Text and Photo by Diana McClure
As urban populations expand and technological culture increasingly provides human beings with stimulation on steroids, personal space has become noisy by default. In this 21st century environment a conscious relationship to sound takes on a whole new meaning.
One way to explore the essence of sound on an experiential level is through chanting and mantra, or kirtan – call and response chanting and singing. A practice that yoga teacher and co-founder of Earinside, Kathryn Corinne Robinson, described in a class at Abhaya Yoga this past fall as, “the yoga of sound”.
In pursuit of more information on the topic, I recently sat down with James Fideler, a yoga teacher, musician, and the other half of Earinside, to talk about the yoga of sound at a bustling coffee shop in Brooklyn.
Earinside is a yogic vessel through which Robinson and Fideler are able to advocate for and facilitate any and all practices that engage a person’s participation with their own inner voice, whether that be asana practice (physical practice), pranayama (breath work), meditation or the study of texts. However, the duo is most widely known for their full moon kirtan residency at the Ayurveda’s World monthly full moon meditation offering in lower Manhattan. An event organized by Ayurveda's World founder Dr. Naina Marballi to benefit Nepal earthquake relief.
For Fideler, chanting and mantra can be described as, “a vibration practice.” However, it does require respect. According to Fideler, “You can only use mantra if you take the practice of mantra repetition quite seriously.”
Mantra can be understood loosely as a word or sound repeated to aid in meditation. Repetition in consciousness can have profound effects on the psyche and preparedness to deal with life effectively. It can dissolve resistance or discomfort in certain situations by grounding the mind in the now and distancing it from identification with unhelpful internal dialogue.
As a person develops a mantra or chanting practice they are physiologically strengthening and focusing the muscle of the mind. It is much harder to repeat three words for an extended amount of time than to allow random streams of thought to flow endlessly. As the mind is challenged to stay focused it can become a witness to thought patterns and slowly take ownership of word choices and the quality of the psyche.
In our conversation Fideler recalled his first experiences with mantra, “I had a clear response to chanting and mantra. I felt a shift. I watched walls of resistance to it crumble in the practice itself.” Fideler characterized his initial experience with the yoga of sound through mantra as something that “ happens silently, internally, in the throat, tongue and body. It's a vibration that penetrates the body. Mantra is like a sound link, a vibrational link to the divine.”
From there he moved onto chanting with a community of people where the textures of sound become much more obvious. Through the awareness of repetition within a group, a person can become acquainted with his or her own voice. In fact after years of “inserting” himself as the lead singer in bands, Fideler says he did not really hear his own voice until he began chanting.
Fideler emphasized, with pleasure, more than once in our conversation that in most cases, “The human voice is our first instrument. It doesn't depend on anything other than itself. Singing and dancing are our birthright.” As far as musical accompaniment is concerned, we reasoned that music could be a delivery mechanism of the truth. Words emphasized by decent music heighten the power of the words, and the most powerful music has distilled language to its most potent truth.
These conclusions came after coffee, food and reminiscing on some of the infamous wordplay of the legend Bob Marley. In Fideler’s words, “Bob put the word love to a great groove and that increased the power of the message.” However, when it comes to language, many would argue that Sanskrit is the mother tongue of humankind and its words were designed with and extra dose of vibratory power in mind.
As our conversation veered back toward the yoga of sound in community, we turned to the topic of soundstaging, a passion of audiophiles, and a process where a musical experience is able to present an acoustic image to the listener. (Yes! It's complicated, but worth contemplating.)
In kirtan the experience of soundstaging is possible when the kirtan creates a form of the divine that hovers over the room. Known as a murti, a sound form of the divine, or a nexus point of the vibration in the room. This experience may require that participants allow themselves to be soaked in a mantra or chant as deeply as possible.
Some of the great kirtan singers that have influenced Fideler and countless others include American vocalists Jai Uttal and Krishna Das. Both are highly skilled at the difficult task of integrating eastern and western experiences of kirtan with a great respect for the origins of the tradition.
When I told Fideler about my own communication challenges and a desire to speak, breath and maybe even sing effervescently, his final thoughts accompanied by a knowing nod of the head were, “You get there by doing it. It takes courage. Repetition.”