March/April 2003 Alternative Health
Sound Solutions Sound As Medicine
by D'Ann Davis
Sound Medicine has been with us since the beginning. It is a well documented
medical and scientific fact that sound carries strong neuropsychological
signals that can also return harmony to the emotional, mental, physical
and/or spiritual body. Across cultures, throughout the millennia, many
instruments have served in this sacred sound technology: The Shaman's
drum, the Australian Didgeridoo, the Japanese Shakuhachi, the Tibetan
Singing Bowls and Ting-Sha's, the Naked Human Voice, The Quartz Crystal
Singing Bowl, and Nature Sounds. I will briefly explain the use of these
instruments, the Great Mystic Traditions behind them, and the current
supporting scientific data documenting the effects of these ancient
ceremonial instruments and eternal sounds. All of these sounds and instruments
are effective in part through the phenomenon of Entrainment, which has
been measured and demonstrated scientifically in careful studies (c.f.
the works of Dr. Itzhak Bentov).
Entrainment describes the natural process of falling into and establishing
a rhythmic relationship with something. In the case of the Shaman's
drum, brain waves entrain with the beat of the drum. The consequence
is not only relaxation (like in massage), but a change in consciousness
and brain wave activity. There are many brain wave states, some personal,
some transpersonal (or in scientific jargon, local and non-local consciousness).
Beta brain waves cycle at 12-16 hertz per second and indicate a consciousness
employed in full outward attention. Delta brain waves cycle between
.5- 4 hertz per second, and indicates a consciousness in deep sleep.
Sound Medicine concerns itself mainly with Alpha and Theta brain wave
states, ranging from 4 - 12 hertz per second, for these are the states
that hold profound healing potential. These states open wide the doors
of perception, as well as situating one right in the middle of their
own personal mythology. In these states of consciousness one is in contact
with the outer limits of the inner realm. These are the states produced
in ancient sound ceremonies. In fact, some states meld with these instruments,
as in the case of the didgeridoo, where the traditional ritual intent
has been to produce a state of awake dreaming.
The didgeridoo may be the oldest instrument on the planet, dating back
150,000 years. Instruments that make use of the breath have been viewed
as the most sacred in many societies. For it is with the breath that
life begins, and it is with the breath that life ends. The etymology
of the word respiration means to bring the spirit back in, as in, re-spirit-ation.
The sound of the didgeridoo is timeless and is similar in sound to the
deep-throated chants of the Tibetan Monks. Mastering the technique of
"circular breathing" is necessary to playing the instrument
with unbroken sound. Nearly all the Great Mystic Traditions reference
the Unending Sound, the Eternal Sound, the One sound underneath all
phenomena. The Sounds from ancient ceremonial instruments played with
respect for the old ways, transport one deeply into Silence, where another
sound may be heard, that leads again to a deeper silence, and then again
to another layer of sound. This is how sounds penetrate the mysteries.
Emotional holdings can prevent one from traveling from one state to
another. In this case, the Naked Human Voice can make the sounds necessary
to release the emotional body, so that a deeper experience can unfold.
The Shakuhachi is a Zen Meditation Flute that dates back to the 13th
century. It is reputed to be the most difficult woodwind in the world
(to this I can attest); some even say it is the most difficult of all
instruments. It can take years to produce a single sound. It is a spiritual
practice that requires both great breath awareness and self-mastery.
The flute is a demonstration and embodiment of the Buddhist meditations
of Sunyata (that is, Emptiness).
Again, physicists have found that the body is 99.99% empty, meaning
that all physical molecules can fit on a pin head, the rest is emptiness.
The Shakuhachi is the awareness and practice of this emptiness of self
expressed through empty bamboo: "Blowing Zen." If you have
never heard the sound of Shakuhachi, it is a treat!! and inspires great
Stillness, Presence and Auditory Acuity. "Ichi On Jo Butsu"
means to attain enlightenment in one single note. A state of Zen Presence
is when the outside and inside are in perfect synch and oneness. There
is no separation. In the case of the Shakuhachi, it is the note that
is pure and simultaneous on the inside and out. The tradition of Shakuhachi
reaches so far back and is so rich that many books have been written
on its magic alone.
As to the bowls, again, they are the sound of the Void, but also, the
fullness and receptivity inherent therein. The sound of the bowls is
a wonderful way to bathe in sound -- to reharmonize and cleanse. The
Modern Crystal Bowl not only influences but also reflects human consciousness.
The Ting-Sha's are from the same ancient Shamanistic Bon tradition from
Tibet that emphasized the revelatory nature of sound. The TIng-Sha's
are little tiny cymbal-bells attached with a leather cord. They are
tuned to slightly different tones. Scientific studies have shown how
this tonal difference causes the cymbals-bells to emit Extremely Low
Frequency (E.L.F.) sounds between 4 - 8 cycles per second--again the
same frequency as the Theta brain waves that occur in meditation. Finally,
I have cataloged 30+ nature sounds that are important to the experience
in two ways: In the modern urban settings often we are without the frequencies
necessary for harmonious functioning; listening to a waterfall, birds
singing, the ocean, the wind; these vibrations re-align the soul to
its symphony--which ties wonderfully with the second reason why nature
sounds are important in Sound Medicine.
In Nada Yoga, an aspirant seeks union with the Whole through sound.
One does this by meditating on the inner Nada sounds which emanate from
deep within in states of profound meditation. Often these sounds are
the sounds of nature, only a touch more exquisite, and lead you into
deep states of self-realization and inner and outer harmony.
There are so many more things that can be said about sacred sound,
and many books have been written on the many aspects and utilizations
of sound. I have limited the discussion here to the instruments listed
above, for these are some of the instruments I play in accordance with
the old ways. I hope you have enjoyed your read.
D'Ann Davis is a sacred sound practitioner in private practice,
and offers sound medicine concerts most Thursday evenings . She is in
her sixth year of spiritual apprenticeship with a Cherokee Sound Healer
and can be reached at (503) 287-0387 or firstname.lastname@example.org