Sacred Sound as medicine

  • Michelle Morton, left, and Shawn Zuke, left, play harp and guitar at Bishop’s Beach, Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Tim Steinberg)
  • Shawn Zuke plays the drum at Bishop’s Beach, Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Jennifer Tarnacki)
  • Shawn Zuke and Anita Christie conduct a sound healing workshop in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Jennifer Tarnacki)
  • Photo by Jennifer Tarnacki Shawn Zuke and Anita Christie conduct a sound healing workshop in Homer.

Play a familiar childhood song for Alzheimers patients who can’t remember their own daughters’ names, and they’ll light up and sing along to every word — music is that powerful. Numerous studies indicate that music lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and boosts natural opiates.

Local musician and intuitive healer Shawn Zuke is a practitioner of this ancient wellness practice, an artist whose medium is intentional sound and vibration. Creator of Sacred Sound as Medicine, she holds events at Many Rivers that could be described as a mix between meditation and a concert.

“Sound healing is a vibrational frequency that has healing potential for the body and mind,” Zuke said.

During her Sacred Sound as Medicine events, she uses sound to create a deep state of tranquility, inner contemplation and healing. The sessions are combinations of participatory chanting and passive listening. She offers what is described as a sound bath. Using different instruments and her voice, she fills the room with song and sound, allowing her listeners to submerge themselves in sound. Allowing themselves to relax and release, people report sensations of feelings of expansion, calming, feeling as if they could travel, and opening themselves up to a range of possibilities.

The instruments Zuke uses for her sound healing include didgeridoo, crystal singing bowls and her voice, all tools for vibrational artistry. Michelle Morton, an artist in the community, often joins Shawn as a guest with her skillful harp sounds. Some describe an artist as someone who can affect emotions. Zuke has this quality. The expression “tugs on your heartstrings” is literal in this case; the vibrations of sound affect the whole body, including the heart and brain circuity.

From the magnetic core of the earth to the sun, everything has vibrational energy, and people are no different. As electromagnetic beings, the brain functions on pure electrical impulses, and the glandular system is dependent on the brain. Like the pleasing resonance of a particularly beautiful song versus the jarring dissonance of a chord played incorrectly, energies can be resonant or dissonant with the environment as well. Reaching different electromagnetic or brain wave states via drumming and chanting can affect the brain’s electromagnetic waves and have been shown to have healing potential. Zuke believes it’s important to implement these tools to reach our highest well-being.

“The three tools I have found to be the most profound in balancing emotions are breath, sound and movement,” she said. “Consciously using the breath, consciously using sound, and conscious movement all help balance emotions in the body.”

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras was a very early proponent of music therapy. The Pythagoras Mystery School, based on the island of Crotona, taught the use of flute and lyre as healing instruments. He called his method “musical medicine,” to cure the passions of the psyche, anger and aggression.

Modern science corroborates. Distinguishing between curing and healing, sound is used to heal. To “cure” means physically to fix something, whereas “healing” refers to wholeness, a union of the mind, body and spirit. Practitioners of sound healing say sound can have physiological effects because its vibrations are not merely heard, but also felt. Vibrations can lower heart rate variability, relax brain wave patterns, and reduce respiratory rates, according to proponents of sound healing. When the heart rate is relatively steady, and breathing is deep and slow, stress hormones decrease.

Zuke chose her high quality instruments for their historically healing significance.

The harp has long been thought to have healing properties; one can see images of harps in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics next to depictions of physicians. The didgeridoo is over 40,000 years old. The Aborigines believed it’s the sound of mother earth; that if mother earth could speak, the didgeridoo sound would be her voice.

As for chanting, it’s both the voice and the intention behind it that are healing, according to Zuke.

“Your own voice can heal you,” she said. “The best sound healing tool that we have as individuals is our own voice.”

If someone utters the word “om,” they might feel a vibration in their body. The syllable “om” is an ancient Sanskrit letter first found in the Vedas, originating between 1500-1200 B.C. The sound of “om” carries the vibrational frequencies monks have used for centuries. According to the Vedas, all the audible sounds people hear such as drum and stick, waves against the shore, bow and strings, etc. are only created when they strike each other, creating waves of air molecules which are perceived as sounds. Whereas the sound of “om” creates on its own and is not a result of any vibration or striking of two objects, it is believed to be a primal sound of the universe that comprises of all sounds within itself.

An important healing aspect to chanting mantras is the intention behind it. Many cultures believe that vocalizing a prayer amplifies it.

“One aspect of chanting is coming together and creating one sound, one energy, and with intention we create a feeling of onenness,” Zuke said.

“Being centered in your energetic self enables you to create good in the world,” she continued. “It’s about what resonates with you, with the ultimate goal of connecting to your heart, and ultimately, your highest self, so that you can contribute to the highest good of the world. As an example, when you’re upset by ocean pollution, pray for water, listen to water, honor water. Transmute the pain into love.”

Equal parts musician, intuitive healer, and alchemist, Zuke’s sound healing can be powerful when people are open to its gifts. Sacred Sound as Medicine is currently offered as a monthly event at Many Rivers. Be sure to catch her next event Friday, April 20, at Many Rivers. Zuke’s long term goal is to expand into summer-long, frequently offered sound healing sessions at her Lovelifehealing Center yurt in Fritz Creek.

For more information, follow manyriversalaska.com and/or www.facebook.com/Starlighttribe. For questions on classes and private sessions, contact Zuke at lovelifehealing@ gmail.com.

Jennifer Tarnacki is a freelance writer living in Homer.

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