The Five Healing Sounds

I recently got this interesting question from a reader.

I'm interested in the subject of voice: of resonance/vibration and its relation to Qi, chakras (is there a Traditional Chinese Medical term for energy centers?), meditation, inner insight, and states of consciousness.

Joseph F. Morales has written an excellent summary in which he compares what various modern Qi-jocks call the Five (or Six) Healing Sounds. But since none of these Qi-jocks seem to have a clue where these sounds came from or what they were originally used for, I'll take a stab at it.

The first needle an acupuncturist inserts in any treatment protocol is referred to as, "Calling the Qi to Order." This has a direct parallel in Daoist ritual. To begin (after days of preparations), the Daoshi (priest) visualizes massive demon armies in an unlimited chaotic torrent of violence. She then lets out a high pitch sound "Calling the Qi to Order." Through out the ritual there are other loud calls accompanied by ritual actions and visualizations which command the demon troops to do her bidding in the service of wuwei. [Wuwei is often translated as "not doing" or "non-aggression," even "without artifice." The term as I use it here takes on a cosmological quality. That quality is most succinctly defined as the teachings of Laojun (the iconized author of the Daodejing, Laozi).]

OperaThe so called Highest Clarity (Shangjing) Daoist movement took shape during the Tang Dynasty. One of the things it accomplished was the integration of internal alchemy with external ritual. This is a massive topic. My reason for bringing it up is to say that yes, Daoism has equivalents of the Chakras, but it also has 100,000 other things, categories, spaces, and organizations of the inner world. (I promise to pick a few to describe in future posts.)

Where did Daoism get these "Calls to Order" used in ritual? Obviously, one source would be warfare itself. A commander had to be able to make earsplitting sounds to command troops on the field. This ability in and of itself could be considered having strong Qi. If we go back to an earlier era, Shaman-Kings command troops and ruled through both their martial and spirit controlling prowess. In our era, Shaman are no longer kings (unless you count Sarah Barracuda?) but we still have people who are experts at controlling spirits. Spirit Mediums, called Wu in Chinese, also use sounds to call, to command, to signal entrance or exit of a spirit from a possessed person, and probably many other functions I don't understand.

This vocal skill has also survived and flourished in Chinese Opera, which itself follows some of the protocols of Daoist ritual and has some roots in shamanic clowning.

Thus I dare say, healing sounds have been used for a long time. Especially if you consider healing to be the banishing or rectifying of Yin Spirits. So the modern Qigong (or Qi-jock if you prefer) practice of using the five healing sounds has a wonderful historic precedent they don't really want you to understand.

Did Traditional Chinese doctors sometimes cross the lines into performance or exorcism? Yes they did. A doctor might prescribe making a forceful "HA" sound a few times a day to clear heat from the liver (Heat is the body's healthy response to decaying yin, it only becomes pathological over long periods of time.) They also might make particular sound vibrations to stimulate (move) or calm Qi within the a patient's body. (This is a highly specialized skill which a few talented people may be able to use clinically in conjunction with other methods.)

But something is missing from this discussion, big time! Singing is the most common and most potent way to use sound for healing-- And to curse someone, I might add.

One reason the Chinese invented the idea of Qi is that it separated the health giving aspects of singing from the enmity maintained by singing songs about the terrible things neighboring tribes did to your people in the past. If you want to bring a lot of very different ethnic groups together to fight for a larger nation, why not have them breathe together rather than have them sing their traditional, division creating, songs.

ShamanSo my advise to people interested in The Five Healing Sounds would be to avoid the qigong hysteria. I would also advise avoiding spirit mediums, unless you already have one in the family. If you can find a master Chinese Opera vocalist, he can to teach you how to sing from the different organs. Chinese Opera vocal training is likely to blow your mind.

If you are not in a place with Chinese Opera, a traditional African vocalist may be able to teach you the same thing. I took a class years ago from a Congolese vocalist whose first lesson was about how to sing from different organs. He said that to sing a song correctly one had to know which organ(s) it was emanating from. He also gave us visualization for the songs.

And if you don't have a traditional African vocalist nearby, perhaps you can find a Love Church in a black neighborhood! Their vocal choirs move large amounts of qi down there every Sunday.

When I studied modern dance with Sara Shelton Mann back in the early 90's, part of our warm-up was to use specific sounds to vibrate different parts of our bodies, starting with "nnngg" to vibrate the center of the head and ending with a deep "ooooo" to vibrate the tail bone. She got that material from Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen whose workshops I took last May and June. Bonnie currently uses these vocalizations to activate specific glands and other parts of the endocrine system. Her studies were originally inspired by a 1960's understanding of Yoga and Daoism, but she has taken those ideas and made them more specific and precise than any vocalization teachings I have encountered from Asia.