Related post: Water Element = Yin Yoga Connection
Music is the most powerful sound there is since we both recognize it quickly and associate it with something as well, either positive or negative. This is part of our basic survival instincts. This music also includes natural sounds like bird singing or water flowing. For example, we recognize birds singing as a survival signal that everything is OK outside. Hearing water reminds us of a relaxing vacation at the beach or a cozy night inside as it rained. We can utilize pleasing sounds to increase our vagal tone, which is the same thing as saying better physical and mental well-being.
Hold on…What is Vagal Tone?!
The Vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and is a fundamental component of the parasympathetic branch (rest/digest/recover) of the autonomic nervous system. The nerve is one of the longest and most complex in the body and connects from the brain, thorax (chest cavity including heart and lungs) and abdomen. The nerve regulates internal organ functions including digestion, heart rate, breathing rate and certain reflex actions like coughing and sneezing.
I think the coolest part is that it is a mixed nerve, it has both sensory and motor fibers. This means motor signals are carried to the organs, to decrease heart rate for example, but also the organs also relay back sensory information back into the central nervous system!
Vagal tone is the activity of the vagus nerve. Using different techniques, we can stimulate this activity (aka vagal tone) to promote wellness. One of the activities can include decreases heart or breathing rates which has a restful impact on the body.
Sound impacts us on many levels that we may not even be aware of, I found a very interesting TED talk by Julian Treasure, as well as scientific studies done on natural sounds, including water. Noting that ocean sounds are linked to the natural breathing rate while we sleep, both are around 12 cycles/times per minute.
Sound impacts us four different ways…
- Physiologically (physical body functions) = Brings the body into better balance by increasing the rest/digest/recover nervous system called the parasympathetic response. This includes hormone levels like lowering cortisol in the body which is a stress hormone and also decreasing heart and breathing rates and brain waves.
- Psychologically = We recognize water as calming. Unlike maybe the sounds of a rainforest, which we do not have personal experience with, we do have various personal experiences with the sound of water. This recognition triggers both an emotional and mental relaxation, reducing anxiety and anger. Water sounds also are rhythmic and build up or dissipate gradually which are qualities that the brain finds soothing.
- Cognitively = We have a small bandwidth for processing auditory input. Which is why a loud surrounding while we are trying to work or concentrate is extremely unproductive and distracting. (There is a 66% decrease in productivity due to open office spaces (aka no traditional office doors to close, just open air rows of desks)…which makes me think that working from home is actually a benefit to both the company and the individuals)
- Behaviorally = Simply put, pleasant sounds make us happy! Even can allow a deeper resting state or sleep.
For this post, I will be focusing on the element of water. I have always been drawn to water. It is very peaceful and serene. I love water so much that we even were married on a beach in Maui! For me, both the recognition and the association of water sounds makes it a powerful relaxation tool.
There are some powerful ways to use sound during our yoga practice to compliment our intention to rest and promote a natural body response of calm. These sounds could be something we generate ourselves using the breath or listening to via an external device. For example the calming breathing practice called Bhramari, or Bee’s Breath, is generating a vibrational humming sound on the exhale. (for more on humming/chanting see this related blog post = Mantra Meditation ) I have found that humming to myself before savasana has resulted in a more restful practice. I also have enjoyed listening to ocean wave sounds during meditation. Each week on Wednesday evenings, I tune into my teacher/friend Kim’s restorative yoga class via Prairie Yoga (Virtual Zoom link as of writing this blog post). She is a highly trained and skilled singing bowl and sound specialist who plays her crystal bowls during the practice for an enhanced relaxation experience. I have found it to be an essential part of my week.
My intention for this post is for you to take inventory of the sounds around you during the day. Do you have many distracting and/or loud sounds? Can you utilize headphones to play nature sounds or white noise? Can you get outside and listen to birds singing or go near a water source? Even a long shower and a bath can promote well-being. Notice how you are impacted by water sounds and find some creative ways to incorporate them in your day.
Cell phone app & instrument for sound that I use/recommend…
- Relaxing Melodies = There are created sound melodies as well as a composer section that you can create your own. There is even an entire section dedicated to different water sounds.
- Koshi chime aqua version
Book & Online Articles
- Book = Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols