Why does some music make me feel good, even if I was in a bad mood before? I know that Ayurveda is a holistic health system, so is there an Ayurvedic explanation for the power of music?

Aah the healing powers of music, one of my favourite topics! I would argue that music is a fast track to feeling well. As you point out, Ayurveda is a holistic medicine meaning it looks at the whole picture of a person. Someone made up of a body, mind and soul. All responding and reacting to everything that goes on in their environment. Our experience of life is subtle; think how someone’s words can affect our mood, or how a sharp wind can make us feel cold and uncomfortable. How qualities meet each other is the key to Ayurveda, and the magic of music as medicine. But let me take you on a deeper dive as you’ve asked for an explanation…

Back to the Big Bang

Both science and the major religions of the world talk about how the world and everything in it began with sound. The first lines of the Bible’s St John’s Gospel say: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This is also the thesis of the ancient Tantric philosophy Spanda Shastra. It explains how the entire universe is made of vibration: that everything came into being via an original pulsation that became a sound, which then produced the beginnings of the Cosmos. This ancient Tantric science says it all began with no-thing, before there was some-thing: the Big Bang. The moment spirit and matter collided with a noisy bang was the beginning of creation. So if everything came into being in this way, that includes us (our bodies and minds). Where there is matter, it was sound that originally made it what it is. Ayurveda therefore sees that sound that will bring it back to its original state of balance.

Theory in Practice

My Ayurvedic Master (a brilliant doctor and holy man who is also blind) runs his clinic in Maharastra, India. One of his main forms of treatment is through sound. He perceives everyone as a bundle of energy, each with their own ring or hum to them. He feels their pulse and listens to the song each cell, organ and system is playing, and can then map out an MRI scan of their body in his mind. He can perceive where, how and why they are out of balance. Through sound he sees this, and through sound and mantra he helps put them back in balance. His main source of healing is through Sanskrit Mantras, for they have a primordial sonic power which puts a person’s subtle body back in touch with something utterly balanced and harmonious.

But what’s this got to do with the music I listen to?

Everything in Ayurveda has a quality to it, and that quality has an action. Just as a bitter medicine will scrape the toxins from the body; the sound of drums will fire the digestive system up. Music can be like medicinal formulas with their mixtures of sounds, melodies, tones and rhythms. Each instrument has a different quality, these make us feel different as a result. These sounds also act on different parts of the body. They act on our nervous system, circadian rhythm and hormones. This is why listening to certain pieces of music at certain times of day is a fast track for us to feeling balanced. It is a way to plug ourselves into a frequency, sometimes energising us other times chilling us out.

An overview of the elements and how they correspond to sound

Once we start to think of music in elemental terms, this can make us be more mindful when playing music:
  • Stringed instruments correspond to spaces in the body and the nervous system. They can therefore put us into a parasympathetic (chilled) state. These spaces in our body are vulnerable to being filled with worry and anxiety, but by means of strings, they can be filled with positivity.
  • Flute and wind instruments correspond to the air-like movement of our body. Our thoughts, the way we move our body, the streams that course through us. These instruments can help create steady comfort and relief as oppose to erratic ungrounded changeability.
  • Drums are like fire in our body. They allow for heat, skin prickling passion and drive. They wake us up, get us going, help us digest our food and thoughts. They allow us to have sparks of creativity and imagination. They can add flavour and bursts of vitality.
  • Piano is like water in the body. It has the capacity to go with the flow, refresh us and chill us out. It corresponds to our emotional selves, the reproductive system and streams of consciousness. The piano can also put us into chilled balanced emotional states.
  • Bassy music, the double bass and low slow melodic beats correspond to earth element, they ground us and can get us ready to sleep. They help us get back in our bodies which is great for physical stuff like exercise or sex. Earth element is grounded, the opposite to being scattered and all over the place.

Our Own Personalised Medicine

A key thing to keep in mind is how music that you listen to relates to you. How do certain songs make you feel? As Ayurveda states, we are all made differently and will respond differently to different things, we just need to trust what we are feeling - and that goes for music too. So when you connect with a piece of music know it is bringing you into your body, into this moment and has the power to restore and rebalance you. For more information on tailored sound healing get in touch.

By Selina Van Orden

Selina Van Orden is an Ayurvedic doctor and sound healer, living and working in the UK

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