In my on-line facebook group, Brighter Days, I had posted a link to the April 2012 TEDTalk by Robert Gupta, entitled “Between Music and Medicine”. I shared with the group that this video was profound for me. He talks about that elegant integration of two things that I love – Music & Medicine. This past month, I grabbed a beautiful old Kimball piano that had been posted on-line (Free – You Haul!) and signed my 8 year old daughter up for piano lessons. It has been such joy to sit and play again, to see my girls rush to the bench first thing in the morning. It has been humbling too. I realize that I did not fully value the music lessons I had as a child. Abandoning piano classes my Freshman year of college, I thought they were too difficult and time demanding when I should be focused on “science/medicine”.
What I did not know then is that Music IS Medicine! Music has been a medicinal tool of healers with rhythm, dance, and music being interwoven into the shamanism of indigenous peoples across the globe. The term Shaman was first recognized by the western world in describing the people of the area of Siberia inhabited by the Mongols and Turks who were regarded as having access to spirits. These Shaman could enter into a trance state during rituals and evoke the help of the spirit world for healing. The designation, shaman, was then applied to individuals who held an identical role in cultures from Australia to South America and North America. Shaman are regarded as being able to heal by mending the soul. Mending the soul was believed to bring the body back into balance and therefore alleviate illness and allow healing. During the middle ages, it was the religious convents of Europe that taught medicine, arts and music – weaving the three together.
Loss of music in the routine practice of medicine was perhaps partly because of this mingling of music with religion and ceremony. As advances in science were made, it was common to dismiss anything not seemingly explained by current methodology. It was also likely due to the trend in separating out studies into either natural sciences or humanities. However, the rise of medical specialties in neurology and psychiatrist sparked a return to an interest in music in medicine. That interest has only grown with the development of “music therapy” in the latter half of the 20th century. The ability to study the brain with imaging and measure neurotransmitters has made it possible to quantify and qualify the physical effects of music.
All over the world, there has been a surge in peer reviewed scientific study of music in health and its implementation into medical practice. Whole institutions of music therapy study have been established. Practitioners are now studying and using music to help treat conditions such as pain, depression, Autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other brain injuries. Music Therapy is being researched and used to support premature babies and the results from a study at Beth Israel Medical Center showed that three methods, a gato box (a drum-like instrument used to simulate two-tone heartbeat rhythm matched to the babies’ breathing and heart rhythms), womb sounds, and lullabies selected and sung by the parents, all slowed the infants heart rate. Singing was most effective at lowering the heart rate and increasing the amount of time the babies stayed quiet and alert. The Gato box was most effective at improving sucking behavior and the womb sounds improved sleep. Music therapy aslo lowered the parents stress. “Music very much has a way of enhancing quality of life and can, in addition, promote recovery.”
I can attest to the fact from both professional and personal experience that type, level and duration of stress is one of the most profound impactors on our health and wellbeing. If music can alleviate this stress and spark healing, then we should absolutely be using it in our everyday lives. We do not need a physician to prescribe music therapy or a practitioner to deliver this “medicine”. Music is one remedy that is easily available and inexpensive, if not free, for us to implement into our daily lives. I strongly encourage you to create a commitment to implementing intentional music in your home. Not just music designed for entertainment or used as background noise because quite makes you uncomfortable. Music that touches the soul is what you want to find and embrace. You do not have to purchase a piano or start music lessons – though I would highly recommend this even for adults. I recently purchased the album “Weightless” by Marconi Union because it was specifically composed to reduce stress in the listener, and has been shown in studies to literally decrease anxiety by up to 65%! That’s huge! I play it for my girls and myself as part of our bed-time routine.
Still, implementing music therapy at home is as easy as simply starting to hum, whistle or sing a song that soothes or uplifts you.
Dr. Summer Beattie,ND was born and grew up in Southeawst Alaska – it will always be home. A 2004 graduate of Bastyr University, she served two terms on the board of directors for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and has worked in a variety of primary and specialty care settings. This has given her a broad wealth of experience that she now uses in a unique clinical practice with a focus on rejuvenative physical and aesthetic medicine. Dr. Beattie,ND offers comprehensive care as it relates to physical rehabilitation from a Naturopathic Orthopedic perspective. You can find her and on-line patient programs at www.onehealingmedical.com