Sacred Sounds – East and West

We are made of energy. Energy that has a frequency and a signature. Sound and music move us because they communicate with us on a deep, essential level.  They speak to us at a level that is beyond the physical.  

All cultures around the world have practices of sacred sound, of group healing, and of using the voice or instruments.  This is music that isn’t ‘performed’ but is a shared experience to bring us into a collective experience of transcendence.  Music helps us to change state, to altar our brain waves and our heart frequencies.  

When I was 14 or 15 years old my year group at school went on a trip to the Church in Milton Keynes. If you don’t know already, Milton Keynes is a ‘new city’ and everything in it is new. It’s just 50 years old (a tiny bit older than me) with the exception of some of the buildings that were part of older villages like Stony Stratford or Wollaston. However, a less well known fact about Milton Keynes is that it is built along ancient ley lines, the energy lines that run throughout Great Britain. 

The church in Milton Keynes was ecumenical and it was designed to function in a way that suited all varieties of Christian types of worship, from high Anglican ‘smells and bells’ to the more simple Quaker meeting room form of ‘space of quiet contemplation’. 

As a teenager, I visited many different types of churches to see which ones I liked the best, not what the average teens explore I guess, but I was a late ‘bloomer’ and my sex and drugs and rock and roll phases came later. During the school trip to Milton Keynes Church, I along with my classmates, experienced the sacred christian music from the monks of Taizet, an order from the south of France. They performed by candle light and it was like nothing I had ever experienced. 

The choral music we heard that evening had a profound impact on me, and I found tears rolling down my cheeks and felt my heart opening as we prayed to the sounds; sometimes in english, sometimes in latin. The music reached inside and touched something deep at the core of my being.

me and my bestie Naomi on comic relief day at school age 15

Music can lift us, and move us, and sharing the practice of singing or chanting in a group has a well documented impact on our health and wellbeing.  

At the catholic school I attended I learnt to use a rosary, a way to meditate using a fixed set of words and phrases that help the practitioner connect with Mary the mother of God.  It felt quite ‘boring’ as a practice to me then, the more mystical meaning was lost to me, and certainly not something that I felt was conveyed by the nuns at my school. However I now love to connect to sung or chanted meditative practice which is from Christian tradition. Have a listen to this and see what you think!

During my trip to India in my 20’s, I was introduced to Sanskrit chanting by other western travellers in India, and although I had previously encountered sounding OM in some yoga asana classes, I didn’t have much experience of this part of yoga practice or as a tool to connect to peace within.  

The first mantra I learnt was Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, a Sanskrit mantra which means ‘My all beings in all the universes be free from suffering’ and we chanted this at the end of the yoga classes I attended while living in Gibraltar. This prayer to the universe held so much potency for me, after completing the movement practice to send love out from me to all other beings felt like the ultimate prayer!

This is a beautiful version of this powerful prayer.

Mantra has become more central to my meditation practice since 2012, and I have enjoyed sung mantra (Kirtan) as well as chanted mantra. All mantra can help us to quieten the mind through its impact on the nervous system, through the controlled breath, the rhythmic sounds, and the repetition . It supports us to go beyond the busyness of the mind and the constant inner monologue to stillness within. This monkey mind chatter that arises from being chronically stressed or from a sense of overwhelm, the every day information overload. Research has shown how chanting OM, especially in groups, and the vagus nerve, improving vagal nerve tone, this means our capacity to move naturally through the different states found in the nervous system more easily, returning to sense of wellbeing and ease. It also decrease on stress hormones (cortisone), and some studies have found that it may increase oxytocin (feelgood hormone) and ‘social flow’ . The way the breath becomes regulated also impacts our cardiovascular system, and helps our heart to beat slower.

The Sanskrit mantras sounds were ‘channelled’ by the ancient rishis of India thousands of years ago, and can be thought of as the sounds the nature. Different sounds or syllables in the words have specfic frequencies that are more than intellectual meaning. Mantras help us with certain situations and hold specific frequencies which are the medicine we might need in life. For example, ‘Om Gum Ganapataiyai’ – the Ganesha mantra is chanted at the initiation or the start of something because this mantra helps ‘to clear obstacles in our path’.  Ganesha the elephant headed God venerated in India and in my experience this mantra when practiced over time brings a great sense of friendliness, joy and confidence.

Image of two mini statues of elephants one bronze one coloured white and orange
Two little Ganesha on my altar

I had a profound experience the first time I committed to a 40 day practice of chanting the same mantra everyday.  It was a mantra which helps to connect to the divine mother as Narayani (triple goddess of wisdom, courage and compassion). I had been struggling in a relationship I was in, and I knew the relationship wasn’t healthy or good for me but every time I tried to break it off, I was compelled back and I didn’t understand why.  It was causing me so much distress and mental and emotional turmoil, that I felt destabilized by the experience.  My love life was constant ‘high drama’ and I was praying to be liberated from this exhausting pattern.  Around the 30 day mark of the meditation practice, I had a huge realisation of my own toxic ‘love-addiction’.

The wounded child part of me was so tuned into ‘rescuing’ and ‘care taking’ as a way to avoid feelings of pain; my own deep sense of loneliness and unworthiness and my fear of abandonment and sense of isolation. At this moment, so much compassion swept over me for this part of myself, I understood, and I was able to meet that of me part with such deep loving tenderness. Within 3 months I finally ended the relationship once and for all.  

Mantra is powerful, it’s soul realm energy. It connects us to the most powerful part of ourselves and helps us to bring the soul-light into our lived experience of who we are and how we can be in the world.

I feel deeply blessed to have teachers who have helped me and initiated me into the sacred sound medicine of mantra.  

Sri Shakti Amma says ” Chants are the words and voice of the Divine. Chanting is one of the greatest gifts of the human birth, giving us the ability to connect with the Divine. Chanting is not only for you, but for the entire world. The simplest chant is, ‘Om Namo Narayani’ I surrender to the Divine Mother.

—Sri Sakthi Amma.

Sri Shakti Amma Narayani

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