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Sacred Singing

Sound is the origin of the universe according to many philosophies. Singing can make us more centred, empowered and expressive. As Ella Fitzgerald said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Singing in itself is a cathartic release, while the words we utter have a unique potency. Sanskrit texts exalt aum as the primordial hum from which all sounds and forms arise and return. Swami Sivananda said, “The whole world has come from aum, rests in aum and dissolves in aum.” The Bible asserted, “In the beginning was the word,” to emphasise sound’s power. Quantum physics also confirms that everything material manifests from sound vibration. Just imagine what sound does to our watery body after Dr Masaru Emoto showed that the written and spoken word dramatically affected water molecules.

Every ancient culture has a rich tradition of sacred songs such as bhakti yogis, Tibetan Gyuto monks, Navajo Diné people and Amazonian shamans. Every rite of passage and ceremony has a specific soundtrack to enhance effects and intentions. The Himba tribe of Nimibia are born with their own unique song which comes to their mother prior to their birth.

Singing can significantly shift our state, potentially attuning us to the reality we want to reach. For example, chanting a divine name can invoke sacred presence, singing a joyful song can uplift us and humming a melancholy melody can release our sorrow. In the film Paradise Road female POWs formed a choir to boost their mood. Research by NAJ Stewart and AJ Lonsdale supports group singing therapy, as they discovered choral singers experienced superior psychological wellbeing to solo singers. Marie Claire Breen of the Choral Learning Team says, “The sense of community and belonging when singing in group settings, even over Zoom, can have a huge impact on stress reduction and can even synchronize your heartbeat and regulate your breath, so you’re all breathing as one huge lung.”

Solo singing can also be liberating as Edith Piaf felt: “For me, singing is a way of escaping. It’s another world. I’m no longer on Earth.” In the movie Little Voice painfully shy Laura finds her wings when she discovers a knack for mimicking famous singers. Singing transformed her from a caged recluse to a liberated butterfly. You don’t have to be a good singer to reap rewards, however. Chorus master Oliver Rundell advises, “Simply tune out the rest of the world and enjoy the physical sensation of breathing in and creating a note with your body.”

Musical medicine

Research has revealed that “listening to positive music for more than five minutes a day can improve mood state and that engaging in music by singing or playing instruments is more effective than listening alone,” according to Lyz Cooper for the British Academy of Sound Therapy. According to Henry Ford Health, “Research shows that individuals with Parkinson’s disease who were involved in singing groups saw improved respiratory function and overall quality of life.”

Singing has been shown to:

  • Boost cellular oxygenation
  • Create connection and communion
  • Decrease cortisol
  • Ease grief
  • Enhance speaking skills in those vocally challenged such as stroke victims
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Improve immunity
  • Increase relaxing dopamine and melatonin
  • Increase energising nitric oxide
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Improve snoring, according to a 2008 study
  • Mobilise jaw muscles
  • Promote bonding oxytocin
  • Reduce anxiety and stress hormones
  • Regulate breathing
  • Release mood-elevating, pain-relieving endorphins
  • Slow age-related memory loss
  • Spiritually uplift
  • Stimulate lymphatic circulation
  • Stimulate the vagus nerve to rest and digest
  • Tone lung function to increase lung capacity and engage chest muscles

Mantras for health

Many faiths use chanting and singing as an SOS for spiritual sustenance and appreciation. Most religions practise chanting, whether it be Christians reciting “Hail Mary” on a rosary, Hindus chanting “Hare Krishna” on japa mala or Tibetan Buddhists praying “Om mani padme hum” as they spin sacred wheels. The goal is one: to centre and connect with a loving and protective presence. Chanting specific Sanskrit is said to be the yuga-dharma or the method of awakening for this age called Kali.

A mantra is a set of sacred syllables, for purifying our perception and awakening our dormant spiritual consciousness. Man means the mind and tra means to free, release or protect. A mantra anchors our monkey mind in the moment, as we ride its resonant refuge. Harnessing positive energy and dispelling negativities, mantras can support all aspects of our life. Ideally a spiritual mentor advises the best mantra for you. A general mantra suitable for all is the Beatles’ beloved maha mantra — “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare”. For maximum affect, before chanting sincerely set your intention, listen attentively and sit silently in the reverberating echo to conclude. Try to chant the mantra at least 108 times which is said to tune our 108 main meridians or nadis.

Mata Amritanandamayi sees mantra as a lifeline to higher help — “Don’t forget to chant your mantra. The period of spiritual practice is like climbing a high mountain. You need a lot of strength and energy. Mountain climbers use a rope for pulling themselves up. For you, the only rope is repetition of a mantra. Once you reach the peak, you can relax and rest forever.”

Aum sweet Aum

Crowned as the cream of Vedic wisdom, aum is routinely chanted as a potentising prefix such as aum shanti, aum mani padme hum, aum namah shivaya and aum namo narayana. I like to play low-volume aum continuously to create calm and purify the atmosphere. Energetically, aum originates at the base chakras, uncoiling like the kundalini snake to peak at the crown chakra.

The “a” awakens consciousness, “u” uplifts awareness and “m” merges one with the supreme reality. Chanting aum has personal and planetary benefits as transcendental meditation experiments showed that when 1 per cent of the population chanted aum, crime rates decreased.

Try an aum experiment

  • Initially on practising aum it is conducive to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Sitting straight, still and comfortably, be aware of your breathing.
  • Closing the eyes, relax all tension from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply, then on the exhalation allow the sound aum to flow from the groin to the cranium.
  • When chanting aum it should flow as one continuous sound rather than three separate letters.
  • On exhaling the “a” rises from the navel becoming “au” as it enters the throat and concluding in an effortless “mmm” — a lip-tingling kiss to the cosmos.
  • All three phases should be roughly equal in duration.
  • As you inhale visualise and sense all positive energies entering your being.
  • The vibration initially invigorates every cell then quietens the body and mind.
  • Chant aum three times then pause breathing for as long as possible, relaxing the body.
  • Repeat for three rounds.

Singers are winners

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sing ourselves to optimal health? To use sound like a siren to attract all we want? Singing is a great way to explore and express our emotions. As songwriter Billy Bragg said recently, “Empathy is the currency of music — that our job as songwriters is to help people come to terms with their feelings by offering them examples of how others may have dealt with a situation similar to that in which the listener finds themselves.”

Which singing or chanting practice could serenade you towards transformation and transcendence? Sample these suggestions:

  • Sing along to an uplifting song in the morning and a relaxing song in the evening.
  • Accompany singing with an instrument such as a tambourine.
  • Attend gatherings with uplifting singing such as meditative bhajans, joyful kirtans or church services.
  • Learn the lyrics of a new song.
  • Enjoy a karaoke party.
  • Sing in the shower.
  • Sing along to music at home, in the car and while exercising.
  • Join a chorus, choir or musical group.
  • Book a session with a singing instructor or see YouTube for free lessons.
  • Consult a music therapist.

Indian musical melodies for balance

Ayurvedic music therapy or Gandharva Veda utilises musical melodies (ragas) or mantras to create a beneficial buzz in the mind and body. Try these tunes for harmony at specific times of the day.

Daily ragas

  • Morning ragas – Lalit, Bhairavi, Jaunpuri, Todi
  • Noon ragas – Sarag, Patadeep, Madhuvanti
  • Afternoon ragas – Shankara, Durga, Kalyan, Shree
  • Evening ragas – Des, Nat, Kedar, Bageswari

Good vibrations

Carmella Baynie is a Grammy-nominated singer, accredited voice coach and yoga teacher. “My relationship to prayer and subsequently to Sanskrit mantra began early in life”, she says. “I grew up in a mixed-race family, always going between the Mass from English to Latin and also to Aramaic. My Lebanese grandparents would sing the whole Mass in Aramaic beside me and the resonance gave me tremendous peace and upliftment. That tone of their voices, singing to a higher power in a sacred language is a tone which I will never forget.

“I began my yoga studies at 15. I remember falling in love with Sanskrit immediately. The discovery of the Sanskrit language and the study of mantras was the veritable icing on the cake because I could feel the purifying effect on the mind and heart instantly. By the early 80s I was singing Sanskrit in spiritual groups.

“After two decades of yoga, the beauty and the power of kirtan and bhakti yoga eventually became my sadhana, my daily practice. Waking up before dawn, singing hymns of devotion. Offerings of water, flame, flower and fragrance and in song defines my days, morning noon and night.

“Mantra chanting cools the mind and purifies the unruly passions of the heart — all the layers of being human, all our life experiences, even our talk leaves its mark on our body/mind. When we chant, those layers of life’s impressions — samskaras — dissolve and melt away, leaving us in deep connection with soul. When we understand the perfect nature of our soul, Sat Chit Ananda. Perfect knowledge, eternality and bliss, we rest in our true joyful nature.”

Throat chakra clearing

“We need a balanced throat chakra in order to let our emotions out, in singing and life,” says vocal coach Jorgelina Pérez. Our throat chakra can get blocked by grief, grinding or clenching teeth, fear, neck issues, respiratory illnesses, smoking or vaping, suppressing expression and vocal overuse or underuse. Practices to clear the throat include:

  • Opening and closing mouth while making a sound and moving head around
  • Speaking your truth
  • Uninhibited laughing
  • Wearing bright blue
  • Sipping warm herbal teas such as marshmallow, liquorice, peppermint and red sage
  • Therapies such as massage and reiki
  • Yogic lion’s breath

Article Featured in WellBeing 207

Caroline Robertson

Caroline Robertson

Caroline Robertson is a naturopath and homoeopath with thirty years experience. For phone or skype consultations please contact info@carolinerobertson.com.au.

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