A recent post told how a cat crossed my path at the Sufi shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. Cats are cherished in Islam, and in response to my post a friend who is an adept of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order sent me a link to an article on a Sufi resource. This is about the healing power of cats, and I thought it worth sharing an edited and annotated extract with my readers. The article can be read at two levels. At one level it can be taken as an amusing mix of fuzzy science and New Age babble, as indeed can this whole and many other Overgrown Paths. But drilling down further reveals another level. The power of music to nourish and heal the human spirit and body has been conveniently forgotten in the headlong rush to turn classical music into just another tawdry entertainment. Classical music is not about snackable access, celebrity maestros, live tweeting, self-promotion, free streaming, and all those other big new idea. It is about only one thing - sound. Ancient wisdom tells us that Nada Brahma - sound is god. And both science and visionaries such as the Sufi master and musician Hazrayt Inayat Khan tell us that sound is about only one thing - vibrations.
The article explains how medical research has identified that low frequencies can trigger changes in the human body. This takes us on to themes that will be familiar to Overgrown Path readers, including the overlooked importance of infrasound (very low frequencies), the damaging effect on music of limiting frequency range, the role of bass in connecting with new audiences, and above all the healing power of music. The opening reference to the healing power of trance rituals such as the Sufi dhikr (and also the Gnawa lila) is also relevant to classical music. One of the most popular and enduring Western classical compositions is Ravel's Bolero, and this is thought to have been inspired by a Sufi dhikr that Ravel attended in Tunisia (Claudio Naranjo). Research has shown that the frequency of brain waves determines our moods, and trance and other beneficial moods are induced by low frequency Theta waves; while the the theory of auditory driving postulates that rhythmic low frequencies can 'drive' brainwave frequencies down.
That classical music must change has become a mantra. But to date the change has been no more than ineffectual cosmetic surgery aimed at enhancing the art form's mass market appeal. The article's conclusion that if you are recovering from an injury you should hug a purring cat may be pure whimsy, but recognising the power of great music to nourish and heal the human spirit and body is not. Now here is the article:
A cat's purr is often compared to the dhikr, the rhythmic chanting of the Sufis, which was also used in early Islamic hospitals as a healing process. Research has identified the healing powers of a cats' purr, specifically how the sound frequency of the purr has as an anabolic effect which stimulates growth and maintenance of the human body. Dr. Clinton T. Rubin of the SUNY Department of Biomedical Engineering is an authority on the use of vibration for non-invasive, non-pharmacological treatment of bone injuries. His research has confirmed that exposure to frequencies between 20-50 Hz* (at low dB) assists healing and increases bone density.
The frequency of a cat's purr falls well within this optimum range for bone growth and fracture healing, and extends up to 140 hertz. Which confirms the old veterinary saying that is still repeated in veterinary schools: " If you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal." (Research in China independently corroborates the beneficial effects of low frequencies on fracture healing, and biomechanical stimulation using frequencies between 18 - 35 Hz is widely used in sports medicine to relax strained muscles and increases the stretching ability of tendons.) Other research shows that low frequencies can alleviate pain and speed the healing of soft tissue injuries in tendons and muscles. Exposure to frequencies between 50-150 Hz has been found to relieve suffering in 82% of persons suffering from acute and chronic pain. The non-profit Fauna Communications provides an online resource drawing together the studies of the cat's purr as a bio-mechanical healing mechanism.
Vibrations at frequencies between 20 and 140 Hz are therapeutic for bone growth, fracture healing, pain relief, swelling reduction, wound healing, muscle and tendon repair, increasing mobility of joints and the relief of dyspnoea. Research has identified that the dominant frequency of a cat's purr lies within this range, while prominent harmonics enhance and extend the therapeutic effect. In summary there is powerful evidence that the cat's purr is a healing mechanism - so if you are recovering from an injury, you should hug a purring cat.
* Frequencies of low register instruments: Piano - A0 (28 Hz) to C8 (4,186 Hz or 4.1 KHz), Cello - C2 (65 Hz) to B5 (988 Hz), Double Bass - E1 (41 Hz) to B3 (247 Hz), Drums (Timpani) - 90Hz to 180Hz, Tuba (Bass) - F1 (44 Hz) to F4 (349 Hz), Trombone (Tenor) - E2 (82 Hz) to D5 (587 Hz) Organ - C0 (16 Hz) to A9 (7,040 KHz).
My thanks go to Yahya Lequeux of the Naqshbandi Haqqani Order for the heads up on the article and for his continuing wisdom. All the Sufi cats were photographed by me in Essaouira, Morocco; the cat in the header photo was one of three resident on the roof terrace of our rented apartment. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.