Sound Healing Demystified
The healing potentialities of Gregorian Chant and plainsong in and out of the Liturgy to positively affect both listener and performer in matters of body, mind, and spirit.
“It was a music of the spirit, seeking peace, not emotional release, expressing the hunger of the soul rather than the heart. A way of sequencing notes so ancient it might be music's mother lode, its Fertile Crescent.
It wouldn't have grated, I felt, on the ears of ancient Greeks or Egyptians or Mesopotamians or Sumerians—or even on the august auditory equipment of the Buddha or Lao-tzu.” – Tony Hendra
By Aria Thomé
Since the re-release of pre-recorded Gregorian chants by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain in a 1994 album simply titled Chants and release of Moto proprio in 2007 by then Pope Benedict XVI, there has been renewed interest in the Gregorian Chant, and in particular, the healing qualities of both the performer and the listener.
The purpose of this writing is to provide evidence and to postulate theorems of the healing potentialities of Gregorian Chant and plainsong in and out of the Liturgy to positively affect both listener and performer in matters of body, mind, and spirit. Since the resurgence of interest in this corpus of music, by both musicologists and liturgical and secular choral directors, medicinal researchers have had a keen interest in the chants ability to reduce anxiety, stimulate bone conduction, and lower blood pressure. Other benefits also being found include but are not limited to helping the fluency of the speech of stroke victims, ‘charging’ the central nervous system and cortex of the brain via the stapes muscle of the ear, and reducing the number of hours of sleep needed to properly function throughout the day.
Positive neuro-physiological results have also been noted, particularly from the monks in Solesmes, France, a monastery that has been at the forefront of Gregorian chant research regarding interpretation, performance, and steadfast keeping of the sung Hours. Their continued usage of sung propers and ordinary of the liturgy also belong to the body of chants with Gregorian structure. Under stress, for example, breathing patterns irregulate, and the diastole-systole cardiac cycle loses its regular ticking. In Solesmes’ performance of chant the rhythms are the translation of a response corresponding to the capabilities of the entire nervous system, whereby, there exists a calm and regulated cardiac functioning. This is in part due to the verticality of posture of the monks which heightens their extraordinary listening abilities to produce a condition in which the flexor and extensor muscles are inactive, allowing for a relaxed emission of tone that is high and rich in its frequency response and overtones, stimulating positive brain activity.
The structure of the chanting, its composition and cadences, has a positive physiological impact being shown to increase the levels of DHEA, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands to assist in releasing hormones and one whose levels peak early and decline with age. Simply listening to the chants from Solesmes, and to be sure, other like monasteries, can produce endorphins; natural opiates secreted by the hypothalamus. Chanting and listening have been shown to increase nuero-communication between the left and right brain hemispheres which stimulate the immune system and help to create new neural pathways in the brain. There also exists empirical evidence that listening helps to relieve chronic pain, reduce muscle tension, and aid in regulating disrupted sleeping patterns.
In a world full of noise pollution from urban dwellings, electronic usage, and even electrical currents in housing, the body, so connected to mind and spirit, is exposed to harmful frequencies that wreak havoc in the body’s energetic system, producing stress, anxiety, and depression to name but a few conditions. We will look at these more closely in depth, but overwhelmingly, the evidence is clear. Chanting Gregorian chant and or listening aids in, again including but not limited to, reducing anxiety, relieving depression, and balancing the autonomic nervous system. The physical and neurological effects then have a secondary effect on the mind and what we shall define later as the spirit (or soul) through the lens of quantum physics and through the writings of respected spiritual authors.