By Sonali S. Sokhal
Music, especially New Age music, is fast being recognized as a useful therapeutic tool for physical and mental well being
Shakespeare once wrote: ‘If music be the food of love, play on..’ Profound words, true, but the Bard failed to mention that music is not just nourishment for the heart, but also for the soul.
Music surrounds our lives, we hear it on the radio, on television, from our car and home stereos. We come across it in the mellifluous tunes of a classical concert or in the devotional strains of a bhajan, the wedding band, or the reaper in the fields breaking into song to express the joy of life. Even warbling in the bathroom gives us a happy start to the day.
Since time immemorial, music has infused a spark of the Divine in human beings. Stating the esoteric nature of music, Sufi saint and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan said: ‘The true harmony of music comes from the harmony of the soul. That music alone can be called real which comes from the harmony of the soul, its true source, and when it comes from there, it must appeal to all souls.’
Inevitably, then, music has a very powerful therapeutic effect on the human psyche. It has always been part of our association with specific emotions, and those emotions themselves have given rise to great music.
Till now, no documented study has been conducted in India about the use of music in healing, or whether it can be used as therapy. Even though this has been a popular subject in the West where courses in music therapy are offered in many colleges, it has mostly been a personal search in India among a handful of healers.
ORIGIN OF SOUND AND MUSIC
In every culture, music arose from devotional chants and invocations. In India, schools such as yoga and tantra equate Nada Brahman, the primordial sound, with the Absolute. The origins of Indian music can be traced back to the chanting of the Sama Veda nearly 4,000 years ago. The primacy of the voice, and the association of musical sound with prayer, were thus established early in the history of Indian music.
Perhaps the most important aspect of sound in the Indian context is the word ‘Aum’—considered the manifested sound of the Divine, and said to hold a powerful influence over the human mind. It is believed that vibrations created by the circular structure of the syllables define the entire cosmos.
The primacy of music, and sound, was acknowledged even in the West. The Greeks revered Apollo, the god of music and art as well as healing. Even the Pythagorean school of philosophy had discovered mathematical laws of created what is called the ‘music of the spheres’, and had the developed music therapy to bring mankind in harmony with the celestial spheres. The similarity between this and the Indian belief in anahata nada (the unmanifest sound of the divine which exists within our own consciousness) is only too obvious.
In Chinese silk-weaving exercises, the only sound that should be heard is that of the body inhaling and exhaling. Similarly, the polyphonic quality in many strains of western classical music originated from the Gregorian and other chants used in the 9th century for ritualized religious purposes. Chanting, even today, is an important part of many meditation and healing workshops, though now it has a more secular outlook.
THE ACT OF HEARING
Music therapy is based on the associative and cognitive powers of the mind. Sound creates certain vibrations which are picked up and amplified by the human ear. These waves are then picked up by the sensory nerve going into the middle of the brain and redistributed throughout the neuron network to other parts of the brain to distinguish the pitch, tone, and frequency of that sound.
Research has shown that it is the right side of the brain which responds to the creative arts, including music. Different genres of music thus have different effects on the mind. Rock music, which has a series of repetitive notes, many high and low pitches and dense tone figures, requires an immediate adjustment from the mind to understand the different frequencies.
Orchestral music, on the other hand, has an opposite effect. Music critic, Raghava Menon, points out that the latter transports the listener to a different plane of thought or emotion, whether it is anger, fear or happiness. He cites orchestral music in western cinema as an example of this. He says: ‘The best music is so profound that you will not even realize that you are hearing it, it will affect you and arouse the emotions in you that it is supposed to, and yet its hallmark is that you may not remember the exact tones and notes that have been struck.’
This is because every sound that goes into the brain will be carried through a series of electrochemical impulses through different pathways of the brain. Each sound not only registers in the primary and secondary auditory sections, but is also stored up as a part of memory. Hypnotherapist Dr Vanit Nalwa says: ‘Every sound, every tone is associated with a previous memory. An experiment conducted on schizophrenics showed that their hearing imaginary sounds is a result of some impulses triggering off the memory of sound and words in the brain.’
Yoga believes that the heart and other organs of the body vibrate at particular sound frequencies. Each chakra has its corresponding syllable. Therapist Jon Monroe has recorded 12 musical tones whose vibratory levels stimulate certain organs of the body. Thus, certain vibrations and frequencies can soothe or disturb the mind and the body. This fact has been amply demonstrated by psychologist Dr. Sanjay Chugh, consultant at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital who uses music as part of his therapy.
HEALING WITH MUSIC
‘Music therapy,’ he says, ‘has helped me in treating many people with problems like dementia, dyslexia and trauma.’ He further points out that many children with learning disability and poor coordination have been able to learn respond to set pieces of music. Dr Chugh recommended a mini-synthesiser to play on for a five-year-old child who was withdrawn and unsociable with his peers because of a slight retardation. Soon, he noted a marked improvement in the child’s social and interpersonal skills.
That the human mind is affected by music is no longer a vague notion. Dance critic Ashish Khokar cites an experiment as proof: ‘Music is produced from sound, and sound affects our sense perception in many ways. Even fish in an aquarium were once made to listen to different kinds of music and it was found that their movements corresponded with the beat of the music. Mind you, fish do not hear, they only felt the vibrations of the sound through water. So you can imagine what a profound effect sound and music might have on the human mind.’
The neural synapses pick up the electrical impulses from the brain, and then send them to every part of the body. The brain reacts to the music by releasing certain endorphins, which are said to be the natural opiates and palliatives of the body. This is substantiated by Shruti, who uses music for her healing workshops at the Gnostic Center in Gurgaon near New Delhi, India. She reveals: ‘I have often found chanting or music to have a definitely positive effect on me when I have some pain or stress. It seems to soothe both the mind and the body.’ This is not surprising, because music often conveys mood and feeling that can be transmitted through receptors to parts of the brain that deal with the emotions.
Perhaps the best example of healing through music is Swami Ganapati Sahchidananada, the pontiff of Datta Peetham in Mysore, India, who gives musical concerts for meditation and healing.
Founded on Raga Ragini Vidya (knowledge of Indian classical music) and Raga Chikitsa (therapy based on Indian classical music), his concerts transmit the spiritual energy from his music to the listeners. The philosophy of his healing technique is based on the Hindu concept of the Akasha Tattva (ether) being all pervading. Thus its attribute, which is also nada (sound), is all-pervasive. The Swami preaches that meditation on Lord’s name is itself a medication and an antidote for all ills. Another belief is that as food is required for the nourishment of the body, so is bhajan (devotional singing) for the mind.
Yogacharya Sri Anand, a former percussion artiste, founder of the Yoga Training Center in Mumbai, India, and the Yoga Kultur Center in Switzerland, has been conducting research on music and healing for several years. He says: ‘When you eliminate the beat and boom from a composition, you get pure music.’ He calls this music a kind of metaphysical tranquilizer. Yoga nidra, the ancient system of inner conscious relaxation, a typical example of the power of fusion music. He explains this further in medical terms: ‘Heart ailments, high or low blood pressure and respiratory problems are disorders brought about by physical disharmony. Music restores harmony and thus health.’
Music which resonates with the seven charkas of the body can thus energizes and re-tune the body. In fact, the Yogacharya’s experiments with the Swissair crew in helping them regulate sleep patterns after long flights and jet-lag have shown that music therapy can help the body relax to quite an extent.
WORKING ON THE MIND
Music, like some other alternative therapies, must work through the mind. The chanting of certain mantras or choir chants create vibrations within the vocal cords, which move deeper through the whole body. These vibrations must be felt in totality for them to have any effect. Hence meditation techniques, whether they are eastern or western, always use chants or music. Shruti gives an interesting example to support this: The raga (in Indian classical music, ragas and raginis are different permutations and combinations of the seven basic musical notes and their variations) Miya Ki Malhar is for the monsoon season, when the grey clouds are just about to burst. It begins on a tense note, and ends in a crescendo of sounds. Thus, if played near a person who is emotionally charged up, it will help that person release pent-up energies and negative emotions.’
According to Swami Ganapati Sachchidananda: ‘The principle underlying music therapy is that physical health results from a healthy mind. The right type of music helps a person relax by soothing the nerves.’ Perhaps that is really the most effective way in which music helps us by generating positive endorphins and easing many stress induced symptoms caused by a depletion of the energy within a person. Shruti adds that it can work to cleanse the emotional and spiritual system. Anand Avinash, founder of the Neuro Linguistic Consciousness workshop who has researched music therapy, says:
‘The mystics and saints from ancient to modern times have shown how music can kindle the higher centers of the mind and enhance quality of life.’
Mantras, or chants used in the West, repeated monotonously, help the mind to achieve a sense of balance. A combination of the sounds in Sanskrit mantras produces certain positive vibrations and elevate the mind to a higher lever of consciousness.
According to Shruti: ‘We all know that meditation cleanses the system of its negative energies and vibrations. And music is a powerful aid to meditation. In my workshops, I use music to make people more aware of their moods and feelings. I ask people to lie down and empty their minds and then listen to the music which I keep changing so that they can fit through different emotions and states of consciousness. Initially, I play genres people can identify with such as rock, pop and film music. Then I work my way up to quieter music. By the time they are totally relaxed, I play what you could loosely term as New Age music or music for meditation, I am especially fond of Tibetan bowl music. I have noticed that after these sessions, many people feel very energized. The whole process helps them become aware of their own emotional state.’
NEW AGE MUSIC
What Shruti has described is also known as Guided Imagery Meditation(GIM) which has been propagated by doctors and New Age gurus alike. It usually begins with baser notes to attune the mind to a certain emotional level, and then moves up to an involvement with the higher self through music that slows down, becoming repetitive, empty, and almost ‘mantra-like’ in its structure. In psychology this is called the Helen Bonny method of GIM. Dr Chugh notes that such meditations help people get rid of negative emotions and are especially beneficial for people who have suffered some kind of abuse and trauma in their past.
GIM was also propagated by pioneering New Age musician, Steven Halpern, a jazz-rock player who switched to playing music in an altered state of consciousness. The resulting album Spectrum Suite sold more than 1,25,000 copies. Halpern believes that certain notes transcend personal states to reach an inner consciousness. According to him: ‘The nervous system wants to dance to a music that does not require intellectual analysis or emotional involvement.’ This music first affects the body by its beats and then becomes psychogenic, affecting the mind. This music always corresponds to certain emotional states, to which the mind must automatically respond.’
Guided meditation, or even music for meditation, is fast becoming something people can relate to, perhaps because music therapy is not confined by time or spatial constraints. It can be heard anywhere.
Dr. Ravinder Tuli, who runs a holistic health clinic in South Delhi, India, uses devotional chants and New Age music to help his patients relax during a reiki or acupuncture session. He believes that music helps people get into certain mood. The Full Circle bookshop in New Delhi, which stocks many self-improvement books and tapes, has registered an increasing demand for music for relaxation and meditation. Music Today has brought out many volumes of music for relaxation, which mostly feature noted Indian classical musicians such as Vanraj Bhatia, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir Husain and Shiv Kumar Sharma. Raghava Menon makes an interesting observation: ‘I believe that the nature of music therapy would depend not so much on the music, but on the person playing or producing the music. ‘He avers that it is the nature of the sadhana (dedication) of the musician that would differentiate the quality of his music.
Many people also believe that any music you respond to positively will work for you, regardless of its content. Thus, even pop music might work for you. Dr. Chugh often asks his patients to select the tape they wish to listen to during a counseling session. However, as Ashish Khokar points out: ‘More than anything else, it is the amount of concentration the music can elicit from you that matters. A concerto or a classical raga has a structure, it takes you to a point and brings you back. Pop tunes last not more than three minutes, how much can you relax in that time, You would probably be fleeting from one state of consciousness to another.’
Music therapy may not be an exact science. It may yet be in its infancy. But there is no disputing the fact that music has a value which affect one of our prime senses. That people respond to music is a foregone conclusion, what now matters is how the response can be tempered and turned to something more positive and more conclusive to enrich our life.
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Choosing the Right Music
The music you choose depends on the results you expect. If you have relaxation and meditation or just energizing in mind, the best choice would be something that is designed to take you into an altered state of consciousness and does not require intellectual analysis. It can range from a simple instrumental tune on the piano to Tibetan bowl music and chanting.Any music which relies heavily on technology (rock or pop) and originates in anger or revolt (R&B, jazz, blues) has unnatural and negative vibrations attached to it. Anand Avinash cautions that ‘all music is not soothing. Rhythm in any form induces anxiety or excitement.’ So, avoid percussion instruments.
By now there are many audio tapes to choose from in India: BMG Crescendo has brought out four volumes composed by Pandit Raghunath Seth, with titles like Nidra for relaxation and Tanaav for releasing stress. Other include offerings from Osho’s world, Vedic chants, some fusion and classical pieces by noted Indian maestros. Tapes produced by Yogacharya Shri Anand include Music of Ecstasy, Music Beyond Silence and Sounds of Silence.
Anand Avinash recommends music by Bach and Vivaldi, any works by Deuter or Kitaro, Forest Walk by Peter Bastian/Stig Moller, David Sun’s Tranquillity and Slow Ocean.
How to get optimum results
Recommended by Anand Avinash:
Start by visualizing your ear canal expanding. Extend your consciousness inwards into the entire body and then reach outwards towards the entire cosmos. This awareness of the ear extends to the vastness of universe and to the celestial music of the spheres.
To be effective in healing, music should have the following characteristics:
At or below heart rate (72 per minute) for calming or reducing tension.
Smooth and flowing at all times for integrating internal body rhythms and energy flows.
Slow and sustained for meditational purposes; pitch sequences primarily by step at pulse rate or slightly faster for energizing.
Minimum 15 minutes of steady music; 20-45 minutes is optimum.
Generally the softer quality instrument like the flute and organ.
Should be sustained for 4 to 8 seconds for calming.
Music therapy can also be used for personal development in the following areas:
• Memory and learning
• Enhancing certain work skills
• Peaking creative thinking
• Calming down wild
• Chaotic music for relieving negative emotions