Can Music really help to heal the body?

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Music can calm, energize and inspire us, so it comes as no surprise that it can help to heal us on an emotional level, but can it heal us physically too?

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration” Nikola Tesla

Every known human culture plays music and every ancient culture believed in the healing powers of music. Many of them thought that the universe was created from sound and that music followed the same laws as the cosmos. In the Bible, John 1:1: “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

In Hinduism, �?Naad’ is the �?Word’ that created the universe from the consciousness of God. It is represented by AUM, which is the divine sound and the vibration of consciousness, out of which sprang the universe. Sacred chants are imbedded in rituals throughout the world from the Native American traditions to Hawaiian Kahunas, Judaic, Asian, Sufi and Christian customs.

In ancient Greece, Apollo was the god of music as well as of medicine, healing, the sun, light and knowledge. He was considered to be the intermediary between the gods and men. Music is often associated with a connection to the divine and is recognized as a way to bridge the gap between our physical bodies and our immortal souls. Beethoven said “Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.”

We all know that music can calm, energize, inspire, nourish and rouse us so it comes as no surprise that it can help to heal us on an emotional level, but can it heal us physically too? It seems that it can and in many ways music is medicine. There is no specific music center in the brain because music engages the whole brain but did you know that it engages the whole body too?

You are an Ear

If I were to ask you how you hear music, you would probably roll your eyes and answer “With my ears of course.” Case closed. Research suggests that there is much more to it than that. Consider Evelyn Glennie, who has been called the greatest solo percussionist in the world. She is extremely fluent in her art and a delight to both watch and listen to but she is also profoundly deaf, and has been since age 12 when she lost 80% of her hearing.

Glennie listens to music with her entire body, which to her is “a listening chamber”. She can “feel” the vibrations in her hands and feet and prefers to play barefoot. Music is a palpable sensation and to her, hearing is simply another form of touch.

It’s well known that people who lose one sense will often compensate by developing acute sensitivity in other areas so we could just say that Glennie is rather unusual and very gifted. However, a study in 2009 showed that we can actually hear with our skin. Researchers Bryan Gick and Donald Derrick of the University of British Columbia showed that we can perceive tiny puffs of air from aspirated sounds through the skin.

We are obviously unaware of this phenomenon because it is so subtle “which suggests it is very powerful” says Dr. Gick, who likened humans to “whole-body perceiving machines.”

Our bodies are littered with mechanoreceptors – sense receptors that respond to pressure and vibration. The Pacinian corpuscles are nerve receptors that are exquisitely sensitive to things like transient, high-frequency vibrations and are found deep in the dermis, joints, tendons and muscles. They can pick up vibrations travelling down bones and along tendons and transmit this information to the brain via the vagus nerve.

The vagus connects to the heart, the digestive system and most of our major organs. It is command central for the parasympathetic nervous system and directs the relaxation response, calming the body, lowering both inflammation and heart rate. It is intimately connected to health through immune cell modulation and even affects stem cells.

The body is a community of trillions of cells and they all speak to each other. Their language is vibration and we make our own music on a cellular level. According to Candace Pert, author of �?Molecules of Emotion’, “Each cell in our body is constantly vibrating, often in several different shapes, and our receptors vibrate as well. It’s a dance that’s constantly taking place in our bodies, and every cell is talking to every other cell in a rhythmic, ongoing way. In fact, the frequencies of your cells are even in sync with the audible sounds around you, which is why music and words can be very healing. Every cell is a mirror.”

If there is harmony in the body, there is health. Disease is dis-ease, or a lack of harmony between cells. Music can restore the balance. Pert says: “Every cell in our body is an ear. When we listen to music, we are entraining and resonating every cell, we are listening with our whole body – we are listening with our stomach, we are listening with our intestines.” The neurons in our brain synchronize with music and it has been shown that the heart beats of singers in a choir can start beating at the same rate when they sing together. Not only do they harmonize their voices but their hearts too.

Music is not just subjective because the heart responds physiologically to music, independent of emotion, pulse rate or mental focus. People with advanced Alzheimer’s and those in a semi vegetative state have been shown to respond to music by a change in their respiratory rate.

An experiment carried out by Luciano Bernardi, professor of medicine at the University of Pavia in Italy, showed that “Music induces a continuous, dynamic—and to some extent predictable—change in the cardiovascular system.” Musicians and people with no musical knowledge listened to pieces by Bach, Puccini, Verdi and Beethoven and the researchers concluded that: “Music emphasis and rhythmic phrases are tracked consistently by physiological variables. Autonomic responses are synchronized with music, which might therefore convey emotions through autonomic arousal during crescendos or rhythmic phrases.”

The right music can tune us into better health because we are literally wired for sound. Ion channels are like gates or valves on the cell wall that let things in and out of the cell and they operate rhythmically but the most amazing thing is that “The frequency of vibrations of the ion channels is within the exact same range of frequency of audible sound for us.”

Puffs of NO

Another rhythm that takes place within our cells is the “puffing” of nitric oxide (NO).  NO is a gas which acts as a signaling molecule. It is a simple molecule but it is extraordinarily important to heart, immune, digestive, nervous system and mental health. It helps us resist stress, fight off cancer, kill infectious fungi, bacteria and viruses and even stave off depression.

NO has been called the “miracle molecule” because every cell in the body needs it. And guess what? Listening to your favorite music or using tuning forks can spike nitric oxide. “This release of nitric oxide sets off a cascade of physiological events that directly influences our health, well-being, state of mind, and consciousness.”

Playing a musical instrument can help people recover from PTSD or brain injuries, just as singing can help stroke victims regain the ability to speak. Musical activity helps the brain use undamaged areas to compensate for the damaged ones. It can also protect your brain from things like dementia. Studies of twins have shown that learning to play an instrument significantly reduces the chances of developing dementia.

There is no system or organ in the body that is not influenced by sound and music. Music is an undervalued form of healing but it is non-invasive, easy to access and costs little. If all you have is the sound of your own voice, you can use it to heal yourself through toning, humming or singing. It’s no coincidence that the sound of the human voice elicits the biggest response in humans.

Sound is the organizing force of the universe. When it is made visible through cymatics (the study of visible sound and vibration), sound can create perfect symmetrical patterns that echo the complex mathematical arrangements found everywhere in nature. John Stuart Reid, acoustics engineer and inventor, brings us full circle from the beliefs of the ancients to the scientific discoveries of today when he says: “Twin spirals are created in Nature by a natural phyllotaxis principle that embodies Fibonacci mathematical relationships and yet, since twin spirals can be readily created by sound, it raises the intriguing possibility that sound is not only an aspect of life, but, perhaps, life is an aspect of sound.”

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