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Music as Medicine


Music Soothes, Energizes and Heals Us


by Kathleen Barnes


results in signifi cantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The more intense the experience is in singing or playing an instrument, the greater the stress reduction. A collaborative study by several Swedish universities showed that group singing caused participants’ heart rates to synchronize, producing relaxation effects similar to that achieved through group meditation. Cancer: Gaynor used music to treat


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s primeval drumbeats echo across an African savannah, the rhythms circle the globe, picked


up by the chants and rattles of shamans gracing Amazonian jungles and Siberian tundra. They’re repeated in Gregorian chants fi lling medieval cathedrals and “om” meditations sounding in Himalayan caves and yoga classes everywhere. They gently echo in the repeated tones of mothers’ lullabies, happy hummings as we go about our day and the melodies of Mozart. Music is the soundtrack of our lives,


whether we’re aware of it or not. It exists within, uniting and guiding us, and has helped heal body and spirit since the dawn of humanity. National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists recently discovered that the universe itself has a song.


Pioneering Practitioners From the soothing tones of a harp to the jarring screeches of a construction site, the stress-reducing or stress-producing properties of sound are familiar to us all. “Stress is an underlying cause of the vast majority of all illnesses, and sound and music are effective in relieving stress and bringing stillness,” says Jonathan Goldman, an internationally recognized pioneer in harmonics and sound healing and director of the Sound Healers Association in Boulder, Colorado. Through researching his many books, including The 7 Secrets of Sound Healing, Goldman is convinced of the


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profound effect sound has on the human organism. “The simple chanting of the sound ‘om,’ or ‘aum,’ in addition to instilling calmness and relaxation, causes the release of melatonin and nitric oxide. It relaxes blood vessels, releases soothing endorphins, reduces the heart rate and slows breathing,” he explains. “Sound can change our immune function,” wrote the late Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, former director of medical oncology at New York’s Weill-Cornell Medical College for Complementary and Integrative Medicine in his book The Healing Power of Sound. “After either chanting or listening to certain forms of music, your Interleukin-1 level, an index of your immune system, goes up between 12-and-a-half and 15 percent. Further, about 20 minutes after listening to meditative-type music, the immunoglobulin levels in the blood are signifi cantly increased. Even the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered. There’s no part of your body not affected. Its effects even show up on a cellular and sub-cellular level.”


Practical Applications Consider some of music’s scientifi cally validated health benefi ts: Stress: Singing, whether carrying a tune or not, is a powerful way to combat stress, according to many studies. A recent joint study by German and British researchers published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience confi rms that simply listening to soothing music


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even advanced cancer patients for decades, considering it a “disease of disharmony.” He advocated re- harmonizing the body with sound vibrations that affect virtually every cell, especially enhancing immune function and potentially preventing cancer from spreading. Gaynor primarily used crystal bowls to produce deep relaxation and harmonize dysrhythmic cells in patients, but also confi rmed the healing effects of certain vibratory tones of drumming and Tibetan metal gongs. Several studies confi rm that listening


to any kind of soothing music relieves anxiety in cancer patients; a large study from Philadelphia’s Drexel University confi rms that it also relieves pain, lowers blood pressure, improves breathing and minimizes nausea associated with chemotherapy. Depression: Drumming can better counter depression than the prescription drug Prozac, according to a recent study by England’s Royal College of Music. Those that participated in a weekly drumming group experienced signifi cantly reduced symptoms compared to a control group.


Substance Abuse: University of California, Los Angeles, scientists found that drumming was especially helpful for a group of Native Americans struggling with such issues. Smartphone Addiction: Korean


research found that music therapy is helpful in overcoming this condition. Immune Dysfunction: The same British study of drumming’s antidepressant effects saw similar improvement in immune function, plus an anti-infl ammatory response that continued for at least three months after the study period. Neuroendocrine Disorders:


Researchers at Pennsylvania’s Meadville Medical Center Mind-Body Wellness


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