Vata Aggravating Noise, and the Soothing Sounds of Silence..and Tennis

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As the tennis action on the Australian Open’s Centre Court comes to a close, a new study published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Psychology’, has revealed the sound of a tennis racket hitting the ball can reduce anxiety. According to researchers from China West Normal University, the sound is comforting because it’s ‘steady rhythm, orderly variations in pitch, and soothing timbre’, align with ‘human auditory characteristics’. Anxiety levels dropped by up to half for those in the study control group, and scientists believe it’s the stable rhythm which allows the brain to predict the next sound, that creates a sense of order and calmness and thus reduces anxiety. (1)

Within the science of Ayurveda, regularity is understood to be one of the best ways to soothe Vata whenever she begins to exhibit her go-to emotion of anxiety, as it can provide a rhythm to our days. And as with all things Doshic, this medicine of sorts is entirely connected to her elemental make-up. Vata’s moving Air energy means that just like the endless fluctuations in the wind around us, she’s preternaturally unstable, and so has a natural inclination to fall into the arms of anxiety whenever she becomes aggravated. This means the implementation of a stable structure within a daily routine, provides a framework around which her force of movement can be organised into a more regular flow and rhythm. And it’s for this reason prioritising regularity within a lifestyle, is one of the most effective ways to calm her down. For rather than getting flustered with the unknown, she can prepare instead for what she knows is coming up. Regularising meals, exercise, and bedtimes each day may sound simplistic, but once you do just that you’ll immediately notice how much better you begin to feel. So it’s no wonder the constant thwacking sound of a tennis ball has been found to be so soothing. 

According to a study published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’, the sound of nursery rhymes spoken in a sing song voice, helps young babies learn language. Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin, have found babies in their first months learn language from rhythmic rather than from phonetic information, as previously thought. The current ‘BabyRhythm Project’, was originally set up to investigate how the learning of language relates to ‘dyslexia and developmental language disorder.’ (2) ‘Neuroscientist Professor Usha Goswami believes it’s rhythmic information-the stress or emphasis on different syllables of words and the rise and fall of tone-that is the key to language learning’. But she also explained that individual differences in children’s language outcomes originate primarily with rhythm, saying ‘ “speech rhythm information is the hidden glue underpinning the development of a well-functioning language system.” ‘(2)

Our five senses are the gateway linking us to the wider world around us, and sound has a particularly special connection to Vata. Within Ayurveda, it’s believed each sense is linked to an element, with our sense of hearing connected to Space. As Vata along with Air is also made of Space, sound-whether music or noise, holds huge sway over how balanced she feels. The sounds we hear, are a form of energy derived from vibrations, that produce sound waves which then need an area of space in which to move. This is why unpleasant and loud noises can upset Vata very quickly-especially those with a more dominant Vata in their make-up. It also explains why the soothing sound of silence can be such a balm. And in a world of growing noise pollution, along with an intake of data that’s increasingly encroaching on our mind space, it’s no wonder then that anxiety is so omnipresent.

Just as the space between words in a speech can make all the difference, space between sounds, and the harmonies created from the space between notes, is what distinguishes music from noise. Pythagoras believed the universe is sustained by the harmony created by numeric symmetries, and that these symmetries can be found throughout all of nature. Without space though there’s no opportunity for harmony- meaning if we’re to hear the melodies of life, our Space element needs to remain unobstructed.

In the book ‘The Mozart Effect’, author Don Campbell refers to a scientific study conducted in 1993 by Rauscher et al, who found listening to Mozart’s music increased children’s spatial intelligence.(3) From an Ayurvedic perspective a stable and calm Vata, will always allow for greater learning receptivity and the digestion of new information, as it will foster a more relaxed nervous system. This is why looking after her, is such a no-brainer.

If you’re particularly Vata, you’ve probably already noticed you get exhausted after long conversations, especially ones held late at night. As you’re enjoying the chatter, you’re actively encroaching on and filling Vata’s precious Space element, with noise that is not particularly rhythmic or melodic. When my Vata daughter was a baby, she always became demonstrably upset every time she heard loud noises or music, but was instantly then able to recover her joie de vivre with the help of soft, rhythmic lullabies or silence. Her two sisters, who have totally different constitutions, were never affected quite as much. We’re all different.

42 million pet’s, who developed separation anxiety after their owners returned to work post Covid, have been helped by a creative streaming service through the power of music. Hip hop fan Amman Ahmed from ‘Music For Pets’, has become a ‘music mogul for animals’, soothing pets with a playlist he created through trial and error and owner feedback. His business partner Ricardo Henrique, was initially ‘inspired to write music to soothe his dog’s anxiety’, that grew in response to ‘the violent noises in his local neighbourhood in El Salvador’. Pet owners have revealed, the music playlists can help with ‘everything from canine depression to hyperactivity in cats’, and they’ve become so popular, that like Taylor Swift and Harry Styles, the company now has animal ‘superfans’. (4) (5)

In more recent years, modern medicine has also begun to recognise sound as a healing force, and is now learning how to harness it in the most intriguing of ways. A research team in Switzerland, have begun building designer cells that are capable of releasing insulin in response to music. And they’ve found that by playing Queen’s song “We will Rock You” to mice implanted with these special cells, there was a 70 percent increase in insulin produced within the first five minutes.(6) ‘Pop music balanced blood sugar levels in mice’ -who would have thought? For more information on how this fascinating study was conducted, see the link below.(6)

And a groundbreaking study conducted by the Turku PET Centre in Finland, has revealed ‘music evokes similar emotions and physical sensations across different cultures around the world, underscoring the universality of music’s language, and it’s ability to transcend geographical and cultural boundaries’.(8) The study revealed music’s power to activate the autonomic nervous system can lead to physical reactions such as chills. Academy Research Fellow Vesa Putkinen said ‘ “Music that evokes different emotions like Joy, sadness or fear, is felt in distinct parts of the body. For example..upbeat and danceable music was felt in the hands and feet, while tender and sad music resonated in the chest area.” ‘And the emotions and physical sensations triggered by the music were consistent among participants from both Western and Asian countries.’ “Rhythmically clear music was perceived as joyful and danceable, while dissonant music was associated with aggression.” And since these sensations are similar across different cultures, she said the emotions caused must “..be rooted in inherited biological mechanisms”.‘ (8) Vata and her elements of Space and Air, although appearing to be largely unobtrusive, connect us all.

In today’s world, our ears are one of the most vulnerable of our sense organs, and misuse, excessive use, and no use of them, can all lead to a variety of symptoms. Increasingly, many of us are using ear plugs to make calls and listen to music, and from an Ayurvedic perspective this misuse of the ears restricts the flow of Vata’s Air. This can then lead to dryness in the Eustachian tube, causing it to lose its elasticity and become narrower, further blocking the movement of air and sound. The resulting constant ringing in the ear called tinnitus, can then become the foundation for nervous disorders such as vertigo, dizziness, and lack of coordination. Constant loud vibrations from loud music can also effect the eardrums, middle and inner ears, with the resulting over-stimulation of the nervous system often leading to disorientation, head-ache, sleep problems and lack of concentration. And of course another form of misuse, is listening to hateful talk-the impact of which remains largely ignored in today’s world, and seems more to be fostered instead. Whenever possible, make sure to remove yourself from any environment that involves bad words, whether spoken or written. If we become excessive, and listen to too much noise or music or have it as a background sound all the time, we may begin to suffer from irritability, tiredness, or migraine. And in the unlikely event we were to live in total silence, we might begin to suffer from a lack of direction, emotional instability, or to feel lost. (9)

Many of us focus on sleep as the tonic for restoration, and of course it’s absolutely key. But Dr Saundra-Dalton Smith, an internal medicine physician in Alabama, suggests there are in fact 7 types of rest that are essential for a calm body and mind. These include physical, mental, social, spiritual, emotional, creative and of course sensory rest.(7) How many of these rest types is your current lifestyle allowing you to benefit from?

 If you were to conduct a sound audit of your typical day, what would you discover? Are you waking to the sound of bird call, or the beeping of an alarm? Is your day filled with the constant sound of traffic, heavy machinery, and never-ending phone alerts? Are you sometimes mistakenly using background noise as an emotional clutch? And how regular is your daily schedule?

There are 8 limbs of Yoga, each one offering guidance on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. The fifth limb is called Pratyahara-which in Sanskrit can be translated as ‘sense withdrawal’, and highlights the importance attached to our 5 senses, and the understanding of their great impact on our ongoing health. What our senses take in matters, even though many of us don’t give them a second thought most of the time. Improve your well-being by beginning to focus on what you’re feeding your sense of hearing, as it’s a great way to start becoming more sensible! And if you truly wish to look after your nervous system, and if you’re prone to anxiety, remember to also make space in your life for silence, and to embrace a routine filled with rhythm. If you do, Vata will repay you in spades, and you’ll be forever thankful you did.

Know Your Doshas

References:

(1)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38130970/

(2)https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/why-reading-nursery-rhymes-and-singing-to-babies-may-help-them-to-learn-language

(3)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=The+Mozart+effect

(4)https://www.the-scientist.com/news/regulating-insulin-with-queen-s-greatest-hits-71400

(5)https://businesscloud.co.uk/news/how-i-turned-my-side-hustle-into-a-multi-million-pound-business/

(6)https://www.the-scientist.com/news/regulating-insulin-with-queen-s-greatest-hits-71400

(7) https://www.drdaltonsmith.com/

(8) https://www.helsinkitimes.fi/176-information/study/24851-global-study-reveals-universal-physical-response-to-music.html

(9)‘Ancient Secrets’ by Dr.S.Ajit