher reality. OM When OM made the front cover of Time magazine this past August with the headline "Just say OM" we could say it became a household word.
The area of sacred sound is vast and need not be shrouded under the guise that its practice is only for an elite spiritual few. Under its full spectrum, it can vary from the art of toning by making natural sounds to the sacred chanting of OM MANI PADME HUM - "Hail to the jewel of the lotus."
Toning and Natural Sounds
Imagine if you burned yourself and didn't say ouch or some other expletive. Without the release of sound, the body would tighten and be traumatized. The concept of toning starts with non-verbal, pre-lingual sound that we make in everyday life. When we are tired we tone ourselves with a yawn; when we are sad we cry; when we are happy we laugh and when we are frightened we gasp. Our language is rich with words that are onomatopoetic echoing the sound they make such as sighing, whistling, cooing, yelping, gurgling, grunting, groaning or even belching. We also need to be uninhibited and free enough within ourselves to make these natural sounds. If we were always silenced as children, many of these sounds will be "inappropriate" for us to make.
Laughter is the ultimate natural toner - research has proven that it boosts the immune system through the release of an antibody called immunoglobin, lowers blood pressure, stimulates the nervous system and massages vital organs.
Jonathon Goldman, an expert in sound, says "toning is the use of voice to express sound for release, relief and balance." Stephen Halpern, a spiritual musician, notes "toning releases and allows the flow of energy to move through one's body." Toning allows the frequency of sound to permeate our body and energy field to balance vibrations in our body, cell and molecules.
Toning and Body Parts
Try this simple exercise and tone these vowels on a note that is comfortable for you: I, E, A, O, U. Do this a few times keeping on the same pitch. Did you notice where these notes resonated in your body? We tend to feel "I" in our head, "E" in our throat, "A" in our chest, "O" in our abdomen and "U" in our groin. This exercise demonstrates that sound is like a sonic massage vibrating various parts of the body. It also helps us to understand that sound is vibration and this vibration is real and palpable.
A drone is a simple long, uninterrupted tone or chord and is the bedrock for all healing music upon which all other instruments rest. Robert Erickson, a sound pioneer, notes, "if pitch is constant and unchanging such as with a drone, we are free to attend to other dimensions." A good example of this is the Austrailian didgeridoo which transports us to the altered state of consciousness known as dreamtime. More common instruments such as the bagpipes, pipe organ, and the buttons of an accordion provide a drone. The concept of droning has also been adapted by modern medicine to crush kidney and gall stones by the vibration of a drone tone matching the frequency of the stones.
Mantras are simply words or syllables spoken inwards. Mantra is a Sanskrit word meaning the "thought that liberates and protects." They are energy based sounds producing vibrations in our physical body and energy field. Mantras will increase your spiritual voltage by enhancing the flow of life force or prana. To make them effective they need to be combined with intent to produce physical and spiritual benefits. For example if you want more abundance in your life you can recite the mantra shrim (shreem) which also connects us to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Here, your intent for abundance must be pure and for the highest good of all.
When sacred words are threaded together and repeated or sung aloud they become chants. Indigenous people all over the world have their own systems of chanting as well as the five great religions. The Christian monks have Gregorian chant, the Inuits have throat singing, the Tibetans are known for their overtones, the Hindus have a multitude of Sanskrit chants, the people of Islam chant to Allah and Judaism is rich with chant especially within the Kabbalistic tradition. Native Americans and African shaman's have their own chanting styles and rituals. The fast growing Wiccan and goddess cultures also use chant as part of ceremony. Chanting is universal.
Chanting uses repetition to promote relaxation, alter consciousness, induce trance and open us to the Divine. Physiologically, it charges the cortex of our brain releasing "feel good" endorphins.
Bija Mantras for Chakras
Bija mantras are powerful one syllable words known as seed mantras that have no explicit meaning. They are experiences of energy and constructs of consciousness. Each of the 50 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet correspond to one of the vortices or the petals of the chakras one through six, from the base of the spine to the third eye. The crown chakra is the 1,000 petaled lotus having 20-fold power of the 50 bija mantras. Each chakra has a major bija mantra. For example the base bija is LAM, sexual is VAM, solar plexus is RAM, the heart is YAM, throat is HAM, third eye is SHAM and the crown claims the universal OM.
The chanting of Bija mantras can help to activate and open the chakras in a safe way monitoring the kundalini energy which flows from the base of the spine. Sound, because it based on vibration and resonance, will only allow the individual to go as far as they are ready to go with the activation of each chakra.
Sacred Sound is a wonderful and creative way to spur on our inner work and spiritual development. We will end with one on the most spiritual of all mantras - NAMASTE: we honour the Divine within you.