Shawnee Thornton Hardy
Benefits of Music Therapy, Sound Healing and Chanting with Children and Youth
Updated: Oct 6, 2018
By Sita Rose
“Almost all children respond to music. Music is an open-sesame, and if you can use it carefully and appropriately, you can reach into that child's potential for development." - Dr. Clive Robbins
Have you ever noticed how small children respond to live music? Often they turn their head toward the source of sound. Their facial affect might brighten into a smile. Their knees may start to bounce in time with the rhythm. Children allow music to move through them without inhibition. From infancy, we’re surrounded by the rhythm of mom’s heartbeat, and for typically developing babies, they begin to hear as early as 18 weeks.
The brain is stimulated simply by listening to music, making it a powerful therapeutic modality for all ages.
Music and sound have played an integral role within the practice of yoga for centuries. Ancient cultures naturally embrace sound as medicine. It’s only recently that science is catching up to confirm what we already feel in our cellular body. As a culture, we have developed new techniques, tools, and technologies that make us better equipped to apply it to situations, but it’s important to address that no one owns music or sound. The application of music within a clinical setting in the United States began in the 1940s when post trauma surfaced among soldiers returning from WWII. Musicians at the time noticed how effective music addressed the psychological and emotional side-effects of war and began to establish the profession.
What is Music Therapy?
Music Therapy is the clinical and evidenced-based use of music interventions and the elements of music (rhythm, pitch, chord progression, dynamics, etc) to address non-musical goals. Music stimulates all areas of the brain and involves the child at many levels. This multimodal approach facilitates the development of physical, social/emotional, sensory, communication, and cognitive skills.
Quality learning and maximum participation occur when children are encouraged to experience the joy of play. The medium of music therapy allows this play to occur naturally and frequently. Music is highly motivating, yet it can also have a soothing effect on the nervous system.
American board certified music therapists are equipped to implement therapeutic treatment after graduating from an accredited program, successfully completing a clinical internship program, and passing the board certification exam administered by CBMT (Certification Board of Music Therapists). www.musictherapy.org
What is Sound Healing?
“Frequency plus intention equals healing. If we can find the right sound frequency coupled with the right intention then healing will occur.” - Jonathan Goldman
Sound healing is founded on the principle that all matter is vibrating at specific frequencies. If parts of our body are out of alignment, we can balance the body using the correct sound frequencies and intention to reprogram our body. Sound healers complete certification trainings, many of which vary in hours and requirements. Sound healing trainings are not standardized by an accredited association.
While sound and music are often used interchangeably, the main distinction between sound healing and music therapy is that sound refers to all vibration frequencies, whereas music therapy works within specific evidence-based protocols that draw from the organization of sound.
Yoga and Music
“The body is held together by sound. The presence of disease indicates that some sounds have gone out of tune.” -Deepak Chopra
Music is a temporal art. Meaning each note strung together must be realized over time. Each note matters in relationship to the note heard previously. Our brain recalls the last note it just processed, yet simultaneously remains present to perceive the next note, thus making it an active process happening over time. In this way, music carves a similar neural pathway to that of language.
Participating in music requires awareness of the present moment. (Joan S, 1964)
Tempo and rhythm affects our physical response systems through a phenomenon called entrainment. When we listen to music our bodies automatically synchronize to the external rhythmic stimulation. A simple example of this looks like everyone dancing at a concert. They are moving to the same perceived rhythmic input. When working with children in a group this concept can build social cohesion.
Brainwave entrainment (BWE), another facet of sound healing, designed to stimulate the brain with visual or auditory stimulation to elicit frequency following or entrainment. It has been shown to positively affect neuronal regulation with ADHD and improve cognitive functioning in children with learning disabilities. (Patrick GJ and J Neurother, 1996)
Activating the Voice
As vibrating beings, our voice is our initial connection to the physical body.
Primitive forms of communication rely heavily on our ability to outwardly express our needs using the voice. Crying, laughing, screaming, moaning are all aspects of early child development. Children whose voices have been silenced for whatever reason must learn new ways to communicate their needs and can result in challenging behaviors if their needs are not being met.
Vocal techniques listed below are inexpensive tool to regulate the parasympathetic nervous system, develop skills for emotional self-expression, and enhance meditation. Research shows singing stimulates healthy brain cells, lowers blood pressure, regulates heart rate, boosts immune systems, and releases the hormone Oxytocin. (Michael R and Mehmet Oz, 2011). Not to mention, singing and activating the voice liberates us from societal programing like; “Children should be seen and not heard.” “Shh! Don’t cry.” “Don’t sing, you’re tone deaf.”
Helps to turn the awareness inward. With the lips together and teeth apart take a deep breath in and hum on one note on your exhale. For an added boost, try covering your ears. Humming can be a great tool for children who experience anxiety.
2. Toning and the Chakras
The Internal resonance found when humming is then outwardly expressed when toning. Toning sustains focus by singing on a vowel for an extended exhale. Open the mouth and allow the voice to settle into one pitch for a long exhale. For example, take the vowel ‘Ah’ (associated with the heart center). Inhale, then exhale on a long ah sound. Toning can be practiced in unison with an external pitch like a drone. For little kids it can be fun to present toning as a discovery, “how long can you hold this note?” Play with changing the shape of lips, opening of mouth, and notice how that shifts your resonance.
Toning technique is often practiced in relationship to the Chakra system.
Chakra is Sanskrit for wheel.
There are 7 major energy centers inside our body that help connect the mind to the embodiment of each energy center. A vocal meditation through the chakras can balance energy and alleviate blockages. Begin with a low note chanting “UH’ for the Root Chakra which lives in the base of the spine, connecting us to ground. Start to go higher in pitch, chanting “OO” for Sacral chakra which governs the sacrum. “OH” for the Solar plexus located at the center of our body below the ribcage. “AH” for the Heart. “EH” for the Throat. “IH” for Third eye. “EE” for Crown. Place your hands on each energy center as you chant and notice where vibration moves energy.
3. Seed Sounds
Like toning, seed sounds can be expressed on one long exhale and a vowel. Seed Sound or Bija is a yogic technique to connect to the elements within our body. The 7 Seed sounds are Lam - Earth- element, Vam- water, Ram- fire, Yam- air, Ham- either, Aum- space, Silent internal Aum- crown. There is no wrong way to practice the Bija Mantra. Chant all seed sounds in succession or pick one to sing for a while.
4. Chanting and Singing preferred songs
Chanting mantra alters our state of consciousness. Mantra fine tunes the mind. Giving it a job to do, a powerful positive intention to infuse the body. Take a mantra like Om. or Loka samasta sukhino bhavantu (may all beings be happy and free, may that happiness begin with me), carry high vibrational qualities. When we chant, we align ourselves with it. Mantras are a great tool for coping with stress. Simply listening to mantra can affect our consciousness. Chanting practice repeats a single word or phrase facilitating deep meditation aspects and the benefits that come with it.
Singing preferred songs can be a positive way to address emotional concerns using lyrics that a child resonates with to address difficult concepts.
How Children and Youth Can Benefit
Connection to breath and mindfulness
Soothes nervous system
Promotes structure for movement and physical awareness
Engaging with music within a group helps develop social skills
Sound is everywhere. When we tune up our body, mind, and spiritual bodies there is more space for learning, growing, and relating to one another.
SITA ROSE is a spirit seeker, space holder and music maker. Based in San Diego, CA, she is an expressive performer skilled at crafting melodic medicine derived from the heart. She draws from her experience as a board certified music therapist, devotional singer, tantra and yoga practitioner to elevate consciousness and promote peace. Her gypsy spirit has led her to study the ancient healing qualities of music throughout India, South America, and Jamaica.
As co-founder of Seed & Song LLC, she is passionate about fostering communities that empower women to live freely.
Learn more about Sita Rose at www.sitarose.com