#21: Musical Meditations
On sound bath meditation and the power of music.
We are a sum of our experiences and travel offers myriad opportunities to try new things, explore new places, and re-discover familiar ones with fresh eyes. When I think about how travel has enriched my life, words fall short. Travel has helped me grow as a person in more ways than one, and everything I write about travel is a manifestation of that.
“A person susceptible to "wanderlust" is not so much addicted to movement as committed to transformation.” ― Pico Iyer
Sometime back, I wondered what would constitute a life well-lived. It was a passing thought, but it brought out a gush of memories from travels near and far. A night in the desert with a gazillion stars for company; treading on flimsy root bridges while my heart skipped a beat; interacting with the last surviving members of an indigenous tribe; drinking butter tea with nomadic shepherds; plunging into a natural pool in the middle of a forest; meditating with Buddhist monks and asking them the deeper questions of life; witnessing the first sunrise of a new year from atop a thousand-year-old temple; listening to rural women debate about the issues they would raise if they are elected to power. Memories that I will cherish for as long as I’m alive. Memories that enrich my life.
So I promised myself that I would seek out as many diverse experiences as possible wherever I go. Experiences that push me out of my comfort zone and challenge what I think I am capable of. Experiences that propel me to think about things in ways I haven’t thought about before.
On my recent trip to Nepal, I had the opportunity to learn Ranjana Lipi, the ancient script of the Newars, and Paubha painting, a traditional art form native to the Kathmandu valley - both of which I wrote about in issue #20. I also got to experience aerial yoga and sound bath meditation at AVATA, a health and well-being center in Kathmandu (and a sister company of the Community Homestay Network that curated my trip).
Experiencing the Magic of Sound
I’d heard of music therapy and sound healing, but I had no idea what sound bath meditation meant, or what to expect. I entered the hall with my mother - the space was dimly-lit with yoga mats, meditation cushions, and sound bowls placed in a corner. We were greeted by Nabi and Prakrit, the conductors who make up Pranavayuj. They asked us to lie down and close our eyes, relax our bodies, and allow the sounds we hear to wash over us. They gradually began to play different instruments (singing bowls, gongs, chimes) - each one generating a unique sound. At first, it felt like a relaxing yoga session, but as time progressed, the vibrations became stronger, offering an immersive, meditative experience.
At its peak, I could feel the vibrations outside my body merge with the vibrations inside — every part of me coming alive.
At the end of the session, when we were asked to share our thoughts with Nabi and Prakrit, we didn’t know what to say. We wanted to verbalize how we felt, but no words came out.
My mother found the experience very unique, different, and calming, and wanted to dwell in the silence, undisturbed by speech and incomplete articulations.
I was reminded of Vipassana meditation. It was not the same, Vipassana being a lot more intense and holistic, but it was interesting that at least at a physical level, sound bath meditation came close.
Upon coming back home, I wanted to learn more about this form of meditation. It turns out, sound bath has been practiced for thousands of years as a tool of healing by people from Central and South America and Asia. This isn’t surprising when you think of singing bowls and indigenous instruments that are native to these regions.
Sound bath meditation, or Nāda yoga (as known in this part of the world), is an immersive mind-and-body experience that is sometimes combined with chanting to center energies and find balance. The vibrations help release suppressed emotions, trauma, and stress - providing relief from anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, jet lag, sleep deprivation, and other mental disturbances.
Experiencing sound bath meditation for the first time got me thinking about the role of sound (and music) in my life.
Music is Meditation
The writer of a lovely newsletter called Hashtag Notes talks about how they cease to exist when they listen to good music. I feel this way too. Music moves me to the extent that I cannot do anything else but listen. It tears me apart and puts me back together. It is intimate. It is powerful. Even years down the line, a familiar sound can transport me back in time to a particular moment spent with myself, or with another.
They say sound connects us to our most primal selves, as well as our highest consciousness. No wonder most religions and spiritual practices take to sound/music as an expression of devotion - a surrender of the self in service of a higher force. Qawwalis, chants, hymns, kirtans. Om.
When I listen to Ludovico Einaudi’s music, I feel connected to something divine. Something universal. Something transformational. The vibrations trigger something in me that I cannot articulate in words. And so, I will leave you with one of his compositions, while I continue to meditate on the power of sound.