“Before the world was, all was in sound. God was in sound. We are made of sound.” (Sufi mystic Hazrat Inyat Khan)
According to David Frawley, a modern scholar of Yoga and Ayurveda, the Soul or Self dwells within the heart of all creatures and is the seat of all knowing and feeling. It is not the physical heart, but rather the core of our being in the heart region of the physical body. He says the magnetic force of the soul works through our hearts. It regulates the heartbeat of all creation. The fastest way, in my experience, to move from the head into the heart is through the use of chant or Nada Yoga.
The repetitive nature of chanting causes us to breathe more deeply, slowly, and more rhythmically. Chant is the breath made audible through sound. It is a vocal meditation. Sound is energy. Vibrations of vocal sounds resonate throughout the body. A clinical psychologist and music therapist, Mark Rider, has recent data that show chanting reduces stress hormones and increases immune function. It releases muscle tension, reduces heart rate and blood pressure and increases mental clarity; brain waves are altered, evoking states of relaxation.
When the body is in its natural state of relaxation, functioning with the mind calm and clear, it becomes easy to move towards compassion and openness of the heart. Sound is also very healing. Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, a renowned oncologist and director of integrative medicine at the Strang- Cornell Cancer Prevention Center, has been using chant and other forms of sound to treat patients since 1991 with remarkable results. In his book The Healing Power of Sound, one can find many studies on the physiological benefits of sound used by people with life-threatening diseases.
Music, or the use of sound, is a valuable tool to access our deeper emotions because it is our most heartening non-verbal form of communication. Music serves as a vehicle to bring deep feelings into our awareness. Powerful music can allow us to transcend our localized perspective and glimpse a greater meaning. One of the greatest examples of this comes from the civil rights movement. The chant “We Shall Overcome,” written in 1901 by a Methodist Minister, Charles Albert Tindley, was used during that movement on many occasions. An associate of Dr. Martin Luther King said, “One cannot describe the vitality and emotion this hymn evokes across the Southland. It generates power that is indescribable. It manifests a rich legacy of musical literature that serves to keep body and soul together for that better day which is not far off.”
One of the leaders of the southern Christian Leadership Conference commented, “You really have to experience it to understand the kind of power it has for us. When you get through singing it, you could walk over a bed of hot coals, and you wouldn’t even feel it!” These personal comments show us how much this chant empowered and connected the African American community during this difficult time in our history. If you would like to experiment with this yourself, take a moment and draw your mind back to your childhood. Now, think of a song from that time in your life. Now, think of a love song. Now, think of the National Anthem. Did you elicit any images or feelings? This experiment illustrates how even thinking of different pieces of music can elicit different emotional responses.
I offer a class for women with breast cancer at the Regional Medical Center in my town. I asked them what benefit they received from chanting each week. Some of their comments were: “It makes us feel harmonious within ourselves and with the group. It is empowering and helps us to face whatever challenges may be arising for us. It helps us to relax. It is uplifting.” It’s meaningful to everyone in the group.
We close our prenatal class each week with a practice from the Aborigines’ tradition of singing their children into the world. We chant a song to the unborn babies as a community, to welcome them to the earth. The mothers tell us that they feel connected with their unborn children on a deeper level. When the mothers bring their infants back into the classroom to share their birth stories, we offer the chant to the infant again. Even the fussiest crying babies respond by becoming still or quiet; they recognize the chant. They too are affected by the powerful use of sound, even before their birth.
There is a Bible story, in the book of Samuel, when King Saul was “beset by an evil spirit from the Lord.” The harpist David was called to play for the King. First Samuel says, “David took a harp and played with his hand so Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”
Sound has been used by every tradition in the world for thousands of years. It is a natural expression of our own consciousness.
(by Rev. Manjula Spears, from the August, 2005 IYTA Newsletter)