For most of us, sound is so present that we take it for granted. If we wake up in the morning and hear the birds singing, it’s not an unusual event, so we probably don’t take a moment to listen. After all, we have things to do, we don’t have time to appreciate how soothing birdsong can be. But when a sound is painful to us, like fingernails scratching down a chalkboard, it forces us to stop and react. That’s a sound we can’t ignore because we feel such an adverse physical reaction to it.
But the fact is, our body has a physical and mental reaction to sound every second of our life.
That’s because, in many ways, our body is sound.
Every organ, every tissue, every cell within our body has its own unique vibration. That vibration has a frequency which emits sound as part of our body’s natural metabolic process. Have you ever taken a moment to sit or lie down in silence and really listen to the sounds your body makes? If you have, you’ll know your body is never quiet. You are the most incredible piece of music ever created.
When the vibrations inside our body are clear and uninterrupted, our body is well. When the vibration is broken or muted, we are vulnerable to discomfort and disease.
Think of it like listening to your favourite song. If the song is played correctly, it soothes you and makes you happy. If it is played badly, it can be so unpleasant you can’t bear to hear it.
The elements of sound
Everything in nature vibrates at a frequency that produces its own distinctive sound, even if we can’t hear it.
Some sounds, like a mother singing a lullaby to her baby, or the sound of waves washing onto a beach, are so relaxing they can send us to sleep.
Other sounds, like a marching band or up-tempo music, lift our mood and fill us with energy.
Sounds like atonal singing or Shamanic drumming can induce an elevated trance-like state. For thousands of years, Shamans have believed that sound is sacred and can take us to other worlds. They even call this sound-induced state “riding the drumbeats.”
And, sometimes, sound has even been considered dangerous. The acoustics of a soprano singer reaching a high note can break a glass. During the Middle Ages, a discordant series of notes called the Devil’s Tritone, or ‘Diabolusin musica’ was considered so blasphemous that clergyman forbid them from ever being played or sung inside their churches.
In all those examples, one thing is clear; sound has a physiological effect on us, whether we realise it or not. Unconsciously we’ve always known it. It’s the reason why, if we’re uncomfortable in our own body or we’re not connecting with a particular person or situation, we often describe ourselves as “feeling out of tune.”
Sound and healing
So, when we consider what a powerful effect external sound can have on our body and mind, it should come as no surprise that the sound canal can be used to harmonise our molecular structure and heal the imbalances and dis-eases inside us.
All we have to do is surround ourselves with the right kind of sounds so that the vibrations of those sounds will make us stronger, healthier, and happier.
In Ayurveda, specific sounds can be used to balance our mind and body, maintain good health, or assist in the healing of sickness.
According to the Vedas (the four ancient sacred texts in which the principles of Ayurveda were initially recorded), the sound AUM (or OM) was the vibration that brought all things into manifestation. It was the first impulse to emerge from the absolute silence, and it encompasses all matter, all energy, and all thought. That’s why it is frequently called “the cosmic sound” or “the sound of the universe.” It is also known by the Sanskrit term, Nada.
Before we continue, I’d like to make one thing clear. Although a few of the sound healing techniques I’m about to discuss can be used as a form of religious practice, you do not have to follow any religion to benefit from them. These techniques are like Ayurveda itself. Even though Ayurveda began in the Hindu scriptures, it is a health and lifestyle practice, not a religious one. Please don’t feel alienated when we talk about a philosophy like AUM, or techniques like chanting and mantra. Instead, think of them as tools that can help you achieve wellness and balance in your body and mind.
In Nada Yoga, sound is used in two ways; externally (Ahata)and internally (Anahata.) Practitioners of Nada Yoga believe that, if you align yourself with these two types of sound, it can remove all toxicity from your body.
Actively listening to an external sound, like the different notes of a bird’s song or the individual sounds each letter makes as you chant a mantra like AUM or OM, can focus your awareness deeper into your system. When you chant, you'll notice the subtle vibrations the movement of sound makes within your body, from your lips to your throat and down into your chest. Those are only the vibrations you're physically aware of. The vibrations continue throughout the rest of your body too.
But we also have an internal sound and, just as everybody’s voice is different, our internal sound has a unique vibration as well. When you align yourself with this sound, you’re bringing your body into balance and reconnecting with everything else in the universe. All you have to do is calm your breath, close your ears with your fingers, and listen to the sound your body makes. This is a relaxing mindfulness practice that, if you continue it regularly, will make you feel better connected to who you are and the way your bodyworks.
The Humming Bee Breath
The Humming Bee Breath is a fantastic way to relax and rebalance yourself using sound.
Sit comfortably. With your back straight and your eyes closed, block your ears with your index or middle fingers. Lightly press your lips together with your teeth slightly apart and calm and centre yourself by breathing naturally in and out of your nose. Bring your focus to the centre of your forehead, between your eyebrows.
Breathe in deeply through your nose. As you exhale, hum any single, steady tone that comes naturally to you until you reach the end of the exhale. It may sound like the humming of a bumblebee. Feel the vibration inside your body and continue this cycle for at least three to five minutes.
Chanting AUM has been scientifically proven to slow down the nervous system and resonate through you at the same vibrational frequency found in the rest of the natural world. As I mentioned earlier, chanting AUM or OM doesn’t need to have any kind of religious connotation. It is the vibrational frequency of the word which is important, and simple repetitive chants like OM and AUM are the easiest to learn and remember.
When you chant, take a deep exhalation and then, as you exhale, chant the word aloud slowly. At the end of the exhale, breathe in and repeat. Don’t force it. Continue like this for two to three minutes.
Alternatively, you could begin by chanting the word out loud and then repeat the cycle while slowly lowering your voice to a whisper. Keep lowering your voice until, eventually, you’re repeating the chant silently inside your head without moving your lips or tongue. If possible, let the sound take your awareness into silence. If that feels uncomfortable, or if your mind begins to wander, return to repeating the chant silently inside your head. Keep going for between ten and fifteen minutes, or until it feels natural to stop.
Every part of your body has its own unique vibration. If you have an ailment in a particular part of your body, and you know what its unique vibration is, you can chant the tone that will raise the vibration and promote healing in that area. There is evidence that toning and humming can lower blood pressure and trigger endorphins to relieve pain. It can also release negative emotions, reduce stress, and improve concentration and self-esteem.
Unlike a chant or a mantra, which are both rhythmic, vocal toning is one steady tone that you sound on the exhale. There are tones you can use that direct healing vibrations to specific parts of the body. However, if you can’t find the tone for a particular body part, simply choose any of the vowel sounds – Ahaa, Eee, Eye, Ooo, Uuu – and direct the vibration of the tone into the area.
Examples of tones include: Mmm (sinuses), Nnn (ears), Eemm(eyes), Paam (stomach), Haa (diaphragm), Ma (heart), and Shhh (liver and small intestine.)
You can also tone a vibration into your chakras.
Root chakra (base of spine) LAM (which increases the earth element in the body)
Sacral chakra VAM (which increases the water element in the body)
Solar Plexus chakra (navel) RAM (which increases the fire element in the body and mind)
Heart chakra YAM (which increases the air element in the body and mind)
Throat chakra HAM (influences the ether element, works with body and mind)
Brow chakra KSHAM (influences the ether element, affects the astral body)
Crown chakra AUM (influences the physical, subtle, and causal body)
In Sanskrit, ‘man’ is ‘mind’ and ‘tra’ is ‘to free from.’ In other words, mantra aims to free your mind so you can bring your body into harmony and manifest the life you desire to lead.
Chanting your favourite mantra is an easy and effective way to concentrate your mind, raise your vibration, and re-programme your thinking.
The Vedas are actually a series of mantras intended to awaken the primal knowledge encoded in our tissues, cells, and DNA.
There are mantras for anything you can imagine. In fact, the explosion of self-help books over the past thirty years has turned the mantra in to something of a cliché. Instead of reciting a traditional mantra like ‘Aum ManiPadme Hum’, many people will have a daily mantra along the lines of ‘Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better’, ‘I am enough’, or ‘Be a warrior, not a worrier.’
The truth is, it doesn’t matter. If the mantra means something to you, and if chanting the mantra focuses your awareness of self, clears your mind, and helps release the blocks that may be holding you back, that is enough. Studies conducted at Cleveland University have shown that when we feel connected to the meaning behind the mantra, it increases the release of healing chemicals in the brain. This is known as the Psycholinguistic effect.
In the Vedic tradition, a mantra is often dedicated to a particular deity. As a result, chanting the mantra is believed to summon up the energies that are associated with that deity. What the mantra is actually doing is activating the energies that have lain dormant inside us.
Three of the best-loved Sanskrit mantras are:
Om Namah Shivaya (translation: I honour the God within.) Om Namah Shivaya calms the mind, brings insight, and unlocks your pure potential. Many people call it the most powerful mantra.
Aham Prema (translation: I am Divine Love.) Aham Prema connects you to the root of compassion and pure love. A lot of people chant it before they start their day or to alleviate stress.
Aum Mani Padme Hum (translation: Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus.) Aum Mani Padme Hum is a mantra of compassion, freeing us from fixating on ourselves and our physical wellbeing and expanding our love and kindness towards ourself and others.
Or you might want to try one of Oprah Winfrey’s favourite mantras, which is Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo (translation: I call upon the Divine Wisdom and bow to this Wisdom.) Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo is a mantra which tunes in to our self-knowledge and divinity, giving us insight and awareness and aligning us with the universal vibration.
For mantra to be successful, it’s important to be consistent. It is traditionally recommended that you recite the mantra 108 times in the morning and 108 times at night and focus on the sound and meaning of the words as you say them, either aloud or in your head. In Vedic culture, the number 108 signifies the wholeness of existence. By chanting a mantra 108 times, we are aligning ourselves with the creative energy of the universe.
Similar to the Ayurvedic philosophy of treating the root problem and not just the symptoms, Sanskrit mantras work on a deeper level by harmonising our vibration with the natural vibration of the universe and creating lasting healing.
Bells, Gongs, and Singing Bowls
Over the past few years, there has been a growing interest in ‘sound bathing’. Think of it as a kind of sonic acupressure, when certain instruments are used to target sound into the body to remove blockages, disrupt sickness or negativity, and restore balance.
The instruments that are most commonly used are bells, gongs, drums, singing bowls, and tuning forks. The human voice is often used as well. In Tibetan sound therapy, a singing bowl is sometimes filled with warm water and chimed while the bowl is placed on different parts of the patient’s body.
A study by BAST – the British Academy of Sound Therapy – found that 95% of clients suffering from stress-related disorders experienced a heightened state of calm following sound treatment and that the positive effect of sound therapy on a client’s autonomous nervous system can be substantially beneficial.
Ayurveda teaches us that we are energetic beings whose bodies must remain balanced if we are going to stay healthy. Anything can push us off balance, and everything we hear and see affects us in subtle ways. That's why leading an Ayurvedic lifestyle is so important, because it's impossible to predict where the next opportunity for imbalance might come from.
I hope this blog has given you a small insight into the healing qualities of sound, and that you might want to try one or two of these suggestions out for yourself. Whatever you do, please take as much opportunity to slow down and listen to your own interior music, as well as the music of the universe around you, as much as possible.