Wonder why you’re addicted to flicking on your iPod every chance you get? Could it be your music actually alters the rhythms of your brain?
Studies over the last few years suggest – though, some say, don’t truly prove – that melodic aural stimulation has an effect on healing, from reducing pain in premature babies and speeding recovery for stroke victims to reducing stress. One researcher even showed music calmed anxiety for New Orleans residents post-?flood.
Recently, the March of Dimes released a CD of tunes to help ease mom and baby through the labour process. But looking at their disc picks, I dunno. Celine Dion?
If I were going through labour and somebody slapped Dion on the ol’ iPod, I’d start swinging my arms and not caring who I hit.
It’s like when you’re at the massage therapist’s office and they insist on playing that god-?awful airy New Age shit. When did canned birds and synth sounds become the model for “calming”? Drives me bananas.
To each his/her own – and that’s exactly what the studies suggest. Remember the Mozart Effect (the research showing how tuning in to the genius composer can make you smarter)? Well, it turns out the conclusions got blown wildly out of proportion. Really, all the effects seem to come from how you relate to what you like.
So, if you dig Motörhead, maybe you’ll find The Ace Of Spades soothing.
What the experts say
“Sound restores to balance and harmony parts of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual body that are vibrating out of harmony. Mystics and quantum physicists agree everything is in a state of vibration – every organ, tissue and part of the body. There are different modalities, from instruments to tuning forks to recordings, but my favourite for sound healing is the human voice. I teach people to use their voice to create resonant frequency healing, to create a sound that will resonate with the part of the body that’s out of balance. Humming can cause the release of nitric oxide, which may be an ingredient in cellular healing. Music that is pulsed slowly and ambient in nature helps people’s brain waves to sink to a state of activity where healing goes on.”
JONATHAN GOLDMAN, author, The 7 Secrets Of Sound Healing, Boulder, Colorado
“Nitric oxide can be good or bad. Its production and measurement can be a marker of various diseases. The nose and nasal cavities are a source of nitric oxide. About five years ago, a group in Sweden discovered that if you hum when you exhale, you increase the amount of detectable nitric oxide manyfold. There are two ideas about this. One is that by humming you maximize the amount that can be detected. The other is that perhaps by humming, you actually produce more nitric oxide, and this might be beneficial. Producing more might increase blood flow. One paper suggests this could kill fungi infecting the nasal cavity”
JACK R. LANCASTER JR., professor, department of anaesthesiology and physiology & biophysics, University of Alabama at Birmingham
“It’s interesting that the beat of songs that activate us is about a beat per second – about what our heart rate usually is. There are specific examples of patients with Parkinson’s who walk better when listening to music they find enjoyable. While music is not the answer to all problems, it can perhaps help us use our nervous system better. There have been studies, not all of them confirmatory, that show listening to Mozart improves cognitive performance. More recent research suggests the effect has more to do with musical preference.”
DAVID SPIEGEL, Willson professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California
“Engaging people in music-making helps with physical or cognitive disabilities or mental illness. The therapist might play the piano or guitar and engage the client in playing a drum, moving or singing. If a child is working on social skills, the song might have handshaking or eye contact in it. People dealing with depression might do improv. They might scream or cry, or analyze the lyrics to a song they like. With an elderly person, the focus is on staying in the here and now. That can be achieved through drumming.”
JANE CREAGAN, director of professional programs, American Association of Music Therapy, Silver Springs, Maryland
“Here’s a typical study. Subjects are presented with a stressor (like arithmetic). Half listen to music and half to nothing. Measures are taken (physiological and psychological). A difference is found on 1 of the 35 ?zillion measures and it becomes proof that music has healing effects. The effect is small and transient. The authors want you to believe that the effect will be bigger with a larger dose and longer treatment. But that is a large leap. There is no healing effect of music for hypertension, for example. If you ask whether we can throw away blood ?pressure medicine, the answer is no. And, yes, psychological effects are stronger, often if the subject can self-?select the music. I did an experiment where some students listened to Philip Glass’s Music With Changing Parts. They hated the music, but it aroused them enough that they showed a slight improvement on a cognitive task over those who didn’t listen. So maybe a surprise dose of Celine Dion would rouse you into a fury of work.”
KENNETH STEELE, professor, department of psychology, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina