By Shameem Akhtar
Chanting and singing give the body a powerful workout, and increase spatial ability dramatically.
Most classical schools of yoga emphasize chanting. While rationalists may dismiss this is as part of the psychic mumbo-jumbo that shrouds much of yoga, actually modern-day scientists are discovering that chanting has tremendous benefits. No wonder then, that serious yoga schools have always included this aspect of yoga – the yoga of the voice – while integrating the various branches of this ancient science.
Here are some amazing benefits of singing:
o According to the University of Manchester, an organ in the inner ear called sacculus responds to sounds in singing, activating pleasure centers in the brain.
o Alexander Technique uses postural corrections to heal. It was found that there was a link between the Vagus nerve involved with the parasympathetic nervous system and the voice. Research established that using the voice is the surest way to calm or activate the nervous system that repairs and rejuvenates the body.
o Researcher Robert Putnam established that a group which sang together did a lot of good together! Its civic engagement was way above groups involved with insular activities.
o Research by the University of California suggested that children who learnt singing and music had improved their spatial ability by 46 per cent, while others exhibited only six percent of progress. Spatial ability was linked to proficiency in math and science.
o In the West, singing workshops are held among the elderly to stem Alzheimer’s.
o Another research found that chanting metrical compositions has a powerful healing effect.
In yoga, most of the back-bends improve the voice box. These poses include ardha chandrasana (standing variation), ushtrasana (camel), bhugangasana (cobra), shanu (bow), greeva sanchalana (all the neck movements), matsyasana (fish), etc.
Swami Sivananda, whose integral yoga includes chanting kirtans, notes (in his book Tantra Yoga, Nada Yoga and Kriya Yoga) that only in singing do the two opposing elements of shreyas and preyas meet. Shreyas leads towards higher joys of self-realisation, while preyas deals with temporary pleasures. But in sankirtan, shreyas and preyas meet equitably, enhancing each other. He says, ‘Music draws out the disease. The disease comes out to encounter the music wave. The two blend and vanish in space.’
Matsyasana (The Fish Pose)
Lie on your back. Placing palms down on the floor beside the body, push hands under the hips. Elbows should be as close as possible to each other. Inhale, raising your head as if to look at the toes. Exhale. Inhale deeply. Now slowly tilt head back so your neck arches, touching the crown to the floor. Breathing evenly, introduce a few corrections, such as perfecting the arch by pushing up your chest further; resting the entire upper body on your elbow and lower arms. Ideally, you should look back. But looking backwards may stress the eyes, so blink often. Or better still, shut your eyes, as you hold the pose as long as is comfortable. Then, inhale, lift head off the floor, and looking back at your toes, gently release your spine, so you come down one vertebra at a time. Release hands, rest with arms and feet apart, eyes shut for a few seconds till breath is even and normal.
Some schools recommend that you do a gentle bout of kapal bhatti (a cleansing pranayama, meaning ‘skull-cleanser’) in the final pose. This can make some people feel dizzy, so try it only if you are an advanced practitioner.
Matsyasana has several benefits, being therapeutic in diabetes, obesity, respiratory ailments, spinal problems. Those with vertigo may find this tough. You can sensitize yourself and phase your learning of the pose, by using a bolster. This pose boosts respiration, blood circulation and works out the muscles of the face. It also works on the thyroid gland. And the arch at the neck definitely works on the larynx, or the voice box, improving tone and stamina of your voice.
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