An Interview with UCLA Researcher and Professor Helen Lavretsky on Sound Healing
Doctor Helen Lavretsky is both a scholar and recipient of health effects of sound healing. She is a certified Kundalini Yoga teacher, as well as a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist who studies the effects of chanting meditation practices such as Kirtan Kriya on brain function. Dr Lavretsky also studies how sound healing affects gene expression in stressed dementia caregivers and older adults with depression and memory loss.
She edited the textbook on the Complementary and Integrative Therapies for Mental Health and Aging published by the Oxford University Press in 2016. Dr Lavretsky also authored the book Resilience and Aging: Research and Practice published by the Hopkins University Press in 2014.
Dr Lavretsky holds annual conferences at UCLA to educate clinicians and the general public about integrative medicine techniques for mental disorders and aging.
The upcoming conference on Integrative Medicine and Mental Health will be focused on Sound Healing. Dates are April 7-8, 2018.
Healing Power of Sound
LA YOGA: How did you become interested in the healing power of sound?
I grew up studying classical music and trained to play classical piano. Music provided both solace and profound experiences. It remained a hobby during my medical training and work. I experienced a series of spiritual awakenings along with the benefits of practicing Kundalini yoga with chanting, gong sounds, and tantric dancing. This helped me realize that sound is an ancient, powerful tool for spiritual awakening and healing. I started integrating into my yoga research how the practice can be applied to stress reduction, treatment of depression, and memory loss.
In October 2017, I was invited to visit Dharamsala, India, to give a talk at the 5th Conference on Body, Mind & Life for the Tibetan Medical & Astro Institute of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. My lecture was focused on the health benefits of yoga and chanting. At that time, I learned about the role of sound healing as an integral component of Tibetan medicine.
Personal Experience with Mantra and Sound Healing
LA YOGA: How has the use of sound affected your own life and practice? And are there ways you use sound healing in your daily routine?
I listen to mantras most of the time, especially while driving and at night. They definitely help reduce road rage and help restore restful sleep. I especially find the sound of the gong very energizing and expansive. I also practice Qi Gong sound healing meditation for different body organs, and find the effect as each organ responds to its own sound. In addition, I am a big fan and practitioner of Tom Kenyon‘s work on sound healing and recently started practicing sound healing for bone marrow.
LA YOGA: How do you utilize sound, music, or mantra in your research?
I practice Kirtan Kriya and Kundalini Yoga with patients who are depressed, caregivers who are stressed, and older adults with memory loss. We are starting a new study of women age 50 and older who have risk factors for heart disease and are worried about losing their memory. Because women constitute the majority of patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well as the majority of caregivers for people with dementia, we are hoping to demonstrate that practicing yoga and chanting meditation can prevent cognitive decline in those at risk.
Sound Healing as Daily Self-Care
LA YOGA: Are there simple ways people can use these practices in their everyday life to uplift their mood and change their day?
Music and sound healing are ancient practices and probably the easiest tools to tune up your body. Centering the body in the morning can prepare you for a stressful day in as little as 10 minutes.
In our overly stressed society, inadequate sleep is a common problem that can be helped by exposure to calming sounds which promote deeper sleep.
There are also mantras, breath exercises (such as breath of fire), and of course mindful movements that can increase your energy when you need an extra boost in the morning or throughout the day.
Simple Daily Breath and Sound Healing Practice
Practice breath awareness with coherent breathing. Try breathing four to six breaths per minute: three second inhale, three second hold, three second exhale, three second hold. Combine this breath with mentally chanting mantras or just listening to music.
Sound Healing in Healthcare Practice
LA YOGA: What are some ways that healthcare providers can use sound in their practice with clients?
Music therapy and sound healing have become common in medical practices. There are many relevant examples. Dentists’ offices are using music to reduce anxiety and pain. Integrative medicine programs for children with autism and behavioral problems use sound healing. In the cancer community, patients use techniques such as drumming and mindful movement with music to reduce pain and alleviate anxiety. Increasingly, assisted living facilities and nursing homes include music therapy programs for older adults. In these settings, people choosing playlists of music from their youth tends to stimulate their interest and even their cognition.
Music is a powerful technique for healing. The use of music bypasses the rational mind. Sound healing also allows people to touch authentic feelings that they otherwise may not be able to express.
LA YOGA: Are there different types of sound healing? What about listening to music?
Ancient teachings from China, Tibet, and India have ascribed the power of healing and even the creation of realities to particular sounds and mantras. Sound healing can have a powerful effect on well-being.
Spiritual seekers’ beliefs can amplify the healing effect of their practices. Even simply listening to music can be an all-powerful tool for stress reduction as well as improving body-brain-mind function.
In addition to these benefits, musical training can also improve brain function and maturation in children.
Integrative Medicine Conference and Sound Healing
LA YOGA: What are some topics being covered at the upcoming 2018 conference that you are excited about sharing?
During the conference, we will be learning about neuroscience and social aspects of music therapy. We will also cover sound healing across the life span and across cultures. Conference presenters include multidisciplinary teams of scientists, sound healers, therapists, clinicians, and even an opera singer. Everyone will come together to engage in the discussion of health effects and experiences of sound healing. Participants will learn about the latest science of how music and sound affect mind, body, and health. In addition, attendees will be immersed in the powerful experience of sound healing for two days. More information can be obtained at: https://www.semel.ucla.edu/integrativementalhealth.