Gemma Perry – Connections and the Power of Chanting

Gemma Perry is conducting her PhD exploring the power and physiology behind chanting. We speak about mystical experience, ineffability and the power of om. And why a connection is more important than ever and how you can build connection into your life.

Gemma Perry – Connections and the Power of Chanting Introduction

We are exploring another aspect, another way of switching on the parasympathetic nervous system—the rest and digest. And we’re also exploring the lessons from the past. These are two themes that I really think I’m really interested in. What can we learn from our past?

We’ve looked at nutrition and gone into well; the paleo diet looks at that. But what does a nutrient-dense diet mean in all these different parts of the world? And they’re not all paleo, but they’re all nutrient-dense. And that’s something that we’ve always had. Were we always eating organic food? No. Yeah, well, we were. It was never even an issue until about 50 or 60 years ago. Lessons from the past, our ability to come together as a group, small groups, and how we connect. But today we’re going to explore chanting, which has a rich and varied, as you will hear, history.

My guest today is Gemma Perry. And Gemma is an academic well a researcher anyway, and she’s spent the last 10 years of her life, an undergraduate, master’s and now PhD level exploring the power and the physiology behind chanting. And it’s a really interesting discussion, which is a theme we’re following through in these next couple of weeks. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Gemma Perry.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:07] Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, we are exploring another aspect, another way of switching on the parasympathetic nervous system—the rest and digest. And we’re also exploring the lessons from the past. These are two themes that I really think I’m really interested in. What can we learn from our past?

We’ve looked at nutrition and gone into well; the paleo diet looks at that. But what does a nutrient-dense diet mean in all these different parts of the world? And they’re not all paleo, but they’re all nutrient-dense. And that’s something that we’ve always had. Were we always eating organic food? No. Yeah, well, we were. It was never even an issue until about 50 or 60 years ago. Lessons from the past, our ability to come together as a group, small groups, and how we connect. But today we’re going to explore chanting, which has a rich and varied, as you will hear, history.

My guest today is Gemma Perry. And Gemma is an academic well a researcher anyway, and she’s spent the last 10 years of her life, an undergraduate, masters and now PhD level exploring the power and the physiology behind chanting. And it’s a really interesting discussion, which is a theme we’re following through in these next couple of weeks. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Gemma Perry.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:01:42] Welcome to the show, Gemma.

Gemma Perry [00:01:44] Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:01:46] Gemma. On this programme, we have explored meditation, and we’ve explored breathing, and we’ve explored actually also psychedelics. But your interest has been one of chanting. And when I read about that article and I read it in the Herald a few weeks ago, months ago, I actually and I thought, hey, this is my brush with fame. Gemma Perry. So welcome to the show, Gemma.

Your you know, your interest is in chanting and meditation, but you’ve kind of made this your… You’ve been on it on an academic journey, the journey of discovery research. And I thought we might just go back in time a little bit through your research and start at the undergraduate level and work our way through it. Tell us where you got started, how you got started.

Gemma Perry [00:02:35] Yeah. So I guess I first got started with my own experiences with chanting and then also was introduced to it through yoga. So there’s a lot of different chanting practices in yoga. But then I started to realise that it was sort of chanting in so many different traditions. And so when it came to my honors in psychology, I decided to research. Yeah, the effects of chanting. So I am at the Music, Sound, and Performance Lab at Macquarie University. So it was knowing I was able to plug in somewhere and yet look into the effects of chanting, basically, yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:03:21] And he looked at it from the point of view of altruism. Yes, just to remind our listeners how you defined altruism, what would tell us a bit about altruism and then its effect, you know, with chanting.

Altruism, Chanting and its Effect

Gemma Perry [00:03:36] So altruism is like a selfless concern for others. So we might say that it might be a bit rare today.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:03:45] What a lovely idea. What a lovely idea.

Gemma Perry [00:03:48] It is a lovely idea. And so we had questions, things like, would you give up your seat on a bus? Would you help someone in the street? Would you help your friends move house these types of things? And people were so we had people chanting in a group. And I’m not sure whether we also might need to define “chanting” because there are so many different. So bring me back if I get carried away.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:04:18] No no go. I love this kind of. It’s good to define the terms we’re using because we kind of assume everybody knows them. But lets you know, you can’t think you’ve kind of given us a clue of altruism and actually something we could all be striving for. So maybe at the end of this, we will be chanting. Tell us about chanting, too how we define that.

Gemma Perry [00:04:37] Yes. So chanting is used in so many different traditions, I guess. And some people might think that I’m doing like a sort of a bit of a strange PhD. But actually, we find chanting in so many cultures around the world. And I guess what it’s what’s important to define is how we used it in our study as well. Because chanting can be used in the religious ceremony can be used for healing purposes. It can be done in a group, which is what we are looking at. And with the altruism and things like that. And it can also be done individually. So there are also different sounds that can be chanted and different intentions with the sounds.

So that all sort of filters out into what we research. And we research this particular type of chanting, which is an I guess we would call it a focussed attention meditation. So focussed attention meditation is when you use an object or the breath or sound in the case of chanting to focus your attention. So we’re using it in that context, and we’re using it in a group context as well, which is important because this can also be done at home by yourself and in a temple or on the bus.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:05:54] It is so interesting that because that’s something that I’ve kind of been fascinated by and that is lessons from the past. And we kind of try and we look at nutrition as an example of how have we evolved to be where we’re at and look at the food that has allowed us to do that to excels as a species. And that’s the lesson from the past and our cultural lessons from the past or about coping with small tribes of people and how many we can cope with psychologically. But this also goes back through I mean, who knows how far back are the first recorded chantings where were they?

Gemma Perry [00:06:38] Yeah, well, they’ve been in many traditions. And I would find them in India. And that’s where the yoga Hinduism and those sorts of types of practice come from. But also in ancient Egypt, they were chanting, and they were chanting to make sure that the Nile would flood. So they actually believed that the chanting would change the environment, so yeah it’s really quite big.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:07:07] Yeah. And I mean, even when we think about our own Indigenous people in Australia, which are going back 60, 70, maybe even eighty thousand years, and we look at some of their rituals, which they’ve kind of passed down the corroboree and all these other passing down stories. Chanting must be a part is also, I think, part of that culture, too.

Gemma Perry [00:07:31] Yeah, absolutely. So they would use chanting to navigate the land as well and, you know, to navigate the land is really survival. And also, this sense of social connection or the altruism is like by chanting; you’re connecting with your tribe.

Connecting with the people around you. You know, I think that in some cultures, one of the really terrible you know, if he did something terrible, you would be penalised by being sent off by yourself, you know, so that social isolation factor. And so, yeah, that chanting bring people together and also the navigation of the land. And it helps with memory, things like that. You know, if you sing a song over and over again, you’re more likely to remember it and know where to find water.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:08:22] So that was your undergraduate but you kind of. The effects of chanting on mood and altruism. The results were. Positive, I’m guessing?

Gemma Perry [00:08:35] Yeah, so the honours research we found a, first of all, we compared experienced meditators to inexperienced meditators and or chanters. You know, whatever you want to call it. People that had been chanting. We had two different groups. We had. They were either vocally chanting or silently, we call it silent chanting. But they were listening to a recording. And so we thought that with the vocal chanting that altruism would increase more because of that higher synchronization.

But that actually only happened in the inexperienced meditators and the experience we found that the altruism increased in both the vocal and the silent. And that sort of makes senses when we look at, you know, like belief systems and things like that, that even just having a shared goal can help people to feel socially connected. So that might have been that sense of connection that they have.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:45] But those that the non-chanting, non-vocal chanting, we’re still listening to the chanting experience?

Gemma Perry [00:09:51] Yeah, they were still listening so that we could have the conditions as similar as possible.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:55] Right. Wow. Because I know. I know. And I mean, the chant that you focussed on, not exclusively is “om”. I mean, that’s the archetypal chant, if you know that that was what you were using.

Gemma Perry [00:10:09] Yeah, we used “om” in two of our studies, and we used “om” because it had been used in previous research and also because it’s one of the most widely chanted sounds. So it’s used in yoga, Hinduism, and Buddhism. And so this you can also feel that it’s such a soothing sound. And so we measured stress like psychological stress. And how that decreased And that is sort of part of the reason of the sound of the chant, you know if you’re chanting ta ta ta. That might not be something that’s going to reduce your stress. But this mmmm that is extending the exhale, that it’s engaging the parasympathetic nervous system and helping us to relax. So that’s part of it.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:06] But that level. You drop that in there with your stress because that is the next part of your research was looking at stress. I mean, once you tick the boxes of mood and altruism, the natural thing was to move on to stress and its effect on and the effect of chanting on that. So you found what you would come up with on that one?

Gemma Perry [00:11:29] Yeah. So that one was we had just inexperienced chanters for that one. And we still had the vocal and the silent conditions. And we had them chanting om again in a group. And we measured both psychological and physiological stress. So we measured cortisol levels in saliva before and after, chanting for twelve minutes in a group.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:57] Let’s have a look and listen to the science of chanting on ABC iView with the Gemma Perry.

ABC iView Segment [00:12:05] I went to Macquarie University in Sydney to participate in some group chanting and just getting comfortable. Relax. They took a sample of my saliva to test levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And the questionnaire looked at how altruistic and in touch, I was with my fellow humans.

So everyone just closing the eyes and just feeling as relaxed as you can at this moment. For the chanting to have any effect, we’re going to have to go for around 12 minutes, so please enjoy another eleven and a half minutes of, oh alright we will edit it down a little bit. By the end, the group was much more synchronised with our chants. And whenever you’re ready, just opening the eyes again.

One more round of paperwork and a bit more saliva and we are done. But what are the effects? After the chanting, both self-reported stress and physiological stress, which we measured with the saliva and the cortisol. They also both decreased. The increase in the social connection may be affecting the decrease in stress.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:13:27] And that decrease in stress is an 18 percent reduction in cortisol. Impressive.

Gemma Perry [00:13:32] The Catalyst programme, we went to a retirement village actually, and we also measured salivary cortisol. But that was a choir. They had them singing in a choir for a period of six, six weeks or something like that. That was on Catalyst.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:13:52] Well, why don’t we have a look and listen to the choir that’s changing lives on ABC Catalyst. It’s about a three-minute clip.

ABC Catalyst Program [00:14:02] I’ve invited this aged community in Sydney’s east to take part in a six-week experiment to see if being social can improve their health. Joyce is 90 and was diagnosed with dementia two years ago. Although surrounded by people, Joyce often retreats into her own world. Tell me about the singing that used to pass.

I cannot remember anything for very long. The doctor said it would be like this and it is. Joyce has led a busy life. She loved music and was involved in choirs for decades. But her family noticed she slowly gave up on her social networks, as the confusion of dementia began in her late 80s. I threw all the songs out when I left to come here. OK, I’m sorry now. Because I didn’t think I’d ever sing again. I’m hoping the choir can rekindle Joyce’s love of music and help her to socialise again with other people.

Good afternoon, everybody. How are you? When I last saw Joyce. She thought she’d never sing again. But she’s become a well-loved member of the choir. Researchers now believe that music can connect deeply with the brains of people with dementia. So singing, particularly songs from her past, is genuine therapy for Joyce. During this experiment, we’ve been tasting stress levels by measuring the hormone cortisol.

My hope was the cortisol levels, and the stress levels would go down over the six weeks as people connected and felt less lonely. But did it work? Music psychologist Gemma Perry has the results. So Gemma. Now, you were involved with collecting the saliva samples to look at levels of cortisol. So we tested the saliva before and after the first session of music therapy here and then before and after six weeks. So after the first session, we actually found cortisol increased.

Were you surprised by that? So it was a new experience for everybody. They didn’t know whether it was safe. They didn’t know what to expect. So what did you see in that second in the second session? So overall, we actually noticed at baseline that cortisol was lower before even having that session. And then after the session, the cortisol was lower again. Wow. Yes. So this is the cortisol levels over the six weeks, cortisol levels in our group halved. A sign everyone is feeling much less stressed.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:17:09] And interesting considering how much attention aged care facilities have got in this time of our pandemic and, you know, apart from social isolating, socially isolating and hygiene, bolstering immune function seems like a really good idea. We haven’t heard a lot about that.

Bolstering immune function

Gemma Perry [00:17:30] Yeah, but you were in a choir or something, you said?

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:17:33] I was. I was. And that was just the best. I mean, we were in. We were at when my kids were at the public school. The local public school. I was president of the PNC, and I decided to form a parent-teacher choir. And so we would meet every Thursday afternoon for an hour. And we sang in the choir. And I learnt the best thing to do was stand next to somebody who could sing really well. And I think it was their resonance in my ear that just made me feel like I was the best singer in the choir.

Gemma Perry [00:18:09] Isn’t it fantastic? Yeah. We actually recorded some “oms” I mean; actually, that would have been the first time that I’ve cried on television. So it was just so, so special to see the effect that this music had on the community because I was there on day one and they were doing this experiment.

They had a music therapist come in, and they were singing songs. I think it was once a week for six to eight weeks. And we were measuring cortisol at the beginning and then at the end of the eight weeks. And so even without measuring the cortisol, just watching it, you know, like being there on day one and being there on, you know, eight weeks later was just incredible to see.

And it’s it really I mean, cortisol decreased. And also somebody was looking at sleeping patterns, and I can’t remember if there was something else. But yeah, people were just really so engaged in the singing. And I mean, I don’t think immune function was tested, but I’m sure it could be.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:19:31] Well, I think if you’re reducing cortisol and you’re improving sleep, it’s sort of is part of that whole picture. So it’s. So that’s an incredible thing. And then you go on to do a PhD. Tell us about your PhD.

Gemma Perry’s PhD Journey

Gemma Perry [00:19:49] Yes. So the PhD is obviously we have a little bit more time to look at things. And at the moment we’re investigating altered states of consciousness and chanting. So we’re also going to be on the “om”. So we’re asking people from all sorts of different traditions about their belief systems, about their chanting practises. What sort of prayer or sound they are chanting.

How are they chanting whether they are chanting at home or in the office? I think the very, very small percentage of people chanting in the office. And looking at. Yeah. Mystical state. So altered states of consciousness convey all sorts of different things. But we’re particularly interested in mystical states, which is an extremely positive alteration in consciousness. And people often experience unity with the universe or with other people or with another object, with nature. And what else happens? Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:12] I mean, you introduced me to, when we were talking before you introduced me to this whole mystical experience, the idea and questionnaire actually. So, you know, it kind of looks at four different groups, doesn’t it? Mystical, the positive mood, transcendence of time and space. And this other word called ineffability.

Gemma Perry [00:21:35] Yeah, it’s an interesting word to describe not being out to describe something in words.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:41] Yeah. Because that’s what I thought, what does ineffability mean? Well, it’s concerned with ideas that cannot or should not be expressed in spoken words or language in general, often being in the form of a taboo or incomprehensible term. So these are the four factors in the 30 questionnaires on mystical experience. Wow. I mean, that’s just fantastic.

Gemma Perry [00:22:05] Yeah. So there are 30 questions. And like you say, it’s broken up into those four subscales. And then for us to know that someone has had a complete what they define as a complete mystical experience. They have to have scored over 60 percent on each of those subscales. So that’s how we’re sort of defining a mystical experience.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:22:30] Right. Wow, I mean, I looked at some of the questions and, you know, it was kind of interesting because you’re asked to say whether or not this doesn’t happen at all. You were so slight that you can’t decide whether it had an effect a moderate is strong, et cetera, freedom from limitations of your personal self and the feeling of unity, your bond with what was felt to be greater than your personal self. That’s question one. I mean, you know, it’s a really interesting thing to look at. What did what was the outcome? Were you up to? Now, you haven’t finished your research. But what’s what are you seeing?

Gemma Perry [00:23:08] So I still analysing the results from this online canting survey. I think we’ve got about four hundred and sixty participants from different traditions. And we are finding that people experience mystical states in chanting. And they’re experiencing them in various traditions. So it’s, I guess then looking at what might be having that effect and those things like rhythm and complex rhythmic patterns.

So sometimes in some chanting practises there is not just chanting om, but there’s chanting, there’s clapping, and they’re stepping, and you’re doing this in three different rhythms simultaneously. So then we get into states of flow and that kind of thing, which we also have measured. But we’re just not very, very, very rich data set. So we’re just not even into analyzing the flow of state like that yet.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:24:21] But this whole. And it’s interesting because I’ve I mean, I’ve attended religious services before, and I describe myself as agnostic. And yet I try to understand what the appeal is. And it’s not hard to understand, particularly if you go more than a couple of times and you get into the rhythm of what is being said or recited. You get to appreciate, even if you are not a believer of the paternal God say, you can really feel the appeal. Feel the appeal. That’s exactly what you do. It isn’t really?

Gemma Perry [00:25:00] Yeah. Feel the appeal. I have been kind of lucky I guess in the respect that I’ve been welcomed into many different communities that do these canting practices and it’s incredible, like the. Yeah, there’s definitely something going on, and that’s my fascination is wait a second. The Buddhists are doing it. The Hindus are doing it.

The Muslims are doing it. So is there this underlying current that is, you know, we have these practices that are designed to affect our psychology and physiology no matter what you believe in? And I think belief systems are fantastic. I think that they can also, you know, the intention that you have with the chanting and a lot of these belief systems is believing in something greater than the self, which is what takes us back to altruism.

You know, what just takes it back takes us back to, you know, just not being so selfish all the time or surrendering to something just a little bit of humility or, you know, the belief systems have really got something in them as well. And I think that there is not only similarity in the practises, but sometimes there’s a similarity in the beliefs. So this as a surrender, there is faith.

This, you know, and these can be channeled into the chanting practices as well. And yet we can we also see these other systems of chanting that have no belief systems attached to them. And it is purely a mechanical way of getting in touch with the rhythm and brain entrainment. And so there are almost two paths, I’m sure, there are many paths. But in what we’re talking about here, this sort of like you can take it with the belief system and maybe a more simplistic chanting practise and just devotion and surrender. And it’s not all me. And then this is how the path that it’s such a complex rhythmic pattern that I’m going to automatically get into a state, an altered state through that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:27:22] And I think there’s also which you first study, which looked at the silent chanters, the fact that they are connected with, you know, the connection with the group. However big that group is the connection with that group is such a powerful, powerful force in us, we’re learning that now more than ever as we socially isolate.

Gemma Perry [00:27:46] Absolutely. And I mean, it’s possible that these people are also not only connecting to that group but that connecting to a bigger group outside of there if they have. So, for example, in some traditions, there’s a particular sound that’s chanted. And when somebody engages with chanting that sound, they are aware that so many other people around the world or, you know, in that community, whether they’re in the room with them or not, are also chanting that sound. And that can help them to feel more connected as well.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:28:19] Mm-hmm. And this idea also of I love this idea of the chant, the clap and the foot-stamping because it engages so many different levels of the physical and the mental aspect to bring people in harmony in unison if you like. Almost. I imagine that is good. I mean, it’s kind of back into religion, I think.

Gemma Perry [00:28:42] Absolutely.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:28:43] Definitely chanting.

Gemma Perry [00:28:46] I’m into all of them. But so this practice with the three different rhythms that’s called [inaudible] now and was designed by a composer. And he’s designed this also using sounds by moving his tongue around the mouth. So there is even this kind of tongue articulation that’s involved and stimulating different parts of the palate. And then we have these different rhythms, and I have tried it out.

I’ve tried out a lot of these practices. And it’s really fascinating. There’s also a lot of doing things with the left hand that you’re not doing with the right hand. And this simultaneous perception of, you know, like if we think about our minds and, you know, like, I don’t know about you, but I wake up thinking, go to bed.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:46] Bad habit. I think I’ve got into these bad habits throughout my life.

Gemma Perry [00:29:52] And when we’re focussed on all of these different things, we just can’t be you know, we can’t be going, oh, my gosh, I’m so stressed about what I’ve got to do tomorrow and oh, my gosh, the state of the world. And, you know, we’re just so engaged in the task at hand. And that, you know, that’s helpful.

A lot of our mind wandering is not helpful. It’s just not we tend to think that it’s important, you know. You know, before that thought and let me follow that thought to wherever it’s going and reactions to that thought. And, yeah, often it’s just not that productive. So we’re better off just at least some of the time, putting our attention into something that’s not that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:30:37] Well, so much of our life is kind of this balance between being in you mentioned the parasympathetic. So you know who I know many of our listeners, we’ve talked about stress. That’s what this is all about, really. You know, that’s sympathetic part of the nervous system, which is the fight or flight and the rest and digest, which is parasympathetic. I mean, ideally, we should be for the vast majority of the time in that parasympathetic mode. I mean, really.

Gemma Perry [00:31:05] Yeah that sounds nice.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:31:07] Yeah. Yeah. Particularly if we’re going to. Particularly if we’re going to digest and rest, which make up two pretty important components about our lives, and that’s why this is chanting, because it’s also linked into some of the work we’ve done. Oh. Spoken to people about breathing. You know, the breathing and the humming.

The use of a didgeridoo as an instrument to improve body chemistry, body physiology, and parasympathetic nervous system. So the chanting is just added this other dimension to it, which is so amazing. So what’s your routine on a daily basis? Gemma, what do you, what do you do? How are you incorporating this into your life? Healer, how have you healed yourself?

Healer, how have you healed yourself?

Gemma Perry [00:31:51] Yeah. Well, I guess, you know, like, I started these practices because I had terrible mental health issues and was suffering from severe depression. So it was about 12 years ago. And my practice changes for sure. And also it depends if I’m sort of, you know, trying something out and all this kind of thing. But, yeah, about 12 years ago, I got involved in yoga.

So, you know, yoga in the west is just the tip of the iceberg. And then the rest of it is really chanting and meditation and all of these types of things. And I got involved in a few different practices. One was a call and response type of chanting, which is called Kirtan. And that’s when you have like a leader chanting. And there are instruments often a harmonium, which is like a little Indian piano that you pump full of air and then you have a group of people responding to that chant. So it’s also like a little bit conversational.

You’re also practicing your listening by trying to respond with the same tone and trying to respond in the way the same sounds essentially as well. Some of the Sanskrit can be complicated. So sometimes you have to really pay attention. So that was a big practice for me and also ceremonies. So there are some ceremonies that are done with fires and just a group of people chanting the same phrase like one hundred and eight times.

One hundred and eight is generally the number. And I did that and also started practicing my own individual mantra or phrase. And that’s often done with beads. So you have beads, one hundred and eight days and you count the repetition of the beads. And that’s been going on over the years. At the moment, I do a practice that is I chant, and then I go into a silent type of chanting with the breath.

I’m also manipulating the breath, focussing also on different symbols as I’m you know. So that’s breath and mantra, which is the sound. And then after I finish that, then I. I chant again. And then at night time, that’s in the morning. And then at Night-Time I also just do a silent, a silent chanting practice.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:34:34] And what would be the length of that morning session and the evening session.

Gemma Perry [00:34:40] Yeah, the morning one sounded complicated didn’t it, It’s only twenty minutes.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:34:44] Yeah. No, no, no. Well, you can get a lot in 20 minutes, obviously. And you’ve kind of wrapped up a whole package of different approaches there based on what you’ve experienced over time.

Gemma Perry [00:34:55] Well, I have a teacher. Yeah. Yeah. I have a teacher that I. I mean, I’ve had different practices over the years. But at the moment, I’m. I’m following this.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:35:08] Yeah. What is that? Because we’ve done sessions on Vedic meditation. We’ve talked about yoga and meditation and how the both words really mean connexion. But what sort of school of meditation or teacher are you focussing on?

Gemma Perry [00:35:26] Yeah. So this particular one is Tantra yoga. Mm-hmm. And I think a lot of the mantra is just I’ve been using this what my mantra is just sound or, you know like it’s a tool for the mind. We often call it mantra in yoga, but a lot of the mantra is part of the Tantra. Yeah. At the tantric traditions. And I mean mantras is part of many traditions in yoga.

But it depends on what people are chanting. So there might be sort of more classical. Like the yoga sutras, for example, and that that chanting. So so that’s without any deities and things like that. But with tantra, you have the deities and things. But the deities are seen on at as a psychological archetype. So they’re symbols. And when we come back to this ineffability, I mean, they can be symbols for me they are symbols.

You know, not going, going and having a mystical experience and coming back and not being able to describe it. That’s what we have a lot of these symbols for. So we create these psychological archetypes that, you know, Shiva or Shakti. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of some of them. And they they can be quite powerful symbols and something tangible for our mind to hold onto, which I think is what chanting is essential.

Meditation can be difficult. But if we have this sound to keep coming back to, a sound can help us to have something to grab hold of, you know, the same as these deities and these archetypes and helps with the intention. You know, it’s sort of saying we all have these inherent qualities of Shiva or Shakti or whoever where we’re chanting to or about or the sounds. And it’s developing those qualities within ourselves. Mm-hmm. So so I do think that you know, as we say, you are what you eat. I think you are what you chant as well.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:37:57] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gemma Perry [00:37:58] I think that we have to be careful about, you know like we have to have good teachers that can guide us with those sorts of things.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:38:05] And I can see that the difference between doing this on your own or even knowing that others are doing it too, is rather empowering. But this whole idea of surrender and faith. You know, I can see the appeal of having I’m re-examining now in my own head what I said before about the paternal God maybe shouldn’t be taken so literally as to kind of use it as an example of sublimating yourself or seeing that you are just a small speck in the sand of humanity. And that’s humbling.

That’s quite a good, positive thing. I suppose we could all benefit from a lot more of that, really. But that’s taking it to another level, isn’t it, to look at the history, the sort of faith and traditions that go around and just broadens it.

Gemma Perry [00:38:56] Yeah, yeah. I mean, it can be what you know, like I think that many texts or any ancient texts have been misinterpreted. You know, like as soon as I sort of speak words that come out of my mouth and that have already been misinterpreted. And we think about all of these texts and we also have different personalities that connect with different things. And, you know, that’s why there are 33 million Hindu deities so we can find one to connect to.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:39:28] Wow. I didn’t even know that.

Gemma Perry [00:39:30] I think there might be more.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:39:32] I really I didn’t realize there were that many. There’s a lot. Well, well, I suppose with a population of one point four billion, you know, you’ve got to accommodate all sorts of different interests.

Gemma Perry [00:39:44] Yeah. But, yes, I mean, I think that there’s you can see it how you wanted to see it. And if that’s bringing you some pEace and you know, then that’s a good thing. Yeah. And the community, so often people are connecting with people that share the same belief systems.

But the other thing is, I think is to also remain humble in that we don’t know, you know, like a belief system that says that there is this God and a belief system that says there’s no God. They’re both just as wild these claims, you know. And the truth is, we don’t know. So we need to just remain open to, all of the belief systems and the different. Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:40:39] Which makes those 33 million deities almost, you know, that’s quite a user friendly because it covers almost every possible. Well, it does. I mean, 33 million. You’re covering a few different experiences and options in there as well. And I mean, you know, singing in a choir, sitting in a church, praying. I mean, I went through this with my daughters when I mean, my background is Jewish. And I do describe myself as an agnostic Jew, but we did go when my daughters were 12, 13 years old. They are now 34 and 31. But we went to synagogue every week.

Gemma Perry [00:41:20] The Hebrew chanting is beautiful.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:41:20] It is. And this is what happened to me. You see, I. I said to my wife, listen, I’m just not. I’m just cannot go to synagogue every week. I’m not that Jewish. Ok, and she said, no, we’re gonna go. We’re gonna go. And so we went. And so that meant week after week after week after week.

We went on Friday night because it was only a 45-minute service as opposed to Saturday morning, which was two and a half hours. But we went, and we got to know all of the songs in a way that I never had in my all those years before done. And the difference it made to us. We both really enjoyed it.

Having said that, as soon as they were bar mitzvahs, we never went back again. And then, you know, all of that. But I got to understand what the appeal was and that appeal of being communal space with a shared voice, literally, and doing it together was really lovely. I actually, as I speak to you, and part of this fascination that I’ve had with what you’re doing is bringing that all back for me. You know, I’m kind of thinking I’m going to explore this more, either join a choir or get back to the synagogue, even though I’m not a religious person.

Gemma Perry [00:42:33] But amazing. You don’t have to be, that Hebrew chanting just blows me away. Really and truly.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:42:41] And I remember when I was going through this kind of crisis of faith with myself as my daughter was going through this bat mitzvah and I was thinking what the hell am I doing this for? And I went to speak to my rabbi, who’s a good friend, but he’s a friend anyway, so I know him. And I said to him, Jeff. Jeff Kamins at the Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra.

And I said, Jeff, I just have a real problem with this Hebrew. You know, I don’t even know what I’m saying. You know, I don’t even understand the words. And I just have a real problem with this paternal prayer to our father, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And he says, well, don’t take it so literally.

You know, I mean, what does “om” mean? This is what he said to me. He says, what does “om” mean? And I go. Well, true, you know. And he said, So it doesn’t really matter. Don’t take it so literally. And I think as I reflect on that, particularly as I’ve been thinking, you know, initially when we first spoke, and now again, it’s kind of making me reflect on that whole experience in a very different way now.

Gemma Perry [00:43:49] And you might be interested in we spoke about it a little bit last time in Andrew Newberg’s work. He’s just written a book called “The Rabbi’s Brain”. Okay. Yes. I hate to stop, you know, like if I had a superstar research job out there. And Andrew Newberg. Yeah. And he looks at mystical states and neuroscience. So the neurology of the mystical states and he looks at people like Islamic prayer, sort of praying mechanically and then praying, surrendering. You know. And then. Yeah. How these beliefs kind of affect us. He’s fantastic, really.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:44:32] The other part I loved about what we’ve just been talking about is that you’ve explored all of these different religions and spiritual practices. And they, because of their messages, have divided countries and people and brought them to war and all these other things. But isn’t it so nice that you focus on these similarities? What is it about these religions and all these different faiths and sex that is what the common denominator is? What draws humans? Chanting, chanting well, well. Communal to communal prayer or chanting whatever we call the very it.

Gemma Perry [00:45:16] I think, you know. That’s what I, you know, I’m hoping that that’s kind of what my research brings is, you know, can we just can we all be friends because we’re all doing the same thing. And yeah, that’s what I thought.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:45:32] Yeah. Well, you know, focussing on our similarities is definitely something. And actually, the fact that you’re putting physiology to it as well, which is, you know, like where’s the science? We often hear, you know, yeah, we know things have been good for us for thousands of years, but, hey, where’s the science? And we’ve become so preoccupied with where is the science, that unless we have that scientific validation, it somehow doesn’t have validation.

Gemma Perry [00:45:59] Yeah. Such a shame. And I think that that’s also where, like, it’s important to sort of look at spirituality and science and know where one kind of. No, we can’t put everything spiritual into science, but we can have the two of them collide. And both are important. Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:46:19] Well, I love the way that you’re playing that game in. Well, you know, I know chanting has been good for me, and I know it’s been good for thousands of years. But let’s put a bit of science behind it. And lo and behold, you coming up with it. I just wanted to take a step back finally from your role as a researcher and as a meditator and yoga, because we’re all on this health journey together through life. Well, what do you think the biggest challenges in our modern world as an individual as we navigate in a way through?

The Biggest Health Challenge

Gemma Perry [00:46:51] Oh, gosh. Which challenge to choose in the middle of a pandemic?

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:46:55] Well, you know, go. I’m just interested. What do you think they might be?

Gemma Perry [00:47:00] Yeah, I think that. You know our challenge is relating to our ourselves in an positively and healthily. And that also is reflecting in the way that we relate to others. And I think that most of the time we don’t even know what we’re thinking or have, you know, like and this is what the meditation practices do, whether it’s chanting or mindfulness or Vedic meditation. They give us more aware of our unconscious processes. And that, you know, helps us to relate better to ourselves and also to other people, I guess. Did that make.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:47:54] Yeah. Yeah, it did. And it did or not. And I think you’ve given us something very accessible in entrenching, which since we first talked about this, I’ve been practicing myself. And I must say it’s rather empowering and enjoyable and so. Thank you so much for sharing that with us today.

Gemma Perry [00:48:14] Yeah. Right. I’m glad to hear that you’ve been practicing.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:48:17] I have been. You’ve inspired me. Thanks, Gemma.

Gemma Perry [00:48:21] Wonderful. Thank you so much.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:48:24] So there it is. I’m just fascinated by all these different ways into our nervous system. And as I was saying to Gemma, what we have become so preoccupied with the science and everything has to be proven in randomized control or some kind of a study to validate what we’ve known for thousands of years has been an important part of our culture.

And again, looking at connections, not just connections to our cells, not just connections to our brain, to our thoughts, to our breath, to our nervous system, to our immune function, I should go on but connections to others, connections to a broader community within the world and connections to our own place in human history.

I mean, this is what I find so fascinating about this particular subject, but also lessons from the past. So we’re going to have links to those on the iView program and the Catalyst program, I think. As I said, having sung in the choir, it’s such an uplifting experience having sat in a church or synagogue for myself. That is, I’m going to revisit that now because it’s a whole different perspective about surrender and faith and connection and a lot there for me to think about. And I hope it’s been the same for you.

Listen, we’ve got some great programs we’re developing online. There’s so many exciting things happening. Don’t forget to download the app Unstress with Dr. Ron Ehrlich. That’s how you search it on the iTunes App Store and Google Play Unstress with Dr. Ron Ehrlich. And that’s going to be really important as we emerge from this very challenging year, 2020. And we’re looking forward to a great year next year in 2021. We’ve got some exciting things planned. So I hope this finds you well, until then, this is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.