Have you ever wondered what is the proper musical note to sound when singing AUM at the beginning of class?
Tonight, I was blessed to chant along with Girish who led a kirtan at my yoga shala. According to him, “AUM” is traditionally played using a low E-chord. He played his low E chord on his harmonium and we chanted aum – again and again and again! He also said (just paraphrasing his informal comments tonight), that this E-chord is not just a random choice, but that its also the sound that comes from within our minds when we meditate. Hmm, I wondered – cool thought indeed – but is he just making this up? I mean, what could he know (or ancient yogis for that matter) about what is really, actually happening in the mind?
It turns out that modern science can actually “listen” to the brain when it is meditating – by placing listening devices (small electrodes on the scalp) and measuring oscillations of neuro-electrical activity (electroencephalography or EEG). Experienced meditators show an increase in the strength of one particular “note” or frequency – a so-called gamma wave, or gamma frequency of about 40Hz when they reach deep meditative states. According to wikipedia:
A gamma wave is a pattern of brain waves in humans with a frequency between 25 to 100 Hz, though 40 Hz is prototypical. … Experiments on Tibetan Buddhist monks have shown a correlation between transcendental mental states and gamma waves. A suggested explanation is based on the fact that the gamma is intrinsically localized. Neuroscientist Sean O’Nuallain suggests that this very existence of synchronized gamma indicates that something akin to a singularity – or, to be more prosaic, a conscious experience – is occurring.
OK, so modern science measures brain activity in deep meditators and finds that 40Hz is the vibration associated with deep meditative states. Girish says AUM is also the vibration of deep meditative states and is traditionally a low E-chord. OK, so then, is he right? What’s the frequency of low E? Is it 40Hz?
41.2Hz! Pretty darn amazing!