Sound has the power of creation. In the Bible, the world is created by way of sound: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and, further, “And the Lord said, Let there be light: And there was light.” According to Hopi myth, the Spider Woman sang the song of creation over all the inanimate forms and brought them to life. In the ancient Mystery Schools of Egypt, Athens, and Rome, sound was understood to be the fundamental creative force of the universe. Modern cosmologists have posited a “big bang” theory of creation; they point to a basic vibration, a constant background sound detected on all radio telescopes, which they believe is the sound of the universal explosion itself still reverberating through the cosmos. In Hindu Shaivism the universe is created in an explosive burst of sound, followed by the arising of light and matter. The primordial sound or vibration is present in all of creation, since creation is sustained by that sound. Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan writes, “All things being derived from and formed of vibration have sound hidden within them, as fire is hidden in flint, and each atom of the universe confesses by its tone, ‘My sole origin is sound.'”1
Hans Jenny, M.D., a Swiss medical doctor and scientist, conducted experiments for more than a decade observing the effects of sound on shape and form. He would place materials, such as glycerin, mercury, gel, powder, and iron fillings, on metal plates, which would then be vibrated with sound, and he would photograph the patterns created by the sound vibrations. Low frequency sounds formed simple geometric shapes — for instance, the sound “OH” would produce a perfect circle. As the sound frequency increased, the simple shapes would reform into more complex patterns. The sound “OM” created a pattern resembling the Shri Yantra, the mandala representing OM that has been used for thousands of years. From his work, which he called cymatics,2 the study of wave-form phenomena, Jenny concluded that sound creates form; different sounds create different forms; and harmonious shapes and harmonic frequencies are interrelated. Further, he asserted that the entire human body has its own unique sound comprised of all the sounds of its cells, tissues, and organs.
Another fascinating study by a Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto,3 examines the effects sound, and even thought, have on water. In one experiment, he placed distilled water between two speakers and played a complete selection of music at normal volume. The water was frozen and then inspected and photographed under a microscope at magnifications of 200-500 times. Classical music produced delicate crystals of slightly different colors. Beautiful crystals also formed in response to healing music, a Tibetan mantra, and folk music. Heavy metal music produced a shattered pattern, like a crystal that had exploded into a thousand pieces. Japanese pop music created unattractive square-shaped crystals rather than the normal hexagonal ones. Emoto also found that water that was prayed over or blessed, or programmed with such thoughts as “I love you” and “Thank you,” formed symmetrical jewel-like structures. Conversely, water exposed to negative thoughts such as “I hate you” resulted in ugly, chaotic-looking shapes. Since our bodies are 78 percent water, and our blood is 95 percent water, this has serious implications in its demonstration that we are constantly being influenced by the sounds around us, by the thoughts we think, and by the information stored in the water we consume.
In the early 1980s, Fabien Maman, a French composer and bioenergeticist, and Helene Grimal, a biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, explored the impact of sound waves on healthy blood cells and malignant uterine cancer cells. The sounds of acoustic guitar, flute, bass, xylophone, and gongs produced noticeable changes in the cells, even at 30-40 decibels, but the most dramatic results occurred with the human voice. The diseased cells became disorganized when he sang musical scales to them. “Near the end of the scale, usually around the seventh interval, the cancer cells exploded,” Maman reported. “It appears that the cancer cells were not able to support a progressive accumulation of frequencies.”4 In another experiment, a sample of blood was drawn and the donor was asked to sing a major diatonic scale while Maman recorded changes in the electromagnetic fields around the cells using Kirlian photography. The cell’s energy field changed its shape and color with each musical note. As an “F” note was sounded, the blood cells resonated harmoniously with the voice, producing a balanced, round shape and vibrant colors of magenta and turquoise. Maman concluded, “The cells are completely bathed in light and alive with full resonance, clear evidence that this ‘F’ is the fundamental sound of the singer … Fundamental sound can be very helpful for the physical body through its harmonizing and regenerating effect at the cellular level.”5
Matter clearly is affected in subtle and profound ways by sound. In the ayurvedic/yogic view, life energy circulates in the body through a network of some 72,000 channels, or nadis. The word nadi is derived from the same root as nada, and connotes an expansion through vibration. Prana (breath), qi (energy), nada (sound) — these vibratory frequencies shape, permeate, and sustain the world we experience.
The Sound of Silence
To notice sound, it is important to notice silence. In silence, we can learn to listen. Listening is an active process, as compared to hearing, which is a more passive activity. Listening involves really using our ears as an organ of consciousness.
Nada Yoga originated in India around 200 B.C.E., developing out of the Vedic tradition of Sabda Yoga, or the “yoga of sound.” Nada Yoga stems from the belief that the primordial sound (sabda) is a root vibrational energy from which ultimate reality is created. Everything in this world, including human beings, vibrates with this “sound within sound.” A differentiation is made between inner and outer sound. Audible sound is the result of vibration in the physical world and is sometimes referred to as “struck sound” (ahata nada). Anahata nada refers to the inaudible inner sounds that are not the result of some physical vibration, but are “unstruck” or unconditioned. Nada Yoga explores the relationship of sound to consciousness, using sound and rhythm as a path to healing, awareness, and spiritual understanding.
Ajahn Sumedho, a senior Theravada Buddhist monk and teacher, suggests that the all-pervasive universal sound is readily available to our active listening and that in fact it can serve as a very practical and powerful object for meditation. He calls this unstruck sound the “sound of silence.” It is a high-pitched background sound that is not dependent on the ears. Sumedho explains: “The sound of silence is heard as if it were a buzzing in the ears because the impression of sound is always connected with the ears. But you can plug your ears up and you can still hear it. When you’re swimming underwater you can still hear it. So what is it? Then you start to realize that it’s everywhere and not just in the ears. That perception of the sound of silence being heard in the ears is the same misperception as thinking that the mind is in the brain.”6
Listening to the sound of silence can help focus the mind, but in a very expansive way. Relax into the sound. Don’t try to grasp it. It is an inclusive awareness. It is like infinite space. In the stillness of this bare awareness you can be conscious of any emotions, memories, sensations, sounds, or thoughts that arise and not be carried away by them. The observing mind is not judging them, resisting them, or being seduced by them. In the sound of silence, there is equanimity. Listening to the sound of silence is not limited to silently sitting on a meditation cushion. It allows us to integrate mindfulness into everyday activity. It allows us to be fully present with what we are doing. When hearing the nada sounds, focus on the highest pitched one. Ven. Jotipalo reminds us: “All I have to do is think about the nada sound and I can hear it, much like all you need to do is remember to watch the breath and there it is.”7
The Healing Purr
One important capacity of sound, which we are beginning to understand, is to heal. Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler,8 a researcher at the Fauna Communication Research Institute, investigated the question “Why do cats purr?” All smaller felids, including the domestic cat, caracal, serval, puma, ocelot, and even larger cats such as the lion and cheetah, purr. Obviously they purr when they are content, but they also purr under stressful conditions — when giving birth, injured, sick, or frightened. Furthermore, the purr is nearly identical across species. The cats’ purr therefore must serve some survival function.
Harmonics are geometrically related sounds that occur whenever a natural sound is created. Nearly all tones created by musical instruments, voice, or other sound sources are not single tones but combinations of pure tones called “partials.” The lowest frequency is called the fundamental and all partials higher in frequency than the fundamental are called overtones. These harmonics are a 2-to-1 multiple of the fundamental frequency. Harmonics are the sounds within all sounds. While normally we can’t differentiate the individual overtones, these harmonics are responsible for the overall sound color or “timbre” of an instrument or voice.
Muggenthaler’s recordings of cheetahs, ocelots, pumas, servals, and domestic cats revealed that all cats that purr9 share a common frequency range of 25-150 hertz.10 Vibrational frequencies between 25-150 Hz, at low decibels, are known to be beneficial to healing. Within this range, 25 Hz would be the fundamental frequency of a cat’s purr, and the first harmonic would be 50 Hz, the second harmonic would be 75 Hz, the third at 100 Hz, and so on.
There is an adage among veterinarians: “If you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal.” Veterinary studies report11 that cats rarely suffer bone or joint related diseases, including hip dysplasia, arthritis, and ligament problems. Even bone cancers, such as myeloma or osteosarcoma, are almost nonexistent among cats. In a study with rabbits,12 it was found that exposure to frequencies between 25-50 Hz strengthens bone density by 20 percent and stimulates both the healing of fractures and the speed of that healing.
Substantial documentation also indicates that low frequency vibrations induce pain relief and the healing of muscles and tendons. The cat’s purr has five harmonics in the range that have been shown to best benefit tissue regeneration and repair. It would seem that the cat’s purr is an internal healing mechanism, providing a built-in “kitty massage” to keep muscles and ligaments in prime condition and less prone to injury; to strengthen bone and prevent osteodiseases; and, following injury, to reduce inflammation, help heal the wound or bone associated with the injury, and provide a measure of pain relief during the healing process.
Also remarkable is the cat’s ability to heal by association — to sympathetically alleviate pain and illness in people merely by being around them. Cats seem to sense when their human housemate is not feeling well or is in pain and gravitate to that area of distress — and purr, purr, purr. Cats are often used as “therapy animals” in convalescent hospitals and in retirement residences. It is an established fact that cat owners, especially older people, have lower blood pressure and will generally live longer than people who do not have pets.
The Human Voice
Throughout time and world cultures, the human voice has been used for healing the spirit, mind, and body. Australian aboriginals and Native American, African, and Central American shamans use vocal toning and chanting to bring balance to disharmonies of spirit, emotions, or physical being. The priests of ancient Egypt used the applied energy of vowel sounds to resonate their energy centers, or chakras. Chanting is often applied in spiritual contexts and traditionally has been used to deepen one’s state of consciousness or to awaken consciousness. Vocal sounds directly resonate through the skull, chest, and body. Through chanting, we can harmonize the different frequencies in our bodies, attune the chakras, and balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
Alfred Tomatis, M.D., a French physician specializing in otolaryngology, found, in his studies of sacred sounds throughout the world, that many such sounds are rich with harmonics. He believes high-frequency sounds (3,000 Hz and above), which he calls “charge sounds,” activate the cortex of the brain and affect cognitive functions such as thinking, spatial perception, and memory. Listening to these charge sounds increases attentiveness and concentration and stimulates health and peace of mind.
It was normal for the monks of a Benedictine monastery in France to chant for six to eight hours a day, with only three or four hours of sleep. When a new abbot decided there were better uses of time than such extensive chanting, the monks quickly deteriorated into a state of utter exhaustion. When other physicians were unable to help, Tomatis was called in and he immediately encouraged the monks to resume their daily chanting. According to Tomatis, one of the functions of the ear is to provide, by way of sound, a charging of the brain’s cortex and of the body. Bone conduction of sound, particularly in the 2000-4000 Hz resonance, stimulates the stapes muscle of the ear, which he believes is the key to stimulating and charging the brain. Tomatis claims that four hours a day of either listening to sounds rich in high harmonic frequencies or creating those sounds is sufficient to charge the brain. Within a few months of the monks’ resumption of daily chanting, they were able to return to their normal 20-hour workdays.
Everything in the phenomenal world, including our body, and each chakra, organ, tissue, and cell, has its own natural vibrational frequency. Through directed application of sound, using the principles of resonance and entrainment,13 disharmonies can be “sung” back to balance.
Toning is defined as “to make sound with an elongated vowel for an extended period, for the purpose of healing.” Toning has a neurochemical effect on the body, reducing stress, harmonizing emotions, strengthening the immune system, and triggering the release of endorphins. It massages the viscera and promotes good breathing and posture. Don Campbell, an educator and composer in the field of sonic healing, states, “Sound is created not only with the mouth, but with the bones and skin. The vibrations made through toning actually stimulate the central cortex of the brain. Chanters receive a literal ‘brain massage.'”14 Regular toning helps to energize the body and mind and restore and sustain wellness.
One accessible and very practical application of toning can be to balance the chakra energy system of the body. Working with sound and chakra resonance, it is quite easy to experience the direct relationship between specific vowels and different parts of the body. The following vowel set is one used by sound healing educator Jonathan Goldman:15
1. UH (pronounced as in “huh”). This is the deepest sound you can make, focused at the genitals and the base of the spine. Tone for a minute or two, but no more than five. The associated color is red.
2. OOO (as in “you”). Three inches below the navel. The associated color is orange.
3. OH (as in “go”). The navel and solar plexus. The associated color is yellow.
4. AH (as in “father”). Middle of the chest. The associated color is green.
5. EYE (as in “I”). Throat. The associated color is blue.
6. AYE (as in “say”). Third eye, between and slightly above eyebrows. The associated color is indigo.
7. EEE (as in “me”). Crown of the head. The associated color is purple.
8. You may return to UH, to ground energy in the physical body.
Goldman points out that toning is safe and works with the natural resonance of the individual. You cannot force a chakra to open. Toning will allow an individual to go only as far as she is vibrationally prepared to go in terms of chakra energy activation.
Fabien Maman suggests, “The human voice carries something in its vibration that makes it more powerful than any musical instrument — consciousness.” Healing music pioneer Steven Halpern insists, “Sound is a carrier wave of consciousness.”16 The sound a person creates, whether it is words or music, will disseminate the mood or state of consciousness that person is in. Anger, for example, will be perceived on some obvious or subtle level by the person receiving that sound, even if the sound was disguised to appear pleasant. The studies by Emoto on the effect of music and words offer evidence to support this.
Goldman emphasizes the causative influence of intention, represented clearly by the equation, Frequency + Intention = Healing. The intention of the person working with sound is as important as the frequency being projected to create resonant frequency healing. Healing as a practice relies on a basic level of intention involving the conscious mind — is there an intent to heal or to harm, or is there no specific purpose at all? The human voice is the easiest instrument through which intention can be focused and directed. Everything in creation is vibrating and sound affects matter, in subtle and profound ways.
By Kondanna (Barry Kapke), ACST, director of the Bodhiwork Institute in Petaluma, Calif., and the founder of Insight Bodywork. He teaches Asian bodywork throughout the United States and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2005.
Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
1 Khan, Hazrat Inayat. The Music of Life. New Lebanon, NY: Omega; 1983, 6.
2 Jenny, Hans. Cymatics, Volumes I and II. Basel: Basilius Presse AG.; 1974.
3 Emoto, Masaru. Messages from Water. Tokyo: HADO Kyoikusha; 1999.
4 Maman, Fabien. The Role of Music in the Twenty-First Century. California: Tama-Do Press; 1997, 61.
5 Maman. 20.
6 Sumedho, Ajahn. Intuitive Awareness. UK: Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, 2004. 89. Available at http://amaravati.org/abm/english/documents/intuitive_Awareness.pdf.
7 Jotipalo Bhikkhu, Ven. “Attacking the illusion of self.”Available at http://www.abhayagiri.org/index.php/journals/entry/614. Accessed June 17, 2005.
8 von Muggenthaler, Elizabeth. “The Felid Purr: A bio-mechanical healing mechanism.” Presented at the 2001, 142nd Acoustical Society of America, American Institute of Physics, International Conference. Available at http://www.animalvoice.com/catpur.htm.
9 Not all big cats purr. Tigers, for instance, do not purr.
10 One vibration (or cycle) per second is called a Hertz, which is abbreviated Hz, or c.p.s.
11 Lund, E.M. et al. Health status and population characteristics of dogs and cats examined at private veterinary practices in the United States. Journal of the American Veterinary Association 1999 214 (9), 1336-1341.
12 Chen, L.P., et al., The effects of frequency of mechanical vibration on experimental fracture healing. Zhonghua Wai Ke Za Zhi (Chinese Journal of Surgery) 1994 32 (4), 217-219.
13 Resonance is the frequency at which an object most naturally wants to vibrate. When a weaker frequency adjusts to harmonize with a stronger frequency, this is called entrainment. See my feature: Healing With Sound: Tuning the Human Instrument. Massage & Bodywork 2005 August/September, 122-124, 126.
14 Wright, Carol. The resurrection of Gregorian chant. NAPRA Trade Journal. 1994 Holiday, 86
15 Goldman, Jonathan. Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics. Massachusetts: Element; 1992, 116-121.
16 Halpern, Steven. Available at www.innerpeacemusic.com/newsletter/2002/oct_2002.html.
- Healing With Sound – Tuning the Human Instrument, Part I (hofholistichealingcenters.com)
- Sound can be a Healing Energy (dallorbill1947.wordpress.com)