The inquiry of music’s ineffable power takes another turn when focused on its soul-healing potential. “‘Love is the strongest medicine,’” says Jai Uttal, a pioneer in the West of kirtan (Indian-inspired devotional music), quoting his guru Neem Karoli Baba. “And music, in general, is so enlivening of the heart and the emotions.”

Krishna Das, another Western kirtan master, agrees. “Think about the joy and the happiness that billions of people on the planet get from listening to music—the relief they get, temporary as it is, from suffering.” Both Grammy- nominated American artists shifted to kirtan from other musical pursuits after traveling to India in the 1970s.

Some popular music is churned out by the “mass-media, money grind-it-out machine,” Uttal says, “but there are plenty of people in pop music who are actually writing beautiful music and singing from their hearts. This heart energy ripples through your body.” So, it’s not just yoga music that heals. “In my opinion,” Uttal says, “any music that’s really coming from the heart is spiritual music.”

But to these artists, music alone won’t do the trick. “If creating great music was enough, all musicians would be happy,” Krishna Das says. “And that’s not the case, is it? [But] it’s still really powerful. It’s still a wonderful way of finding some peace in the world. The only problem is it doesn’t last. It does not necessarily make you a better person. It doesn’t necessarily make you more compassionate or kinder or more nonjudgmental about yourself and others. It doesn’t necessarily heal you of the very things that are causing you suffering.”

Yet when music comes from an intention of spiritual connection and inner healing, it becomes medicine, says Uttal. “The transformative power of [kirtan] songs, of the melodies, of the rhythms and of the intention, coupled with the power of Sanskrit mantras—which were handed down from sages from ancient times to transform and heal the inner being—is very powerful.” Sharing that music between audience and performer, he says, amplifies the process even more.

Tomaino, too, acknowledges “the multiplicity effect” of people having peak musical experiences together. Concerts or musical gatherings or chanting can induce “a state of mind that some people think of as spirituality and connectedness to something outside of themselves,” she says.

Music is the syrup that delivers the medicine, Krishna Das says. “The syrup tastes good; it gives us a pleasant experience. But that passes. What doesn’t pass is the effect of taking the medicine, which is the thing that will ultimately cure us of our unhappiness and suffering.” Such a musical practice, therefore, is a spiritual practice.

The correlation of music and spiritual healing is not new. Prayer or mantra delivered through song existed and persisted from early tribal cultures through the development of organized religion. Music’s healing potential, then, appears indirect—consistent with dopamine’s sweet delivery and ulterior design.