Healing through Sound

Sikh Music & Mental Health

Music and Sound

Music is enjoyed by all cultures across the planet. It is universal in its approach and does not belong to any particular group of people; music is an expression of humanity and belongs to all. The language of sound is an emotional language that allows the expression of the emotions that exist within the human psyche, creating music. Spencer (1857) argued that sound is the origin and function of music and is intimately related to vocal expression of emotions (Juslin & Laukka, 2003).


Emotions are experienced by all. They are what make us human. Without emotions, humans would just be flesh and bones. Emotions are the driving force behind every action that a human partakes in. Juslin and Laukka quote, “…emotions influence physiological processes, which in turn influence the acoustic characteristics of both speech and singing… (Juslin and Laukka, et al., 2003, pg. 770).” Humans remain detached and lifeless until an emotion propels a thought, which in turn is converted into an action or expression.

Link between sound, emotion and Sikh Music

The Sikh Gurus, as masters of sound, left mankind with Sikh Music. They understood sound and its power to heal mental, emotional, and physical ailments. We have all heard the phrase, “music heals,” but what does that really mean? And does music actually heal? Studies today are starting to prove this statement true. Schall et al., (2015) state, “[sounds] power in dementia care stems primarily from its ability to activate resources and promote emotional expression and social skills, particular in nonverbal communication.”  The Sikh Gurus used “Raags”, mood expressed through sound, to help mankind understand and express internal thoughts. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is based on Raags. Of which over 98% is scripted to be sung in specific Raags, prescribed by the Sikh Gurus. What is the reason for the use of Raags in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji? Sikh Music uses a total of 60 different Raags. Each Raag corresponds to a mood. "It has been suggested that performing and listening to appropriate raags can work as medicine and have definite impact on certain ailments (Sharma, Kaur, Sairam, 2017)."  Every Raag used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji has a powerful and unique impact on our psyche. Each Raag helps us heal and expand our consciousness to better understand ourselves. An article written by Donald A. Hodges in the Handbook of Music and Emotion, states,

Behavioural experiences affect the mind/brain, which in turn alters the immune function…Considerable activity of late has focused on biochemical changes in blood, urine, or saliva as a result of listening to music…Much more work needs to be done, however, to understand relationships among music, biochemicals, and emotions (Juslin, 2012, pg.286).”

Understanding how sound can affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally, allows us to develop a respect for its power. Sound resonates within us all and Sikh Music helps tune that sound within us to vibrate in the frequencies of the creation and Creator. 

Sikh Music (Kirtan) as Therapy

A tool for wellness

How does Sikh Music work, practically? How do I use it in my life? Sikh Music is a tool that enables us to express our inner emotions through the sacred wisdom and Raag set out by the Sikh Gurus. To benefit from Sikh Music, we must first understand our own moods. For example, one might feel insecure and afraid of the unknown. This person lacks confidence and may second guess their abilities. In this case, the person could employ Raag Dhanasri to help tune the psyche. Raag Dhanasri is a Raag in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji that allows one to feel guarded and protected by the Creator. The Raag gives one a sense of security and confidence, which combats feelings of low self-esteem. Combining sound with the sacred script of the Gurus (Gurmukhi) allows one to tune in to the vibration of the Gurus and the Creator, creating a healing and uplifting experience. By understanding our emotions and moods, we can begin internal communication and eventually communicate with the creation itself.