Does chant heal – or is it all a sham?

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I’m often asked, “Does chanting really heal?” Or I’m met with a cynical rolling of the eyes!  I get that…

The short answer is “Yes chant heals.”  So is it all in my mind, just wishful thinking?  Maybe it is such a focused practice (a form of Sound Mindfulness) that the benefits are purely from switching off the Monkey Mind, being fully present, and that in itself is where the ‘healing’ takes place?  

(Starting this Sunday – The Art of Healing Chant Series – Chakra Chants for Vitality.  Read more here… )

There are two ways to reflect on the efficacy of chanting – firstly, from your own personal experience – what happens when you simply hum, or repeat what are known as the “Bija” (seed) sounds (Lam, Vam, Ram)?  How does your breathing change?  Where can you feel the vibration in your body?  Does your mind become more still, or is there a sense of the inner chuntering has settled?  In my many years’ of teaching, one session usually gives you a swift and palpable experience.

Secondly, ongoing research shows significant changes in our brainwaves, brain cohesion, blood pressure, mood, and reduction in stress.  It also demonstrates a rapid shift from the sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) to the parasympathetic (rest, digest, safety) nervous system.

In the West we demand scientific “proof” – a wise stance considering how much baloney there can be out there in the Mind-Body-Spirit world.  In fact, in all walks of life, there are exaggerations and just plain B.S!

Listening to a talk Sarena did I was one of the cynical ones.  My wife wouldn’t look at me (I think she was laughing!).  5 minutes of simple humming and pain in my lower back disappeared.  Weird.  (John B, Well, Somerset)

But prior to the science, I’d like to offer the historical context which plays an important role for me in considering how true, or effective, chant is at supporting our health and healing.   For thousands of years people from many cultures have used chant for health, healing and spiritual connection.  It has been studied, explored, and challenged by a multitude of teachers, healers and priests for generations.  It is through their research, practice and refinement that chant is alive and flourishing today.

The ancient texts show how very practical it was; different chants were used for those life challenges we have to deal with today; health issues, stress, and anxiety; low mood, depression.  Relationship issues, money worries, blessing of the crops and food, finding the right partner, and most definitely as a much revered spiritual practice to honour the Source of all life (with the multiple names that goes by).

Handed down from teacher to student in the oral tradition for generations, they didn’t learn by reading, listening to recordings, watching videos, nor by becoming a “master” in a few short weekends.  To be a student hundreds, indeed 3-5000 years ago, meant you lived with your teacher and only learnt through the oral tradition; call and response, by listening deeply, repeating, being corrected, your practice refined.  Hundreds, thousands of hours to honour the tradition, to ensure that what you learnt, and then eventually passed on to your students, was accurate, precise and true to the original teachings.  We continue to study in this way today (but with the advantage of texts and recordings!)

Wow!  I feel like I’ve just got something off my chest!

In the 20th and 21st Centuries, science now has the technology and understandings to research, study and measure the multiple benefits of chant. The spiritual aspect will of course be subjective for each individual.

The Science

I’ve been “teaching” people Humming for Health for 25 years (great job!).  What I’ve actually been sharing are the multiple benefits – nasal humming (either the yogic Brahmari humming bee breath or the different technique taught by Dr Alfred Tomatis, greatly increases the Nitric Oxide in our sinuses.

Nitric Oxide has been linked to:-

  1. A reduction in stress hormones – Mother Nature’s Tranquiliser
  2. Longer exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system
  3. Releases catarrh in the sinuses – stops infections
  4. Increases energy
  5. Supports good nervous system function
  6. It helps to control T-cell-mediated immune response.
  7. Reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are active in autoimmune disorders, and protects against free radical damage.

A very important health benefit is the impact of humming on our vagus nerve (and indeed all chant as each one produces a humming effect within the body-mind)

Both the physical vibration of humming and the production of Nitric oxide through the action of humming, activates the 10th Cranial nerve known as the vagus nerve which is responsible for bringing information from the organs such as the heart, gut, liver, and lungs to the brain. When you stimulate the vagus nerve, you signal to your body that it can destress and relax, which is necessary for healthy hormone and thyroid function and avoiding depression and anxiety.

With so much awareness now of the impact of trauma (Big T or little t), of Adverse Childhood Experiences (A.C.E’s), all chanting can gently dissolve long-held tensions within our muscles, habitual patterns of “holding” (how we move through and meet the world), and most importantly supporting a health vagal ‘tone’ (which supports better gut, brain and emotional health).

Brain Imaging and Chanting Om – in a recent brain imaging study, the meditation chant “om,” which ends on a humming sound, reduced activity in certain areas of the brain associated with depression.  MRI scans showed how the vibrations from om chanting stimulated the vagus nerve which then sent out electrical signals that deactivated key areas of the brain relating to low mood and stress. We know that the vagal nerve directly impacts multiple organs and systems in the body.  (My 3 part Blog on the philosophy of Aum) 

Coming home to your True Nature.  Healing chant calms the mind, creates a clarity of thinking and in turn enhances our inner knowing, or intuition.  As a form of Sound Meditation, the more we come home to ourselves, the more our True Nature is revealed.  Not the personality, or the inner dialogue that tells us we’re not good enough, or the very human anxieties that plague us all at times.  This to me is the ‘sacred’ or ‘spiritual’ aspect of chant and mantra that all of us can access through regular practice.

Sitting in Sarena’s chant group, within 5 minutes I’m back “Home”; within my body, calm, feeling safe and reconnected to the stronger me. (Anna D, Glos)

We begin to realise – or remember – that beneath the daily challenges and ongoing mental chatter, there is a quiet, still place.  A core part of us that lies undisturbed by the external ‘stuff’.  Connecting to our True Nature creates a sense of Trust, Security and quiet Confidence that supports our journey through life.

If you do nothing else, spend 5 minutes gently humming.  Knowing this impacts you so positively – mentally, physically and emotionally. To explore a little more, my “Sound & Silence – healing chant” MP3 offers a home practice of the Aum, humming, Bija sounds, and the Gayatri Mantra (with Pdf support material) to support your own self-healing journey. 

The Art of Healing Chant starts THIS Sunday, 8th May at 2pm (Livestream via Zoom).  I’d love to share with you the Joy of chant – and for you to be in a circle of like-minded people.  Feel welcome to arrange a 1:1 chat to find out more.  Or – you can Book HereMillions of people around the world chant.  I have a sneaky feeling it’s those that don’t chant that are the odd ones out!