By Jamuna Rangachari
The power of sound has immense potential to heal and to transform us fundamentally.
While recovering from a surgery, Shruti, singer, writer and workshop trainer, was devastated by a sharp shooting pain. Spontaneously, she began to chant ‘Om’, and was amazed when her shooting pain dissolved almost instantaneously. That was the beginning of her journey into discovering the healing powers of sound. Today, she conducts workshops and talks to enable people to tap into the healing powers of nada or sound.
Robert La Pierre was told at the age of six that his glandular system had broken down completely and that he would have to live on medications for the rest of his life. However, his mother experimented with sound therapy and at age 20, Robert was persuaded to listen to one of her CDs. He says, ‘My first impression of the sound was that of a gentle wave rolling down every inch of my body, bringing with every rise and fall a wealth of soothing energies.’ Rejuvenation happened rapidly and today this once-sickly boy is healthy and happy and completely off medication.
Who does not remember the sublime feeling of listening to a soothing tune or even to the melody of a stream flowing?
Today, the phenomenon of music as a therapy is being systematically researched and applied in healing. Dr Chugh, leading psychiatrist in Delhi, avers, ‘Music therapy is an efficacious and valid treatment for persons who have psychosocial, affective, cognitive and communicative problems.’ He also points out that research results and clinical experiences have attested to the viability of music therapy even in those who are resistive to other treatment approaches.
While music therapy is an emerging discipline in India, it certainly merits more research so that we can gather more evidence-based facts rather than – allow it to be a mere belief system. The existence of music therapy as a belief system and the integrated approach in treatment of diseases has already encouraged many medical professionals to turn towards music as a promising therapy.
Mantras and Chants
‘It’s amazing how effective mantras are in healing even when the patient does not really understand or even chant actively,’ says Falguni Chakravarty, mantra healer and coordinator of Prashanti, a center for complementary therapies, a sub-unit of Cancer Sahyog, the emotional support wing of Indian Cancer Society.
At Prashanti, mantra healing is conducted twice a week. The vibrations produced through chanting still the erratic mind, bringing about positive energies, dispelling the negative ones. The crucial factor is the vibrations produced and not the meaning or religious symbology the mantra invokes.
The word mantra comes from the Sanskrit roots ‘man’ and ‘tra’ where ‘man’ means ‘mind’ and ‘tra’ signifies ‘go through or across’. Mantra, therefore, symbolizes any single word or a group of words that help one ‘to go through or across one’s mind’ to remove any imbalances produced within.
The vibrations produced from chants help in stilling a restless mind, and in dispelling negative energies by bringing in positive ones. Although one need not know the religious symbolism of a mantra, it is believed that the vibrations are good enough to produce the desired results.
Mantras can be unlimited in number. Each tradition has its own mantra. But beeja mantras are accepted as universal mantras. In reality, they are sounds without any direct translation, but contain great power, which can grow within you, which is why they are known as beeja or seed mantras. The beeja mantra or seed word has a direct effect on the associated chakra (see table). As Shruti affirms, ‘Chanting the beeja mantra harmonizes our energy centers and chakras.’ There is no limit to the number of times the beeja mantras should be chanted, but they are said to be more powerful if chanted 108 times. To keep the focus on the mantra and not on the number, use prayer beads.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, was also known to believe in the surpassing power of mantras. He once said, ‘The mantra becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal. Each repetition has a new meaning, carrying you nearer and nearer to God.’
‘The power of a mantra comes from the direct vibrations they produce on the body and not from the meaning of the syllables,’ Falguni avers, emphasizing that it is therefore important to chant the mantras in the right rhythm, with the proper intonation (pronunciation) and resonance (pitch) to tap its full potential.
Mrs Krishnambika Nambiar, wife of bureaucrat, Madhavan Nambiar, who has trained in Vedic chanting from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, agrees, saying, ‘The oral traditions of passing on this knowledge serve the very important purpose of ensuring that the mantra is recited in the exact manner in which it was designed.’
‘Music establishes a union with the divine. Naturally, then, it would heal as consciousness rises,’ says Fareeda Ali, representative of the Hazrat Inayat Khan dargah in Delhi.
With the prime aim of calming the mind and gathering random thoughts together, all chants stick to a narrow band of frequency. Similarly, in all classical forms of music, there is a gradual development of pace and frequency that matches one’s natural mental absorption capacity.
Conversely, music that relies heavily on technology, and originates in anger or revolt, produces unnatural and negative vibrations.
The Eastern view of health is a harmonious flow of energy from and between the energy centers (chakras), and koshas. When this flow gets blocked or interrupted, the body begins to revolt and this, in turn, gets manifested as disease.
Our ancient systems of healing always emphasized a connection with one’s own inner self as the cornerstone of well-being. Indeed, the word ‘swastha’ or health is derived from the words swa – astha, which means ‘a connection with one’s inner self’ and ‘jagat’ or world: etymologically ‘ja + gat’ or ‘that which moves(vibrates).’
What better way to establish harmony in this world than through harmonious sound?
Indeed, there is an entire system of yoga, called Nada Yoga (The yoga of sound), which is a path of exploration of consciousness through sounds. Nada Yoga tells us that the source of the sound may be external or internal. That is, it may be ‘struck’ out loud (Sanskrit: ‘ahat’), as from a voice or musical instrument; or ‘unstruck’ and outwardly silent (Sanskrit: ‘anahat’), arising inwardly as from the subtle currents of energy or prana moving throughout the body.
With practice, concentration on carefully selected outer or ‘ahat’ sounds will enable the mind to become calm and transparent. At this point you may begin to become aware of the subtle inner ‘anahat’ sounds and it is into this deeper realm that Nada Yoga takes you.
The system of Nada Yoga works on the premise that the entire universe around us, and we ourselves, are made of nada, that is sound vibrations. In other words, it is the movement of sound energy that forms the building block of the universe and not matter, as had been thought of by the physicists. This realization in Bharatvarsha, today’s India, had ushered in the concept of nada being worshiped as Brahman.
Nada Yoga is an approach to sounds with reverence – not just as objects for self-aggrandizement or sensual entertainment but as integral part of one’s own unity with his inner and outer cosmos.
A Meditative State
Essentially, all chants and mantras, be they Buddhist, Vedic or Gregorian, are designed specifically to restore balance by taking one into a meditative state.
While there are many ways of entering a meditative state, sound is perhaps the easiest and most accessible.
‘Theta waves, or a state of trance, can be produced by japa or repeated chanting, leading to a complete pratyahara or withdrawal of senses,’ says Shruti.
Fareeda Ali too avers that music is a tool for spiritual growth, quoting Hazrat Inayat Khan who said, ‘The idea of healing through music is the initial stages of developing through the art of music, the end result of which is visaal or samadhi.’
The soothing and healing powers of music is something that all cultures and civilizations have recognized and applied in their own ways, over the ages.
Mrs Nambiar was initially amazed when she learnt that the Taittreya Upanishad has an entire section on healing, with focus on harmony and balance between and within the five koshas or sheaths of our being.
‘The Koran says when prophet David sang, the mountains swayed. As this was much before the days of technical development, it speaks volumes for the power of musical vibration,’ says Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, eminent Islamic scholar and founder of the Delhi-based Center for Peace and Spirituality.
Many strains of western classical music originate from the Gregorian and other chants used in the 9th century for religious purposes.
In Chinese silk-weaving exercises, the only sound that should be heard is that of the body inhaling and exhaling.
Apollo was the god of music and art as well as healing in Greek mythology. Even the Pythagorean school of philosophy had discovered mathematical laws called the ‘music of the spheres’, and developed music therapy to bring mankind in harmony with the celestial spheres.
Even the beeja mantra points to something much deeper, if only we looked closer. For instance, the mantra ‘ha’ for the universal consciousness is found in almost all names of God – Brahman, Allah, Ahura Mazda or Yahweh.
Truly, the similarity of conclusions drawn on the power and significance of sound are too striking to be a mere coincidence.
One need not wait for a physical disease to manifest to turn to healing through sound and music.
At the very basic level, music can be a great stress buster. As Dr Chugh says, ‘Music therapy can help a child manage pain and stressful situations and it provides opportunities to explore personal feelings and therapeutic issues such as self-esteem or personal insight.’
Going further, music is a glimpse of the divine. Why not use this most enjoyable and potent art to heal oneself at every level and attain perfect health?
Inputs by Mansi Agarwal
Contact: Shruti, Delhi – firstname.lastname@example.org
Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai, www.kym.org,
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