Esther Elmi's early appreciation for music is rooted in rummaging through her stepdad's CDs and records as a child. She currently hosts a show called Solo Sessions with Base FM, and is the co-creator of DJ Yoga Sessions with Amber Jane at Urban Ashram. Her work is highly informed by her passion for wellbeing and interest in mental health. In her Psychology degree she focused on behavioural psychology and cognitive functioning. She shares with Womenclan what exactly music is doing to our brains when we listen.
WC: What sort of role did music play in your childhood?
Esther: I was born in London and moved to NZ when I was seven. The role that music had in my childhood gave me great pleasure. We had no TV growing up, but my stepdad had CDs and records that I would happily rummage through. His taste in music was extensive, so I learned to love the sounds from all around the world.
WC: How did you get into DJ-ing and hosting a radio show on BaseFM?
Esther: I went to Europe with a one-way ticket, traveled around for a while, and ended up living in Amsterdam, which is where my love for DJ-ing and electronic music started. In the summer of 2018, I decided to go to music school. During my mid-semester break, my teacher put me forward for a holiday internship at Base FM. After the four week holiday period, I continued to help out on the Breakfast Show, and eventually got my own show: Friday Solo Sessions 10-12pm.
WC: You created DJ yoga sessions with Amber at Urban Ashram, can you tell us how that idea came about?
Esther: Amber had been my mum's yoga teacher for some time, and I always loved going to her classes at Urban Ashram in Ponsonby. We grew closer and decided to merge our passions. Movement and music, so DJ-Yoga sessions was born.
WC: What is it about combining yoga and music that's beneficial, what does it do to our brains?
Esther: Well, it's not uncommon to use music while exercising, and plenty of yoga studios use music already, but what we wanted was to treat both modalities as equals – emphasising both the movement and the music, elevating everyone's experience. Having someone who can live mix the sound means that the music works in sync with the movement, rather than the movement needing to work in sync with the music. We also wanted to create a community for music enthusiasts separate from NZ's late-night culture. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I love to go out and dance, but having a space where I can move more mindfully to good music in a beautiful studio-like Urban Ashram sounds like heaven to me. So yeah, we created DJ-Yoga sessions.
Music activates nearly every region of the brain that neuroscientists have been able to map so far. The part I find interesting is when it hits the amygdala (the brain's emotional center) and the Frontal lobe (involved in planning and impulse control), and becomes processed by the mesolimbic system. The mesolimbic system is involved in arousal, pleasure, and the transmission of neurotransmitters like dopamine. This dopamine rush – the same feeling people get when having sex, eating naughty food, or taking illicit drugs, produces an indescribable feeling of "the chills." Music can induce this feeling by forcing an anticipatory response from listeners for up to 15 seconds before approaching the emotional climax of a song.
Composers utilise techniques that prolong that anticipatory response and has been taken to extremes in modern electronic dance music that builds up to the bass drop. In our DJ-Yoga sessions, I induce this same feeling using mindful-based music selections. I see music as a therapeutic tool to feel good, so fusing it with a low impact movement like yoga, also designed as a therapeutic tool, can only amplify that feel-good feeling.
WC: What propelled you to study psychology, and what are some main ideas that stuck with you since graduating?
Esther: Psychology is the study of understanding human behaviour and mental processes. As a subject, it allows you to better understand how we think, act, and feel. What propelled me to study psychology was to understand what caused some people to behave one way and others to behave another way. Like most psychology researchers, I never found the answer, haha. Still, it did enable me to hold a deeper understanding of human relationships, and mental illness, and most of all, helped me to think critically.
WC: Was there ever a moment you experienced in life that after it you were never the same?
Esther: When I was in intermediate school, I was hospitalised from slipping on some pine needles and falling off a cliff. I broke my back, leg, and arm. My body was never the same, but I think it taught me to embrace change with positivity.
WC: What do you think the world is missing in 2020? What do we need more of?
Esther: Compassion. The more pain you cause people, the more you shame and isolate them, and the worse they'll feel about themselves. In turn, the more suffering you impose on them, the more you strengthen their need to escape. [We need] compassion for all humans – Dr Gabor Maté.
WC: Is there a woman in your life who's had a significant impact on you?
Esther: My mother. As cheesy as it sounds, my mother has to be the most significant human in my life. She is a beautiful balance between class and crazy. She's sophisticated and holds a wealth of knowledge on so many topics, and is the one person I know that will never abandon me. She reminds me that every human deserves to have that level of love in their life, and I hope to someday make my children feel just as precious.
All photo credit to Amber Jane.