CLASSICAL MUSIC CAN HELP YOU FIGHT ANXIETY - The Daily Guardian
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CLASSICAL MUSIC CAN HELP YOU FIGHT ANXIETY

Nithya Rajendran

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It was years ago, well before mobile phones were ubiquitous, and when the only way to enjoy music was with the Sony Walkman cassette-player. I was journeying from home to my college, extremely anxious for an exam I was about to write, and decided that I would lighten the mood with a song. I switched on the Walkman, and realised that instead of my favourite song there was a classical music practice tape from my music class. While classical music was always a mainstay in my life, I did not consider it something I would actively reach out to for relaxation. It connoted work and serious dedication, not a means of unwinding. Nevertheless, with no time to go back and fetch the tape, I decided to switch on the tape I had.

As I kept walking, the swaras of Raag Yaman, which I had been learning in my music class, started playing on my tape. For the first few minutes, my mind was tempted to get into the technical aspects of the Raag and get into ‘learning’ mode. But I realised that I was rushing towards a more important deadline, so I just let the piece play. And for the first time I became a passive recipient of the music. Within ten minutes of hearing the piece, my heart rate started slowing and I started noticing small things around me. Like the gentle swaying of trees, the pure blue sky and the scanty white clouds scattered on the tapestry of the vast openness above. The feel of the gentle breeze on my face and the smells of morning roadside tea stalls. It was a complete transformation from an anxious state to a state of total relaxation and one of being completely in the present. I went on to write my exam in a relatively relaxed state of mind.

This is one of many powerful testaments to the impact classical music can have on our anxiety. In the last two years that the world has been battling the pandemic, anxiety has become a partner to Covid-19, mutating just like the virus into paranoia, depression and phobias. And just like we need vaccines for our body, we also need a powerful vaccine for our mind. Classical Raagas can possibly do that for us.

Anxiety is an uneasy state. It is an overall change in our mental and physical consciousness. Our minds are fearful and tense. Our bodies react to the anxious mental state with increased heart rate, tense muscles and an overall ‘jumpiness’. Cortisol and adrenaline are the presiding hormones, and anger and frustration are predominant moods. We are trapped in a whirlpool of negative and unpleasant feelings and are often unable to pull ourselves out of it. We then resort to medication to suppress the symptoms.

What happened that day many years ago when I engaged in classical music can reveal a secret that we can use to get ourselves out of this whirlpool. What really happens when you hear, sing or play classical music is that we are drawn into an alternate state of consciousness, a bubble of sorts, of the mood that particular Raag creates. The ‘Krithi’ or ‘Bandish’ (names for compositions in classical music) are also set to a Taal that has a gait. While this is true of any song, classical Raagas and Taalas are profoundly emotive. They connect at a visceral level to our deep feelings of angst and frustration, and have the incomparable ability to empathize and transform that emotional state to one of peace and bliss. And before we know it, something outside of us has taken control of our inner minds, held it carefully, caressed and nurtured it and eventually handed it back to us. Much like a mother would do. The reasons for this, I believe, are in the organic roots of classical music and its connection with nature. The seven notes of classical music are believed to have evolved organically from sounds of animals and birds, and to this day, Hindustani Raagas are set according to time of day and seasons of the year.

So, classical music has an effect on anxiety that mirrors a sublime walk on fresh dewy grass, a cord that refreshes our deep connection with nature and nurture. A gift from God that beats Prozac hands down. Available at your nearest YouTube channel.

The writer is a vocalist of both Hindustani and Carnatic Classical music, with over three decades’ experience. She is also the founder of Music Vruksh, a venture to make classical accessible for its aesthetic and wellness benefits.

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