The Yoga of Music

It’s the universal language. Music has a way of moving us in ways that can feel transcendental. Across the world, we use music to celebrate at parties, at weddings, at festivals and another thing music is used for across cultures is to tune into the divine. Whether you’re listening to the choir in a church, the morning azaan or the arati at a temple, devotional music always uplifts the spirit. UK based yoga teacher and musician, Rajesh David, expresses his love for life and yoga through Nada Yoga. He has been teaching Nada Yoda courses for several years and has released many collections of devotional music such as Mantram Music for Relaxation and Meditation and The Music of AUM - The Mandukya Upanishad and Kabir. Indica Yoga spoke to him about what bhakti means and how he uses music to connect to the divine within. 

Sophia: How did your journey to yoga begin?

Rajesh: I started at a young age, first learning asanas from my uncle. Later, in my teenage years, my father’s friend, who had completed his teacher training at the Yoga Institute, Mumbai, inspired me to join the institute to learn yoga formally. I completed the YTTC in the same year that I completed my graduation degree from Mumbai University. From a very young age, my yearning to learn about Indian spirituality inspired me to read texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and commentaries on the Upanishads, listen to lectures and talks by masters on the subject and reflect on the meaning of these profound texts. Throughout my life, this deep interest in spirituality has been the focal point of my life. 

Sophia: You’re trained in Indian classical music and also teach Nada Yoga. How and when does music become a spiritual practice?

Rajesh: My training in music and my experience of teaching Nada Yoga has given me a strong conviction that the World is music – Nada-Brahma! I feel that this entire universe is a grand symphony, with all the different components of the universe, such as galaxies, stars, black holes, supernovas and also all life on earth, playing their part. I believe that music is a spiritual practice. The sadhana in music is a way of meditation. It is very interesting to notice how a very simple practice of Nada Yoga could develop into a very deep practice which has the potential to transform our understanding of music, the world around us and indeed the self itself! I will never forget the moment when my teacher told me to sing in such a way that my song resonates with the song of the universe. That very important teaching changed the way I understand and experience music. It is at such times, when one is deeply immersed in music, that one deepens the understanding of Nada-Brahma. The Upanishads proclaim that sound is the very essence of our being and indeed the world around us. This has become a central tenet of Indian philosophy. This sound is OM, the word that expresses Nada-Brahma. ‘Sarvam Omkar eva!  All is OM’ is the teaching of the Mandukya Upanishad.

Sophia: What has been your experience of teaching yoga in the West?

Rajesh: I have been teaching Yoga in the West for around 20 years, and it fills me with great joy and admiration to see the deep interest and dedication that people in the west have shown towards yoga and Indian spirituality. They have imbibed the Indian culture by learning Sanskrit, ayurveda, music, and even cooking Indian food and experiencing the Indian way of life. It truly touches my heart to see their eagerness to learn and their spiritual quest. It is an absolute joy to interact with such people.

Sophia: What is Bhakti Yoga, according to you?

Rajesh: Bhakti, devotion, is the highest form of love, so Bhakti Yoga to me is the Yoga of Love and is about being absorbed in the heart. In answer to Arjuna’s question in Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that through the path of devotion you will find Me. This is not about any hierarchy, because ultimately all pathways converge in Love. Jnana flows into Love. All practices of Bhakti Yoga are heart-centred and heart-opening. Bhakti Yoga asks for one-pointed, whole-hearted, selfless devotion to God. But this God is none other than the Atman, so in a way, Bhakti Yoga opens our heart to the highest advaitic truth – jnana dissolves into Love. 

Mirabai, one of the finest exponents of Bhakti, finds her Krishna through Love. She is a living example of the teachings of Bhakti Yoga.

Sophia: How do you find inspiration for the Bhakti music you compose?

Rajesh: My inspiration comes from my love of poetry and sacred works and from listening to works of the great masters of music in India. I’m inspired to compose music and sing the poems of Bhakti poets such as Kabir and Mirabai, Sufi poetry, the treasure trove of Adi Shankaracharya’s works, as well as verses from Upanishad. I have worked with the Mandukya and Isha Upanishad. In this way I feel a deep connection with the words. I have also been fortunate enough to collaborate with excellent musicians and this has given me the opportunity to listen to and be influenced by wonderful folk, classical and contemporary music of the West.

Sophia: Who have been your greatest spiritual and musical influences?

Rajesh: Since I can remember, I have been inspired by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. His life and work has been the greatest influence in my life. I see him as my spiritual teacher. I’m a devotee of the Ramakrishna Mission and I continue to be inspired and influenced by their work, reading their publications and listening to talks by some of the erudite monks who themselves have been influenced and inspired by Swami Vivekananda. By the way, Swami Vivekananda was an excellent musician, singer and composer. The beautiful evening arati of the Mission is his composition! My parents were accomplished singers and I heard them sing as I was growing up. I have inherited my music from them, so they would be my first musical influence. I would like to include my music teachers who gave me the wealth of knowledge of music. Indian classical music and its great exponents and masters are my greatest musical influence!

Sophia: What would be your advice to people who want to pursue the path of Bhakti yoga?

Rajesh: I can only share what I practise myself. Reflect on the true meaning of Bhakti, and keep working towards opening the heart to the Love within. Let your actions be influenced by the love in your heart. Love is all that is. Stay centred in the heart. Whenever you recognise that you have moved away from that centre, gently bring your attention back into the heart, without being judgemental or harsh with yourself. It is well worth finding a personal Emotion Management Programme to deal with the emotional upheavals. This helps in staying centred in the heart. It may be helpful to recognise that underlying all our emotions is ultimately Love! I like to stay connected with kindred spirits - satsang.

Sophia: What is heart intelligence and how does it help to relieve stress and anxiety?

Rajesh: Our heart is first and foremost an organ of spiritual perception. One of the finest descriptions I have read is by Kabir Helmenski, a Sufi, in his book “The Living Presence.” He writes, “…beyond our ordinary intellectual abilities is a vast realm of mind which includes insight, intuition, wisdom, physic and extra-sensory abilities, creativity, aesthetics, image forming and symbolic capacities, a sense of unity, and much more, which work together in concert as one whole perceptivity. This comprises an intelligence that is in spontaneous connection with the Universal Intelligence. This is the spiritualized mind or the heart.” This is heart intelligence. This is an intelligence where heart and mind are not separate but manifest as one unified organ, working in tandem, which is the centre of perception. Recent developments in neuroscience have discovered that, physiologically, our heart and brain are in constant communication with each other and work as one, maintaining a constant feedback loop through neurological, bio-chemical, bio-physical and energetically through electro-magnetic field interactions. 

The heart plays an important role in processing information as well as in our decision making. Research has shown that intentionally altering one’s emotional state through heart focus modifies afferent neurological input from heart to the brain. It is now clearly understood by all that the better measure of intelligence is the EQ rather than the IQ! The cognitive aspects of our brain are fully available and functioning when the input from the heart is harmonious and balanced. Thus, being heart-centred is key to our well-being and for managing the stresses of modern life. As I mentioned earlier, having a personal EMP (Emotion Management Programme) is essential for resilience. Being heart-centred in practice means keeping the attention in the heart, staying alert to distractions of the mind as well as any emotional diversions, which have the potential to overpower the mind, and working towards and maintaining a healthy, balanced emotional life. 

Most of the stress we encounter is a direct result of our own inner demons, or our own emotional baggage, which overpower our judgement and our ability to make rational decisions. They mask our inner resources, resulting in reduced or no access to our own inner faculty of viveka and buddhi. The way out of this is to keep working on our emotional baggage by keeping our attention and mind in the heart. Let Heart-centred-ness be the default!

Sophia: What are some of your favourite mantras/chants/bhajans?

Rajesh: The mantra that truly draws me inwards is the hymn from the Isha Upanishad “Purnamadah, Purnamidam…”. When particular verses or a mantra inspires me, I love to compose a tune and chant them. For me, this is the easiest way to remember them. I was inspired to work with the verses of the Isha and Mandukya Upanishad and hope to work with some more texts in the future. Regarding bhajans, among the wonderful Bhakti poems of India, I particularly love the works of Kabir and Mirabai. 

Sophia: The Bhagavad Gita translates to ‘Song of God.’ What is the essence of the Gita, according to you?

Rajesh: In one word, the essence of the Bhagavad Gita is Advaita! Through its teachings, Advaita becomes a living experience.  The “Song of God” opens the heart to reveal the Self!

Experience Rajesh’s beautiful Nada Yoga on Friday, 2nd September as he will be hosting a Yoginsights session with Indica Yoga. Register for the event here.