sitting down with
BY SELAH MICHELLE
Yuval Ron is a composer, musician, peace
activist, and yogi whose decades of work
and practice includes diving into the different aspects of sacred traditions in world
rhythms. Ron has been turning his attention even more dramatically to the nature
of the mind-body connection as it relates to
music. As these synergies between the art
and science of music and Yoga – and their
connections with the body, mind, and spirit
are becoming increasingly well-understood,
the power of combining of the practices are
being considered from new angles.
Just before getting ready to travel the
Esalen Institute to coteach a workshop on
Music, Spirituality and Your Brain with
Mark Robert Waldman (July 17-22), Ron
took a break and a breath to talk to LA
YOGA about the antiquity of humanity’s
practice of combining music and movement.
Selah Michelle: Tell me more about the
use of music in sacred traditions around
Yuval Ron: Over the past thirty years, I have
researched the sacred traditions of the Middle
East, specifically from the three traditions of
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I have studied the music that is being used specifically
in sacred ecstasy rituals where the consciousness of the participants becomes altered.
Often it is the goal of the participants to
reach union – this leads us to the word Yoga.
These sacred traditions that are not called
Yoga are actually a form of Yoga. Even
though they don’t use the word Yoga, they
do use the word union. They use music and
movement to reach that place of unity with
all living things and with all creation: which
is sacred ecstasy.
SM: What is a specific example?
YR: In the Sufi traditions, including the
Mevlevi Order, they practice the whirling
called sama, in which they turn and turn
around their hearts. This ceremony is a meditation in movement form of Yoga which
originated with Rumi in the 13th century.
There is a specific music that accompanies
and drives this practice.
The mystical Jewish orders use circular
dance with similar principles as the Sufi tradition. Shamanic tribal rituals from Africa
also use similar techniques of repetition, acceleration, and repeated chanting or mantra.
In India, mantra, a repeated word or phrase,
has been used as a vocal method to clear the
mind and reach unity.
It is all the same, regardless if we’re talking about people who are Zen Buddhists,
Hindus, Sufis, Jews, Christians, or of other
faiths. The intentions are the same and the
methods are similar. The terminology even
points to the same goal, even though the traditions may use different words, whether the
words are in Hebrew, Arabic, or Aramaic.
Still, they all point to the same intention and
the same direction of the practice which is
unity: It’s all Yoga.
SM: So in traditions around the world, music and movement are linked, is this the case?
YR: The oldest traditions have been practiced for several hundred to even thousands
of years. They use specific accelerations because the music drives the yogis or dervishes.
In findings from psychoacoustic studies, clinical trials, and from scientists who have studied how music in film has its effects, people
have found that there is a reason why specific
music affects us in a certain way.
There is a vast and growing body of research also in music therapy relating to
how music affects the brain, the heart, and
the biophysical rhythms of the body.
This is essential information for those involved in the practice. Music, like any tool,
can be detrimental or beneficial. If you
take a medicine in the wrong dosage it can
harm you, but if you take medicine in the
right dosage it heals you. Music is the same:
if you use the wrong music at the wrong
time you are working against the harmony
of the body and the harmony of nature and
you can damage your health.
In recent years, I’ve started collaborating
with two of the leading researchers at the
Center of Spirituality and the Mind at the
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine: Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, who together wrote the book,
How God Changes Your Brain. They have
listed numerous clinical trials and research
on how mystical and spiritual practices affect the health, development, and processes
created in the brain. Their research has contributed enormously to my work because it
confirms much of the inherent knowledge
of the mystical traditions.
One of their findings is that meditative chant-based music creates a state of
mind whereby the cognitive senses become
sharper. After 45 minutes of practice, people who are engaged in these spiritual disciplines experience changes in their brain.
These changes point to a sharpening of the
senses related to the world around you and
a weakening of the strong of the individual
ego. People experience a decrease of the attachment to I, me, and mine.