Music as medicine?
THAT’S RIGHT – not music as therapy, music as medicine. I recently attended a fascinating online talk by acoustics scientist John Stuart Reid, run by The Shift Network. In it, he explained how sound can help with all sorts of physical issues such as pain and inflammation, using research evidence to back up his findings.
It won’t come as a surprise to learn that listening to the music we love reduces the amount of the stress hormone cortisol and increases the amount of the feel-good hormone dopamine in our bodies. This has a direct effect on the creation of white blood cells, which boosts our immune system.
Sound can positively affect our health in less obvious ways, too. If you hum a note, starting from very low then going up to very high, you’ll notice that it starts by reverberating in the chest and ends in the nasal cavities. This resonance promotes the creation of the important hormone nitric oxide in our system. Nitric oxide promotes wound healing, is an anti-pathogen, and facilitates oxygen flow to the brain. To benefit from this we must immerse ourselves in sound, not just listen through headphones, as we need it to resonate through our bodies in varying frequencies, massaging cell proteins in microscopic cymatic patterns and thus stimulating the hormone’s creation.
In contrast, listening to music with good quality headphones (no earbuds!) helps calm our vagus, the largest nerve in the body, which runs from the brain right down into the gut and beyond. Its first branch after leaving the brain is – the ears! Listening to specific low frequencies of sound and music through headphones stimulates the tragus which then calms the vagus along its length, reducing inflammation, reversing the effects of aging, and keeping the body in homeostasis.
Did you know that the primary method nerves send signals to the brain is via sound, not electricity? They’re only converted into electrical signals later in the process. As sound moves more slowly than electricity this means the signals take a while to arrive – the second after you hammer your thumb before the pain hits! Certain frequencies of sound, applied locally, can thus use the Gate Control Theory to mediate that pain. Also, when we have a peak experience such as joy, for example listening to a piece of music with which we deeply connect, natural opiates are created which can also mediate pain.
Not only that, but the effects of listening to music for just thirty minutes will last for hours afterwards. John Stuart Reid finished his presentation by pondering whether the hospitals of the future might have music chambers as well as operating theatres!
I’ve always selected specific frequencies in the music I use in my therapy sessions, primarily to stimulate theta (creative) brainwave patterns in my clients. Perhaps they’ve been offering other health benefits, too! I’ll certainly be investigating further …