What Do Music, Bacteria, & You All Have in Common?

Via Satkirin Khalsa
on Jun 17, 2011
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Sometimes resistant bacteria get our attention quicker than resistant patients.

(I’m warning you now….sometimes I just think out loud. But this could be really interesting!)

Resistant bacteria evolve resistance as a means of survival. They undergo changes in proteins and structure that allow them to survive when exposed to standard antibiotics.

By comparing bacteria to people, I don’t mean to imply that resistance is always a bad thing. Just that some people don’t respond to the standard treatment. In fact, the term resistance often has a positive connotation, think of the French Resistance, for example. So resistant patients may be seen with a positive twist and like our resistant bacteria, may have a lesson of survival for all of us.

Doctors develop treatment guidelines and protocols that are intended to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number.  But just because we think that strict adherence to protocol will help take care of a patient population, we often find that the protocol is the exact wrong treatment for an individual. I am probably giving too much credit to the protocol-makers. In fact, many treatment guidelines turn out ultimately to be wrong for everybody.

In medicine, we are taught from a foundation of basic medical knowledge, and build on this foundation as we continue learning, and as we gain experience from diagnosing and treating disease. We also seek advice from those that are the ‘experts.’ We follow policy and procedures to ensure safety and consistency by set standards of care. Many protocols are implemented so that steps and details are not overlooked when treating each patient. These should minimize harmful outcomes and improve the health of our populations at large. But as studies have indicated, this is not always the case.

By focusing on the medical providers that deliver health care, by creating stricter guidelines so providers better adhere to set protocols, might this be a means to improve protocol outcomes on a grand scale?


I cannot help but wonder, however, if protocols in medicine overlook the detailed needs of each individual patient.

If a bacterial organism can learn to resist a medication in order to survive, do we too, whether consciously or subconsciously, also learn to resist the medical system? Are we testing our boundaries as though we were toddlers once again, testing the limits of our parents, the seemingly ultimate authority?

As a child, at least in my family, we lived by rules and regulations. These were probably set in place because I had three brothers. They were difficult! They were trouble makers!

Nonetheless, we had a system of organization, with strict adherence to chores and schedules. Breaking rules or misbehaving came with consequences. Knowing this certainly didn’t prevent me from testing my boundaries, and reaching the very limit just before breaking a rule, or stepping one toe in the hot coals, just to verify they were indeed hot.

(I swear, one of my brothers always made me do it!)

Daily rituals were implemented in my home. These rituals became accepted systems that minimized the need to test boundaries, by way of minimizing stress. My parents taught us yoga, meditation, and music.

As a child, I remember counting mantras, counting my breath sequence, and keeping track of the number of beads on my little mala. I remember my father teaching me and my brother’s how to play the tablas, one of the many types of drums from India.

Originally from Indiana, my father was fortunate to have learned from the great tabla master, Ustad Zakir Hussain, who learned from his father, Ustad Allah Rakah, the ultimate tabla percussionist, The Master of all Tabla Masters!

I was taught the basics of percussion from a student, of a student, of Ustad Allah Rakah!!

But I can play just one note….

Nothing puts a grin on my father’s face like listening to Zakir Hussain. Or better

yet, when we’ve watched Zakir Hussain, Allah Rakha, and Ravi Shankar, playing

in concert together.

At these past concerts, my grinning father would play his knees, as though they were the tablas themselves.

While watching Zakir Hussain’s fingers play at such speed, with absolute precision, coordination, and purpose, I’d become mesmerized.

I could never count the number of beats he can play at once. There is no way my brain can count that fast!

The pace of the tablas, the resonance of sound, the rhythms of percussion, whether or not I can keep track of the counts, is soothing.

As I listen, I feel stress melt away.

Like most musicians, to proficiently play an instrument like the tablas, a system of protocols is required. This comes with hours and hours of structured practice.

Zakir Hussain perfected the protocols he was taught from childhood. Once perfected, he began making little, but significant adjustments, by adding beats and modifying the tones. He stepped beyond the protocol boundaries, and tested his limits. He tested his limits, in fact, during a concert, shocking not only the audience, but his teacher and father, Allah Rakha, who was performing with him.

In medicine, protocols can be a useful algorithm, providing consistency and clarity to everyday medical problem solving.  If a given patient has all the textbook symptoms of a urinary tract infection, for example, the current ‘standard’ is to get a urine sample to test and verify the presence of infection.  And I agree, this is logical and rational. Especially since bacteria are not all the same, and not all bacteria respond the same to recommended antibiotic.

We readily respect the bacteria, disregarding standard treatment if the bacteria aren’t susceptible to the recommended first line antibiotic. On one hand we may learn from the ever-changing bacteria. But it seems we keep chasing our tails, never quite keeping up with the bacteria.

There are lessons to be learned everywhere. From bacteria to musical instruments. But how might we learn from such varied ‘teachers’, and what sorts of questions do we ask?

If deviating from protocols, in an attempt to address each individual patient, could actually cause even more varied response, might we keep this same pattern up, chasing our tails like we have with bacteria?

Maybe not addressing the needs of an individual patient before a protocol is perfected, is actually necessary.

By first perfecting the standard protocols, like a fine musical instrument, and from there, begin testing different approaches, different versions, modifying the formula, formatting each ‘just so’ to fit the patient’s needs, chasing tails could be history!

It’s dizzying, isn’t it??

From my standpoint, this would be much easier if we all actually did fit into the same cookie cutter protocol.

Oh, the simplicity!

And what an added bonus it would be, if all insurance companies covered the same cookie cutter algorithm!

Wait. Hold up.

Am I suggesting we become so simplified, even more so than a microorganism, just to make my day job easier?!?!

As a friend of mine would say, “Neh-Vah!!!”

We are anything but simple!

What if there’s a potential our own rhythms trump generalized, simplistic, medical algorithms; that the details of our individual rhythms, much of which we have yet to comprehend and understand, overrides the logic of current algorithmic protocols in medicine?

Our internal systems and rhythms such as the heart rate, respiratory rate, hormonal circadian rhythms, are dynamic. These systems are present in all of us, but they don’t simply operate the same, in all of us, all the time, in the same way.

They are changing constantly, for various reasons, from internal and external environmental stimuli.

Interestingly, when our internal environment is stressed, and despite physiologic mechanisms working at all hours to maintain harmony, we still have developed a system to consciously create external beats and rhythms that further assist our internal synchronicity.

By listening to music in concert, like the tablas, or to the flamenco guitar, or the classical piano, our internal environment re-calibrates, so our organ systems may also synchronize.

What if health insurance covered season tickets to the symphony orchestra??

Throughout time, humankind has adapted with the environment to create internal harmony, recalibrating the synchronicity in our neurologic, neuro-endocrine, and cardio-pulmonary systems, by way of cultural rituals and ceremonies.

Studies published in medical, evolutionary, and anthropology literature, have shown that there’s a link between the world’s Continents, connecting these various unique, and distinctly diverse, populations, all with their own cultural rituals that serve many purposes, including this very important physiologic one.

By way of dance, music, and chanting, by way of numerical counting systems, by using circular beads made of stone, wood, or bone; the use of instruments made of the same materials (and more); the counting of prayer recitation, all incorporated into cultural ceremonies and rituals, daily or otherwise, serve a fundamental purpose in our biologic system.

Creating beats and rhythms creates synchronicity internally, even when our auto-regulatory systems are on, or are on over-drive, or aged and malfunctioning.

These beats and rhythms are unique to each culture, but the concepts and the rituals are extraordinarily interesting and effective in their similarities.

Maybe in time medical protocols will be perfected to fit the detailed notes of each human being’s DNA, like the perfected sequence of notes in a musical piece.

At times it is necessary to depend on medical protocols, but more often than not, we can depend on protocols perfected by our ancestors. Years of history have indicated just how many ways we may take back control of our rhythms; our breath, our heart beat, our life force. We can rely on these systems, proven over the centuries to bring us inner peace, harmony, and happiness.

For now, let the researcher’s research!

Take some time for you!

Join us next month at the First Annual Mountain Pose Yoga Festival!

It Takes a Village,” to watch over one, but this summer The Village at Copper will take this concept to new heights, at 9,000 ft!

The Village at Copper Mountain is welcoming and embracing the momentum to support all health care providers and health enthusiasts- creating a unique conference to continue our education, while supporting our wellness, and offer the experience in a breath-taking environment.

This unique conference will focus on nutrition, detoxification, stress reduction, and music. Participants will hear from world recognized health care experts, and motivational speakers; will learn stress reduction techniques from expert yoga instructors, for all levels of practice and experience. Various musicians from all across the country will be playing different rhythms and beats, performing their perfected instrumental protocols, as taught from the masters!

Come with your curiosity; test your own boundaries and rediscover your creative spark! There are no set protocols, no rules, or expectations.

Come for you! We look forward to meeting you! And if you break out in dance and song, you will not be alone!!

Join in this community of wellness. Synchronicity awaits at The Village of Copper Mountain, CO!


About Satkirin Khalsa

Integrated Health Medicine / Dr. Satkirin Khalsa’s background is a fascinating story. She has pursued an integrative medicine career since starting medical school at the University of New Mexico. Her interests in bridging the gap between eastern and western medicine began back in childhood when living in northern India. While there, at the age of 12, she was hospitalized and required conventional treatment for her illness. However, integrative therapies were also used, such as ayurveda and yoga, which aided the healing process. / Satkirin remained in India for 7 years for schooling. She traveled, studied yoga extensively, and encountered many amazing people, including Mother Teresa and Sir Edmond Hilary. She saw the Taj Mahal, visited various sacred and religious monuments, and hiked through beautiful forests in the foothills of the Himalayas. She also saw disease, pain and the misfortune of thousands of men, women and children. / While in India, Dr. Khalsa decided to help people through medicine. It was through her experiences in India that she understood the importance of modern medical breakthroughs, which can prevent, and cure disease, vaccines being one of them. But modern medicine also has its limitations. The eastern teachings that emphasize healing through nutrition and movement can also cure disease but has limitations as well. This understanding led Satkirin to pursue a medical career that could blend the best of both ‘worlds’, and apply them safely and critically.


7 Responses to “What Do Music, Bacteria, & You All Have in Common?”

  1. tanya lee markul says:

    Thank you for this – there are so many layers within this article. I believe I am going to read a couple more times as to not miss anything! Thank you for the thought provocation!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
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  2. Satkirin says:

    How do we make changes that will eliminate the harm that can be done, while improving on the aspects that we know work, and work well. How can we better individualize patient care, when we have so many protocols that are ineffective. Of the protocols that help individuals, and help groups at large, can we learn more from them and do better in the areas where we are failing.

    I am the first to admit I don’t have all the answers. I ask many questions, and ask from many angles. I look to systems in the world that work, from insects, to fungi, to entire ecosystems; I wonder how other species might teach us how to answer some of these unknowns.

    And I look to our ancestral heritages, and the perfected systems they’ve used for centuries, and wonder what we might learn to better ask the questions. We must be willing. We must have the desire to do better, not by narrowing the box we are builing around us, but rather, by stepping outside the box and asking questions differently.

    Many of my questions have yet to be answered, which is super exciting because it means there’s more for me to learn!!!

    I wrote this article to be thought provoking.

    Thank you for your thoughts!!

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  6. Satkirin says:

    Thank you for pointing out all the layers Tanya! We are a bit like onions, (or a lotus!!), various levels that make us whole, and living in a society, also with many layers, but not always present to makes us better at each level.