We are rarely without music now; it is freely available almost everywhere - over the internet, on our phones, and on the radio. Music has become a constant companion, we hardly notice it anymore because it fades into the background while we are working, shopping or eating.
Since many of us have had our movements restricted over the past year, many of us have started listening to more music than we used to. The question is: are we listening, or are we consuming without noticing?
Music has long become an industry where an enormous variety of styles and types of music are being produced. Catering to different audiences and tastes, this industry's products are carefully marketed to maximise sales and profits. It is not so much different from, let's say, the car or the tech industry. But is that all that music is or can be?
Looking back into the distant past, music used to be part of spiritual practices and religious ceremony before it became part of community life. In Ancient Greece and Rome, music was used in healing shrines alongside herbal medicines. Like the Aborigines of Australia and many others, ancient cultures have long used sound to heal.
And here we have reached a critical point: what is the difference between sound and music? In Naad Yoga, we work with the following paradigm: Music doesn't make sound; instead, sound makes music.
"Naad" (in Sanskrit) is generally translated as "universal sound current" and describes any sound which is audible to the human ear. Through sound, we communicate our thoughts and feelings to the outside world, and so Naad is also called the sound of emotions. In the Nankian school, we focus on the music's emotions rather than on the frequencies of the notes. Raags are composed based on emotional signatures, also called shrutis, which describe a note's emotional charge or colouring. A composition in raag is fundamentally a tapestry of emotions conveyed through sound.
The emotional content is essential when using Naad for healing. But before we proceed to talk about sound therapy, let us consider what healing is. Different schools have different approaches to healing, and each is valid. In the context of sound alchemy, healing doesn't mean a return to "normal", such as the state before an illness, injury, or trauma occurred. Healing means restoring a state of wholeness and balance that allows us to move forward without negating past experiences. Healing through Naad requires us to feel and integrate the emotions sparked by listening to a Raag. There can be no healing without feeling.
Here lies one of the main differences between Raag therapy and western music therapy, which focuses more on the notes' frequencies and how they resonate with the body and nervous system. But even if the focus is on frequencies and their physical effects, there will always be an emotional charge in the music. The question is, are we aware of it and are we using it constructively?
Now, let us consider the mainstream music I mentioned earlier: we have become consumers of music produced by someone else. It is easy and convenient - just like eating a ready-made meal: we buy it in the supermarket, heat it up in the microwave and then sink down on the sofa before tucking in. But is it healthy?
Experts now advise avoiding processed foods and ready-made meals as much as possible because they have discovered that it can lead to long-term health issues. People have become more concerned with healthy eating; they pay more attention to the ingredients in their food and prioritise home-cooked food.
I believe that there will be a similar paradigm shift in the world of music in the future, where we will not just become conscious consumers but creators of our own music. This doesn't mean that you have to sit at home with your guitar, piano or drums whenever you feel like listening to music. It means that you are aware of the emotional content of the music and its effect on your body, mind and soul. You choose a track based on what you need to restore your balance, and you compose your sound to express your emotions deliberately.
This doesn't have to be complicated. You can imbue a simple nursery rhyme with emotions to such a degree that it causes a shift in your emotional state or that of another person. You don't have to be a musician to be a Naad Yogi.
How do we make this shift happen? In the same way, as you would change your eating habits:
1. Stop having music on in the background all the time. Choose music you like, then relax and listen to it with your complete focus.
2. Reflect on how the music makes you feel; pay attention to the lyrics and what they mean to you.
3. Think about why you feel drawn to a particular track, why it resonates with you - does it have an effect on your physical state (like increasing your heart rate, a sudden rush of euphoria)? Do you like the impact it has on your emotional state (like putting you in a good mood or reminding you of happy memory)? Do the lyrics speak to you by describing an experience you had?
4. Consider how you feel afterwards, not just immediately after listening but during the rest of the day. Did the music make you feel good in the long term? Or did it give you a quick high, and then you felt relatively low, physically or emotionally?
5. Play with your voice: sit down comfortably and close your eyes, then sing a simple tune or even just a single note, and let your feelings flow into it. How does it sound? How does the sound make you feel? If you need to release pent up emotions, you can do it like this. If you are feeling down, focus on a happy memory while singing and focus intently on your own voice. You will feel different right away.
Naad is nourishment for the mind and the soul, and we should take as much care while listening as when we feed our bodies. So let us explore the power of sound and take charge of our musical diet!
I am looking forward to sharing more insights from the world of sound, so make sure to come back in two weeks to continue our journey together.