Sunday, August 28, 2005

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Music that soothes, enchants, IMMUNIZES?


"Music that Soothes, Enchants, Immunizes"

IMMUNIZES?? Of all the things you know music does for you – energizes, inspires, soothes, evokes emotions, and entertains you – there’s evidence it affects our immune systems.

The Greeks suspected this, making Apollo the god of both music and medicine. They believed music had the power to move streams, tame beasts, and penetrate the depths of our souls, changing and healing us.

Pythagoras, a mathematician, thought certain musical chords and melodies produced certain responses in people, and that the right sequence of sounds ("the music of the spheres") could change someone's behavior patterns and accelerate healing.

The connection between math, healing and music is a strong one. Many people talented in math are also good at music (they’re both symbolic languages), and to be a doctor, you must be good at math. Many doctors, in fact have music for an avocation, or use it for stress relief.


Music is vibration. The cochlea in our ears converts the vibration to electrical impulses which travel to the brain stem. That’s our primitive brain and that’s why we’re so deeply affected by music; the brain stem is so far from the neocortex it doesn’t even know we have one. Music is as primordial as smell, completely circumventing “thinking.” Smells affect us emotionally. You know how you feel when you walk into a house and smell cookies like your mother used to bake, or how you buried your face in your loved one’s clothes after they’ve died? It's how the newborn finds its mother, and now the lover finds his mate (pheromones).

Music affects us as profoundly. When you hear a song from your teen years, suddenly you’re transported across time and space to your first love and feel as you did then (and would give anything to have it back?).

These electrical impulses create brain wave frequencies: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. Beta waves are when we’re alert and focused. Alpha waves are when we’re relaxed or in-the-flow. Theta waves occur during deep meditation and that twilight time before we fall asleep. Delta waves occur during sleep.
The electrical impulses then make their way down the spinal cord and impact the autonomic nervous system (“ANS”), which effects our heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and muscle tension, which translate into “feelings.”

We hear “Con Te Partiro” (“It’s Time to Say Good-bye”), by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, and feel the sorrow of parting, a Sousa march and we get up and start cleaning house, and music like Pachelbel’s “Canon” is so even-keeled it’s used by masseuses. Likely it puts us into alpha state, along with the massage; or doesn’t disturb us from that state.

Music and massage are two things I recommend to people who’ve suffered trauma that goes beyond words. Touch and music reach the cells of the body, where the healing needs to take place, because the suffering is pre-verbal, or extra-verbal. As Mendelssohn said, “Music cannot be expressed in words, not because it is vague but because it is more precise than words.”

Because music is vibrations, we “feel” it as much as we “hear” it. In fact the German composer Beethoven was deaf at the end of his career. He continued to compose by placing a piece of wood between his clavicle and the strings of the piano, feeling the vibrations.


Goldman and Gurin, early researchers in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, found there are nerve fibers in every organ of the immune system, establishing a link between our thoughts and feelings and health. What we tell ourselves about what we perceive and how we therefore feel, makes a difference.

Dr. Candace Pert, professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical School, researches “new paradigm” healing and “how the ‘bodymind’ functions as a single psychosomatic network of information molecules which control our health and physiology.” In other words, our emotions are in our cells. (You’ve seen her in “What The Bleep Do We Know?” and on Bill Moyer’s “Healing and the Mind.” She is the author of “Molecules of Emotion”.)

Dr. David Sobel, author of “Rx: Preparing for Surgery,” recommends talking to your immune system before surgery because our immune system as well as our autonomic nervous system functions can be influenced by our thoughts, visioning and what we hear.

What about sending it music, and not just before surgery, but routinely?


I’m sure I’m not the only parent who objected to their teenager listening to acid rock; the lyrics were bad, yes, but just the beat I thought was agitating, and I could see the effect on my sons when they listened.

What would be calming? This varies from person-to-person, and it’s your pleasure to figure out what works for you. If you can monitor your pulse rate and such, as you listen, so much the better; if not, simply note what calms you and makes you feel good. Some folks I know play the same music every night when they go to bed, and it works like Pavlov’s dog.

I should add here that one of my sons did one of those experiments growing plants to music when he was in high school, and darned if the ones that got Mozart didn’t thrive, while the ones that got acid rock died.

That might be a clue, a place for you to start.


Expressive Arts and Music therapists think it can. Barbara Crowe, past president of the National Association of Music Therapy thinks its because music and rhythm still the constant chatter of the left brain.

“A loud, repetitive sounds sends a constant signal to the cortex,” she says, “masking input from other senses…”

Do we need a break from all the judging and analyzing? You tell me.

The Director of Coronary Care at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, thinks “… music therapy ranks high on the list of modern day management of critical care patients.”

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music is used in hospitals to alleviate pain, elevate mood, counteract depression, calm or sedate, induce sleep, manage anxiety, and lessen muscle tension andd relax the ANS.


We hear examples from time-to-time … perhaps you received the email about the little boy who sang a certain song to his baby sister when she was in utero. When she was born she was in great distress and her brother was brought to the hospital to tell her good-bye. He started singing the same song, and she calmed and was able to get better. If it’s not true, I think it could be.

Or the research on Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSS for whom the only thing that’s worked has been drumming.

Or check out “Chant,” a recording made by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain, which has sold millions of copies around the world. About it, the music critic for the San Francisco Examiner wrote: “What we’re talking about is inner peace, transcendence, a serenity beyond mortal care.”

Ask those of us who live music, not just love it, and we’ll tell you music transports us somewhere … somewhere where we like to be, and I suppose we take our cells with us when we go there!

But don’t ask others, find out for yourself.


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