Healthy Sound in a Healthy Body

Healthy Sound in a Healthy Body

Ayurvedic physicians
Dr Poornima Krishnamurthy and Dr N.V. Krishnamurthy of Mysore have been
treating musicians, including many leading vocalists, earning the monicker of
“musician’s physician.” Soft-spoken, generous, and kind-hearted, they share
their invaluable knowledge and deep insight about everything from Ayurveda,
Yoga, Veda to Sangeetha.

By C.K. Shridhar

It is dawn at the Prajna
Kuteera Ayurveda Centre campus in Kergalli just outside the city of Mysore. It
is small but well-laid out, on one acre of land, and a couple of in-patients
are taking brisk walks. Lights are on at the meeting hall.

By 6 am, all the
staff, and the patients gather in, and wait for Dr N.V. Krishnamurthy (Dr NVK).

He and his wife Dr
Poornima Krishnamurthy are the founder directors of the Centre, both Gold
Medallists from the University of Mysore. Dr NVK is from a family of Ayurvedic
physicians treating the royalty of Mysore for over two centuries.

Before Dr NVK reaches
the hall, a couple of hours of his day have already passed. He typically gets
up at 3.30 a.m, before Brahma Muhurtam, to begin his personal sadhana, which
includes japa of 500 Gayatris.

When he comes to the
hall, an elderly gentleman greets him. “Thanks to you, I can walk again,” he
says, gratefully, hailing him as a healer who is one in a million. “You did it
yourself, actually,” says Dr NVK smiling.

In the hall, he leads
hospital staff, men and woman, in their morning sadhana, a 45-minute round of
pranayama and chanting. It begins with the Prathasmarana Stotram, considered
part of Shankaracharya’s works. Then comes a series of Pranayaamas, breathing
excercises, like Shitali, Sadanta, and Brahmari, culminating in Vibhageeya Pranayama
– in Vibhageeya Pranayama, the three components of Om, the aa, ou, and mm
sounds are chanted separately, followed by the full Om. And finally, everyone
chants the magical Sanskrit verses of the Upadeshasara, 30 verses composed by
Sri Ramana Maharshi.

He then requests one
of the staff members to sing, and she does so, in a sweet, engaging voice.

“All their voices have
improved so much. So much clarity and strength,” says Dr NVK.

Their morning routine
is not necessarily one that was developed exclusively for the voice – it is
considered a whole body, lifestyle practice. But it is for the voice that the
Prajna Kuteera Centre has been receiving some of its most distinguished seekers
of good health, including many leading Carnatic vocalists, prompting the seer
of the JSS Matha to comment, specifically pointing to Dr Poornima, that she is
the “musician’s physician.”

Over a cup of coffee
that Dr Poornima makes, (coffee and tea of course is not part of Dr NVK’s
diet), we chatted about Ayurveda, the voice, stress, seasonal changes, and
general health.

C.K. Shridhar (CKS): What brought you to the study and
treatment of the voice?

Dr Poornima: We both come from a lineage of Vedic culture. We have
been practising chants for all our lives. As young toddlers we were introduced
into Om chanting and all the sahasranamas and shlokas. Then a guru came into
our lives, Sri Nagaraj of Mysore, a senior sadhaka, to whom I owe most of my
learning of Vedanta. And later, it was Dr Krishnamurthy, my husband, who took
me further into spiritual and Vedic culture after our marriage. Sri Nagaraj
taught us how to pronounce words, the rhythm, the tempo, the pauses, the tone
of the recitation of a mantra or a shloka. It involved a lot of voice
modulation. For instance – (She chants the Mahamrityunjaya mantra (tryambakam yajamahe)
with power, articulation, and melodic tone, casting a spell in the room).

CKS: In traditional Vedic chanting in most chanting paramparas,
there are no pauses in between mantras, unless mandated by sutras governing
certain vowel sandhis. Some schools do have pauses, though, like how you are

Dr Poornima: Yes, in the pause there is also Pranayama. There is inhalation,
exhalation. Our chanting was highly influenced by the Chinmaya Mission chants.
We have been ardent students at Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samasthana
(SVYASA), Bangalore. There again we had to chant with a lot of voice
modulation. Along with that, we did our music lessons in Mysore. Dr NVK did his
lessons in violin. His father was also a violinist. I picked up vocal Carnatic
music. Our teachers were task masters. Vidushi Gowri Kuppuswami and Vidushi
Koviladi R Kalaare my teachers They would concentrate on all aspects of music. From
small children to adults there was no change in the way they taught.

Later, in our medical
practice, we would come across people who would approach us randomly for their
voice issues. Then the musicians started approaching. Many would have bad cases
of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).One senior Vidwan, well into his 80s, was still performing,
but had COPD. We would treat him, using techniques similar to what you
experienced in the morning session here.

Then we get many lady
vocalists. Obviously we cannot mention names, but one vocalist had an issue
with sudden strained voice in the middle of a concert.  After examination and history, including Nadi
pariksha by Dr NVK, I realised she had severe GERD, and because of acid reflux,
there was a lot of erosion inside. ENT physicians, who she went to earlier,
could not diagnose the erosion. They would go only upto the throat. She was treated
here for two weeks and she is performing well with absolutely no issues. Also,
because of their stressful lifestyles and erratic eating habits, concert
vocalists suffer voice issues frequently. Acidity is caused basically by
stress. All this brought us into contact with artistes who came seeking help
for voice culture.

CKS: Dr NVK, so your inputs with
NadiShastra clearly play a role. Do tell us about your own early introduction
into Ayurveda.

Dr NVK: I chose to do Ayurveda because
of my strong family tradition of Ayurveda. I am the ninth generation in a
lineage that was the chief physician of the royal family of Mysore. With that
background from childhood I knew a lot of things. When we were small, we would
see our father and grandfather doing Nadi pariksha. That inspired us to join
Ayurveda. I studied in Government College, Mysore. Then I did my course in
modern medicine in Bangalore Medical College and then went on to my MD post-graduation
in Kayachikitsa.Then we met our guru Nagaraj. He was a tapasvi in every
sense.  For 12 years he visited us.
Classes would happen from 10 to 11 pm in the night on the Upanishads, various prakarana
granthas, Sahasranamas with commentary for Poornima and her mother, and so
on.  So this prepared us a lot in our
quest for the Self. There were a lot of principles of Ayurveda too that we
adopted and practised.

 In my understanding, it
is not as if anyone can give medicine and cure a patient. There is a krama for
diagnosing and giving medicines to patients, thereby healing the patient.

In Charaka Samhita, there is something called Hastha Shuddhi
(purity of the hand). Hasthashudhi is not just about washing our hands. Only
when the mind is pure, the medicine given will have an impact. All herbs are
governed by an adhidevatha. When we pray to these devathas and then administer
the medicine, the effect is different from buying something from the shop and
taking it. This we have really experienced here.

Dr Poornima: There is a traditional krama to
source an Ayurvedic herb. We go near the plant, pray and chant a mantra which
is specific to the adhidevata of that plant. We seek permission and say, ‘I am
taking your root, your leaf, your flower, your fruit or your stalk. Please come
out with all your potency as I will be using you to cure /help humanity.’ Even
to process it, there are specific days, muhurthas, and the right nakshatra.
Only when we do all this in a systematic way, will it have the right effect on
the ailing. Patent medicines are different.

Dr NVK: We have a critical responsibility.
If we are on the right path, we can cure any disease. There is a krama as to
how a physician has to be.  A Vaidya has
to be swastha in the first place. Swa – Astha means to dwell in The SELF. We  get up early in the morning and do our japas.
Then we will be able to feel the Nadi correctly. (Ayurveda is based on a system
of Nadipariksha, a reading of the pulse which tells the physician  precisely about the vitiation of the Doshas
viz. Vata, pitta, Kapha and how to treat it).

We have to pay attention to our own Ahara Krama (food). Ayurveda advocates  us to follow a regime of two meals a day (Dwe anna
kalou pratah sandhya).  I have been
following that for many years. After I finish examining the nadi of patients in
the morning, I come home and have a meal at 11 am. In the evening I finish my
pooja, and Gayatri japam, and then have a light meal. This feels great. Your
health is good and so is your mind.

CKS: Voice users are also
subject to external stresses – pollution, seasonal changes and the like. How do
they defend themselves?

Dr NVK: There is something called Vyadikshamata, or
body resistance. Each and every organ will have its own weaknesses. Even if the
whole body’s immune system is good, if one organ is weak, then the others are
also prone for attack.  Firstly Ayurveda
talks about Swasthasya Swasthya rakshanam, which means protect the health of
the healthy.  Ayurveda is both a
preventive and curative science.  This ancient Vedic
tradition, cognized by the great Indian seers, offers a wealth of knowledge for
a healthy and meaningful life. Ayurveda is a 5000 year old healing tradition
which teaches us how our lives can be enriched, enhanced and extended without
interference from disease and ageing. It propounds that good health is not
simply the absence of disease, but a state of harmonious and dynamic balance on
all levels, even encompassing the environment.

  It deals with Sadvritta (good conduct),
Dinacharya (Daily regimen), Ruthucharya (Seasonal Regimen) and Ratricharya,  as lifestyle practices. If  on follows this discipline from morning to
night, they could build immunity and build resistance against hazards of
pollution, seasonal changes and can manage physical strain.  Wake up at  Brahmakalam,   do
yoga,  follow a proper ahara krama and   practice Sadvritta  can be the key to good health.

Dr Poornima: All our procedures are unique, aimed at whole body recovery. They
have all undergone research and scrutiny. Take the Abhyangas, oil massage for
example. Each stroke depends on the origin 
and insertion of a  muscle on a
particular bone.   It is done in a very synchronised way. We have
our own standard operating procedures.

On Stress...... Man may have
made a lot of progress in the last four centuries of growth, but there is the
challenge of stress and pollution. Even kids are stressed today. If pollution
is shaking our material front, the buzz word called stress if shaking our existence.

Musicians, like everyone, have
their own stresses and pressures. They feel they have to keep accepting
concerts, or somebody else will take their place. They compromise on
everything. For women there is another big conflict. Whether to take care of
family or pursue passion for music. They end up playing multiple roles.

CKS: Many singers and other
voice-users have this challenge of acidity and GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux
Disease). How to tackle this?

Dr Poornima: Everyone today has erratic
eating habits. There is work, and for musicians, concerts. There is travel. They
need to keep talking all the time too.  It strains their voice unnecessarily. They are
constantly accosted by people with greetings and questions. I travel to speak
all over the world, so I have experienced this too. Organisers and their
assistants do not necessarily respect an artiste’s quiet time before a

Stress creates GERD. GERD from the Ayurveda perspective is more
to do with the mind. It is sometimes due to  irrational eating. When a person is stressed,
unnecessarily stomach acids  ooze out,
eventually damaging the stomach flora.   Regurgitation of these acids will erode the
throat area, eventually leading to voice issues.

Wrong practice times for singing practice like in the evening,
excessive travel,  emotions, all create  voice irritation. From IHD to skin disease, to
CVA or migraine, spasms, infertility, lack of libido, lack of concentration,
you name it, they are all related to the mind. So  spend a lot of time with my patients, give
them a good listening. History taking is very detailed. I make them aware where
they are erring in their lifestyle, diet, workday, and the like.

I also give them a panchakarma therapy, staring with deepan
pachana to address their agni or the digestive fire, then Snehapana which
consists of medicated ghee… There is another ghee Kalyanagunam which is also
useful for vocalists. Depending on the ailment, we  infuse the ghee with certain herbs. This is
given internally followed. Abhyangam for five days. There are different types
of Abhyangam. On the last day, they are subjected to Virechana, which is a
purgative therapy. For some people we give emesis therapy, which helps to
eliminate kapha (from the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract). The body
then becomes so clean from within that even a little quantity of medicine given,
soon after, works wonders. The body becomes receptive to change.

We do this Panchakarma therapy on ourselves too every year. We
take a 10 day break exclusively for this regimen.

Vibhageeya Praanayama for development of voice

Dr NVK: Vibhageeya Praanaayama helps a
lot in developing a good voice, besides aiding general health of the organs of
the body. When you say Aaaa, the lower part of the body vibrates. This part is
monitored by Brahma.  It helps in healing
problems in the lower part of the body. When you chant Ooo, the middle part of
the body vibrates. And it cures and corrects chest diseases. Once Vishnu is
satisfied with his Bhijakshara, he will bless us. Similarly during chanting of
mmmm… (makara), only the part above the neck vibrates. Maheshwara  is pleased. When we join aa, oo and mm, in
Omkara, the whole body vibrates. So much can be achieved with just this

Using Yashtimadhu (GlycyrhizaGlabra) and Ghee for voice

Dr NVK: Take pieces of Yashtimadu root, crush it and soak it in water
overnight. Boil this the next morning. After cooling, drink half a cup and
gargle with the other half with a little salt. Another wonderful Kantya, a
substance which helps the voice, is ghee. We should use it with our food.

The power of Rasayanas

Dr Poornima: There are many powerful herbs in Ayurveda. For example, there
is a herb called Madhuyashti. In Sanskrit it is called Athimadhura. This
clarifies the voice. So we ask patients to gargle  its decoction.

But there are everyday items at
hand which we ignore. Most people don’t take ghee and milk. Ghee and Milk in
Ayurveda are Rasayanas. Rasa in Ayurveda is to nourish. Ayana is a channel.
That which nourishes every channel of the body is a Rasaayana.  They are nutritive and rejuvenative especially
for all the dahtus and especially for the voice. The benefits of Rasaayana are
captured in a shloka from the first chapter of the Charaka Samhita chikitsa sthana:

Deerghamayuhu smrti
medha arogyam tarunamvayaha l

Prabha varna swaroudaryam
dehendriyabalam paramll

Vaaksiddhim pranatimkantim
labhate varasayanatll

Longevity, memory, intellect, health, youthfulness, radiance,
complexion, and voice, strength of body and sense organs, and power of speech,
lustre, all are enhanced by Rasayanas!

Ghee, milk, honey are all rasayanas. We are influenced by
Western nutrition culture. The science of talks about milk, butter from milk,
and cheese from milk. They don’t know that when butter goes through an agni-samskara
it becomes ghee. For our joints, eyes, for brain development, for voice and for
every organ, ghee is necessary.. It soothes, lubricates, strengthens the organs
and help dislodge the toxins.   Therefore medicated ghee is used in Ayurvedeeya
Panchakarma chikitsa.