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Ancient Music Medicine: The Didgeridoo

Feature interview with Adrian Hanks

The Music Is Life Project | Adrian Hanks

Most of us breathe in a particular way, and when we try to change that breathing, our mind goes into panic because breath is everything. It’s our life.



D: Hailed as the oldest known civilisation on Earth with ancestries stretching back 75,000 years, the Indigenous Aboriginal people of Australia, have been known to hold secret ceremonies and rituals filled with healing music. In a Western world of physical and mental illness where big pharmaceuticals is the norm, is there a greater wisdom to be learned from the Indigenous people of Australia?

I’m Dene Menzel and welcome to The Music Is Life Project.

Well, what a show we have for you today! While most people who take up an instrument, pick up the guitar, piano, or drums — or perhaps the sexy sax, my guest today fell in love with an instrument that has been dubbed one of the hardest arts to master – the Didgeridoo. Welcome to the show Adrian Hanks, Life Mastery Wizard, newly published author and of course Didgeridoo Player.

A: Thank you very much for having me here! It’s wonderful to be on your show!

D: And it’s great to have you here, Adrian. Now before we get into the nitty gritty I’ve really have to do some pod housekeeping here for our listeners, as while many of our Australian or overseas audience might be painting a mental picture of you as as a traditional Indigenous elder from the “Red Land”, I hope it’s ok for me blow the whistle on you – and let me get this one straight for our listeners – because in fact you are actually from the land of David Beckham, Big Ben and The Beatles – Now how the hell did you end up in Australia teaching the didgeridoo?

A: [Laughs] Ah look I’ve been in Australia for 33 years and I’m actually originally from the UK, lived in Europe and when I first came to Australia I heard the didge and I absolutely fell in love with the sound of it, very beautiful, haunting earthy sound, and then just over 20 years ago, I was away on a men’s retreat with about 40 men – I think we were away for about 4 days and one of the men there was a didgeridoo player, and I spent quite a lot of time on that retreat, just sitting – listening to the didgeridoo with him. His name was Peter McCallum, unfortunately Peter is no longer with us, he’s passed. But Peter decided that he would teach some didgeridoo because there were a few of us there that wanted to learn. This was in Tasmania – that little small island off the mainland of Australia. And Peter started teaching didgeridoo in some didgeridoo classes just over 20 years ago, and I just absolutely loved it and Peter said to me, “Adrian” he said “You look as if you’ve got some fire in your belly for the didgeridoo and one day I believe you’ll be a didgeridoo teacher as well as a player” and it just inspired me to pick up the didge, play the didge and become not just a player but also a teacher, and somebody who works with the didge in healing as well. Yeh, so certainly inspired by Peter and being in that space with him over 20 years ago.

D: What a beautiful legacy left by your friend Peter McCallum and a wonderful story that lead you across an entire ocean to this magnificent and unique instrument. And it really is unique – even in the way that the didgeridoo is carved. And, I must admit, I was quite intrigued to learn this most recently, and I’m paraphrasing with a bit of a cheat sheet here from Wikipedia so hopefully I’ll get this right but – Traditional didgeridoos – as opposed to modern didgeridoos – they’re usually made from the main trunk of a hardwood like the eucalyptus which is endemic to the northern and central parts of Australia. But the traditional didgeridoo makers they “seek hollow live trees with obvious termite activity”, and it’s the “termites that actually remove the dead heartwood of the tree”. This is fascinating to me – It’s the hollow from the termite activity that actually produces the resonance of the didgeridoo. Can you tell us a little bit more about this amazing instrument?

A: Yeah, actually there are many, many stories around the didgeridoo. Obviously it’s one of the oldest instruments on the planet. It’s probably anything up to 60 thousand years old, because the Aboriginal culture is that old. And traditionally the didgeridoo or Yidaki is another name for it. It comes from the north of Australia. So it was very much in the northern regions of Australia for probably tens of thousands of years. And then, with a little bit of trading, particularly with the white culture coming to Australia 200 years ago, the didgeridoo started to become a little bit more widespread. And now it’s pretty much not just Australia but across the world. But it’s used in many, many different ways. One is for obviously entertainment, playing the didgeridoo for entertainment value. But the other one is the rich culture of the didgeridoo used in ceremony. And a lot of the didgeridoo ceremony is secret – secret ceremony, because unless one is initiated in certain aspects of the indigenous culture here, one isn’t allowed to go along to those coroborees or those meetings, or the sacred dances and sacred meetings. But what we do know, particularly for me as a non-indigenous person is that it is used in ceremony to help invite the spirit into those meetings but it’s also used from a healing perspective as well. So a lot of the indigenous medicine men or Sharman didgeridoo players used it as a healing tool, a healing technique as well as for music in ceremony. So it’s very, very old, very, very rich in the culture. A lot of different thoughts, ideas and speculations around women playing the didgeridoo in some aspects to the indigenous culture. It’s seen as a male instrument where the females do not play it, and that’s general in most of the northern Aboriginal or indigenous lots or cultures that it is a male oriented instrument as well. So there’s a lot to learn about the didge and I’m still learning and depending on who one speaks to in the Aboriginal indigenous culture, you sometimes get a few different answers but that’s the general aspect that I’m sharing today.

D: I can really respect the protectiveness of the indigineous culture to remain undiluted and pure. And my beautiful sister Michelle does some great work in Tasmania, with some of the indigenous communities there and she and I have had some great conversations in past months. For her, as someone coming from the outside so to speak, there is much that we can bridge in our understanding of this beautiful land but also  in healing and energy — something we haven’t really truly tapped into in Western culture. But what I love is that you you’re bringing this ancient wisdom to Western culture through the use of the didge in the your healing and meditation.

A: Yes, it does Just a little bit of a background for myself. I’m a Psychotherapist and I use somatic work, so I do a lot of work with the body, going and asking the body, you know where the pain is in the body and how to shift and change, and move and heal emotional pain and physical pain. Because as we know from indigenous cultures right around the planet, when we work with vibration and sound, it has a very deep, healing quality. And in the work that I do in my Psychotherapy, I’m trained in that space to work with sound vibration, particularly on the human voice. And in terms of the didgeridoo, from what I understand is – I actually don’t do the healing, per say – I’m not the healer. But what I do, I activate, by using the didgeridoo to set up the resonance or a vibration by playing it very close to someone’s body. So I’ll pick the didgeridoo up and I’ll usually get the person to hold it, within an inch, half an inch, you know a few centimetres from the body, and I’ll either get them to place the end of the didgeridoo where they feel they want the sound to enter the body, or I will initiate that by slowly pushing up and down and using a bit of intuition if you like. Or, I’ll do a series of chakra healings on their chakra points, or one specific chakra area of the body. So depending upon who it is, and what the healing is about, we can identify in the body where that healing needs to take place. Unless it’s a bit more generic and then we can obviously just play it all over the body. But what I believe happens is because of the sound vibration of the body, it puts the body into a different consciousness. It puts the mind into a different consciousness where we can allow self healing to happen, or cosmic healing to happen. So the sound itself does some healing and generates some healing, but for me what it does it more sets up a vibration energy, so the body can heal itself.

D: I am such a huge advocate of sound healing and using natural methods for healing, and I think I touched on this earlier in the episode,  in such a world of medicines we really haven’t tapped into what we can do for ourselves in the healing space, both physical and mental. And I can only imagine the experience of hearing the didge – what the sound of the didge can actually do.

A: I can play a little bit of didgeridoo if you like to bring in that sound and maybe the listeners can tune in maybe with their eyes closed to see where they may feel that resonance or vibration on their body too if you’d like me to do that, I’d be very happy to play some didgeridoo.

D: That would be absolute wonderful Adrian, and a real treat for those who are listening out there.

A: I will just give me a moment to grab my didge and set up and I’ll be back with you in a second…

Ok so I’ve got a few different didgeridoos here I’m going to play this one

[Adrian plays Didgeridoo]

D: That was absolutely mesmerising and I could feel that vibrating through my entire body just listening through my AirPods, and I’m sure for the listeners out there as I felt it was quite hypnotic, with the pulse – that pulse of the vibration, that constant resonance. But you’ve got to settle this for me. With that constant sound  — one of the things I am completely intrigued with is the ability for a didge player to circulate the breathing to play. How do you master circular breathing because for those of you out there who don’t know what circular breathing is, it is actually breathing in and out at the same time in order to create this unbroken stream of sound. Now is that true?

A: It’s yeah – it is true and it’s a specific technique that is for the didgeridoo, but also a couple of trumpet players use that technique as well – a little bit slightly different and causing this back pressure, but mostly in the didgeridoo. To keep the continual sound one has to do the in breath through the nose, so one breaths through the nose and out through the mouth into the didgeridoo so you get the continual breath of [sniffs] into the nose and out of the mouth and of course, keeping that going while playing and then doing the different sounds is – one does have to master it. It takes a little bit of energy, a little bit of effort. And the biggest thing for me, when I learnt, and what I find with students that I’m teaching, is that it’s all about the mindset – emptying the mind and allowing the mind to believe that we can breathe differently because most of us breathe in a particular way, and when we try to change that breathing, our mind goes into panic because breath is everything. It’s our life. So when we try to change our breathing, change our habit of breathing, it’s very easy to go into a little bit of a panic because the first thing that the mind will do is [gasp] “I’m panicking! I’m dying!”, you know because I’m stopping breathing. So a lot of the teachings that I teach in the way I teach people to play the didgeridoo is relaxation. So the first thing we have to do is to relax – relax – relax. And I do that by bringing in a rhythm. So I teach didgeridoo playing by getting people to drop into usually a 4/4 rhythm on the didge and doing the breathing in a systematic way of building up the technique. So I’ve got a system – a 4 step process I use to teach people to allow themselves to fall in more naturally into the circular breathing. The listeners might want to try it so what you do is just for a bit of fun is as you sniff up through the nose [sniff] yeah [sniff] [raspberry] you [raspberry] you raspberry out of the mouth so [demonstration]. So that’s my first lesson actually! By breathing into the nose and raspberring out of the mouth! It’s a lot of fun as well!

D: (demonstrates) I think I need a bit of work – a bit more work on mine.. and a bit of a towel to wipe down the microphone I think –  I think that a lot of people can have a bit of fun out there with this. For those, I’d love to hear how you went with the circular breathing exercise that Adrian did. You can let us know in our Facebook group community. Now we are almost out of time for the episode and I’m so sad to say that, but look I’m sure we will revisit the beautiful instrument of the didgeridoo as we explore more about ancient sounds, and earth sounds and healing. But I just wanted to touch on relaxation and mediation because this is something you also do and that you use the didge for and look we live in a society where everything is so fast-paced. We’re all juggling a million things, especially if we’re running businesses like I am, or being parents – whatever it may be, the stress levels that we face these days are a lot more than what people probably used to face decades before. So meditation is a bit of a hot topic. How important is music in meditation and I suppose – how important is meditation?

A: For me, I say that mediation is my medication, so I’ve been meditating now for over 20 years and it’s my go to tool or resource if I’m feeling down, if I’m feeling ill, if my body’s not in tune, if my mind is not in tune. My go-to medication is meditation. I’ve been doing that for a very long time. If find it’s one of the greatest healing tools as a resource, a free resource. I meditate every single day, sometimes 2-3 times a day even and just in terms of relaxing and taking away anxiety meditation is an amazing tool. And there are hundreds if not thousands of meditation techniques and one obviously is to listen to music and meditate or relax. There’s a little bit of a difference between relaxation and meditation. Relaxation generally is just a case of letting go, letting go, letting go and often falling asleep. Whereas meditation is more of a conscious process than relaxation. That’s how I usually define the two. That mediation takes consciousness and relaxation generally doesn’t. So that’s how I usually define relaxation rather than meditation.

In terms of using the didgeridoo I use it for myself and drop into a really beautiful zone by just dropping into my circular breathing and finding a rhythm of that circular breath and I can sit for 30 minutes, 45 minutes quite easily playing my didgeridoo in a very deep state and just allowing that sound and vibration to wash through me, and go into a very deep meditative state by the resonance and sound of the didge.   And so for myself I find it very powerful. When working with other people, one of the techniques I love to do once again is to play it near the body, or play it on the ground so the people feel the vibration of and the resonance of the didge coming through the ground or just through the ether so you can play it in the air as well. And when people tune into that vibration, the sound, the resonance it helps them to drop into a deeper meditative space. So whether that’s around a campfire, sitting in a cave, sitting in somewhere in nature, or sitting at home, when people drop into that feeling and the sound of the didge, it really does help to enhance that meditative process. And I’m sure the indigenous people have been using it in that space for 40 or 60 thousand years.

D: The wisdom of Indigenous culture right there and the haunting beauty of the didgeridoo. I think this is already one of my favourite episodes! (laughs)

A: Thank you, ah thank you!

D: And I really thank you for your time to be with us today, Adrian to talk about this magical instrument in the didgeridoo but also what you do with healing and meditation. For our listeners out there who are interested to learn more about natural healing, and meditation techniques and the didgeridoo, or if you’d like to reach out and connect directly with Adrian, you can do so via the links on our Podcast page which is branthem.com.au/podcast

Don’t forget, if you’d love to join the conversation, come and find our public group on Facebook under The Music is Life Project, we are sharing a bunch of  stories, and ideas and also some music related fun in there that you can participate in.

Otherwise I’m Dene Menzel, signing off on another episode,  have a magic week ahead and I’ll see you on the flip side!


To connect with our guests and presenters:

Dene Menzel (Host) Click here for Dene’s virtual card

Adrian Hanks (Guest) Click here to learn more about Adrian Hanks

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