The Powerful Benefits of Sound Healing
Written by Dr. Anu French
“Man’s music is seen as a means of restoring the soul, as well as confused and discordant bodily afflictions, to the harmonic proportions that it shares with the world soul of the cosmos.”
- Plato (429-347 BC)
Everything in the universe is in a constant state of vibration, including our bodies. Long ago shamans recognized the power of sound when they first used chants and drumming to heal people. In ancient Egypt, Greece, and India, the use of sound and music for healing was a highly developed sacred science. Sonic vibration has been one way of experiencing the energy of the universe for much of humanity’s history.
Modern science is now confirming that when the vibrations of our physical and spiritual bodies are out of harmony it can cause disease. As pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris says, toxic stress is the kind of stress that can come in response to living for months or years with childhood trauma that gets biologically embedded in our bodies (ACES Adverse Childhood Events/Experiences). Children with adverse childhood experiences and adults who have experienced childhood trauma have higher levels of indicators for inflammation than those who have not suffered childhood trauma. A child’s brain and body will produce an overload of stress hormones — such as cortisol and adrenaline — that harm the function and structure of the brain. This can be particularly devastating in children, whose brains are developing at a galloping pace from before they are born to age three.
As I started to recognize the burden of ACES on my health and my children’s health, I turned to chanting as this mindful practice was a doorway to healing for me. From this journey emerged the music I created on my CD ‘Wake Up My Divinity’ that explores the blending of chants from different faiths, languages and music styles. Through this music, I felt connected to that quiet space inside that I could draw from when I returned to the delightful chaos and confusion that is my daily life. And it continues to help me build resilience for myself as a valuable tool for mind body spirit balance.
I then started to teach my daughters the beauty of mantra/chanting and began to learn more about sound to answer their many questions. In 1967, Dr. Hans Jenny published the first volume of Cymatics: The Study of Wave Phenomena which was a written and photographic documentation of the effects of sound vibrations on fluids, powders and liquid paste. He concluded, "This is not an unregulated chaos; it is a dynamic but ordered pattern.” What Dr. Jenny was observing was the effect of waves of energy over matter which is now being confirmed the emerging field of quantum physics. He was particularly impressed by an observation the vocalization of the mantra Om or Aum in ancient Sanskrit (regarded by Hindus and Buddhists as the sound of creation) causes a certain energy frequency in the matter around it. Ancient healing systems such as Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda, associate specific musical notes with subtle-energy systems of the body. In yoga for example, particular notes of music correspond to each of the seven chakras or energy centers. In Tibet, priests have long used bells and bowls over and around the body to tune and clear the energy centers. Chimes and tuning forks are other tools that have been used to heal not only the body but the energy in a room as well.
“Emotional issues that are unresolved block the healing vibrations or cause the disease state to return. When two systems are oscillating at different frequencies, there is an impelling force called resonance that causes the two to transfer energy from one to another. When two similarly tuned systems vibrate at different frequencies, there is another aspect of this energy transfer called entertainment, which causes them to line up and to vibrate at the same frequency.” (Richard Gordon)
Sound healing clears blockages and restores harmony. There has been a growing interest over the past decade into the health benefits of music and sound, examining its psychological and neurological effects. In a systematic review of publications on the psychoneuroimmunology of music, sixty-three studies published over the past 22 years, show a range of their effects on neurotransmitters, hormones, cytokines, lymphocytes, vital signs and immunoglobulins as well as psychological assessments. Sixty-three of these studies showed that listening to music decreases stress, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, and lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and had a had a greater impact on these things than anti-anxiety medication. Four studies in the review found that listening to music (drumming, relaxing music, music therapy) resulted in decreased levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6, a commonly used marker of inflammation. Research so far points to the pivotal role of stress pathways in linking music to a positive immune response.
Recommending sound or music as a mindful practice has become a part of the integrative plan for all my patients and their families. This beautiful website, Vibration for Healing comprises more than 20 vignettes centering on sound healers. It illustrates the many uses of sound for physical, emotional and spiritual healing from “singing” with the dolphins in Hawaii, to meeting a “peace pilgrim” in Oregon; from a space clearing at a Madison Avenue art gallery to a recital at Santa Fe’s famous Loretto Chapel.
Another resource I love to share with families is the soothing music of Amy Camie, a St Louis based classically trained, healing harpist whose melodies have been used in pilot biofeedback studies showing an increase in brain alpha waves which are associated with the self-regulation of stress and a decrease in sympathetic nervous system arousal.
The good news is that the brain is plastic, and the body wants to heal. The brain is continually changing in response to the environment. Building resilience, can help the brain slowly undo many of the stress-induced changes. There is well documented research on how individuals’ brains and bodies become healthier through mindfulness practices, exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and healthy social interactions. In St Louis and other cities across the world, there are so many valuable resources and opportunities within the respective communities for coming together to create, share and heal through music and sound.
“Melodic sounds heal our connections with ourselves, each other, and the universal vibration that is our birthright.” - Thalia Stearnes
References and resources:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/110512818987167/ Drumming Circles
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1680659865520680/ Sound Healers
The psychoneuroimmunological effects of music: a systematic review and a new model. Fancourt D1, Ockelford A2, Belai A3. Brain Behav Immun. 2014 Feb
Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine-immune parameters in normal subjects. Bittman, Barry B; Berk, Lee S; Felten, David L; Westengard, James; et al. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine; Aliso Viejo7.1(Jan 2001): 38-47.
Additive contributions of childhood adversity and recent stressors to inflammation at midlife: Findings from the MIDUS study. Hostinar CE1, Lachman ME2, Mroczek DK3, Seeman TE4, Miller GE3.