Most of us are at least aware of the benefits of massage even if we don’t experience them directly. Massage increases circulation, enhances immune system function, can reduce blood pressure, relieves pain and generally improves mood. I like to speak of yoga in terms of massage as well. Movement is also massage. As we bend forwards, backwards, and to each side, we squeeze and stretch the musculature as well as our organs and glands. When we use diaphragmatic breathing in these active poses the breath massages the tissues within the architecture of the pose. This creates a specific template or circuitry through which prana (life force) moves in the body. This is why each pose has particular benefits. For instance, forward bends compress the abdominal organs while stretching the kidneys and adrenal glands. The reverse is true in a back bend.
We can compound the effectiveness of active massage in our asana or postures with another force of the breath, and that is the force of sound. I call it the “sonic massage.” Sound or sonic waves soothe, cleanse and clear obstructions. One good example is the sonic jewelry cleaners that we once saw in department stores. A piece of tarnished jewelry is placed in a cleansing solution and subjected to a constant stream of ultra sonic vibration. After a few minutes the vibrations have cleaned the surface of the jewelry to its original shine.
The combination of the architectural shape of the pose, combined with deep, penetrating inhalations and long vocal exhalations exert a very specific strong massage that cleanses and balances mind and bodily function at the cellular level.
This is a form of chanting which is similar to singing, except you don’t have be able to sing or memorize complex lyrics or musical structures. Deep breathing and chanting are also powerful keys to regulating and boosting the production of the feel good neurotransmitters like serotonin, enkephalins and dopamine. The hippocampus, the part of the brain that influences memory and navigation also receives benefit from the vibrations of chanting.
Poses that offer throat compression like plow, knee to ear pose, bridge, and shoulder stand are especially good for humming or chanting OM. The shapes of these poses compress the thyroid and parathyroid glands which are both critical to immune function. Combining these poses with vocalization helps us to cleanse these glands and balance these immune functions. This technique could be very useful for those afflicted with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a disease caused by hypothyroidism or under active thyroid.
As we add up the many potential benefits of chanting to our physical and mental health, it is easy to see why humans have been utilizing this powerful force for millennia. So, whether you chant alone in your room, car, or in a group kirtan gathering, I hope you’ll use this dynamic technique to cleanse your body, mind and to expand your union with all the goodness of life.
Happy sonic massage!