By Dudley Evenson
“All the tragedy in the world, in the individual and in the multitude, comes from lack of harmony. And harmony is best given by producing harmony in one’s own life.”
-Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Music of Life
All cultures on every part of the planet, from ancient times to this day, have used music in some way to lift the spirit and to enhance the healing process. Sound affects us on all levels from the emotional to the physical, and reaches into our very depths, resonating through every cell and molecule of our being.
Music because of its nature is a link between the external and internal worlds, a bridge to the spirit and a doorway to the soul Sound affects the vibratory rate of every part of the body and has a direct impact on the mental processes, muscles, nervous system, digestive system and circulatory system. It is no wonder that health care practitioners have discovered the benefits of using music as a support for the healing process.
It is rare to have a healing session these days without the presence of peaceful music in the background. Why is it that music and bodywork go so well together? In addition to the pleasant environment that music provides, there are many reasons why music actually supports and extends the benefits of the healing session. In this article, we will explore a few of them.
It is interesting to note that both healing music and massage began to have a popular acceptance about the same time. The 1970’s were a time of new innovations and explorations into healing and consciousness so when a few pioneering musicians began to create a more spiritual and meditative form of music, it was natural that the newly blooming massage therapy and bodywork professions would discover its benefits for their practice. In addition to a good massage table and fragrant massage oils, good music became a must-have part of a massage therapist’s medicine kit.
Surrounded as we are by the monotonous 60 cycle per second hum of machines and consuming urban life, the tendency toward tension and dis-ease has become the byproduct of our modern lifestyle. Soothing music and the sounds of the nature remind us of the peace we desire. Clinical research and personal testimonials attest to the effectiveness of music and natural sounds in providing a space for healing to occur.
In his landmark book, The Mozart Effect, Don Campbell states that “by listening to music with longer, slower sounds, one can usually deepen and slow the breath, allowing the mind to calm down….As with breathing rates, a lower heartbeat creates less physical tension and stress, calms the mind, and helps the body heal itself. Music is a natural pacemaker.”
Stress. The American Institute for Preventative Medicine cites it as a key role player and contributing factor in both heart disease and cancer, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Best-selling author and physician, Dr. Andrew Weil, concurs saying “I am convinced that stress is the primary cause or aggravating cause of the majority of illness.” Tension in the mind translates itself into tension in the body and can cause a state of dis-ease in the body’s organs and systems.
No wonder the many forms of bodywork now prevalent in our society such as massage, Reiki, healing touch, acupuncture, chiropractic, yoga, tai chi and Pilates are resulting in a direct benefit to our health. Used in combination with peaceful music, the positive effects can even extend the healing experience beyond the hour or two of a session. Some healthcare practitioners are “prescribing” music for their clients in order to extend the beneficial effects of their work. If someone has had a positive experience listening to a certain piece of music during a session, being able to play the music at home will allow the effects to continue and cause the “Relaxation Response” to kick in when the music is played and the memory stimulated.
What is it that makes music healing? Healing music as we have discovered is much more than just slow music with nature sounds. We have identified multiple reasons why the music has a positive effect. Some of them are listed below:
• Slow rhythms entrain bodily systems (heartbeat, pulse, digestive system, respiratory, muscles)
• Natural sounds (if present) give sense of peace
• Tones are nurturing, clear, warm and gentle
• Pace is slow but with a sense of joy and beauty
• Music doesn’t have hooks and repeated refrains that engage the mind (not demanding)
• Feeling is more like nature, flowing
• Sub-audio frequencies (if present) entrain brainwaves to alpha or theta state
A relaxed body and sense of inner calm are beneficial to restoring health and maintaining balance in the face of disease. Often, the mind needs an extra tool to assist it in letting go of disturbing or repetitive thoughts. Music has the ability to give the mind another focus and helps to lower stress levels, which in turn, helps strengthen the immune system.
Healing is about re-aligning the body with its own divine blueprint. It is about returning to a dynamic state of balance from a temporary state of imbalance. A primary way sound heals is through physical and emotional resonance. Resonance occurs when two energy systems vibrate at the same frequency. Certain music will cause the body and its systems to resonate with it and return to a state of balance.
Another aspect of healing with sound involves slowing down the brainwaves. Our brains emit a continuous and often varying vibration reflecting the state of our consciousness and attention. When we are busy, physically and mentally active, or stressed, our brains emit Beta waves (15-21 hertz or cycles per second). When we are in a peaceful, calm and meditative state, our brains emit Alpha waves (7-14 hertz) and we are more receptive to healing. Theta brainwaves (4-7 hertz) are emitted in an even deeper and more dreamlike state. Delta brainwaves (.5-5 hertz) indicate deep sleep, coma, or trance states. Music with very slow sub-audio frequencies can help entrain the brain to go into the desired states. Entrainment simply means causing one system to vibrate with another. A sub-audio frequency can be felt but not heard. (Audible sound is in the range of 20-20,000 cycles per second.) Music that contains very low frequencies under the mix can extend the healing effect of the practitioner’s work.
The intention of the musician is another aspect to consider when choosing healing music.
Sound is a carrier wave for intention and spiritual energy so the integrity and original intention of the musician are very important. If music is made by formula and simply for commercial purposes, that is the intention of the artist and the music will have minimal healing effect. On the other hand, if the musician is coming from a truly spiritual place, the benefits of the music will be all the more effective.
The level of healing gained by any musical piece is a function of the balance between the elements of intention, harmony, resonance, frequency, rhythm, and entrainment. Because music is a form of art, there are also creative and artistic levels to consider and here we get into areas that are more intuitive and based on individual perception. Slow music that is morose and moody will not have as positive an effect on the healing process as music that is joyful and uplifting and carries a sense of beauty and spirituality. The good news is, there is much healing music available today that can assist the body worker to support the healing process and help the individual return to a state of wholeness and harmony with oneself.