Sound Healing - Science & Shamanism
Article by Brigitte Garvey, Madam Kali
For many of us, particularly in the western world, there is a natural inclination towards needing more solid evidence in the proven benefits of a number of alternative therapeutic healing modalities. Particularly, the idea of "sound healing" can sound quite whimsical and unrealistic in terms of creating real and lasting therapeutic benefits. However, to better understand how and why sound can be such a potent medicinal force we can apply our increasingly expanding scientific knowledge of sound itself. With a clearer scientific perspective of how sound impacts us so profoundly, we can further appreciate why sound has been harnessed as such an integral component of ancient healing systems and how the revival of many of these practices are playing an increasingly important role in modern medicine. To highlight the efficacy of sound healing I draw on some of my personal experience in the Amazonian shamanic healing model where sound is used as powerful healing instrument in a number of varying capacities.
Sound, it’s around us all the time, vibrating in an infinite number of different frequencies. Some of these frequencies are audible to the human ear but many are not. We can detect sound when it is vibrating between 20 & 20 000 Hertz, however literally everything on the earth is vibrating. Travelling through the air at approximately 1240 kilometers per hour, sound moves almost a million times slower than the speed of light. A basic principal of physics states that “motion creates frequency and frequency creates sound”. All matter surrounding us exists in the form of atoms, all atoms function with electrons revolving around the nucleus at a speed of approximately 966 kilometers per second, considering our principal of physics that all motion creates frequency and frequency creates sound, this means every atom and all matter is generating sound.[i] While the frequency of an atom is not audible to the human ear, it is indeed impacting our own frequency not to mention the effect of those sounds we can hear.
How does the body receive and process sound? Sound is perceived primarily through our ears, where it is transformed into electromagnetic impulses sent to the brain. The famous French Surgeon and sound research pioneer Alfred Tomatis discovered that through this process sound literally charges the brain and its vibration on the small bones in the ear can be responsible for putting the entire cranium into resonance. Conclusively, Tomatis found that the listening function does not only affect the ear but mobilizes the entire nervous system and its activation of neurons affect muscle tension and the position of the body. His ground breaking research shows us that for health and wellbeing we not only need be conscious of the food we eat & the thoughts we think but additionally the sounds that surround us, heard or unheard.
Our brothers and sisters of past civilizations certainly did not need to measure electrons in Hertz to realize the powerful role sound plays in our existence. For many ancient cultures sound has weaved its way into the original creation myths. The “OM” sound stemming from ancient Vedic culture, initiated over 4000 years ago is recognized as the original point of creation. As yoga students worldwide chant the infamous OM sound, they are beckoning the beginning of all time, a call to the creation of life. Indian scholars were not the only ancient culture to center their creations myths around the primordial essence of sound. From the Egyptians, Hebrews, Native Americans, Celts, Chinese, Tibetans and Christians, all make reference to sound as a divine principle. The incorporation of sounds as an integral component of their spirituality also permeates the ancient cultures of Ethiopians, Hopi, Aboriginals and the temple of Greece and Rome.[ii]
David Tame in his book “The Secret Power of Music” talks about the Chinese dynasties understanding of the power of sound. They considered music to be such an influential and potent force that only the “correct” type of music was to be played in order to avoid any negative moral influence. This was 3000 years before Christ was born. Entire villages throughout Africa and the Americas drum, dance and sing themselves into altered states of divine consciousness. Hundreds of Shamans throughout South America and other tribal cultures sing and chant sacred songs with the intention of expelling sicknesses from people. Our modern culture is gradually beginning to recognize the value of music beyond entertainment by embracing sound as a valid therapeutic modality.
Experiencing the power of sound healing in the context of Amazonian Shamanism...
I have experienced personally the powerful influence of sound throughout my extensive healing journey in the jungles of the Peruvian amazon. In the Amazonian shamanic healing tradition sound is an essential component of all healing rituals and is used in combination with the sacred plant medicines to create profound healing of mind, body and spirit. I remember distinctly my first sound healing experience in the Amazon jungle back in 2012 during my inaugural “plant dieta” experience.
“Dietas” while not widely known about or understood, are an integral component of Amazonian shamanism. During the course of a dieta experience the participant is required to spend a period of time solitary in the jungle drinking a particular “master plant” each day. The context of being isolated within the natural environment and receiving the plant medicine daily provokes deep healing states. Each master plant is known to have its own powerful spirit and under the guidance of a shaman the plant spirit can be invoked to bring healing of both mind and body. With this understanding sometimes the master plants are called “plant doctors”. In the context of the traditional healing ceremonies or otherwise the Shaman draws on numerous sacred songs, named “Ikaros” which are essentially taught to the shamans from the plants themselves in the native Peruvian Amazonian language of Quechua. Through the singing of an Ikaro the Shaman is able to direct the plant spirits to perform healing on those in need.
Throughout my first Amazonian dieta experience I was “dieting” a very potent plant named “Chiric Sanango”. Hidden within this aesthetically beautiful tree with its violet coloured flowers is a very powerful master plant healer. Each plant has its special powers in a sense and can aid with particular types of ailments and conditions. Chiric Sanango works on drawing out “coldness” from a person, coldness trapped in the body can cause illness on both a physical and psychological level. A common physical ailment exacerbated by cold in the body is arthritis and poor circulation. On a psychological level Chiric also penetrates cold in the the heart which can occur through various traumatic experiences (sexual, psychological, physical) throughout the life. The pervasive contracting emotion of fear falls within in the realm of “coldness” penetrable by the medicinal power of the Chiric plant spirit.
A few days into my dieta experience with “Chriric Sanango” after taking a bath in the lagoon I began to feel very disoriented and short of breath on the walk back to my hut. By the time I had returned to the hut I had become increasingly distressed and was experiencing extreme sensations of shaking, burning and difficulty breathing. Upon hearing my state of panic the shaman arrived in my hut and sang into the crown of my head an Ikaro for protection and the release of fear. I remember thinking that the symptoms I was experiencing were so extreme there was no way a “song” was going to help me out of this dilemma, but literally within seconds I felt this vibration of panic leave my body as I was transformed to a state of clam.
Since this time, over the last four years during my shamanic journeys through Brazil, Chile and Peru I have had numerous personal experiences where sound has penetrated the deepest levels of my being allowing release of painfully held traumas and past experiences trapped in the body. I have also had the honor of sharing the healing vibrations of the Tibetan singing bowl in the sacred ceremonies throughout South America. The singing bowl, with its mystical Eastern origins and consciousness expanding potential has been warmly embraced by the people of South America and in the context of the the healing ceremonies has brought much peace, love and tranquility.
In summary, with the understanding presented in this article, we can recognize through science itself that sound is alive in everything and is impacting us all the time, whether we can hear it or not. Science also shows us, what many traditional cultures have understood for centuries, that sound is a powerful tool through which we can transform our consciousness on all levels of our being. Put simply sound is essentially a form of vibration or energy if you like. As vibrational beings ourselves we can form resonance with different frequencies in our environment both positive or negative. We can also carry disharmonic frequencies within us from past traumatic events. This awareness can contribute to us becoming more conscious of surrounding ourselves with positive vibrations in the form of our our spoken word, the spoken words we receive from others, our choice of music, movies, radio and television and the general sound harmony of the environment in which we live. In a therapeutic context, we can harness the power of frequency through sound healing by both releasing disharmonic vibrations trapped in the body and restoring the body/mind to “harmonic” states of being.
[i] Leeds, Power of Sound, 2012, p.14
[ii] Ibid, p.14