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We all know playing or listening to shakuhachi can take us to a very soothing contemplative place quickly and effectively. From time to time I encounter people dealing with depression. I am wondering if shakuhachi, because if its slow mellow sounds, would make depression worse, taking a person further down, or somehow resonate with the sadness in a therapeutic way to lift and carry one through. Does anyone know of any studies on this? What has your experience been?
You should maybe check out the websites of Riley Lee or Debbie Danbrook, they have both explored the shakuhachi in music therapy. I think Debbie focuses primarily on the shakuhachi as a healing aid, but they both have CDs dedicated to this as well as do retreats. Other players may as well,but I'm just not aware of them.
In Japan here I've interviewed music therapists about this subject and their response is often not that favorable. The shakuhachi is not used in music therapy here because they say that the music must be familiar to the patient, allowing them to slip into a relaxed state. The Shakuhachi's sounds are so far removed from general society that it would just be too distracting so western music is favored. However, I believe they just haven't explored using it correctly. The one person I talked to said he tried it awile ago and it didn't work. He showed me the LP he used and the songs he used were traditional honkyoku of the Kinko ryu all played on about a 1.8 sized flute. He said the spurratic high-pitched parts (or screams as he put it) just kind of shocked everyone. Studies have been done on the actual notes bringing about certain emotions, but it seems that those results are highly culturally based and are not the same across the board.
I think more of the modern attempts to create a type of music specifically for healing have been well thought out. I think they are using longer flutes, or at least playing in a softer way, but not with the intention of deppressing. Many of the songs I have heard have blended the shakuhachi with other instruments, probably mostly synthesizers, so they can create somewhat of a familar atmosphere.
As for the general listeners response to a traditional piece, in my experience it seems varied. Some people will connect and say they were truly moved, some people will be lulled to sleep (not necessarily a bad response), and others will leave in the middle just plain confused.
This topic should be researched a lot more, it could prove to be very beneficial. Any shakuhachi playing scientists out there willing to take this experiment on?
I played a shakuhachi concert at Macchu Picchu and afterwards one of the Rockefellers came up to me and said when she heard the shakuhachi it was the first time in 3 years (since husband dying) she was not in depression. She said it was like a cloud lifting.
I also had cancer patients hanging around outside my apartment in Milwaukee listening to it. They said it helped them cope and also thought it was healing them on a molecular level.
So my vote is it's therapeutic for some people sometime.
The link between emotion (and therapy) and shakuhachi is very interesting and has gotten me thinking. I don't really have an answer, but as Mayo pointed out, some shakuhachi music can be challenging to ones mood, or sense of music. My girlfriend is very supportive of my practice, but she seems to have a negative emotional reaction to honkyoku recordings, particulary Kinko.
She refuses to let me play Kifu Mitsuhashi's Shakuhachi vol 1 and 2, which is actually the recordings that made me want to play shakuhachi. On the other hand, she seems to love the Riley Lee double CD, the Zen music one (which is a damn good listen). So I don't have an answer really, but I found people's emotional reactions to shakuhachi music very interesting.
I think there is often a kind of 'tense' emotional quality to many shakuhachi pieces, and that tense qaulity can produce feelings of anxiety. At least that is my girlfriends reaction to some pieces, mostly kinko. I kind of agree with her, but only partially. Maybe her reaction to Riley Lee's music, which was more 'warm' and less 'tense' was something to do with the schools of shakuhaci. But I really don't know enough to seperate the emotional landscapes of the different schools, and pieces. I get the impression that stuff like Meian is less tense, and more mellow, but I could be way off there.
Last edited by Lorka (2008-02-28 17:20:26)
A student of mine, who is a sound therapist, Stephanie Hiller uses the shakuhachi for sound healing. She came to study with me in order to study jinashi shakuhachi and learn to play long flutes. She was already an experienced player. She is now playing up to 2.8 jinashi shakuhachi made by Kodama. She uses these long flutes for her healing sessions.
Her website is: http://stephaniehiller.co.uk/
She has also created a distant healing group. Every Monday at 7 am GMT, we play shakuhachi for 30 minutes - sending healing sounds out into the world with particular needing people on a list that Stephanie puts together each week.
I also have a particular experience where a woman, who had just come through a severe depression was present. When I was asked to play shakuhachi, I noticed she did not look happy. After finishing, she told me it felt like a cloud lifting. She also said she had been scared when I was asked to play because her father's shakuhachi playing gave her severe headache. Now her father was a licensed kinko player and I had still only played like 5-6 years at the time. I attribute the different effect the music had on her to the fact that her father play 1.8 shakuhachi, while I played something much longer (probably 2.9).
Okuda, of course, immediately said it was because I played jinashi... BUT I DIDN'T SAY THAT!!!!
I would say that the length of the shakuhachi and the type of piece is crucial for being used as healing. Kinko style have very mellow pieces too - like all schools. You have to choose what can be used for healing. I think you have to bear in mind that the healing effect for the player and the listener is different. We, the players use our breathing directly - so it can easier have a healing effect on us (as long as we don't try too hard etc). We have to choose pieces that would invite the listener to breathe with us and relax. There are plenty of these nice pieces around.
Lately I have used the shakuhachi in meditation sessions. It has not been easy. Some times my playing has had a better effect than other on the people meditating. I also experienced once that I just felt like I couldn't play. It (the sounds) did not want to be music. It wanted just to be sounds. I have since then experienced playing long flutes and slow pieces only at a session, then mixed etc. I notice that my own meditation practice makes a huge difference. If I manage to get moments of meditation practice in there... the others pick it up too. But I find it very hard to let go of being a 'performer' even when playing at meditation sessions.
So I thought that the aim of the music - even on CDs - may have an effect on how we perceive it.
I play long jinashi as a way to lift the stress of everyday life. (I believe rules & laws, especially regarding the roads, should be followed as long as they were made for a good reason... you know, like stopping at a red light, yielding to traffic going straight instead of doing a right turn cutting people off, turning left from the LEFT side of the street, etc. The people driving on the roads of Taiwan, however, think differently, and it is infuriating to me.) In Nyogetsu's Komuso CD which focuses on "the healing art of zen shakuhachi", he also plays longer flutes (2.4~3.0) and those are the pieces which I find really calming/relaxing.
Zak -- jinashi size queen
Kiku Day wrote:
I would say that the length of the shakuhachi and the type of piece is crucial for being used as healing.
Of course that makes perfect sense, doesn't it. Any instrument will have a different effect depending on the type of music played. One would have to be discriminative in the music selection. I would love to try a longer shakuhachi some time. I prefer the sounds of the otsu octave as it is.
The only way I can describe Shakuhachi music (as an anti-depressant) is that it offers soft and mellow tones through strange and piercing notes, both of which are interesting, but the flute also offers a divine silence between notes. I find that my head is turned off during these periods because it is difficult to predict what the flute will produce next. I usually have about 30 things on my mind at any given moment. I can safely say that I’m left observing next to nothing when this instrument pauses. So in a way, yes. I believe it's therapeutic.
I think this is a very relevant question though when I begin to pose it there is a lot of depth in its detail.
Firstly I divide it into 'listening' and 'playing', adding that there is also listening in playing. Listening is mostly passive while playing is active. I would also think that different parts of the brain are involved. Playing is also very much a breath awareness activity, often raising one's energy.
Secondly, what is intended by 'mental therapy'? You refer to depression so we are probably loking at a healing therapy. I feel strongly that if one is able to blow the shakuhachi in the first place, this activity will be beneficial to any depressed state. Mainly because it is actively creative and will short circuit the repetitive thought patterns of depression. And it will raise energy, increase joy, calm anger, and genrerally relieve one from feeling bound.
In my experience 'listening' is usually also beneficial. On several occasions playing only one note, or a short sequence, has triggered tears from the listener, and to me this means some release of tension has occurred. I often play in public locations, seeking out spaces that have strong reverberration. Many people are drawn to the sound, not knowing why, but certainly feeling an enchantment, some connection with their depth being.
A local Reiki group invite me each year to play for them in a meditative context.
I do think the sound itself, the breathy resonance, the scintillating harmonics, have some penetrating influence at a cellular level, and in this respect I think being present with a live playing situation is more effective than a recording.
Hi, I'm Stephanie, the Sound Therapist who Kiku mentioned in her post. Interesting debate.
My sense would be that, particularly with depression, people tend to be acutely sensitive to sound, and also to particular intervals in music. With this in mind, I would tend to play in a major key, rather than using traditional Honkyoku - perhaps playing improvision or Minyo. ie, still focussing on a haunting, sweet mood, but with a lighter feel than the somewhat dark, minor key of Honkyoku. Also, with all healing playing, I tend to stick to the longer flutes and avoid the very high notes, which can come across as harsh and invasive to sensitive persons.
That said, of course, every situation and every client is different, and you need to 'play it by ear' (!) with each client and adjust your playing accordingly.
I agree with the comment that Kiku made with regard to focussing on breathing - breathing is a key part of all my Sound Therapy (and other therapy) sessions: focusing on the breath, breathing the sound into their bodies, sighing the stress out of their bodies, noticing how their breathing may change during the session, etc.
I agree that shakuhachi playing can often induce tears - as a therapist, I need to be certain that these are tears of release. When working with depresssion, the minor key of Honkyoku may tend to hold the client inside their depression, forcing them to explore the depths of their feelings, rather than encouraging release from them. Gentle playing in a major key can coax them to look outside and see a safe environment in which they can exist and feel nurtured; express their feelings without being overwhelmed by them.
Anyway, enough of me rambling on - I must get back to work!
Everyone here brings up a good point. It seems that the nature of the instrument would lead many to believe that it would be a useful tool in healing all sorts of ailments. The beginning of this year I was hospitalized in an eating disorder clinic here in Indianapolis. Part of our therapy included weekly visits with a music therapist. During one such session the therapist put in a cd that she just happened to find at the clinic which was recorded by Stan Richardson.
After the session I spoke with the therapist and asked her where she got the cd. she said that she just picked it up from the stack in the corner. After explaining to her that I had a bit of history with the shakuhachi way back in high school she thought it would be a good idea to bring in a flute for me to play. I was a bit rusty, but gave as best a demonstration as I could. After a few scales and a bit from Honshirabe the rest of us cut loose on an assortment of drums, and other knick-knacky type instruments.
It felt great, I hadn't picked up my old flutes for more than a year or two, and thought that I never would again. But that was not the case, I started reading more, developing myself move, confiding in the bamboo as a friend; it has been my own personal therapy.
Since I left the clinic I have been making and playing nonstop. It was nice to grow and get healthier with the flute (turns out playing the flute takes a lot of energy). I developed my own little shugyo consisting of back to basics exercises and a lot of Ro meditation to get the lung power back.
Now I am much healthier, happier, and eager to actually formally study under a teacher.
So many interesting replys- as is the norm for this site!
My personal experience was very positive in regards to Shakuhachi, honkyoku, listening and my own playing as concerns mental health.
My 12 year old son who was already severely autistic, suffered a ruptured appendix and almost died. He was in the hospital for over a year, half of the time in a coma, suffered a severe stroke which was supposed to leave him blind and paralyzed. When released from the hospital I had to single handedly care for him and his autistic brother. This entire experience left me very depressed, I guess we all were. Listening to Honkyoku calmed me and playing the instrument was the only time I felt my heart actually start to heal. This instrument literally broke my depression. Actually, I think meditating on emptiness was what broke my depression, but the Shakuhachi was, for me, very powerful medicine. The sad, lonely honkyoku pieces help to ground me where I could understand misfortune, illness and death as universal themes of nature and accept my sons fate.
I believe that the associations we make toward sound, which may be linked to primal memory, are culture based. I know that kinko honkyoku isn't necessarily associated with sadness here in southern Japan. It is, however, associated with something ancient and is imbued with the Japanese concept of wabi sabi which has something to do with perceived beauty in the process of decay. This could be very strengthening and affirming, whereas in North America it might have the opposite effect in a 'healing' situation.
I recently played a memorial for a man who passed away a year ago. There were about 60 people quietly seated in the window's living room. I played Kumoi jishi, Shin Kyorei, Koku Reibo and an abbreviated version of Zangetsu. All comments afterward were of the sort that the listener was 'opened' or 'expanded'. I'm not at all sure whether there were any in the audience suffering from clinical depression, but I got no negative feedback at all and it seemed a positive experience.
Jeff Cairns wrote:
I believe that the associations we make toward sound, which may be linked to primal memory, are culture based.
There's definitely some strong connections to what people can take for 'good' music, food, art, etc. based on their cultural upbringing. But I think there's more to this 'primal memory' than most people would readily accept. When I was only 4 years old, my family was watching the 1980 horror/thriller The Changeling. I was so terrified that I spent most of the movie hiding behind the couch (I was too scared to go to my bedroom). I was really too young to understand what was going on in the film... only later as an adult did I realize that it must have been the eerie music which caused my powerful reaction.
http://tw.youtube.com/watch?v=TUFxneaP7 … re=related
Zak -- jinashi size queen
Cultrual bias aside, the fact that you played at a memorial sets a certain tone for the concert.
Sadness, affirming and grounding can be healing. Remembering someone who has passed away, whom you loved, is complex. Memories of that persons life, both positive and negative, create mixed feelings. Part of being alive is awareness of inevitable death, acceptance and perspective of mortality is growth.
This my first post having lurked here for about 1 1/2 years. I just returned from a camping trip with my karate dojo and I had a very enlightening shakuhachi experience. A relative of one of my karate instructors came to the camp site one day with her son who is about 4 years old with Down's Syndrome. At best, he communicates with a piercing scream. They returned to the campsite after a walk while I was practicing Chidori. The child who had been screaming all the way back came over to me and stood by my knee silently lost in the sound of the shakuhachi. He didn't try to grab at the flute or the sheet music. He just stood completely absorbed in the music. Everyone around was amazed. Even though I am still early in my study with Ronnie Seldin, I plan to make some recordings for the family which I hope provide some small amount of relief for a very stressed mother who also has a high functioning autistic child.
As a professional trumpet player, I play many gigs in many styles. Some of high artistic value and others strictly financially rewarding. I also teach music and have worked with hundreds of children over the years. This experience was unlike any other. There is truly a healing power in the sound of the shakuhachi.
Just my 2 cents worth. Thanks for indulging me and thanks for the valuable information available on this forum.
Interesting story; thanks for coming out of the shadows. Maybe you know that the well known jinashi player Okuda Atsuya was originally a professional jazz trumpet player. I've noticed over here in Japan when playing shakuhachi outdoors that sometimes younger children seem quite attracted to and will listen to the music attentively whereas most adults usually pay it no mind.
Last edited by Daniel Ryudo (2008-08-25 08:32:20)
I just read all the comments and was first struck by the thoughtfulness of the people involved, which makes me thankful for this website. If you were to judge the mental states of the people playing this instrument or who are drawn to it you might conclude it is therapeutic simply by the quality of the participants and their interactions.
In reading them I also am confronting my elitist views of human development. I found myself reacting negatively to therapist Stephanie's responses about using major keys and being careful with the listener. I wonder if this approach encourages fear and whether the receiver somehow knows that they are felt to be inadequate and enabled in that inadequacy. I also wonder what is the cost of hearing something you are not ready to hear? If you can hear it are you then ready?
I think of Joseph Campbell's discussion of Kundalini yoga and how our spiritual development mirrors this path; from the crotch and guarding the treasure to the hole in the top of the head. I believe the struggle to listen to and play this music is in fact this struggle and that the music pushes us along and when we are uncomfortable with it we have hit a road block in our own development. Maybe people are drawn to it when they are ready to hear what it offers whether through their innocence or crisis or some other path.
I am an old therapist and work with abused children and their families and I know that when I go to play I am often in my gut or heart due to my work and it takes a lot of energy to talk my self into playing and when I'm finished playing I have moved along and feel less stuck and gratified to have another day.
Do what you love and if not dollar driven it's what you are, "therapeutic" a modern day conceptual word- acton is the only thing that counts. Music is a deep reminder of beginingless and endlessness that mankind fights.
I found myself reacting negatively to therapist Stephanie's responses about using major keys and being careful with the listener. I wonder if this approach encourages fear and whether the receiver somehow knows that they are felt to be inadequate and enabled in that inadequacy.
Good point. I understand that the avoidance of minor keys is common in Muzak tracks, and maybe minor keys aren't exactly what someone depressed would want to be listening to if they wanted to listen to uplifting music, but outside of getting people in a shopping mood I don't intuitively understand why minor keys should be avoided. Even being depressed, it may not be uplifting, but it's possible that listening to minor keys may help an individual confront and work through depression.
I also wonder what is the cost of hearing something you are not ready to hear?
I read a new-age type writing once where the author thought that it could be very damaging to listen to sounds that were harmful. As an example, he pointed out that the ill effects of listening to a train whistle is obviously damaging. Elsewhere I read that individuals will tend to listen to music that is most healing for them. For instance, older teens and young adults like loud, raucious rock music. At their point in life they're working on developing their sexual energy and the rock music feeds it and helps it develop. Older listeners might choose to listen to something more soothing because they are working on the more heartfelt energies and emotions. So, I'd think that listening to something could be very damaging, but unless you're forcing yourself to listen to it you are more likely to listen to something more appropriate to your needs.
If you can hear it are you then ready?
The question probably more "If you can hear it and like it are you then ready?" and the answer would be yes. If you don't like it you're either not ready or you've already taken care of that aspect of yourself. For instance, I choose not to listen to the Archies, Hanson's, or Jonas brothers not because I'm not ready for it, but because I got a nice healthy dose of the Archies around 40 years ago.
My feelings about major and minor references is that the minor suggests a state of question, doubt, maybe wondering why, what, where ?
The 7th suggests "something is to follow", I am in a state of waiting and anticipation.
And what follows, if it does, is the major, the major suggests resolution, complete, a feeling of satiation.
So I guess if one wants to have some relief from any stress pressure to "get things sorted out" you might prefer the major scale, or at least listen to a piece that ends up with a major chord.
Perhaps if one wants to stimulate a 'Creative' attitude you might listen to minors and 7ths that raise question.
Being that the Shakuhachi could be regarded as being fundamentally a minor 7th tuning, you might think it restricted to feelings of non-resolution, but this doesn't feel to be the case for me, I do like the meanderings but also find myself finishing with the fundamental Ro.
My listening is eclectic, I like to listen to complex soundscapes that will introduce something new. Probably what I don't spend much time on is any one genre. Even when blowing Shakuhachi. And somettttimes I like the volume right up! I like to be totally engrossed and undistracted.
This is a very interesting subject, close to my heart, so to speak. Yes, the shakuhachi can render sounds of great beauty, which I think can cut across cultures, people who have never heard the instrument before come up and ask me what it is, and that it is beautiful. But I think in terms of healing and therapy, surely the emphasis must be placed on the shakuhachi as a media for the transmission of something inside the player, it is the passing on of something that the suffering person needs, emotionally and otherwise, and this "something" has to already be there in the player for the player to bring on tears or lift people's spirits. I find listening to or playing Kyorei always a healing experience, but there are some famous recordings of traditional Honkyoku that have a lot of wabi Sabi and other feelings verging on tragic, so I think it is up to the player's interpretation to subvert this tragedy when playing for a healing or therapy session, and communicate more uplifting emotions. Then again if I stood up there and tried to heal an audience with my words alone I don't think I would get very far, I need a shakuhachi to do it Ha ha ...
I've been looking at this thread for a while without adding anything. I don't know, contemplative? I think that much of the problems we make for ourselves arises out of being a little too contemplative. We contemplate and contemplate. I enjoy the shakuhachi for many reasons. One of the most profound is to use it as a meditative tool. During meditation I don't contemplate. I don't consider. I think we need some place in our lives where we leave these things to themselves. Maybe just to play. Maybe just to listen. I don't think this is innate to the shakuhachi, although I do enjoy using this instrument as such. I also enjoy doing dishes or going for a walk or maybe just sitting. As far as healing others, it is important to heal ourselves first. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse. It is important to be comfortable with decay as well as healing.
The 7th suggests "something is to follow", I am in a state of waiting and anticipation.
And what follows, if it does, is the major, the major suggests resolution, complete, a feeling of satiation.
Interesting theory because ha-ro and tsu-re are the two most common shakuhachi phrases and they exemplify that.
I was at a healing music seminar with a performance by Debbie Danbrook on the 21st of February. She discussed her journey toward becoming a professional Shakuhachi player and her struggles in finding a teacher in Japan as it is a predominately male instrument. Of course, one day she found her teacher who simply said “sure”. After she returned to Canada, she developed a string of ailments. She went to an eastern healer who explained “chakra’s” and how audible, color, etc resonance can adjust your energy fields in different ways and how these subtle energies affect the physical body. She wrote a number of albums geared towards these resonant energy fields and was supposedly able to diffuse some of her ailments.
If you’re ever interested in the healing qualities of Shakuhachi, I’d suggest looking into Debbie Danbrook or simply picking up your flute with a clear mind.