Originally written 04/20/17.
Integrative Sound & Music Essay.
Learning about Sound & Music in a therapeutic setting is very appealing, as both had a strong impact on me from an early age.
Upon discovering this therapy, I knew it was something I had to pursue & could contribute to. What I did not know, was how in-depth it is & how diverse it’s methods & applications are. It seems I knew very little about most things; Entrainment, Resonance, Overtones, Amplitude. The Golden Ratio & the Fibonacci Sequence, with it’s link to nature & ancient texts like the Book of Abraham. Afrocentric music & history, Medicine Melodies, Raga, Rasa & so on. I’m not yet confident enough to explain in more detail some of the above to anyone, however, as I journey further into the world of Sound & Music Therapy, it is inspiring to see how far I’ve come, & humbling to know how much more there is to learn.
All of the Sound & Music Integration teachers shared great knowledge & insights, however Joshua Leeds was the first to shed light on a theme I’ve a keen interest in, trauma. He explained how Sound Therapy has been used for many years in a multitude of ways & cultures. In the West, it re-surfaced in the 1930’s, particularly after World War II. Today it’s popularity is increasing, & there are many different names for the therapeutic uses of Sound & Music.
We can all recognize the most immediate benefits of sound, especially where our favorite pieces of music are concerned. However, neuroscience proves the inner & outer body, (especially the brain), considers sound a nutrient. In short, music & sound feed the brain. We are transmitting & absorbing sound constantly. Our blood & internal organs create it & just like our ears, our skin is so sensitive, it too hears sound.
Joshua went on to explain a common psychological response regarding listening & hearing. When experiencing traumatic events, like an overbearing parent for example, we learn in our formative years to tune them out as a coping mechanism. As we get older, we may find a pattern has developed, whereby we automatically shut down certain frequencies & perhaps find ourselves missing out on parts of conversations or having an adverse reaction to a persons ‘vibe’ or voice. This means we are only receiving snippets of the information sound is feeding us & unknowingly, depriving ourselves of the full scope of what sound & music can give us. We form a habit of blocking sound, some of which could help our daily interactions, promoting keen perception & decision making skills.
Instead, the trauma of our past can overwhelm the present, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Science tells us that Active Listening is like LOOKING at something, while Passive Hearing is SEEING something. I’m intrigued to know how many of us are automatically overly editing our life experiences, because we no longer know how to listen or hear properly.
Doctor Tomatis understood this when creating his listening therapy program, The Tomatis Method. “A methodology which assists & accelerates the development of listening skills & language.” In class, we learned that language makes us social & thinking beings. However, it is difficult to be social if your Auditory Tonal Processing & Auditory Sequential Processing is impaired. When our ability to differentiate between tones or patterns is compromised, we may run into difficulties in our efforts to interact with others.
There are 2 small muscles within the inner ear, the Tensor Tympani & Stapedius Myoclonus, they have multiple functions. The action that fascinates me is their ability to be a psychological shield, shutting out sounds that disturb us. We need them to operate fully, not only to Hear & Listen, but for our emotional health. Why? They protect the inner ear, physically & emotionally. It is both a function & a learned pattern.
This is exciting to me, it implies we can train these muscles & our brain, to gradually change their reaction to certain sounds & perhaps reverse some unfavorable psychological issues (in part), through Sound Therapy/Meditation. Or at least set the scene where trauma can safely show up without judgement, & be observed through discussion &/or self inquiry.
John Beaulieu uses Tuning Forks calibrated to positively affect different parts of the body, (even our bones, when placed on the body). This process is called Vibro Acoustics. This in turn can create the ‘Relaxation Response’. It produces & boosts Nitric Oxide, which releases into the blood stream, expanding the blood vessels, improves blood flow as well as calming the ‘Fight or Flight’ impulse. It helps all the organs in the body to function more effectively. According to Silvia Nakkach, “the Vagus nerve carries 75% of all Parasympathetic activity.” The Vagus nerve is easily stimulated via sound, when using instruments, like the voice or tuning forks. The latter targets soothing energy directly to where it’s needed the most. This technique can teach the brain & body how to relax, relatively quickly. I have witnessed this with my dogs. One of them is particularly nervous & frenetic, due to his traumatic birth. When he’s acutely stressed, I sing to him softly & gently play the tuning forks & Alchemy Singing bowls. Within minutes, he stops shaking & allows me to pet his tummy for longer than usual. Consciousness needs new stimuli in order to survive & grow, it achieves this through ‘direct’ experiences. His mind is focussed on what I’m ‘doing’ & the sounds are enough of a lullaby (thank you Ysaye Barnwell), to sooth & calm him down. And yes, he & I talk afterwards.
Everything is vibrating & creating energy, the world is sound. Ancient philosophy spoke of this, it is mentioned in the ancient Indian texts ‘Rigvedas’ which is part of the ‘Vedas’.
Thomas Amelio explained how chanting Mantras, (or “Ancient sound formulas” as he sometimes calls them), in Sanskrit, with specific pronunciations, inflections & rhthyms, can create vibratory patterns, this can engender a deep state of calm & meditation, healing ones self emotionally & physically. Healing in this context doesn’t mean ‘cure’, it’s a way to find equilibrium. Meditation can be challenging, Mantras can set an intention, a focus to the practice, increasing our heightened sense of receptivity, expanding our consciousness. As someone who is chronically anxious, I find the Bija Mantras very helpful when meditating. It would be unfair not to mention how much information there is within silence. One cannot underestimate it's power, & as John Beaulieu once shared, “All sound originates & returns to silence.”
There are many advantages of integrating ‘Sound Meditation’ into our lives, especially in a holistic & general healthcare setting. An asana/yoga class is one such place. I have witnessed the benefits of using vocalization, mantras, tuning forks, singing bowls, & other instruments, throughout the class, towards the end, &/or by itself. This experience can benefit everyone, however, at some point, to create this specifically for people who have survived domestic violence (particularly women), & individuals who’re suffering from mental health issues, namely depression, is something I’d like to see more of, & be involved in. Sadly, trauma & depression remain taboo subjects in our culture. Like Robert Thurman, I think, “You should never be afraid of the suffering you’ve been through”. Among many things, yoga means ‘union’ & partnering these modalities, offers the potential to empower the disempowered. If we are conductors & receivers of sound, it makes sense to merge these forms of meditation together. At this point, I am not exactly clear on how I will use what I have discovered on this course, & for once I am ok with not knowing. Sound & Music saved my life as a child, as an adult, it's therapeutic benefits has returned in a form I welcome & didn’t expect. I have finally found a self expression I can fully connect to & feel passionate about, because it’s not directly about me, it’s about healing through giving-being of service, & vice versa. To my surprise & delight, opportunities are coming my way & I gratefully accept them. Relinquishing expectations, has allowed me to help myself & in turn, help others, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do, I simply didn’t know what shape it would take to facilitate it. In order to practically apply what I’ve learned & explored in this essay, I know how vital self practice is. I regularly practice Sound Meditation, it’s become a natural part of everyday family life. It is proving to be an effective de-stressor, & has brought us closer to one another.
Tara Brach offers, “ You have a unique body & mind, with a particular history & conditioning. No one can offer you a formula for navigating all situations & all states of mind. Only by listening inwardly in a fresh & open way, will you discern at any given time what most serves your healing & freedom”. To be a part of a culture which nurtures our natural state, of seeing & accepting ourselves as we are, with compassion, devoid of judgement, is key. It is my firm belief that being of service to others, particularly those most vulnerable among us, is the mark of a healthy & strong society. Only when we accept ourselves as we are, not as we wish ourselves to be, can we thrive as individuals & as a global community. Endless thanks to all who made this SMI course possible & for the chance to add our voices into the Sound Meditation Collective, that lives to serve as a reminder that , “We all have the right to find happiness within.”