“Whether it is classical music, indigenous drumming or ancient chants, the power of sound and music has long been a potent healing tool in cultures around the world. Ancient and traditional peoples, as well as 21st century researchers, have documented music’s astonishing role in healing. Through relaxation and stimulation, pain control and stress reduction, or emotional catharsis, sound and music have been used successfully to intercept illness. Sound travels to our deeper levels, where so often the true root of dis-ease stems. The conscious use of music promotes physical and mental wellness and connects us spiritually.”
Pat Moffitt-Cook Ph.D.. The Open Ear Center. New Mexico, USA.
For thousands of years, sound and music have been successfully used by indigenous peoples around the world to alleviate or cure dis-ease of all kinds. The methods have been tried and tested by generations of healers, evolving a gentle, yet profound healing art.
Music therapy has been known in the western world since World War II, when it was used for shell-shock, pain relief or emotional release and healing. Today, music therapy is currently used in hospitals, hospices, schools, prisons, day care centres, health-care and educational establishments and inn private clinical settings. Personal use of sound and world music is on the increase as the benefits are better understood.
Recent advances in neurological science enables researchers to monitor, measure and quantity the affects and benefits of sound and music upon our health. Our brain wave patterns are altered shifting us to alert, relaxed, creative or meditative states. Physiological changes occur too, including heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, blood pressure and changes in the neurotransmitters within our brains. The immune system is strengthened – even by the use of a simple nasal hum. Emotions are balanced, personality strengthened and coping mechanisms improved.
In my work with Cross-cultural music and sound I draw upon the “Bonny Method” whereby the healing potential of a piece of music is analysed by understanding how the instruments used, the rhythm, timbre, pitch and vocals can support a person to make the changes they need. A good example is indigenous drumming; this brings us out of our heads and busy thoughts and down into our bodies, it can be calming and soothing or steadying and energising. Violins “pull at the heart strings” and can be used to acknowledge and release grief, or support someone to connect with previously blocked emotions. Music bypasses our cognitive thinking processes and can therefore be very insightful in getting to the root of a problem quickly or shifting something gently that the normal ‘talking’ therapies either can’t reach or take longer to resolve. With a background in counselling and psychotherapy, music has changed how I work a great deal.
A main area of my work, study and personal practice, is using sound, chant, or toning. The voice is the first, primordial healing tool. No singing ability is required and we can use simple vowel sounds that affect different parts of the body or specific sounds (single syllables or longer chants) that have been used for thousands of years for health and healing. People are always surprised at how easy, but effective, this is. Chinese healing sounds, Sanskrit chant and mantra, indigenous healing sounds and songs – in the west we may have forgotten or perhaps doubt the efficacy of this therapeutic modality – but no culture continues with a healing tool if it proves inefficient. Rooted in ancient tradition and philosophy – current scientific research can pinpoint where sound affects specific areas of the brain or body.
We live in an amazing time where the technicality of modern medicine is astounding; yet the side affects of drug treatment can be lethal, literally. Taking responsibility for our health is not something we are educated about, yet the opportunity to work in an integrative way (allopathic/conventional plus complementary) could offer the best of both worlds. Mostly, my first port of call is ‘alternative’ – and unless it’s something that shouts “Doctor!” at me, I’ll take time to reflect on how I’m feeling (physically, mentally, emotionally) combined with what’s been going on in my life in recent weeks or months, and decide what’s needed. Maybe it’s just rest or more support? Changing my personal practices with more or less suitable yoga, meditation, and certainly chant are all options available to me. But also I look to other forms of healing too; this might be a medical herbalist, homeopathy, acupuncture, or massage.
Receiving treatment from a professional isn’t always financially possible, I’m aware of that, but we can learn self-help practices that are both healing and preventative. Curious about healing chant? My drop-in Sound & Silence chant group is a simple way to experience your healing voice, plus the more in-depth “The Art of Healing Chant” Series – both are open to those completely new to chant and those with experience. Plus see the Resources for Free podcasts of relaxation, yoga nidra, meditations and more.