Director of Research and Development Acoustic Brain Research
The ancient Vedic Rishis of India coined a term that conveys their experience of the world as vibratory in nature. The term, “Nada Brahmin” means literally the world is sound. And modern Quantum Physics would agree with this basic tenet.
The science of mantra which has evolved for thousands of years seeks to directly affect consciousness itself and, in some cases matter, through the use of specific vibratory keys. These vibratory keys or bijas (seed sounds) can profoundly affect awareness.
In my own work with groups and individuals I found that the use of mantras or chants can seemingly transport one to other dimensions of consciousness. I have also found that these vibratory keys work even if they are not inherent in the culture of the participants. I use, for instance, mantras and chants from numerous traditions including Buddhist, Christian, Hebrew, Hindu, Moslem as well as Indigenous cultures. All of these have the ability to affect people profoundly.
Empirical research from a number of sources has clearly documented that mantras or chants have a direct affect upon brain processing and physiology. Certain classes of “meditative mantras” have been shown to have very positive physical as well as mental/emotional benefits. Some of these benefits include a reduction in stress hormones such as adrenaline, the lowering of respiration and heart rate, slower EEG activity (with increases in alpha and theta activity) and, in some cases, a slowing of the aging process.
Research by Dr. Herbert Benson (Harvard) has demonstrated that almost any “neutral” word repeated silently to oneself generates some of the benefits documented with meditative mantras. It may actually be the repetitive nature of mantras that is partially responsible for slowing down EEG in the first place. Repetitive sensory patterns affect the RAS (Reticular Activating System,) a network of nerve fibers n the brain that searches for novel stimuli. When a sensory pattern is repeated long enough, the RAS slows down neocortical activity an when a new sensory pattern is introducted, the RAS stimulates the neocortex into heightened activity.
However, meditative mantras may have more subtle effects on human physiology than those created by the repetition of sound. New technologies for monitoring the actual energy fields of the body hold promise in this area. I personally suspect that the vibratory nature of certain languages, such as Sanskrit (the language of ancient India) will be documented to have numerous subtle effects as distinct from Benson’s “neutral” words.
For the last decade or so I have focused on the use of sound to produce alerted states of consciousness. It is in these states (characterized by heightened alpha and theta activity) that we have access to the more creative aspects of awareness. With the normal day to day censors suspended, non-ordinary experiences can occur. Such experiences often have physically healing or emotionally transformative, even spiritual, effects.
In much of my previous work I focused on the use of electronically generated tonal patterns (as with tone generators) to affect both brain processing and awareness. Laboratory studies clearly showed that this method of working measurably affected brain state. In other words we could create a window of brain activity by directing specific pulsating sounds to the auditory system of the brain. If I, for instance, pulsed a 7HZ signal to a subject, his or her brain activity would tend to move towards mid-theta.
Subsequent research has shown that “entrainment” moves a subject’s brain wave activity towards the HZ of the “entrainment” frequency, but there is not necessarily an exact match. IT was in the course of this technical work that I stumbled upon a study that showed that shamanic drumming produced strong theta activity in the brain. This intrigued me and I began to explore indigenous methods and instruments for altering consciousness.
I have found the use of shamanic sound to be a most interesting and complex system whereby consciousness, itself, can be directly affected. While shamanic drumming is an effective tool to alter brain wave patterns, I have found that this is greatly enhanced by using the human voice. Noted researcher Barbara Hero (MIT) has stated that the two purest forms of sound come from a pure tone generator and the human voice.
What I have found most intriguing is the ability of modulated sound, as in overtone chanting, to affect a subject’s physiological processes while he or she is in an altered state of consciousness (trance.) I had a dramatic experience in this regard while teaching a class in Atlanta, Georgia a few years ago. There was a woman who had been suffering from a compound fracture of the femur for several months. She reported that she was in constant pain and could not put pressure on her leg. During the course of the training, I instructed almost 50 people in how to use sound for physical healing and this woman received healing sounds from the group. She called me excited the next morning to report that she was without pain for the first time in months, that she could put weight upon her leg and that she was now walking without her cast!
In her book Mutant Message, Marlo Morgan reports how the aborigines healed with sound, but I thought that one would have to have the same cultural presuppositions as the aborigines for the method to work, but I have found that this is not true. I have experienced the ability of sound to modulate consciousness and the body in many other situations since then, and I am convinced that sound is a direct pathway to the substrata of reality that we call consciousness and/or matter.
It has been documented by some trained observers that mantras or chants can affect external events, especially weather. Tibetan yogis have been noted to produce hail storms, and fair or inclement weather just using specific mantras. In America some indigenous tribes have been observed to affect rain through communal dancing and chanting even into this century.
The ethno biologist and researcher, Terrence McKenna, reports how sound can seemingly alter DNA activity during trance states produced by plant hallucinogens. I personally have no doubt that this is possible though I don’t think that hallucinogenic substances are a requirement. What is required is that consciousness be more fluid in the individual. Our day to day patterns of perception and action tend to be rigid and with that, individual consciousness becomes limited. Methods for freeing up our attention or perception exist that do not rely upon hallucinogens, and this has become a research interest for me.
It is a natural next step to study the effects of shamanic sound in the laboratory and this is what I am presently undertaking. It is an observable fact, based on hard data and clinical observation, that shamanic sound can profoundly alter brain wave activity and awareness. What is most compelling for me is the possible scientific documentation of shamanic sound and its effects on actual physical and micro processes (such as genetic and neurotransmitter alterations.) The essential question here is- “Can the purported changes in physical and neurological structure, as a result of shamanic sound, be measured or are these changes more in the order of a mythology?” I think this question will become answerable from a scientific measurement perspective over the next ten years.
Even as I continue to conduct and co-ordinate research into the effects of shamanic sound, I often use it clinically or in group training sessions for I have found it unsurpassed as a doorway to altered states and other dimensions of consciousness. I often witness profound emotional and physical healings occurring when people enter these non-ordinary dimensions of awareness. Touching the depth of one’s nature through sound seems to have a universally transformative effect. As a researcher I continue to be intrigued by the neurological effects of sound, and as a practitioner I am continually awed by the power of sound to touch, to inspire and to heal.
Tom Kenyon, M.A. holds a Masters Degree in Psychological Counseling with over thirteen years of clinical experience. A certified teacher of Whole Brain Learning, Tom often teaches and consults with professionals in a number of fields including psychology, medicine, education and business. In 1983 Tom founded Acoustic Brain Research (ABR) to scientifically document the effects of sound and music on the human nervous system. Today, ABR is a recognized leader in psycho-acoustic research and works with major universities and independent labs in the scientific exploration of sound healing. Tom is also the author of BRAIN STATES (U.S. Publishing) a critically acclaimed practical guide to the brain and its unused potentials. The focus of his work is on the use of sound to facilitate altered states of consciousness whereby one may access the more creative aspects of awareness. He teaches extensively throughout the United States.