Circular breathing alters the brain, I’m sure of it. I play the saluang, a bamboo flute of the Minang people of West Sumatra, Indonesia, which requires circular breathing, breathing in through the nose while simultaneously blowing out through the mouth. The effect of playing a single, uninterrupted note for thirty, forty, fifty minutes is amazing, and can’t be explained away as hyperventilation. Much more is happening.
My research recently has led me to rediscover an old friend, the shakuhachi. The shakuhachi, a bamboo flute of Japan, is the most responsive instrument I’ve ever come across. It is one with the breath, the mouth shape, head position and posture of the player. A change of breath, a small head shake, even a slight pursing of the lips will change the sound. A disciplined player, with perfect control, can bring the sound from an extreme distance to a close up presence and back again, or gather white noise from nothing, focusing it into a pure tone before allowing it to blur into white. As a listener, the experience can be calming yet astounding. I wonder how the sound effects the brain of the player, or the brain of the listener.
Lately I’ve been looking into the nohkan, the bamboo flute that accompanies noh, the masked dance drama of the samurai. It’s construction is unique, assuring that blowing won’t give you the same note an octave higher (as on a western flute). During lessons in Tokyo, when my teacher and I played at the same time, the slightly different tuning caused distortions that I hadn’t heard since attending a Stevie Ray Vaughn concert, and I was surprised that such a sound could penetrate my brain without overwhelming my ears with sheer volume. This was a unique and exhilarating experience. I am curious to find out what effect this has on the human brain.