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The Healing Chords
Are you tuned in to the feelings and needs of your body and emotions? What is the sound of the music of your soul? How many of us use music to reduce our levels of stress or to buoy a sagging soul? It has been said that music can still the savage breast. How true. And music can do much more. It has powers of healing for body and mind. We need only remember the uplift we experienced when we first heard a full choir sing the Alleluia Chorus from Handel's Messiah. I am sure that each of us has a favorite piece of music or two which will make us feel all is right with the world. For me, Number One is a song by Glenn Yarborough: In This Wide World which ends with "And just like an eagle, I'm free!" Listening to it always brings me to a higher emotional plateau.
The ancient Greeks understood the role of music in bringing harmony to the body, mind and soul. Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle were among those who believed music was extremely important in maintaining a healthy body and sound mind. Throughout the millennia, many civilizations have recognized the importance and power of music, not only in the social fibre of an nation but also in spiritual and physical well-being of individuals.
Today, music is frequently used as a therapeutic treatment in hospitals, group homes for the elderly people, schools, prisons and mental health centers for people with physical or psychological problems. Music therapy is popular in many countries in Europe, Asia and South America. In the United States, there are about 7,000 practicing music therapists.
"Physiologically, music promotes changes in the sensory, musculoskeletal and neurological systems of the body," says Dr Mary Elaine Kiener. Music is a useful tool for relieving pain and promoting relaxation. Music also provides a useful and valuable stress management tool through its ability to decrease anxiety, alter moods, lift depression, facilitate self-expression and increase self-esteem.
"In reality, the entire body, not just the ears, is sensitive to and responds to sound. Every cell in the human body vibrates. In fact, different parts resonate at different frequencies and respond accordingly," notes Kiener. "As a result, music evokes a range of both physiological and psychological effects."
While music may speak to us on emotional levels which change our mood, not all music can lead us to a relaxed state. According to Dr Steven Halpern, musician and psychologist, most music does not work well if you are trying to relax. Because of the extraordinary entraining effect that external rhythms have on our heart rate, attempting to relax while listening to fast music is "like trying to stop your car by simultaneously pressing the break pedal AND the gas pedal!" It is generally accepted that a relaxed heart rate is in the 40 to 60 beat per minute rate. Most music, including much classical, is played at a rate of 86 beats per minute or more.
"Music with a fast beat entrains your heartbeat and breathing patterns to match that beat, causing them both to speed up. This in turn can cause you to be less focused, more easily distracted, more irritable and more stressed. You lose energy and enthusiasm sooner. Your capability for creative problem-solving, especially while under pressure, decreases."
"The importance of getting into that relaxation state is that it allows the body to heal, it sets up a resonance, an entrainment where you can tune into your higher power -- the Earth's vibration, your own spiritual network, angels, guides, however you concept that. That's an expression of the ancient Biblical adage: Be still and know."
The long-term benefits of a regular music-relaxation routine can include: increased energy, a more robust immune system, enhanced concentration, clarity and creativity, more ease in falling asleep, a positive attitude and enhanced recuperation after surgery or illness, says Halpern.
Music has been an important part of the treatment at Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland for more than fifteen years. Extremely ill patients in the intensive care ward listen to music as part of their care. Patients awaiting operations listen to music as part of their treatment. Some doctors feel that music often can ease the need for pain and sleep medication. By giving listening devices to patients, they hear music instead of the noises in the hospital, which helps patients sleep better.
In Pennsylvania, music therapy classes are assisting people who have suffered brain injuries, mostly from car accidents. These people are forgetful; they have problems communicating with other people, and expressing their emotions. The musician/therapist who teaches the class says that music helps her patients solve their communication and emotional problems. Through the singing of songs and playing of musical instruments, they learn to communicate again.
Music can have an excellent effect on patients who have severe problems understanding, speaking and remembering. For example, Alzheimer's disease causes people to lose their memory. They forget where they are, and they cannot remember what they did a few minutes before. But, according to some music therapists, people with Alzheimer's Disease often can remember the words to songs. Thus, music stimulates their memory and helps them remember the past. Music also gives them relief from their often frightening condition.
There are many ways to listen to music: for entertainment, dancing, and intellectual and emotional stimulation. Add two more to the list -- for health and well-being. Halpern concludes that "music that resonates at a cellular level helps the body organize its own inherent, subtle electromagnetic energy....From that place of inner peace, you radiate peace to the world. In so doing, you each contribute your part to the symphony of life and to creating more peace on our planet."
So search out those healing chords that assist your body in operating at a higher level of efficiency, creativity and pleasure. Feed the body with the rhythms of music.
The Healing Chords by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD . ©1997, 2000, All Rights Reserved.
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