Wah! is an internationally-recognized musician who is no stranger to the healing power of music. She’s a yoga teacher who is credited with being the first woman to bring kirtan to the West and, in non-Covid times, her Healing Concerts draw large crowds. She’s currently offering weekly virtual kirtan, and self-care classes. We sat down (virtually) with Wah to ask her a bit about her perspective on the healing power of music. Wah is on the Yoga Unify Advisory Board, and a Founding Circle Member. Want to join Wah in the Founding Circle? Learn more here.
Let’s just get right into it. How can music be a force for healing?
Sound is one of the first sensations in the womb. You get sounds and sensory information in utero; you listen to your mother’s heartbeat. You hear sounds around you, you entrain to your mother’s and father’s voices. Hearing is an area of the brain which develops before speech. Music affects the limbic brain and is able to bypass conversation, bypass intellectual understanding, and creates a safe space for your body to regenerate naturally.
Do you believe there are different types of music that will resonate with different outcomes in the body? Does pop music, for example, affect us differently than a singing bowl or a sound bath?
Yes. Pop music specifically deals with relationships; if you’re having difficulty with relationships, you’re going to resonate with a pop song, because it’s all about love on a personal level. If you want to connect to the divine, you might find a divine love song or a mantra. If you need to kind of pump it up, there’s EDM. We in the music world would refer to this syncing as BPM [beats per minute]. As a musician and also as a DJ, I am very conscious of what those beats per minute are. Your resting heart rate is about 70 BPM.
My new album, Elevated, is a little bit slow—it’s giving you information at a rate that is similar to your heart. Hip-hop is typically around 80–82. If you go to a yoga class, you may start with 70 or 80 BPM, but then go up to 100 or 120.
How does this relate to healing?
Metabolic waste, lymphatic waste pathogens, viruses, that kind of stuff, leaves your body through the lymphatic system, which ushers into the blood and exits through the excretory system (intestines, bladder, skin pores). The lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump; the circulatory system does. The heart beats, no matter what. But to get the lymphatic system going, you have to move, get your muscles moving to get those waste products detoxing. That’s what celebratory dance music, or an aerobic Vinyasa flow, that kind of thing, is good for.
As people start to relax, there is the release of different hormones, and it’s a different process. I believe music can positively affect the parasympathetic nervous system. You can use music to relax and heal. And part of that relaxation process involves the clearing of cortisol (stress hormone), and the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. The chemical changes which happen in the body when you start a relaxation or healing process are enhanced by music. I’ve been able to study relaxation music in depth; the yoga world knows it as “savasana.”
Let’s talk a little bit more about how music heals when it’s combined with movement, like in a yoga class.
The reason you want music when you’re doing yoga is because it helps you to fully engage yourself and your emotions. It’s one thing to follow the teacher’s spoken narration to put your “right foot forward, to do a twist.” But it’s another to celebrate while you do it! Great yoga teachers use sensory cues and instruction to get students into their body, and music helps people celebrate their in-body experience.
Tell me a little bit about the Self-Care program you’re offering right now.
This Self-Care method is based on Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine models, a 24-hour clock of energy flow and emotion. You begin the day with kapha, a kind of sluggish energy. That’s why it’s good to get moving in the morning! The middle of the day is pitta. That’s when you’re digesting your food, you’re active. And then towards the end of the day you move into vata, which is your time for soothing. If a person overworks during that whole sunset time period, they’ll have a crazy night, and won’t sleep well.
Interesting. Can you provide musical recommendations for each of those periods of the day?
In the beginning of the day, it’s all about the lung meridian and the large intestine, you know, you want to evacuate your bowels. Again, you want to get up and get moving, so you definitely want some happy music. Find a pace that feels good, find happy music. Today I was dancing around with Jon Batiste’s new song “I need YOU”—a gospel-stomp swing music song. So much fun! In the middle of the day when the sun is high, I would recommend mid-tempo stuff, unless there’s something exciting going on, then pump it up! At the end of the day try relaxation music, because you need to relax and restore. The energy needs to come down at the end of the day.
What I’m hearing you say is that any kind of music can be healing—as long as you’re deeply intentional and present with that type of musical experience.
It’s different for each person. The relationship to self, the relationship to other people, and the relationship to Source are experienced as energy connections. The same thing goes for music. Don’t try to analyze your musical experience, just get there by feeling it.
Experience Wah’s music online, with a full list of live virtual events, on her website. To join Wah in helping to preserve the tradition and steward the forward evolution of yoga, become a Yoga Unify Founding Circle Member. To learn more, click here.