Vinayak Narayanaswamy, now 17, has a rare neurological condition called Sturge-Weber syndrome. This condition caused major speech difficulties for him. He was strong in the right hemisphere of his brain, while his left was completely damaged. However, he had an innate rhythmic sense. He was around eight when his parents found a way to help him get a better life through music. Hindustani classical music helped him with auditory memory, clarity of speech, and his confidence got a major boost.
His musical journey began at Bhaatkhande Sangit Vidyalaya, an institute in Qutab Institutional Area that has been working towards promoting Hindustani classical music and its healing properties for the last 77 years. Being experts in the field of helping children with special needs, the teachers here brought a relaxed but disciplined approach to his musical learning. “The annual functions at Bhaatkhande Vidyalaya were an important part of his learning. He loved singing on stage. It helped when he performed at his school functions at Vasant Valley School, and got him many prizes in competitive events for differently abled children,” says Geetha Narayanaswamy, Vinayak’s mother.
“Shriya has been a visually impaired child since she was five-month-old. This caused her to grow up with many behavioural issues and social anxiety. She joined the vidyalaya seven years back. There has been a marked improvement in her personality and confidence,” says Shuchi Rastogi, her mother.
“Music therapy is one of the oldest and most expressive therapies used for healing an ailment through scientific means. The body has seven chakras, and each of the seven swaras in a musical octave stimulate a certain chakra. A raga is a specific arrangement of swaras, designed to stimulate a vibration within the body. Each raga is supposed to be practiced at a certain time of the day in order to extract its benefits. For example, Raag Yaman is said to help with stress and arthritis, Raag Bagheshri with insomnia, Raag Asavari with low BP, and Raag Tilak Kamod brings relaxation,” said Deepa Chopra Sharma, chief coordinator and curator of the programme.
The institute has been engaging music to treat speech disorders like stammering and stuttering as well as other disorders like autism, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) etc. It began in 2001 when Pooja Gupta, a psychology graduate from Lady Shri Ram College, decided to come up with a music therapy module to reach out to differently abled children. While she eventually moved to Australia and continued her efforts there, her sister, Deepa Chopra Sharma, a counsellor, took over the programme in Delhi.
The institute also holds classes for all age groups, including senior citizens and professionals for whom music is a stress buster. In her career spanning more than 40 years, Dr Anita Panda, a retired ophthalmologist from AIIMS, has turned to music to deal with the everyday stress of being a medical professional. “As a child, I remember my music teacher telling me that one hour of practicing music in the morning can help you to stay calm and composed throughout the day. When the stress of being a surgeon was at its peak, I turned to music to unwind,” she says.
Dr Panda has been associated with Bhaatkhande Sangit Vidyalaya for the last four to five years. She says the idea to use music as an alternative therapy struck her when a patient with dry eye approached her. “The patient had tried almost every kind of treatment with no results. Eventually, I realised that one of the reasons for dry eye is stress. I knew about a few ragas which can help one deal with stress and asked him to practice them on a daily basis. The patient returned to me after three months with visible improvement,” she says.
Dr Panda then collaborated with her music teacher, and came up with a structured and scientific form of treatment by combining music, psychology and physiology. Since diabetes also affects the eye, they have started off with a pilot project offering music therapy to patients. Stress being one of the major causes of diabetes, she felt that music therapy could really help with the problem.
“The goal of the course is to treat the ailment through music and regular treatment for faster, more effective results as well as the overall relaxation of the patient,” says Dr Panda.
Music therapy can also be used to improve learning, build self-esteem, reduce stress, and facilitate a host of other health related activities. However, music therapy, like any other therapy, takes time to show results.
“Patience is absolutely necessary in such kind of a therapy. People usually don’t understand that music is an artform that needs to be appreciated. They look for quick results and lose faith in it,” urges Guru Vinod Kumar, the director and principal of the institute. The only prerequisite to benefit from this therapy, he says, is to be able to enjoy music.