As a teenager, I had the very good (some might say life-saving) fortune of being introduced to transcendental meditation, or TM, a popular technique that involves the use of a sound or mantra. The mantra is a sacred word often composed of a single syllable (such as “Om”), or several syllables or sounds.
By being “spoken within” and thus “heard within”, the mantra has the effect of quieting the mind. If the mind becomes too active, attention is gently brought back to the mantra, and this seems to afford ever more tranquil levels of awareness over time.
I learned TM my junior year in high school and ended up practicing this method twice a day consistently for about five years before switching over to a shorter Buddhist meditation practice and Tai Chi. TM enhanced my life immeasurably, providing a kind of spiritual anchor and helping me feel much more at home with my oft chaotic teen psyche. It was also incredibly helpful for focusing and relaxing the mind for tests and other academic challenges.
Now, the mantra really has no denotative meaning but instead has a specific vibratory effect, analogous to sound quality. According to Hindu tradition, a master assigns the mantra based on an intuitive grasp of the individual’s spiritual outlook and development, as well as a sense of what sound is needed in order to vibrate certain energy centers in the body. In TM, mantras are supposed to be specially selected for each individual receiving instruction in this meditation technique.
Internal sound is a subtle concept. When you can actually hear it clearly (within), such sound is probably more intense in its vibratory effects than any external sound. It goes extremely deep and can profoundly affect the whole person.
Research has shown that misuse of the mantra—or improper selection for daily use—can have untoward effects. For example, there are numerous reports of people who tried using nonsense syllables, euphonious sounds, or words with pleasing meanings. In each recorded case, meditation with these mantras was less favorable than the correct TM practice. In some documented cases, the aftereffects included headaches, anxiety, and poor attention.
This makes sense on an intuitive level. If I were humming a tune in my head day after day that I didn’t like, it’d likely cause a great deal of friction and I’d probably become anxious. You can’t repeat a sound that is not compatible with you in a fundamental way. Similarly, if you were given the wrong physical exercise to do and constantly flexed the wrong muscles in the wrong position, this could cause serious problems. The same applies to our choice of internal exercises.
An approach known as the Clinically Standardized Meditation (CSM) technique offers a choice of 16 different sounds that can be used as mantras. You can also create your own sound, and then silently repeat the sounds for a period of 2 to 30 minutes a day. CSM proponents suggest choosing a sound that holds at least moderate appeal. You can change the sound at any time, as long as it’s not a person’s name or anything too emotionally loaded. The key in CSM is to have the sound feel comfortable and safe, and for the choice to be open-ended.
An even more profound use of inner sound is involved in Continuum Movement, which the late Emilie Conrad introduced me some years ago, and which my wife Sabine has subsequently adapted into what she calls Resonant Body Movement. “Resonant Body Movement is based on the idea that all the fluids of the body, regardless of function, are one resonant stream of communication with all other fluids, be they other people, the planet or fluids in the galaxies,” Sabine says. “These fluids, when activated by sound, begin to vibrate, shifting the density of tissue and opening the flow of cellular movement.”
The inner sound used in Resonant Body Movement (RBM) is not so different from the mantra of TM or CSM. The main difference is that no actual words are being spoken in RBM; in contrast, the mantra is usually a Sanskrit word. With RBM, you are actually operating at a prelingual level—again, no intention to create meaning, but instead just vibration, and integrating this with subtle movement.
Sound itself is a very subtle form of movement: we feel its vibration, and this creates a sense of movement inside us. The inner sound/vibration used in RBM can help dissolve hardness or rigidity in the body.
“We use certain sounds to break up the density of tissue, so that the tissue is no longer trapped in a repetitive, narrow range of vibration, but instead is able to expand into a multi-play, nuanced, virtuosic system,” Sabine says. “An open system is present, attuned, open to new sensory stimuli, and uses the whole nervous system. Sound combined with fluid movement begins to change how the brain is organized. This, in turn, creates a much more versatile consciousness. The organism goes from being very directed, narrow, and focused, to being more expressive, empathic, present, and receptive.”
Certain sounds can be directed to specific areas of the body for healing purposes and to “open up” the tissues. Some inner sounds have more resonance in the head, while others create a sense of spaciousness in the torso and throughout the body. Some sounds lateralize or spread us out on a horizontal plane. The resulting sense of spaciousness is very similar to how you may feel after a great night’s sleep, when you wake up feeling totally rejuvenated and at ease, and there is no agenda.
For more information about Sabine’s approach, click HERE.
If you have questions or would like to schedule a health coaching session, please reach out.
© 2017, Mark Nathaniel Mead