Sunday, July 24, 2011

Music for the Mind, Body and Soul

"One good thing about music: when it hits, you feel no pain".
Bob Marley

I was on my bike this morning. I went on the "donut": a ritual, group ride that I engage in weekly to challenge myself and assess my fitness. After being hung out to dry, I decided to extend my ride and head out east to spin my crampy legs. A call-of-nature stop reminded me that today, which is not typical, I had brought my iPod! My ride instantly turned from crampy and tired to refreshed and renewed.
Music can have a profound effect on us; a profound enough effect that, in 1997, the New York Marathon banned music from the race course! Music in sport has been shown to illicit a small but positive effect on athletic performance in the following five ways: dissociation (up to 10% reduction in perceived exertion), arousal regulation (psych up or psych down), synchronization (regulate co-ordination of movement), acquisition of motor skills, and attainment of flow (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997). It is really no wonder I felt better this morning after a little Broken Social Scene!
From a non-sport perspective, music exposure still has a profound physiological effect. I am often asked to lecture at Wellspring Cancer Support Centre . Last week I chose to give a seminar on chanting and the healing effects of music. I came across a great peice of research: Fabien Maman began a year-and-a-half study joined by Helene Grimal, a biologist and musician, at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. Together they studied the effect of low volume (30-40 decibels) sound on human uterine cancer cells. After mounting a camera on the slides that contained the cells, they proceeded to play various acoustical instruments (guitar, gong, xylophone and voice) for periods of twenty-minute intervals. The results indicated that the most dramatic influence on the cells came from the human voice, when Maman sang a series of scales into the cells. The outcome was profound in that the structure of the cancer cells became disorganized which inhibited efficient replication. In Maman's words, "It appeared that the cancer cells were not able to support a progressive accumulation of vibratory frequencies."
The research was then applied to two women experiencing breast cancer. Both women were instructed to "tone" (like chanting) for 3.5 hours per day for one month. In one of the two cases, the tumour was no longer detectable after the month was up. In the second case, the tumour had reduced in size significantly. The woman underwent surgery, recovered and remains healthy today! It is postulated that vibratory frequencies may change cancer cell structure in a way that does not allow the organized replication and maintence of the cell.
From a mental emotional perspective, different types of music has been shown to produce different brain activity states. Meditative music can shift the brain from beta activity, which is our working, active mind to a theta state, a contemplative, peaceful state and has been shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate.
It is a simple intervention which we think rarely about implementing to support health and wellbeing. And it is often the simplist things that are most effective, so get out your iPod and download some good music already! :)

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