January 7, 2020 | 50 minutes, 14 seconds
The Science of Vibration: Music and Chanting
Did you know that you may be able to affect your mood and the effects of trauma with vibrational therapies, such as chanting? Read on to find out how brain science now supports some of Ayurveda’s most ancient techniques.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2017, more than 322 million people worldwide were clinically depressed, making depression one of the most common chronic health conditions.1
Both music therapy and chanting have been well studied to help in this area. Both employ “vibrational changes” in the central nervous system, which may play a role in the time-tested and science-backed brain, cognitive, and mood benefits associated with chanting and music.1-6
How We Store Emotions in Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, we feel emotional impressions in the emotional heart. This is called sadaka pitta—the aspect of pitta that feels everything. These impressions are transported to the brain through the carrying channels of prana vata—the emotional aspect of vata. Emotional impressions felt by sadaka pitta are carried and written into the memory by prana vata. Memories, impressions, and emotional constrictions are held by tarpaka kapha—the emotional aspect of kapha.7
Protective myelin sheaths wrap neurons in the white matter of the brain (tarpaka kapha). They are soft, fatty, and impressionable, which is why, as described above, they can so easily record heartfelt impressions and traumas (sadhaka pitta) carried by prana vata to the brain.
Memories are written onto these fatty myelin sheaths, giving rise to the name tarpaka, which means to retain or record. According to Ayurveda, tarpaka records every experience, blissful to traumatic. Even impressions from our ancestors (called samskaras) are stored in our tarpaka kapha!7
One study suggests that up to 95% of the things we think, say, and do as adults come from impressions in the first six years of life!9 We call these unconscious behaviors because they are drawn from unconscious old traumas or impressions.8 The cure, according to Ayurveda, is to become conscious again. This requires cleaning and erasing unwanted and unproductive memories written into the impressionable myelin film of tarpaka kapha.
Cleaning the Brain with Vibration
Traditionally, to accomplish this brain cleansing, Ayurveda prescribes vibrational therapies.
These techniques, such as breathing, music, chanting, singing, yoga, prayer, and meditation, are in part designed to erase unwanted emotional impressions from myelin sheaths and reinstate access to a less armored and more delicate experience of love and joy.
The results, studies show, are great benefits to mood, cognitive function, and brain function.1-6
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In a review of 26 studies, a statistically significant reduction in depression was found over time in groups using music interventions compared to control groups without music. Music-intervention groups also saw significant improvements in confidence, self-esteem, and motivation.1
In another study, 199 volunteers were evaluated for presurgical anxiety. Group I consisted of 67 patients who listened to recorded Vedic chants for 10 minutes; Group II consisted of 66 patients who listened to Indian classical instrumental music for 10 minutes; and Group III was 66 controls who sat silently for 10 minutes in the same environment.
The study concluded that listening to Vedic chants and Indian classical instrumental music has beneficial effects on anxiety levels induced by apprehension of invasive procedures and can be of therapeutic use.6
Science of Chanting
Chanting has been found to significantly slow brainwaves. Chanting increases production of alpha brainwaves, which are classically seen in meditation or deep prayer. Interestingly, chanting has also shown to increase very slow delta brainwave activity in different parts of the brain. Delta waves have been proposed to act as inhibitors, preventing mental or outward distractions from interfering with internally focused concentration.2
In addition, delta-band activity is typically seen in response to injury due to the increase of neural plasticity associated with delta brainwave activity. Neural plasticity is the ability to mold or restructure neural pathways—a finding closely related to erasing impressions from the myelin sheaths of tarpaka kapha that Ayurveda described. Delta waves seen in chanting (which is different than brainwave patterns seen in silent meditation) support integration of cerebral activity and homeostatic processes.
Research suggests mental states dominated by delta-band activity are evolutionarily ancient states, in which restorative mechanisms replenish functions in the brain and peripheral organs, resulting in beneficial effects on both body and mind.2
Chanting the sound om, said to mimic the vibration of the universe, has been particularly studied. In one study, om chanting is associated with an experience of relaxation, changes in autonomic balance, and deactivation of limbic (emotional) brain regions, as measured by functional MRI.3
Chanting om shows significant deactivation of certain parts of the brain that regulate emotions. Deactivation of brain function suggests chanting om would still the mind, slowing us to be at peace without unwanted thoughts. A similar effect is seen in meditation, where quieting the mind is associated with numerous health benefits.5
One recent EEG study among Christians and Muslims shows increased alpha waves during chanting and prayers, indicating a state of relaxation and mental concentration.4
Ayurvedic Neuroplasticity Therapies
In conclusion, remember unwanted experiences are written and recorded onto the fatty myelin sheaths of the brain. According to Ayurveda, erasing unwanted impressions was accomplished with yoga, breathing, meditation, and chanting techniques—all designed to change the brain’s subtle vibration or brainwaves.
Such vibrational therapies are now backed by science. If our trauma is imprinted onto the waxy myelin sheaths of the brain, one way to erase them is through shaking up the wax, thereby wiping it clean (think of shaking a sand tray or warming up a wax cylinder).
Listening to music and chanting may be of particular use here. What effects do you notice from trying these practices?
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