Jacqueline Corso, a yoga therapist and instructor on the Cape, has had extraordinary experiences with sound. At a sound workshop at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, Corso and others sat comfortably while a Kripalu yoga practitioner walked through the room striking different bells and gongs. “When the bells came near, I could feel it washing over me,” she says. Years before, she’d had the same experience one on one with another practitioner in Brooklyn, one who rang bells up and down Corso’s chakras (energy points). “It was as if the bells were ringing through me,” she recalls. “It was like Feng Shui for my body – things just made room and dissipated. It was almost holy.”
We all know the energy that sound contains. Babies cry to get attention. We cringe when we hear nails on a chalkboard. A thunderclap can rock our house. Practitioners of all sorts of modalities have long recognized this power, and apply it in different ways.
Many sound healers subscribe to the idea that everything in the universe has – or perhaps is – a vibration. Vibrating objects have interesting properties: in a phenomenon known as entrainment, an object that comes into contact with a particular vibration will begin to vibrate at that same rate. This is how, for instance, opera singers shatter wine glasses. The same principles apparently apply to human beings, and not only on a purely physical plane.
Joan Stockman is a Kundalini yoga instructor at theSpace on Nantucket. She often leads her groups in chanting, either to get the class focused at the beginning, or to bring the session to a relaxing end. Chanting, or rhythmically pronouncing certain sounds over and over, has a profound effect; in the Kundalini tradition, the soft palate (roof of the mouth) has 84 energy points. Reciting certain chants, or mantras, causes the tongue to activate certain points, so that different mantras yield different results. In her classes, Stockman often uses the mantra “sat nam” – approximately, “Your identity is truth” or “You contain the essence of God.” A greeting as well as a mantra, the phrase is recited by inhaling on the first syllable and exhaling on the second. This brings focus and a feeling of peace. In a room full of people chanting sat nam, says Stockman, “the physical vibration is incredible.” Everyone in the class becomes attuned to everyone else. The benefits are obvious; “It feels good,” she says, “and because it’s physical, it helps you stay in the moment.”
Tara Conklin of Wellfleet agrees. “Chanting makes people feel good, and it really stills the mind. It makes it very easy to enter meditation.” She and her husband, Tom, host a Siddha Yoga meditation and chanting session every week in their home. “Chanting is a very powerful way to purify the body,” Conklin says. “It is a way to experience the peace and bliss within yourself.”
Julia Milton, a Kundalini yoga instructor in Dennis, explains: “In Kundalini Yoga, it is believed that when you repeat the patterns of sound and thought through chanting a mantra, those thoughts begin to replace the type and intensity of habitual thought we have, and there can ultimately be a letting go of the subconscious patterns of thinking and feeling. As the mantra is repeated more and more, a new pattern of thought and feeling establishes itself.”
It’s important to keep in mind the inherent power of specific mantras, handed down through the ages; as Joan Stockman says, “You can chant ‘dog’ over and over, and it will make you feel focused and peaceful,” but it will not have the strength of a mantra.
When a mantra is chanted, it is said to tune one in to the energy and intention of everyone who has ever recited it, in what she callsa “golden chain of tradition.”
One could call mantras a type of music. Music is simply “sound in time and space,” according to John Buttrick, a concert pianist. A Pilates teacher at theSpace on Nantucket, and a former student of Joseph Pilates himself, Buttrick is also a movement therapist, as well as a sound therapist. “I tend to call it sound protection or sound strengthening,” he stresses, finding healing to be an inaccurate description of what he does. “I’m trying to alleviate stress in people.” Buttrick uses sound and music in conjunction with movement therapy, having his clients hum or chant certain mantras to alter the vibrations in their chakras. Producing a certain sound or series of sounds can clear energy that may be blocked or stored there.
Deb Barrett, of Brant Rock, also uses music to affect her clients’ chakras and facilitate healing. For this she uses a device, used on a table or bed, called the Dreamweaver. In her words, “The Dreamweaver is a sound mat with a dodecahedron [a geometric shape made of twelve pentagons]. It brings your whole energy field back into harmony through frequency. Everything about us is a frequency, and when our frequency is lower or disharmonic, we tend to feel bad.”
The Dreamweaver works in two ways: first, music is played through the sound mat, and through speakers attached to the dodecahedron. “The sound itself,” says Barrett, “because it’s applied directly to the spine, helps realign everything. The spine is like an antenna that connects you from Earth to Spirit. So when everything starts to line up, you just naturally feel better.” The different sounds in music will affect different chakras; low sounds like drums or a digeridoo work with lower chakras, while flutes and high voices affect the upper chakras.
Second, the dodecahedron is said to be a divine shape, the geometry of which opens the inherent connection between human consciousness and universal energy. “Sitting in a dodecahedron repatterns you,” Barrett explains. “You take these knocks and dings through life, so your energy’s shape is no longer the divine pattern [that you were born with]. It’s now been altered by your physical plane experience.
“When you’re inside a dodecahedron… your energy field expands to that shape, which is a pattern of divine humanity.”
Visiting Barrett at her office in Hanover, I was able to try the Dreamweaver for myself. Through the sound mat, I could feel the vibrations of the music, but I felt them most strongly in my lower back and jaw, two places where I usually have a lot of tension. Both areas tingled throughout the session, a feeling which was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. I could also feel the sounds hitting different areas of my spine. At times I saw vivid imagery; perhaps the experience was inspiring my subconscious to try to tell me something. At other times I simply felt deeply relaxed and safe.
Billie Wright, a performance artist from Brewster, says that “music has a definite impact on both the listener and the player”; playing music gets you focused and meditative just as well as listening does. A believer that everything in the universe is a vibration, he finds music to be a universal language; “How do you talk to vibrations?” he asks. “With other vibrations.” Wright works to encourage people to make their own music, often making use of his extensive collection of musical instruments from around the world. “Making music is easy,” he says. “You can bang on a tin can.”
Wright offers an extraordinary tale of the power of music. Several years ago, he was invited to play for an audience that included Augustine Kandemwa, the man who brought the idea of the daré, or healing council, out of his native Zimbabwe. Wright chose to play the taiko, a traditional Japanese drum, with the accompaniment of a dancer. Later, Kandemwa told Wright that the performance had created a breakthrough in his mind. For twenty years he’d been profoundly upset that he was unable to communicate with his ancestors through his dreams, an important tradition he’d found closed to him. But after the performance, his ancestors began appearing in his dreams regularly. As John Buttrick says, “There are a lot of questions about healing that still have to be answered, both in Western medicine and subtle medicine, and I find that very hopeful.”
By John Gendreau, Spring 2004