A still mind and a leisurely pace opens the door to serendipity and increases our capacity to observe things. I discovered there are simple ways to access and strengthen this function which is activated when one develops a calm and peaceful mind. Music is one such aid as is the practice of yoga and meditation, tai chi, qigong and many more.
All these practices help to reduce the clutter of a busy mind and bring peace and harmony to the body/mind mechanism. Then serendipitous moments arrive in their own time and in their own way.
I devoted many years of study and experimentation on the effect of music on the body, mind and emotions and how music can heal and raise consciousness. Music is encoded into our bodies and brains and we are indeed wired for music. I discovered what the great masters of music knew – that the act of playing music to an audience is a very intimate act as we are not just moving the other person emotionally but touching them intimately and their whole body is responding to it.
As the sound hits the eardrum it vibrates in response to what it has heard from the world outside, setting up pressure waves inside a snail-like structure called the cochlea. The hair cells seemingly dance and get excited in response to the received stimuli. This structure has very fine thin hair cells lining it that are tuned to specific frequencies which fire electrical charges of both high and low frequencies. These frequencies are then transmitted to the brain and auditory cortex, which, incredibly is laid out in pitch order like the keys on a piano. Here low notes stimulate one part and higher notes another part. The different components of music, pitch, tempo, loudness, timbre etc, while processed in different centres all over the brain, come together almost simultaneously so you wouldn’t know how to tell them apart.
Studies have shown that music also stimulates memory, motor control and language. Lyrics of a song activate language centres while other parts of the brain may connect the tune to a long-held association, perhaps a first kiss or a road trip down the coast. In terms of brain imaging listening to music lights up or activates the brain more than any other stimulus. Music automatically engages areas that are essential to pleasure, reward and serendipity. The same pleasure centres light up whether you’re listening to a favourite tune, eating chocolate, having sex, or taking addictive drugs. It results in increased activity of the brain chemical dopamine, a molecule involved in desire and reward.
Scientists say that music’s ability to touch emotion lies in its ability to forge social bonds and foster cooperative behaviour. Scientists working at the University of Zurich in 2009 showed that listening to music creates a firestorm of activity in brain areas commonly used to understand another person’s thoughts. It is as if they were trying to figure out the intentions and desires of the composer. Studies also show that listening to music stimulates brain areas that specialise in imitation and empathy and contain what the researchers call ‘mirror neurons’.
These brain circuits, first described in monkeys, act like mirrors in the mind, reflecting the actions of others and their intentions as if they were their own. The neurons allow you to feel a loved one’s pain or simulate their actions, even if it is only in your mind. Mirror neurons are also active when a sound is heard that is associated with an action. Scientists think that this sound-related function may have developed for survival reasons, enabling the understanding of actions that couldn’t be seen. The discovery of this mechanism, made about a decade ago, suggests that everything we watch someone else do, we do as well on a mental scale. At its most basic this means we mentally rehearse or imitate every action we observe whether a somersault or a subtle smile. It explains much about how we learn to smile, walk, talk, play music or tennis.
From the yogic traditions we learn that we have within us power centres called chakras. We can look at them as energy centres which govern the subtler psychosomatic aspects of our being. The knowledge of the chakra system has been exhaustively recorded and passed on by India’s yogis and it permeates Hindu culture and tradition. Inside the human body are millions of these tiny whirling vital life forces which are intensely concentrated in energy centres or chakras, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘wheel’. Every thought, action and intention influences the sensitivity and performance of the chakras which also have corresponding points in the brain.
The chakras are like every object in the Universe. Everything has a capacity to vibrate in some manner, by virtue of how they are constructed, how they are put together and how they are made up.
Traditionally the healing power of sound as a practice of yoga is called ‘Nada’ or ‘Sound yoga’ and is based on the relationship between musical frequencies and chakras. This system of yoga recognises that the human body is like a musical instrument that is expressing different frequencies and rhythms. It responds to certain sound frequencies and undergoes changes to brain physiology, heartbeat and breath. When the frequency of the notes and chakras are in sync by a process called ‘entrainment’ an optimal flow of energy is established, bringing the body into alignment with its natural and pure vibration. Entrainment is a phenomenon of resonance and is described as the tendency for two oscillating bodies pulsing at nearly the same frequency in the same field to eventually lock into phase or the same frequency so that they vibrate in harmony.
It seems that nature always seeks the most efficient energy levels. Nothing is wasted in nature.