Music is an essential part of our lives. It can stimulate moods and control brainwave patterns. Annesha Banerjee explores how music therapy with ragas could work as complementary medicine
I distinctly remember reading a quote by one of the greatest entertainers and the moonwalk dance legend, Michael Jackson: “To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. Do you feel your music?”
And how true this is! Music is a ubiquitous companion to people’s everyday lives. Right from your wake-up alarm tone, workout playlist, meditation music, or your favourite TV show’s title theme to listening to the radio while you drive back home from work—music is all around. If nothing, then remember the time when a melodious tune made its way to your mind making you hum along.
Music’s ability to evoke deep stirring emotions is universal, and it is almost impossible to find a person in this world who doesn’t feel a strong connection with it. According to musicologists, everyone possesses some degree of musicality, which, in fact, is a part of being human.
However, our connection with organised music isn’t just limited to the purpose of entertainment but goes beyond, where it can be used to heal people. As a matter of fact, all of us have encountered situations where music came to our aid when stress and trauma loomed over our heads, threatening to take over. I remember once being deeply disturbed about a situation, right before leaving for a trip. Annoyed by the incident, I couldn’t focus on the joy of going on a trip. Being aware of the fact, I quickly switched on my favourite song, closed my eyes, and disconnected from the world. After a few loops, I felt as refreshed as in the morning after a long run! With no trace of any agitation, I felt motivated to take on anything. That very day I understood a fact—music is therapeutic.
Mrs Archana Kapade, who was an arthritis patient, was unable to walk due to severe knee and back pain. After four weeks of music therapy at Sur Sanjeevan Music Therapy Trust, she was cured of the pain. While playing music for Alzheimer’s patients at a hospital, Mumbai-based medical intern Shivam noticed that most of the patients remember the lyrics of the songs from their therapy session. How did this happen?
The unifying power of music
Our association with music is very strong and personal. Music that renders others ecstatic may have no effect on us and vice versa. In fact, our own response to music is inconsistent; how a piece of music makes us feel depends on the situation in which we hear it. Despite the varying taste in music, it is unifying. The statement ‘to each his own’ fits accurately; your choice of music stimulates a similar type of activity in your brain as does the choice of others do in theirs. In an interview with CNN, Daniel Levitin, a psychologist who studies neuroscience and music at McGill University, said, “It’s not our natural tendency to thrust ourselves into a crowd of 20,000 people, but for a Muse concert or a Radiohead concert, we’ll do it. There’s this unifying force that comes from the music, and we don’t get that from other things.”
The power of music is inclusive and evokes resolute and compelling emotions in the listeners. Remember when A R Rahman sang Maa tujhe salaam, we all felt the surge of patriotism and stood proud with our chests puffed out? Or when Peter Seeger assured us that obstacles in life will be conquered eventually when he sang We shall overcome, we became confident that we will indeed? It has been discovered, after various researches, that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function.
The impact of music is based on six factors—familiarity, ambience, concentration while listening, genre, volume, and mood—all of which have to be in sync with one another to have a prominent impact. The kind of music one has grown up listening to will have a more profound effect than any other kind of music. Memories attached to the song triggers responses in the brain, evoking feelings like nostalgia, happiness, sadness, and tranquillity. Also, various forms or genres have different observed effects. Slow tempo music with few variations and less emphasis on notes is more effective in achieving a state of relaxation, while faster music with more variations and more emphasis on notes can improve our energy levels and may increase our motivation in challenging situations, thus replacing anxiety with excitement.
In essence, music can be used to activate associations, memories, experiences, moods, and emotions. Furthermore, what could be better proof of the soothing and healing power of music than a child falling asleep to a lullaby?
Groundbreaking research studies have drawn a correlation between music and different areas of the brain, many of which are intimately tied to the phenomena of emotional processing. Evidently, music causes the release of neurohormones like dopamine, endorphin, and melatonin, which are involved in pleasure sensations, thus inducing powerful and wide-ranging psychological effects on the brain.
According to Pandit Shashank Katti, a Pune-based well-known sitar player and music therapist who founded Sur Sanjeevan Music Therapy Trust, “Music therapy has a similar concept as that of other therapies—to heal people. Using the properties of the ingredients of music, i.e., surs (composed of sargam—Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni), we can create different bhavas in our mind, causing different effects on our body. Based on the principles of psychiatry, any external stimulation that creates a feeling inside us can lead to physical changes within us.”
All our thoughts, emotions, and behaviour are the result of a communication of the neurons within our brain through brainwaves. Delta (deep sleep) state is a prime state for healing, regeneration, and rejuvenation. This state releases the human growth hormones and conjures up a pseudo-drug effect. The theta state also induces pseudo-drug effects causing daydreaming and an inability to recall short-term memory. The alpha state activates when the mind is calm and relaxed, allowing you to absorb and interpret more data. In the beta state, a person is engaged strongly in the mind, which increases concentration level. Unlike the delta and theta states, the alpha and beta states appear when a person is in a conscious condition. Our body acts in accordance with the dominant brainwaves; we feel tired or lazy when slower brainwaves are in action, and alert and charged up when higher frequencies are active. Music is a way to alter the frequency of our brainwaves, which is the foundation of music therapy.
Music therapists around the world practice this modality using different styles, adding a personal touch of their own culture and experiences. Using different genres of music to alter the brainwaves to evoke emotional responses, they facilitate the healing process. In many cases, apart from playing music for patients under medical care, therapists also teach how to play an instrument. As it so happens, listening to music requires certain perceptive abilities like pitch discrimination, auditory memory, and selective attention in order to comprehend the temporal and harmonic structure of the music which involves deep motor activities in the brain. Researchers have also found that playing instruments activated brain regions that are involved in movement, planning, attention, and memory. This is the reason why musicians have better cognitive ability than others. Being involved in performing music improves emotional and social functions as well.
Indian classical music has deep roots in the science and sound of music. The ancient knowledge of tantra and religious philosophy, with its higher levels of understanding of human consciousness, influences Indian music therapy. Vedic recitals, Raga Chikitsa, Nada Yoga, Nadopasana, and traditional alternative healing systems like yoga and ayurveda are deeply integrated within the Indian music system, adding spiritual uniqueness to the practice of music therapy. Even the healing power of religious songs is tremendous. Sharing his experience with Aamit Wraj’s Hanuman Chalisa composition on YouTube, a listener commented, “When I play this wonderful music on a surround sound system with a subwoofer, it vibrates through my body and creates a wonderful physiological and psychological effect on me. It’s so joyous that it gives me shivers. My wife had pent up emotions from an ongoing medical situation and couldn’t seem to cry, so I suggested that she listen to it. She wept almost through the entire song and felt great afterwards. Truly a gift!”
Indian music is based on a system of raga and rasa (emotion). Structural melody is the most fundamental characteristic of Indian music, based on which a singer or composer can improvise according to their feelings while performing. The ragas aim to convey certain definite rasas which, in turn, modulate the behaviour of an individual. The navras (nine emotions), attributed to Indian music, which have healing effects as they rule our mind and body are sringara (romantic), hasya (comic), karuna (pathos), raudra (wrathful), vira (heroic), bhayanaka (terrifying), bibhatsa (odious), and adbhuta (wondrous). Some Indian ragas, when sung well, are said to have caused rains (Raga Malhaar), eased disturbed persons, and even led to crops and cattle giving better yield. In fact, specific ragas are prescribed to balance specific doshas (bio-energies) under Gandharva Veda, (a part of ayurveda that deals with healing ragas).
B. Sivaramakrishna Rao’s YouTube upload of Raga Behag (instrumental) has had a powerful impact on people. Aniket Vijay, a music enthusiast, says, “Listening to this music has cured me of third stage cancer. My family and I had lost hopes, but then I came across this and my life changed.” The outcome of music therapy can be immediate or slow, depending upon factors like the subject, his mental condition, the environment, and the type of music selected to achieve the desired effect. Pandit Katti says, “The use of music as therapy is based on a scientific and clinical approach and has to be used with great care and a deep study of the nature of illness. Before using music as therapy, it must be ascertained which type of music is to be used, based on correct intonation and the right use of the basic elements of music such as notes (swaras), rhythm, volume, beats, and piece of melody.”
It is to be noted that healing through chanting is different from healing through music. Differentiating the two, Pandit Katti explains, “You can chant in one sur, one frequency level and pitch, but in music, we follow a pitch variation. The healing effect of chants is created through the waveform of different words as opposed to the power of surs in music therapy.”
Interestingly, chakras (energy centres in the body) and ragas both correspond to energy frequencies. In a blog, Sadhguru said, “Everything falls within the parameters of the seven notes because the very construction of the body is within the seven dimensions of creation, which is represented as chakras . . . If a person becomes utterly silent within himself, then the body can be experienced as sound. It is in this state that these seven notes have evolved.” In retrospect, the way sound is used—ragas, talas (rhythms)—everything is such that if you get deeply involved in it, it will bring meditativeness. A person who is deeply involved in classical music becomes saint-like because it makes him meditative. Conclusively, music is not just for entertainment but is a spiritual process to reach a higher level of consciousness.
Music therapy caters to people with all kinds of illness. It has the ability to improve self-esteem, alter pain perception, improve memory and cognition, reduce blood pressure and anxiety, increase orientation, and provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for self-expression and communication, amongst other things. The benefits of music therapy are medically recorded, where patients have experienced a significant reduction in diabetes level, thyroid level, arthritis pain, anxiety, depression symptoms, Parkinson’s disease, memory loss, and so on.
Listening to ragas with the purpose of healing should be done under consultation with a music therapist as they can have a deep impact when customised with the right tempo and rhythm for each individual. Below are listed some ragas which may benefit patients with corresponding ailments:
Depression: Komal Rishabh Asavari and Shankar
Anxiety: Nat Bhairav and Sohni
Parkinson’s disease: Bhatiyar and Yaman
Acidity: Bairagi and Bhoopali
Hypertension and Heart Problems: Todi and Pooriya Kalyan
Asthma: Nilambari, Megh, and Bhairavi.
So, the next time you listen to your favourite song, remember that it is doing more than just making you feel good.
Life Positive follows a stringent review publishing mechanism. Every review received undergoes -
Only after we're satisfied about the authenticity of a review is it allowed to go live on our website
Our award winning customer care team is available from 9 a.m to 9 p.m everyday
All our healers and therapists undergo training and/or certification from authorized bodies before becoming professionals. They have a minimum professional experience of one year
All our healers and therapists are genuinely passionate about doing service. They do their very best to help seekers (patients) live better lives.
All payments made to our healers are secure up to the point wherein if any session is paid for, it will be honoured dutifully and delivered promptly
Every seekers (patients) details will always remain 100% confidential and will never be disclosed