Healing With Sound, Part I

Tuning the Human Instrument

By Kondañña (Barry) Kapke

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, August/September 2005.

Existence is a song. Everything vibrates, from the smallest of molecules to the very universe itself. Where there is vibration, there is sound.

The human auditory system is limited in its perception of the “cosmic symphony.” The human ear can hear sound vibrations in the range of 20 to 20,000 cycles per second (cps), whereas elephants can hear the very low (infrasound) frequencies we cannot detect, and dolphins and mice can hear frequencies up to 100,000 cps. Our perceptual apparatus and thresholds determine our experience of the world, and what is “real,” in different ways. While literally everything is vibrating, different things vibrate at different rates or frequencies. Some frequencies are perceived as light, some as sound, some as color, and some as solid matter. The rate at which something vibrates determines how dense it is and what we perceive it to be.

The earth has its own vibrational frequency. Although it varies slightly depending on geographic location, the earth’s “sound,” called the Schumann resonance, is measured at 7.8–8 cps, which is in the range of the alpha wave rhythms of the human brain. Alpha wave activity is associated with meditative states. It is suggested that individuals in deep relaxation and in meditation may attune to and harmonize with the earth’s own electromagnetic field. The vibratory frequency of the individual accelerates as they become stressed or ungrounded.

The human body is a symphony of sounds. Every chakra, every organ, every bone, every tissue, every cell has its own resonant frequency, its own sound. Together, they create a unified or composite frequency, with its own sound, like the instruments of an orchestra coming together. Ideally, the individual sounds and frequencies comprise a harmonious whole. That is when the body is functioning as it should, in health. However, when an organ is out of time or out of tune with the rest, then the entire body is affected. This disharmony leads to states of disease and disintegration.

University of California at Los Angeles nanotechnologist Jim Gimzewski is pioneering a new science he calls sonocytology, the study of cell sounds. His first experiments began with yeast cells, using a nanotechnology tool called an atomic force microscope to detect sound-generating vibrations and then using a computer to enhance the volume. The yeast cells were heard to produce harmonics, around 1,000 cps. In musical terms, they were “singing” in the range of C-sharp to D above middle C. Killing the yeast cells with alcohol, the pitch rose dramatically as if the cells were screaming. Cellular harmonics were also affected by temperature, speeding them up or slowing them down; genetic mutations were found to make a slightly different sound than normal cells. Dead cells emitted a low rumbling like radio static. Distinguishing between the sound signatures of healthy and diseased cells may be a part of the medicine of the future.

Dissonance and Rhythm

In the same way that the frequencies of the body seek to coordinate together to form a harmony, so the body ideally is in harmony with the vibrations of the surrounding world of which it is a part. Increasingly, this is becoming harder to do.

Living in a city, unfortunately, means living with noise. The etymology of “noise” derives from the Latin “nausea.” We are bombarded by these upsetting, stress-inducing sounds — road traffic, subways, airplanes, emergency vehicle sirens, garbage trucks, car alarms, construction equipment, cell phones, workplace machinery, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, hair dryers, boom boxes, the din of chatter in crowded restaurants and coffee shops, and on and on. Noise pollution is among the most pervasive pollutants to which we are exposed.

Toxic noise is literally poisoning to our health and well-being. When hair cells in the ear, the sensory organs that allow us to hear, are injured by noise, they cannot be regenerated. The result is hearing damage and, in some cases, permanent hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sound, such as an explosion, or by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, degradation of the immune system, sleep loss and fatigue, distraction and poor work performance, impairment of learning, increased aggression, depression, withdrawal, and a general reduction in the quality of life and opportunities for tranquility.

Dissonant sounds create disharmony — rifts between the individual and her environment, as well as within the body’s own frequencies. If 10 tuning forks tuned to the same frequency are lined up together and one is struck, they will all begin to reverberate together. This is resonance. However, if you strike a tuning fork of a different frequency and place it near the others, they will all stop. This is dissonance. When you’re feeling irritable or “not yourself” and you don’t quite know why, pay attention to your environment. Quite often you’ll find that nearby is some sound — machinery, music, voices — that is creating discord in your own frequency. If the offending sound is not something that can be eliminated, try to create a stronger vibration that has a positive resonance. One on-the-fly solution is humming. It doesn’t need to be loud, but just enough to feel its vibrations in your own body. You will find the resonant frequencies that will make you feel better, and the dissonant sound you can’t escape from will cease to bother you.

While we are repulsed by noise, we are drawn to rhythm. We are rhythmic beings. Our bodies are overlapping rhythmic patterns — the throbbing beat of the heart, the circulatory pulsation, the craniosacral pulse, the rise and fall of the breath, the brainwave activity. In the sixth fetal month, life inside the womb is full of sounds that the ear is capable of hearing. The uterus resounds with the sounds of the heart beating (approximately 50–60 beats per minute) and the blood swooshing through the arteries, the wavelike cadence of the breath (approximately 1,215 cycles per minute), and the external sounds and voices muted by the amniotic fluid. Before we are even born, we are attuned to the rhythms and sounds around us.

The drum is the first musical instrument — other than the voice, of course. Drumming is an extension of that first sound — the beating of the heart. Even before our ears could hear the heartbeat, our cells organized around, and we developed into a human being to, the pulse of that sound. The pounding of the drum connects us with the pounding of our heart, and its rhythm and pace directly affect the heart rate through what is called “rhythmic entrainment.” A low, steady beat can create calmness, or even a trance, whereas a stronger upbeat can stir us into action or ecstatic frenzy. Long ago, before men stole the drum away, drummers were women. Women historically, and archetypally, represent the connection to the primal beat.

In every shamanic culture throughout the world, the shaman has a drum. Drumming is used to alter consciousness, to entrain the shaman’s brain waves to the alpha state (8–13 cps). This is usually accomplished by way of a monotonous, repetitive rhythm. In many African traditions, drummers are healers. There is no separation between music and medicine, or between music and any aspect of life. According to writer and ceremonial drummer Michael Drake, “The sound waves produced by the drum impart their energy to the resonating systems of the body, mind, and spirit, making them vibrate in sympathy. When we drum, our living flesh, brainwaves, and spiritual energy centers begin to vibrate in response. The various frequencies of the drum interact with our own resonant frequencies, forming new harmonic alignments.” Recent scientific experiments have shown the therapeutic effects of drumming in enhancing the immune system. Other studies have demonstrated the calming, focusing, and healing effects of drumming on Alzheimer's patients, autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, substance abusers, trauma patients, and prison and homeless populations.

Resonance and Entrainment

All things are energetic and all things are affected by energy. As energetic, vibrational beings, we are affected by the vibrations of other people, animals, plants, structures, geometries, sounds, light rays, colors, electromagnetic fields, and other energy sources.

Everything has its own characteristic vibrational frequency. When we feel drawn to a certain person and we feel good around that person, we might say that we resonate well together. Resonance is defined as the frequency at which an object most naturally vibrates. In the earlier tuning fork example, one tuning fork vibrating at a certain frequency can set in motion another tuning fork of the same frequency without any physical contact — merely by being within each other’s fields.

When a singer shatters a glass with her voice, this is resonance at work. The singer’s voice matches the resonant frequency of the glass, which sets the glass into vibration. The singer then increases the amplitude, which exceeds the forces holding the glass in that formation and it shatters. In this same way, resonant frequencies can be used to break up kidney stones and gallstones in the body.

Entrainment is an aspect of resonance. Being near someone who is agitated accelerates our own vibrations. Conversely, being in the presence of someone who is very calm and grounded has a reciprocal calming effect. This is a common example of entrainment.

Entrainment was first elucidated as a concept by the Dutch scientist Christian Huygens in 1665. He noticed that when two pendulum clocks were placed in close proximity, the swinging of the pendulums would eventually synchronize. In physics, entrainment is defined as the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony. It is also defined as a synchronization of two or more rhythmic cycles. A classic medical example of entrainment is when separate cardiac muscle cells are brought close together and they begin pulsing in synchrony. Women who live in the same household will commonly find their menstrual cycles coinciding. Subtle energies are also affected by sympathetic resonance with similar energy fields. A couple who has lived together for many years will often not only take on similar mental and emotional attitudes and behaviors, but may begin to have similarities in physical appearance as well — this can also be observed with a single person and her pet. Within our own bodies, heart rate, respiration, and brain waves entrain to one another. Slowing down your breathing will slow down your heartbeat and brain waves, and slowing down your brain waves will correspondingly slow down heart rate and respiration.

Entrainment is an active process, whereas resonance is more passive. Entrainment changes the vibrations (the frequency or rhythm) of one object to another rate. The powerful oscillatory patterns of one source cause the less powerful vibrations of another source to lock into the frequency of the first source. There is a natural tendency in nature toward harmony and it requires less energy to entrain and vibrate harmoniously, than it does to remain out of step. Put another way, it is easier to cooperate than to oppose.

“You bring out the best in me” is indicative of resonance. “You make me a better person” is indicative of entrainment.

Tuning the Instrument

Our energetic being is an aggregate of harmonious resonant frequencies that cohere as a harmonic with its own vibratory signature. When an organ or energy channel or some other aspect of the body/mind is vibrating out of tune with the whole, creating dissonance, we call this “disease,” and we want to restore harmony.

Sound is a powerful tool. Different frequencies, tones, and sounds — through drumming, chanting, or toning, or the use of pure sounds or healing music — can induce different states to promote healing for the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. On a molecular level, our bodies are systems of vibrating atomic particles. We are living receivers and transmitters of sound vibration. We can use sound frequencies to vibrate matter and promote healing and regeneration of the different body systems. These frequencies also shift etheric patterning to heal the emotional and mental causes of disease.

Through the principles of resonance and entrainment, sound therapy can be used for the person in need of physical healing, as well as for mental and emotional transformation. The correct frequency reminds the body’s energy field of its original blueprint and works to realign it into harmony. Each individual has their own vibrational frequency, in sickness and in health, and energetic or vibrational medicine can restore and support harmony in the body and mind.

Author’s Note: The next issue of Massage & Bodywork’s Energy Medicine column will continue the examination of sound healing, looking at toning, chanting, and healing music.