Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018
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The power of sound


Instructor Michele Baran keeps a beat during chant.

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On the top floor of Flower Hospital, in an airy conference room overlooking Sylvania's lush green panorama of treetops and lawns, I sit in a circle with a small group of people, mostly women.

Our voices rise in unison.

“I am calm, I am balanced, I am centered. ... I am calm, I am balanced, I am centered.”

Our group recites the phrase, softly and shyly at first, then with mounting confidence.

The words begin to flow like a river and, somewhere along the line, my concentration shifts. The focus is no longer on black-and-white dictionary meanings. The words have grown into living, breathing entities.

I am slowly feeling an awareness of the physical process of creating words. How mysterious - and powerful - this routine procedure truly is. My breathing deepens, my pulse slows, my usually high blood pressure seems to melt into a pool of tranquility.

I feel the sound of the words rising from deep within, then falling into the rhythm of the group.

“I am calm, I am balanced, I am centered. ... I am calm, I am balanced, I am centered.”

It's true, I realize: I am calm. I am balanced. I am centered. These words have weight, they speak with authority.

Chanting, an ancient ritual practiced by religious groups as diverse as Roman Catholics, Jewish mystics, Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, and pagans, is being taught in workshops and hospitals today.

It is considered an aid to cancer patients, easing the gripping anxiety that can come from a dire diagnosis, or it can help harried commuters chill out while stuck in gridlock.

The recent class at Flower Hospital is part of ProMedica Health System's Healing Care program, which offers free classes to its patients on a wide range of topics including nutrition, guided imagery, yoga, and herbal medicines.

“The aim for me, in teaching chanting, is to convey the message of relaxation through the art of sound,” instructor Michele Baran said in an interview, “as well as helping people just get in touch with themselves on a physical, mental, and spiritual level.”

Ms. Baran, who has been teaching yoga, meditation, and chanting since 1988, explained to the class that certain vibrations affect our bodies in different ways, whether positive or negative. A passing car that rumbles with earthshaking bass can make us jittery. The smooth swoosh of ocean waves can be soothing.

“My goal is to at least give the participants a tangible way to create a sense of inner peace through sound vibration, and that is through chanting,” Ms. Baran said afterward. “It becomes a positive affirmation in their daily lives.”

Jill Snyder participated because she is helping her mother go through treatment for breast cancer.

“That class was just a wonderful event,” Ms. Snyder said. “I came straight from work and it had been a very stressful day. I'm going through radiation with my mom right now, and we've been putting up with a lot. I came away from there totally relaxed.”

Some of the chants taught in the class were from the Hindu tradition, including “Om Namaha Shivaya,” which translates as “I Honor the Divine Within,” and the Sanskrit chant “Shri Ram.”

Rabbi Shefa Gold of New Mexico sees chanting as part of the Jewish mystic tradition of the Kabbalah.

“Through the practice of chant we can activate all our disparate parts at once, and become the vehicle for God's healing power,” Rabbi Gold wrote in an essay titled Chanting as a Healing Modality.

Dr. Mitchell L. Gaynor, a New York oncologist and author of Sounds of Healing: A Physician Reveals the Therapeutic Power of Sound, Voice, and Music, writes that “vibration touches every part of our physical being” and “sound is `heard' not only through our ears but through every cell in our body.”

Ms. Baran said that in 13 years of teaching such classes, she has found that cancer patients often have a greater appreciation for life than does the average person.

“I've had a student come to me and say, `Knowing that I have cancer is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life!' It's given her a different perspective on life. Their want to live is incredible.”

During the recent session, Ms. Baran quoted an old saying: “Yesterday is truly history; tomorrow is a mystery; today is a gift, that's why we call it the present.”

The spiritual side of life is a crucial link to inner peace and strength, she said.

“It helps to uplift us, motivate us, inspire us,” Ms. Baran said afterward. “People who are inspired by the art of chant realize that there is a part of us that is beyond the mental and physical aspects. When a person gets in touch with their spiritual side, they feel a sense of connection to all things. They have a sense of inner peace and they carry that wherever they go.”

The class on “Chanting: The Power of Sound” is offered periodically by ProMedica Health Systems Healing Care program. Call 824-1878 for information.

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