Understanding Sound: Part 3

This is the third post in Toby’s Understanding Sound article series. The first part can be read here and the second part can be read here.

Sound Creates, Integrates, Regulates & Transforms

Girl in WebSound has been used effectively by many of the world’s spiritual traditions to alter consciousness and heal the body. Mantras, prayers, and chants all generate a pattern of energy that calms the mind and rebalances the body. Studies show that repetitive sound transforms the alpha and beta wave patterns in the brain into theta wave patterns. The theta brain wave pattern is conducive to relaxation and has been linked to a sense of heightened creativity.

Sound has also been used as an effective tool for opening the body’s various energy meridians and chakras. As tantric author Margot Anand observed in her lecture on SkyDancing Tantra in Portland, Oregon in 2005: “Just as the resonance of one high, operatic note can break a crystal glass and the right words can open a mind or a heart, the right sound can open your chakras. The word chakra means ‘vortex, center of resonance.’ If we direct a sound that resonates into the center of a chakra, it can open like a flower. Every mystery school from ancient times to the present uses sound for these purposes.”[7]

Michael Thaut, director of Colorado State University’s Center for Biomedical Research, relates how a music therapist facilitated recovery of a woman in Colorado who suffered a stroke:

“[The patient] carefully walks an obstacle course set up in the middle of the room. The physical therapist walks close by to guide and help her, while the music therapist facilitates her gait with live music on an autoharp, using a Neurologic Music Therapy technique called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation, or RAS. Although the music seems simple, its effect on [the patient] helps her coordinate her movements into a stronger and more functional gait pattern.

To a casual observer, it may look like patients are keeping up with the beat of the music, but the phenomenon actually is more like an involuntary response. “It’s the beat that attracts the brain,” Thaut says. “The beat attracts a command in the brain to move the leg.”[8]

This is one of many case studies that indicate the transforming abilities of sound. Whether drumming in a group or individually, this exercise is a powerful way to create altered states and that a person’s energy system can be radically transformed in a relatively short period of time. And while my personal practice started with only drumming, it has shifted to include instruments that create melody and tones such as voice, tuning forks, guitar, ukulele, and piano. I’ve found that frequency and rhythm, working together, create a dynamic transformation.

Jam SessionThis is supported by an article, Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects by Dr. Barry B. Bittman and others on the composite effects of group drumming that was published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine magazine in January 2001. The article reports: “Drum circles have been part of healing rituals in many cultures throughout the world . . . It is therefore not surprising that drumming, one of the oldest healing rituals known, is now gaining interest as a complementary therapeutic strategy in the medical area.”

Bittman’s detailed and masterful paper cites research on medical data such as blood plasma, natural killer cell activity, and anxiety and depression inventories. This scientific analysis concludes, “Drumming is a complex composite intervention with the potential to modulate specific neuroendocrine and neuroimmune parameters in a direction opposite to that expected with the classic stress response.”[9]

Both East Indian and Oriental medicine promote health by keeping the energy meridians and chakras open and clear. These approaches envision the bio-energetic network of meridians interconnected throughout the body through the major organs. The meridians provide structural and patterned information to the cells of the body during growth and development from conception to adulthood.

Medical treatment involves identifying the source and location of any blocks in this system that are impeding normal energy flow and then removing them. The acupuncture meridians are a type of biocircuitry network that supplies life energy to the different organs of the body. The meridians have surface points, known as acupuncture points, that are like energetic pores. Stimulation of these key points with needles, or sound, or both in combination, can help release blockages and promote healing.

Sound Therapies of Ancient and Modern Times

HarpistThere is evidence of a long history of sound healing being used in many cultures. In the Christian Bible, the book I Samuel talks about David playing the harp for King Saul. When the king was in a very deep state of depression, the only cure for his sadness was the sound of David’s Harp. This music would alter his state of mind and bring him into a place of joy, pulling him from the depths of his despair.

Ancient Greek mythology tells the story of Pythagoras of Samos, a wise teacher who knew how to use sound, who taught at the mystery schools in Delphi and Crotona. Pythagoras endowed his students with knowledge of how certain musical chords and melodies could produce responses within the human organism. He demonstrated that the right sequence of sounds, played musically on an instrument, can change behavior patterns and accelerate the healing process.

Similarly, I’ve noticed in my own work over the past 10 years significant shifts in the emotional and physical state of clients and participants in both individual in group drumming experiences. Having drummed and led drumming groups in adolescent psychiatric wards, I’ve seen a profound calming occur within persons who were greatly agitated and reenergizing among those who were deeply depressed.

Although I find the acoustic instrument to be most effective, I also have seen profound, radical mood transformation with the use of CDs or digital music files when patients listen on headphones or through a speaker system.

Interestingly enough, even when comatose or under extreme sedation, the auditory organs continue to receive sound vibrations and transmit those sounds to the brain. For this reason, some surgeons have become more conscientious about how sounds or even the choice of conversation within an operating room can impact a patient’s recovery. These medical personnel are careful to keep their discussions of the patient’s health positive and often have CDs of peaceful classical music or gentle nature sounds playing in the operating room as well as in the recovery room.

Grop of People in WaterOne of the most interesting applications of “healing rhythms CDs” is the use of rhythm when assisting a person who is crossing over from this life to the after-life. Death, in the Western culture, has through recent generations been a taboo subject. However, in some Western arenas, this is changing. I’ve been deeply honored, through drumming, to have helped people with a chronic illness find a moment of peace as they shift from this world into the world of the ancestors.

I’ve received many e-mails indicating the ease in which a loved one passed as soon as a drumming CD was played in the room. These e-mails as well as other sources indicate that it’s becoming more and more common in the allopathic medical field to hear of a harpist, a flautist, or some type of musical therapy being administered to those close to death.

As we come to understand sound in a more profound way, we can begin to work with it in a manner that can transform our lives and the lives of those around us. Sound is powerful medicine that has existed in every culture on the planet since the beginning of time.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me here.


[7] http://www.margotanand.com/margot_bio.html , (lecture on SkyDancing Tantra Portland Oregon 2005),  cited July 20, 2011

[9] (Altern Ther Health Med. 2001;7(1):38-47)

Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine

Home site is http://www.alternative-therapies.com/

Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects by Barry B. Bittman, MD, Lee S. Berk, MPH, DrPH, David L. Felten, MD, PhD, James Westengard, BS, O. Carl Simonton, MD, James Pappas, MD, and Melissa Ninehouser, BS
cited July 20, 2011

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply