Arnab Bishnu Chowdhury is a composer, trainer, therapist and an explorer of Consciousness with Yoga of music - mantra, body, breath and sleep as mediums. The third generation of classical Indian musicians from the illustrious Maihar-Senia Gharana founded by Baba Allaudin Khan, his devotion to both Sri Aurobindo and the music lineage of Maihar is obvious.
Arnab is founder of Know Your Rhythm, a training program which create conditions for Aha! Moments to emerge. He offers Training, Therapy and Composition services and is based out of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India. (To listen, watch and know more, visit www.ninad.in)
In a vartalaap with CSP, Arnab talks about Music Therapy in the context of Yoga.
Where does Know Your Rhythm begin? What is its source or origin?
In our Indian spiritual tradition, the Yoga of Sound is supposed to be perennial as the universe itself – which we believe began with the cosmic vibration of AUM.
The Yoga of sound in the form of Mantra and Music is supposed to have originated in the Sama Veda. Like all streams which find confluence in the ocean, so do all streams of Yoga including Mantra, Music, Asanas, Pranayama, Mudras share a close relationship and interweave themselves as confluence reaching out to the Divine as ocean.
Know Your Rhythm’s unique perspective lies in exploring and offering insights and practices about the close partnership between the Yoga of Mantra and Music (Ragas, Talas) with the Yoga of postures (Asanas, Mudras), breath (Pranayama) and sleep (Nidra).
Know Your Rhythm’s vision lies in a supposition. Can we learn, explore and practice the Yogic practices mentioned in a blended way to arrive towards experiencing that cosmic AUM? Can we arrive at that dynamic silence where all the noise especially internal fades away, to a quantum change within?
Via Know Your Rhythm’s immersive exercises done in a therapeutic and yet playful atmosphere, we hope to create conditions for Aha! Moments to emerge.
And what do you mean by Aha! Moments? Can you share your experience as a teacher, therapist and composer?
Just say Aha! with me! What does saying making you feel? A feeling of happiness and satisfaction? A feeling of discovering a paradigm not experienced before perhaps accompanied by a feeling of gratitude to the Divine? Where we rise to a new state of consciousness and perhaps don’t roll back to the earlier one?
As a rasika (lover of music and the arts), imagine you are at Thiruvaiyaru for the first time, sitting on the banks of river Cauvery, not far from the Samadhi of Saint Tyagaraja and you are swept in among the thousands of musicians and rasikas. You don’t simply hear or listen to Tyagaraja Aradhana in the early morning, you experience something. That something you experience are conditions for an Aha! moment to emerge. And these conditions include the fresh January breeze, the stunning silk saris and jewellery where every individual is dressed at their sacred best and not to forget the amazing fragrance of Kumbakonam coffee served in bright brass tumblers! You find yourself one among the collective singing sacred music, a feeling of oneness and somewhere along the way, your mind and heart leaps with Ananda. Do you see what I mean? In our Indian performing arts including music, poetry and dramatic arts all of which have a deep connection to a stream of Yoga, we have expressions such ‘Besh besh’ or ‘Kya baat hai’ to express that Aha! Moment. Perhaps the most significant Aha! Moment happens when we simply rise into Silence. We just know It with complete confirmation.
Of course, neuroscientists have been exploring this space for quite a while.
As teacher, I recall one instance quite clearly. While training special educators with their children with special needs, one of our Know Your Rhythm modules involves vocalising basics of rhythmic melody with phonemes. The phonemes in Indian classical music whether Carnatic and Hindusthani have not just spiritual significances but I find them therapeutic when applied in music and speech therapy. So during one such session, we called in the grandmothers of the children with special needs as I believe that grandmothers are carriers of great stories whether folk or mythological and the values in those stories often grow who we become as we grow up. Additionally grandmothers in our Indian family set up sometimes take care of their grandchildren so the intention is to train them with the very basics of Know Your Rhythm so that our therapeutic engagement does not stop with the special educators during the school hours but continues at home in a playful manner. During one such session, a special girl child after some encouragement with shakers had simply sung an improvised version of what had been taught. Her grandmother and the group of special educators were stunned and emotional. The grandmother told me that this is the first time ever she had expressed something proactively that too in the form of a melodic line. That was a collective Aha! Moment for all of us.
Here is one such session which takes off from the iconic ‘Ta Na Na’ song from the legendary television serial Malgudi Days composed by Shri L Vaidyanathan. Here as composer for therapy, I apply and play with the phonemes ‘Ta’ and ‘Na’ as a karaoke song with full body learning and invite others to come in with me and then we improvise. ‘Ta’ and ‘Na’ are musical phonemes found in Sanskrit, folk songs, Indian classical vocal percussion and Dhrupad.
The short video was presented as participative therapy at the 4th International Conference of International Association for Music and Medicine (IAMM), Beijing, June 2016, as part of our paper presentation; based on a 2 year Know Your Rhythm training program with 10 special educators and their 60 students with special needs, Special School, CERTH-India Hospital, Pondicherry, India. This is part of our study in the form of video-evidence case studies called ‘Rhythm in Music Therapy – Composition and Composure’. You are welcome to join in this short karaoke session.
As composer, there have been numerous Aha! Moments. Most these extraordinary moments often come in as dreams during Nidra (sleep). In other words, to compose I need to compose myself. Similarly, to direct an improvisation session with other musicians especially to create music for therapy, we need to compose ourselves with specific intention so that our music gains the potential to heal our care receivers. To reach this state of consciousness, we apply various immersive exercises of Know Your Rhythm to ourselves starting with myself.
Here is a trailer from our therapeutic composition called ‘Atal – Unshakable’ which is applicable to the practice of Vinyasa Yoga where we are trying to match the rhythm of the music to that of the required rhythm of the breath so that when practiced, the Vinyasa flow happens seamlessly. Atal is based on Raga Bhimpalasi, equivalent to Abheri in Carnatic system.
As therapist and composer for therapy, in recent years, Project Gratitude has touched my heart where we conducted a study to assess the psychological well-being in patients and their operating team in cases of caesarean section and hysterectomies, at Shree Krishna Hospital, Karamsad, Gujarat. In this successful research project, Know Your Rhythm methodology was applied to compose and engineer the therapeutic music compositions played during pre, post and during the operations.
Receptive Music Therapy at Shree Krishna Hospital, Karamsad, Gujarat, India
What is meant by Rhythm in Know Your Rhythm?
All beings are an orchestra that is playing 24 by 7. We have rhythms that seem to define us how we behave and interact with each other via rhythms – perhaps the most significant being the rhythm in our heartbeats. Even our heartbeats vary with rhythm of seasons as they tend to be faster in summer than in winter. The basal metabolic rate reflects thyroid activity. Our 24 hours orchestra of Circadian rhythms consist of waking/sleeping cycle, blood pressure rhythms, cardiac and renal functions, urinary excretions, changes in body temperatures and endocrine activities. An expecting mother with her unborn infant in her womb shares a special resonance as rhythm. We have Selenian rhythms named after Selena, the goddess of the full moon, which has a 28 day cycle reflected in the menstrual cycle.
Just like the music conductor of a symphony orchestra who is guided by the composer’s prescription of tempo expressed in beats per minute, our conversations have their own rhythms with pauses, inflexions, poise and the complex rhythmic gestures of body language including our posture and movement which communicate perhaps more than our verbalised language. Our macro world has their own rhythms as the sun, moon and the various seasons.
Brain scientists tell us about the brainwaves as alpha, beta, delta rhythms and they ‘reflect’ our state of consciousness. If we dive deeper into subtle body, discover energy points in the form of Chakras that vibrate and turn to channel energy into the body and meridians. Ancient Indian scriptures tell us about the intersection of 108 meridians forming a Chakra. The same special number 108 is reflected in Mantra Yoga where we chant 108 iterations of a specific form of Divine. Isn’t that rhythm too?
If vibration can be described as a rhythmic pulse, then we simply are a rhythmic system, truly complex one! Now what if we were to go out of rhythm? Our cardiologist informs us about an ‘arrhythmic’ heart is a physical heart that needs treatment or surgery. Now what if were to consider an arrhythmic situation within us? Is being ill or a dis-ease – an arrhythmic condition in our mind, heart and body?
Two examples come to my mind right now which I could share here from the 14th World Congress for Music Therapy, organised by IMC University for Applied Sciences, Krems and the University for Music & Performing Arts, Vienna, 2014.
Presenting live composition 'Spandan' as final artist of opening ceremony - 14th World Congress for Music Therapy, Vienna & Krems, Austria, 2014
As the final artist-composer for the opening ceremony, I presented a 2 movement-based composition called ‘Spandan’, cosmic pulsation where I tried to communicate to our 1,500 member audience how the cosmic pulsation that flows in all of us, is also measurable as our heart beat. The composition has a solo Piano as movement 1 and Tabla with orchestral loop in movement 2, both with a recurring motif in Raga Kafi at between 60-70 beats per minute (BPM) as Laya or tempo expressing Empathy for a stable heart rate. Why Empathy you might ask? My attempt was to express Shringar Rasa via Raga Kafi and connecting Shringar Rasa to Empathy which is often perceived as a key condition for self-healing within the science of Therapy including Music Therapy.
Would you like to experience ‘Spandan’? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQZM9kIbUjk
It was also an honour to present Know Your Rhythm as a Pre-Congress seminar workshop, selected among the eight training programmes, with CME (continuing medical education) accreditation from World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT).
May I present a second example of the positive effects of rhythmic disruption leading to entrainment based on Indian classical vocal percussion? See if you can watch this flash mob without smiling which actually ‘disrupts’ the presentation of Dr. Gerhard Tucek, president of that particular World Congress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfAlhpY4HZc
What has been your personal journey leading to Know Your Rhythm? And where is Know Your Rhythm leading you?
There have two major inspiring movements which have been passed on to me as I grew up. For the past three generations, we have been based out of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the other movement is being part of a family of Indian Classical musicians tracing our musical lineage from Maihar Gharana. My grand uncle and violin maestro Pandit Rabin Ghosh along with Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbhar Khan learned from Baba Allaudin Khan. I am particularly grateful to my father, teacher Hindustani vocalist Shri Arun Bishnu Chowdhury. As a debutant, accompanying him on Tabla at the age of 14 during the Madras Music Season in 1989 at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan brings back an Aha! feeling to this day !
Growing up at Sri Aurobindo Ashram community while studying at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education was indeed a privilege. Studying aspects of Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) laid the foundation of Know Your Rhythm with the aim of spiritual Transformation being the goal of life and its activities in all its forms and manifestations. Integral Education which stems from Integral Yoga, is at the core of the pedagogy of Know Your Rhythm. I continue to serve Sri Aurobindo Ashram as a researcher, the more I teach the more I learn.
Every experience makes us grow like the notes in our Sargam.
Smt. Suzanne Sekhon, my teacher for Western Classical music at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, discovered the composer in me at the age of 12 while I improvised while learning Bach’s 1st Prelude on the piano.
Professional experiences include exploring computer music, Artificial Intelligence with Indian Classical music paradigms with MIT Media Lab’s ‘Music, Mind and Machine Group’, teaching Know Your Rhythm to consciousness-seeking audiences at the universal township of Auroville, scoring music for children’s content including animation films, training Hatha Yoga teachers to learn to incorporate the Yoga of music and sound into their daily practices to collaborating with doctors to compose therapeutic music for specific conditions. At Sustainable Livelihood Institute, a collaboration between the government of Tamil Nadu and Auroville Foundation, I come in as senior faculty teaching Tamil Nadu government officers and community leaders from rural Tamil Nadu to become more holistic decision makers and proactive stakeholders with Know Your Rhythm. Earlier this year, Know Your Rhythm received certification from International Association for Yoga Therapist (IYAT).
The core remains founded in Yoga in whatever I aim to be, know, do and offer.
In the past decade, Know Your Rhythm has reached about 20,000 care givers across India and internationally via workshops, conferences, retreats. Care givers include not just medical and therapy professionals along with their patients. Care givers are those who ‘care’ for the society at large and want to raise the quality of life, so our target audience includes teachers, special educators, managers, government officials, and especially children and youth who will grow as global citizens of tomorrow! Papers, case studies, articles on Know Your Rhythm have been published in Springer Nature, International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences, Open Yoga Journal.
We have been blessed by the presence of the brilliant and eternal fountainhead called Yoga and its blended streams. During these challenging times with Covid and its repercussions, I sincere aspire and pray that we will be able to grow Know Your Rhythm as we evolve within. I invite all of you in this adventure.
Let us all invoke Peace with Shanti Mantra from the Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad https://youtu.be/xZqq9YpkmYA
Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah - May All be Happy,
Sarve Santu Niraamayaah - May All be Free from Illness.
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu - May All See what is Auspicious,
Maa Kashcid Duhkha Bhaag Bhavet - May no one Suffer.
AUM Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih