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July 30, 2013

A Tantrik Message: Sound Creates the Body. ~ Eric Shaw

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. ~ John 1:1

Kirtan is the rage, and sound healing is a hip health modality. Many of us chant Sanskrit daily in yoga classes, but few know the deeper implications of its use and Sanskrit’s relationship to Tantrik history and yoga practice.

The Body of Sound, known in Sanskrit as the Nada Deha or Sabda Sarira, is a development of Tantra and emerged around the 6th century.

One of the names that developed for the Tantra path was Mantramarga—the path of the mantras. Tantra was a path where the guru was primary, and individual mantras were given to Tantrik practitioners to help refine their general karmic disposition.

This emphasis on sound is a legacy of India’s Vedic tradition, where it was seen as one of the first evolutes of the universe.

The universe was understood to be constructed from sound, and the 50 phonemes of the Sanskrit alphabet were its foundational members.

Vac, the Goddess of sound (who later became the art and music goddess, Saraswati) was a key deity, and the Agni Hotra (Fire Ceremony) depended on chants for its efficacy.

Indeed, the first two Vedas, the Rig and Sama (1500 – 1000 BCE), are completely composed of chants.
The complexity of the Vedic chanting ritual attempted to create a “sound body” of the universe. This functioned as a microcosm of the universe’s macrocosm. The rituals redirected universal energy for the support of individuals or human society.

Our modern sun salutation is derived from a cycle of 12 vedic chants, one for each “house” of the sun, addressed by different names (paadas).  The names evoked the virtues of the sun—generosity, fame, reliability—even as they resonated with different parts of the body for personal health and created the conditions for wealth and happiness.

Tantra’s idea of the human form as a “sound body” draws from this legacy. The body is seen as a microcosm of the universe, but here the emphasis is not on directing life matters to gratify us, but to refine our anatomy to create the most effective conditions for human evolution.

The definition of the Sabda Sarira was complex: the graduated vibratory centers of the body, the chakras, were understood to be made of petals (dalas) which consisted of sounds from the Sanskrit alphabet. Like matter itself, the body was constructed of these 50 sounds and their proper harmonization determined the degree to which a human was “attuned” to their surroundings and/or the larger vibratory state of the universe.

This attunement was, of course, a definition of health and critical to the “sound healing” of another era. Health was seen as being of two particular states: 1) healthy in terms of attunement to relative conditions—i.e. the stresses of one’s particular life situation, or 2) attunement to one’s universal capacity for Awakening.

These were not always the same thing. One can be adapted for survival within certain conditions which do not serve a greater evolution.

Ideally, the two are aligned in some form of right livelihood.

At the practice level, certain ritual practices of Tantra worked with a chakra sound anatomy that was carefully elaborated. The Root Chakra (Muladhara) had six sounds; the Sacral Chakra (Svadisthana) also six; the Navel Chakra (Manipura) had 10; the Heart Chakra (Anahata), 12; and the Throat Chakra, 16, for a total of 50.

This Tantrik understanding of the “Body of Sound” has implications for modern sound healers and for any of us choosing to work with Sanskrit or practices aiming at health through the chakras.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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Eric Shaw Aug 20, 2013 4:52pm

Thanks for this affirmation, Hilary.

Hilary Lindsay Aug 8, 2013 3:35pm

I don't understand this but I totally get it. I know that sounds contradictory but it's because I get it in my unreasoning brain. Sound was the impetus for movement that lead me to a physical expression of yoga and continues to feed the practice. There is no denying it.

Ken Chawkin Aug 1, 2013 1:51pm

Here is an illuminating video of Dr. Tony Nader speaking about the Ramayana in Human Physiology and how the sounds of the Veda are found in the body. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaZ8Zai_1Yg. Amazing cognition explained in scientific terms of how the physiology works as it grows and evolves to enlightenment told in the story of Ram and the different characters in the story of the Ramayana. I posted more about this on my blog http://wp.me/pD0BA-59F.

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Eric Shaw

Eric Shaw, MA.SE, MA.RS, MA.AS, has studied yoga and meditation for 30 years and taught both since 2001. He maintains a lively international teaching schedule and is the creator of both Prasana Yoga—a form that reveals alignment in movement—and Yoga Education through Imagery—lecture programing that teaches yoga’s traditions through archival imagery and new scholarship. He is an E-RYT 500 with two degrees in Art, and Masters Degrees in Education, Religious Studies and Asian Studies. His essays appear in Yoga Journal, Common Ground, Mantra Yoga + Health, and other publications. To find out more, please see: prasanayoga.com