Herbert Benson, MD, of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Boston’s Deaconess Medical Centre and author of Timeless Healing, The Power and Biology of Belief (1996), has studied the effects of chanting mantras on human physiology. He has found that by repeating a single word (such as Aum), measurable changes are produced in energy consumption, respiration rate, heartbeat, pulse and metabolic rate.
An increase in alpha brain waves, associated with daydreaming and meditation, also has been observed. His studies have further demonstrated that through meditation and relaxation, it’s possible to improve immune function and alleviate and prevent heart disease, stroke and many other chronic health problems.
What’s at the heart of sonic healing, says Jonathan Goldman, is vibration. This is backed up by modern physics, which has taught us that all matter – down to the organs of our body – is in a constant state of whirling vibration. “Everything has a unique frequency, or vibration,” Goldman explains.
“Illness occurs when some sort of contra-vibration intrudes on the normal one. Sound can be used to change these disharmonious frequencies back to normal, healthful vibrations, thereby restoring health.”
This physiological principle is known as ‘entrainment’: “A phenomenon in which powerful rhythmic vibrations from one source cause less powerful vibrations from another source to lock in step with the more powerful one,” says Goldman. “External energy sources, particularly sounds, are especially powerful in affecting our internal rhythms.”
Goldman combines his own musical training and intuition to find stagnant energy patterns in a person’s vibrational field. By creating a siren-like sound with his voice, he scans a client by directing his voice from the person’s feet up to their head, then back down.
Wherever the tone changes, energy is stuck. Goldman then directs the sound at those areas (sometimes holding it in one spot for five minutes or more) until the sound – and hence the person’s energy – becomes whole again. A session can last up to an hour and may be accompanied by other healing techniques, such as therapeutic touch.
Don Campbell offers two simple exercises you can try on your own. If you’re tired and need some “sonic caffeine”, intone a long-e sound (as in emit) for three minutes. You may feel silly for the first minute, he warns, but after the second you’ll get into it, and after the third, you’ll feel the effects. For a three-minute relaxation, make a long-o (as in ocean) or ah (as in aha) sound.
The research, and healing work, that’s being done with sound and music is vast. Campbell, a consultant and trainer to health professionals, musicians and other teachers (he estimates there are 5,000 music therapists working in the United States), explains that much of the work is focused on rehabilitation.