An internationally acknowledged master teacher, Jonathan Goldman has studied with masters of sound from both the scientific and spiritual traditions, including the Dalai Lama’s Chanting Gyuto and Gyume Monks. In this interview he gives an overview of some of the research that has been done to document the science behind the healing and transformative power of chanting.
Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): What is the science of mantra?
Jonathan Goldman (JG): There are a number of studies that have been done. Dr. Herbert Benson showed that mantras help induce the “relaxation response,” causing reduction of heartbeat, brain waves and respiration. Dr. David Shananoff-Khalsa believes, recitation of mantras enables the tongue to stimulate the acupuncture meridians inside the mouth, particularly on the roof. Dr. Ranjie Singe determined that chanting specific mantras caused the release of melatonin and that, because of this, there are many benefits, including shrinkage of tumors and enhanced sleep. It’s also been found that self-created sounds such as chanting will cause the left and right hemispheres of the brain to synchronize. Even just listening to certain chants has beneficial effects.
IYM: Is this what is referred to as “vibrational medicine?”
JG: Yes, the basic principle is that the entire universe, including all the parts of our bodies, is simply made of vibration. This concept is supported by the new superstring theory of physics. When we are in a natural, resonant vibration, we are in a state of health, but if some part of the body begins to vibrate at a counter frequency, the energy becomes stuck and disease sets in. Vibrational medicine says that it is possible to use sound to project the correct resonant frequency back into that part of the body, causing it to return to a state of health. This can be done through electronic instrumentation or through using the human voice. Since sound can potentially rearrange molecular structure, the possible healing applications of sound are limitless.
IYM: In the film What the Bleep Do We Know!? there was a Japanese scientist who demonstrated the effect of sound on water.
JG: Yes, Masuru Emoto demonstrated that water molecules are actually affected by sound and our intention. Intention involves our thoughts and feelings—it is the energy behind the sounds that we create. Emoto found that a molecule of clean water looked like a snowflake—very geometric. He had photographs of polluted water molecules, which at first looked like mud. After a priest chanted over the polluted water, it was photographed again and the water looked like a snowflake—the sound and intentionality had restored it to its pristine shape. Fabien Maman, a French acupuncturist and sound healer took Kirlian photographs of hemoglobin blood cells that were exposed to different sounds. He took photos of blood cells exposed to an ascending chromatic scale—C, C#, D, etc. created on a xylophone. Each note affected the cell differently, creating a different shape and different Kirlian color. This demonstrated clearly that cellular structure and energy are affected by sound.
IYM: In your book, Healing Sounds, you talk about research that explains how ancient rishis conceived of yantras, sacred Hindu mandalas, linked to different mantras.
JG: In the 1960s, Dr. Hans Jenny, a Swiss medical doctor, observed the effects of sound upon matter. He called his work Cymatics—the Greek word for waveform, because sound travels as a wave. Many consider this work to be the most important demonstration of the ability of sound to shape substance. Dr. Jenny was one of the first to use an oscillator to test different materials. He showed that sound was able to actually create form in various substances. He placed these on a steel plate and then, using a crystal oscillator, vibrated these plates with sound. The various substances took on the most organic looking shapes—they look like microscopic organisms or underwater life. The water took on extraordinary geometric forms.
We have one photograph that is said to be a tonoscope (a device much like the oscillator Jenny used) of someone chanting OM through a microphone over a steel plate covered with colored sand. After the chanting, they saw the geometric form of the Sri Yantra take shape in the sand! I’ve had students reproduce it. This is the essence of how the ancient rishis came up with sacred yantras—they observed them through their third eyes or saw the yantras in the sand after they chanted a mantra.
IYM: What are the implications for the effect of mantras on the human body?
JG: Some believe chanting actually causes the physical and etheric bodies to change their vibrational frequency level—becoming more attuned with divine energy. When one chants a mantra for an extended period of time, to invoke, for example a deity, the higher energies of that deity will encode itself upon the chanter. This is one purpose for much mantric chanting—to become one and unite with the energy of the deity whose name one is chanting. If the person has some sickness or imbalance, this imbalance can frequently be released by having the energy of the deity encode itself upon the person. By mantric chanting, one can cause stuck energy to release, and we can return to our natural state of resonance.
Dr. Elizabeth Philips took some thermography photographs of me creating vocal harmonics. Thermography measures changes in skin temperature—when a subject is relaxed, skin temperature is raised. There seems to be a major relationship between changes in skin temperature and shifts in the organs behind or below the skin. Skin temperature change could also indicate changes in the energetics of the chakra associated with an area. These photos, which you can see on our website, may show how self-created sound was able to influence the brow or ajna chakra.
IYM: Earlier, you mentioned that listening to certain chants could also bring benefit.
JG: Dr. Alfred Tomatis utilized the sounds of Gregorian monks chanting to stimulate the brain and nervous systems of clients through their ears. His work is very important with regard to the scientific and medical uses of sound and chant. He found that sounds particularly high in vocal harmonics would stimulate and charge the cortex of the brain and nervous system. Some years ago, there was a recording of Gregorian chanting that became very popular just when this research was made public. Many other types of chanting from different traditions have very similar effects. These are just a few examples of the physical phenomenon of chanting.
IYM: What about Tibetan chants?
JG: The Tibetan “Deep Voice,” a form of overtone chanting, is quite exquisite and difficult to duplicate. Tibetan chanting employs mantric formulas, which comprise their sacred texts. Each sacred scripture is an invocation to a specific deity or collection of deities. The chanters inwardly visualize these deities while creating a mandala, a circular cosmological painting, which they inwardly visualize as archetypal symbols. These mandalas may involve over 150 deities and entities, all in specific placement. This combination of vocalization and visualization allows the monks to become the embodiment of the energies they are invoking.
IYM: Are there different benefits accrued as part of a group rather than chanting by oneself?
JG: Recently it’s been found that when we sound together in a group, there’s the release of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that transmits bonding and trust. So, chanting together breaks down barriers that separate us. This could be perceived as creating oneness. Also, our sound amplifies our prayers, meditations and consciousness. I believe that group chanting can effect planetary healing. The Yoga of sound is universal. The concept of mantra, of sacred chants, is in every faith tradition. Sri Swami Satchidananda understood this, and he honored all traditions.
There’s a critical mass necessary to manifest change—it’s the square root of one percent of the population. On a planet of more than six billion people, this number is approximately eight thousand individuals! Only a tiny percentage of people engaging in an activity such as a global meditation or peace chanting is necessary (on our website, we have information about World Sound Healing Day and our new cyberspace Temple of Sacred Sound). In order to meditate and project the consciousness of peace, we each must be in a peaceful frame of mind, feeling and focusing the energy of peace. Our vocalized prayers have the ability to change personal and planetary consciousness. I encourage each person reading this interview to utilize the profound technology of encoding sounds with consciousness in order to make a difference. You don’t need to wait for a global event in order to begin doing this—you can start right now.
Jonathan Goldman is an authority on sound healing and a pioneer in the field of harmonics, and the author of many books including Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics, Shifting Frequencies and Tantra of Sound. He is the director of the Sound Healers Association, the first organization dedicated to the education and awareness of sound and music for healing. Jonathan has created numerous recordings. His collaboration on the album, Tibetan Master Chants, was nominated for a 2006 Grammy Award for “Best Traditional World Music.” For more information on Jonathan and Andi Goldman’s books, recordings and programs, please visit: www.healingsounds.com.