Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Heal, Strengthen, Inspire and Relax with Sound and Music

Your body is a sound resonator. Each one of your 75 trillion cells vibrates in response to sounds that you hear. Music, voices, birds’ chirping, jackhammers, thunder, car alarms, etc.  Everything that you hear has an effect on you.
In his book, “The Mozart Effect” Don Campbell tells the story of how he used humming to help break down a blood clot in his brain. He also recounts many stories of how people have consciously used sound to assist their body in self-healing.
I have felt profound effects from sound.  I have been brought to tears by hearing the drone of Tibetan Meditation Bowls, and have felt my entire being tighten up and get stressed at the sound of a mysterious, seemingly innocuous squealing in a car of the New York City subway.  When I put my iPod on shuffle, it is interesting to hear the different types of music come up and to notice how it can instantly change my mood. 
“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
-William Congreve
As a Nia teacher, one of the things that I know is very important about the practice is the music. I make a conscious effort to choose music that has a positive effect on my nervous system. At different points in the class, I may want a different effect, so I may choose some music that encourages introspection and then may play something that stimulates and excites. I may then move into a piece of music that triggers playfulness and I always tend to finish the class with music that is very relaxing.  But there is no denying that the music is the backdrop for how we feel during class.
A behavior that I have observed in myself with interest, is that whenever I am in a class as a student, I hum to myself the whole time. I’m so involved with the music that I privately ‘sing along.’ At first I just thought it was a personal quirk of mine, but the more I learn about the healing effects of sounds and toning, the more I realize that it is an instinctive self-healing technique that I allow myself to use. 
I recommend humming to anyone who is interested in healing their bodies.  Hum with delight and with the intention of celebrating your healing. In “The Mozart Effect”
Don Campbell recommends using humming or toning as a self healing practice. He advises us to explore different pitches, volumes and vowel sounds and to trust our instincts regarding which tone is going to be the most appropriate for our healing. 
Have you ever wondered why monks and yogis chant?  The sounds are very intentional and are considered sacred. I, myself, have experienced quite profound, otherworldly meditations when using the “OHM” sound.  When I teach mediation, I advice the student not to hear the sound of “OHM” but to feel it. And not only to feel the physical vibrations of the sound, but to feel the metaphysical effects.  The mood shifts, the mind shifts, the entire being is effected by sound.
I have been apprenticing with Shmuel Tatz and learning the art of Body Tuning. Something that is a constant in his office is that there is always classical music playing. Shmuel loves his classical music, so I figured the music was playing mainly for his entertainment. But the more I study the effects of sound, the more I trust that, whether or not this was a conscious decision of his, or if he’s just following his very strong intuitive sense, he plays this music for its healing effects. 
“Chopin is good for you”  -Shmuel Tatz, Body Tuner
When I first started to practice Body Tuning on my clients at home, I didn’t play any music at all. I soon found that to be exhausting. The silence was oppressive. So then I decided to play music that I like. I chose a radio station that played alternative pop music.  But my clients responded strongly. “Where’s the classical music?” one of them asked. So now whenever I do Body Tuning, I play classical music and I find that I have more energy, my clients are more at ease, and I can literally feel their bodies responding to the work more readily. 
“One day, man will have to combat noise as he once combatted cholera and the plague.”  -Robert Koch (discoverer of the cholera bacillus)
Living in New York City, I am aware that I am constantly barraged by sound.  Especially when I go to another city for any length of time, when I return to NYC, the sound assault is palpable and I can feel myself getting tense. I feel that this constant pollution of noise is effecting our health and well-being as a society. New Yorkers and people who live in high-noise environments, would be well-advised to seek out peaceful sound sanctuaries. For example, Bose noise-canceling headphones worn for a twenty minute session of pure relaxation can really give your body the opportunity to reset and your nervous system to down-regulate. 
More and more dentists and surgeons are starting to play classical music in their offices because their patients respond better. Music can change your brain waves and make your body a more hospitable environment for health and healing. It can also have an opposite effect. 
I live with someone who has very eclectic musical tastes and sometimes he plays “music” that seems to consist of random noises and piercing feedback.  If this goes on for very long, I can actually start to feel myself becoming ill and I either have to leave the room or ask him to play something else. 
Try this series of exercises and feel the incredible power of sound for yourself:

Tone Massage:  Sit comfortably and hum for five minutes. Not a melody but any comfortable pitch. Relax your jaw and feel the vibrations of the tone. With your palms, feel your cheeks and notice the vibrations. Afterwards, notice how much this has changed you physically, mentally and emotionally. 
Ahhhh!: Yawn noisily.  Allow yourself to release a big Ahhh! sound. Sighing also works.  Repeat this over and over again for about a minute and then notice what changes have occurred. 
Eeeee:  This is the most stimulating of our vowel sounds. If you’re feeling sleepy or groggy, spend three to five minutes emitting a steady, rich, high Eeee sound and you will most likely notice yourself becoming more alert and your brain stimulated. 
Oh  or Om: This is considered the ‘universal sound’ and the richest of our vowel sounds. Notice that when you tone with an OH sound, you can feel vibrations all through your head and chest.  Five minutes of this sound can measurable increase the temperature of your skin, reduce muscle tension, decrease breath and heart rates and reduce the frequency of brain waves to a more calm, sedated state. 
Pitching: Start at the lowest end of your voice and glide up to the highest pitch comfortable. Rise slowly. Try it with different vowel sounds and allow your voice to resonate throughout your body. Keep your mouth, jaw, tongue and throat relaxed.  Experiment with massaging different parts of your body with this sound. You may be amazed at what you can accomplish with sounds. 
Have you noticed that when you stub your toe, or hit your thumb with a hammer, that you have the impulse to shout?  You also have an impulse to rub the injured body part.  Both of these impulses are healthy, natural healing methods.  By toning and rubbing you are stimulating your bodies own self-healing. So let yourself groan and enjoy your self healing.
One final thing I’d like to address about sound is this strange custom we have called ‘applause.’  It is strangely barbaric to create this loud sound by slamming our hands together over and over again. Imagine being a musician who has just spent twenty minutes performing a solo piece.  The room is aglow with the vibrations of your solo. But once you’ve finished, all remnants of your performance are obliterated by this cacophony. Don Campbell, author of “The Mozart Effect” says he only applauds when he didn’t appreciate the performance, as a way of clearing the air. In the Far East, applause is used to dispel illusions and to purify the atmosphere before meditation. 
I’m not suggesting that you should refuse to applaud, but I’m hoping to open up our collective awareness of the very strong effects of sound. 

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