In recent years, Sound Medicine has been making headlines. Instead of heading out to the pub on a Friday night, many people are now choosing sound journeys as a way to relax and unwind. To those who view music as nothing more than entertainment, Sound Medicine may sound like a New Age gimmick, and even those who have experienced the benefits of healing sound may struggle to explain what exactly happens during a session. In light of this, it is helpful to consider the history of sound healing, as well as the science behind its effectiveness.
In western culture, people often assume that Sound Medicine is an emerging field, however cultures around the world have practiced sound healing for millenia. The indigenous people of the Amazon have long used medicine songs called icaros in plant medicine healing. The pre-Hindu Tantric Yogis used potent sound meditations to heal and awaken. Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda use sound for both diagnostic and treatment purposes, and in ancient Greece, Pythagoras cultivated practices based on the Harmony of the Spheres. Indeed, Sound Medicine is hardly an innovation of the New Age.
Sound Medicine is much more than a relaxing concert. With artistic mastery of their chosen tools and instruments guiding the experience, as well as a thorough understanding of the energetics of sound, a good sound healer possesses the presence and knowledge to support clients in engaging with healing in mind, body, and spirit in an intentional way. The underlying goal of any Sound Medicine work is to reset the sympathetic nervous system’s response to ongoing stress. Western medicine now acknowledges that the cumulative effects of stress contribute to nearly every major illness. Living in a culture of busyness, increasing levels of mental and emotional strain escalate into chronic stress, and over time, this can have a serious affect on our health. As the body is continually flooded with stress hormones, heart rate increases, blood pressure elevates, and the digestive system can’t function in an optimal way. Over time, this ongoing state of fight-or-flight can lead to disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, ulcers, and immune suppression.
Many health professionals now encourage patients to engage in simple and effective practices, including meditation, body awareness, and breathing exercises, to interrupt the cycle of chronic stress, and supporting the body’s natural capacity to heal and return to balance. This is where Sound Medicine is key. While all forms of meditation and self-awareness are beneficial, the part of the brain that engages with sound is directly connected to memory and emotion. Sound Medicine embraces this natural interconnectivity. Whether evoking soothing sounds, such as ocean waves or chimes shimmering in the breeze, abstract sounds such as the gong or singing bowls, or the words of a song to guide the exploration of a particular emotional landscape, life experience, or inner inquiry, Sound Medicine engages the parasympathetic nervous system, initiating a deep state of relaxation. In turn, the body is able to come into greater balance, and can result in lower blood pressure, improved digestive function, and nourishment of the body’s tissues and organ systems, not to mention allowing the mind and emotions to enter into calmness and clarity. Ultimately, Sound Medicine is a wonderful tool that can support any healing journey. While it is not a substitute for appropriate medical treatment when facing a serious health condition, as a complimentary modality, it can be very beneficial alongside any allopathic or holistic disciplines.
Angela Blueskies is a visionary musician and medicine woman who carries deep understanding of the healing powers of music and the Earth. A lifelong musician, she has been deeply influenced by the traditions of Nada Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, as well as indigenous and contemporary traditions of healing medicine songs. With a pure vocal quality, lush, beautiful harmonies, and rich instrumentation, Angela’s music brings people into profound meditative and ecstatic states and inspires deep connection to the heart. She is the founder of Sound Medicine Journeys, and offers sound healing sessions, classes, and workshops that are both experiential and grounded in the principles of holistic healing. A shamanic practitioner rooted in the traditions of the Peruvian Andes, Angela is also the Creative Director of Heart of the Mother Retreats, and leads journeys and pilgrimages to powerful healing destinations around the world. For more information, please visit angelablueskies.com and heartofthemotherretreats.com.
First published in Natural Awakenings DC, June 2017
Photo courtesy of Yulia Mikalchuk