"Music unites us all, it doesn't need a language, it is a universal resource to be happy."
Music can modify neural activity in areas of the brain that control our emotions. Professor in music psychology Stefan Kölsch, from the University of Bergen, Norway, has investigated how this strategy can help treat illnesses. According to Kölsch,
"Negative emotions and emotional states block our ability to self-heal but it is now known that music can trigger hormonal fireworks in the brain and that is that music can have an effect of changing brain neurotransmitters that can positively impact not only our mood, but also our health."
Music releases hormones such as serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine that can influence the autonomic nervous system, which unconsciously regulates vital processes in the body such as breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure and metabolism.
Kölsch's experiments indicate that music can trigger different emotions in certain brain structures and that specific neurotransmitters are stimulated according to the tonalities, which in turn can undergo modifications.
Kölsch explains that there are four brain systems that would be the source of emotions. Music activates the subconscious. It also affects the pleasure centre in the brain, which is also the pain centre. In the brainstem, vital organs and functions are modulated. Finally, music can have a relaxing effect and reduce stress. All four systems influence each other, activate neurotransmitters and can trigger feelings of happiness similar to those of sex, drugs or food. Music can have a revitalizing or calming effect, frighten us or cheer us up.
When we make music together, for example, the brain releases what are known as endogenous opioids, which are brain neurotransmitters that reduce pain and at the same time generate very positive emotions that make us feel more connected to other people.
The effects of music on physical, mental and emotional health are so effective that it has been incorporated as therapy at different levels: from its use in hospitals in units for premature babies, through schools with musical initiation, organizations that work with the rehabilitation of displaced children and young people and even victims of war; to homes and institutes where diseases such as Parkinson's, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's and drug rehabilitation are treated. But also, in physical rehabilitation and improvement in sports performance; and to treat stress, anxiety and depression.
Music therapy harnesses the power of music in a therapeutic relationship to treat various conditions and improve quality of life. A music therapist tailors sessions to your needs. You can sing or play instruments, listen to music or discuss the meaning of lyrics. No musical background is necessary, and people of all ages can benefit.
Music Can Have a Decisive Influence at Different Stages of Life
The monochord is tuned to the same pitch as vital signs monitors to create a harmonic tonal atmosphere that in premature babies is reflected in heart rate and breathing, and is used in these cases because it has quite low vibrations that would correspond to what we imagine sounds in the womb to be: like waves, similar to the murmur of blood, says Friederika Hasselberg, a musicologist who works in the premature baby unit at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
During early childhood education at the Max Plank Institute, neuropsychologist Daniele Sammler studies how our brains perceive and process music, and what is known as prosody, or the melody of speech, plays a central role. When children are born, they hear the rhythm and melody of the mother tongue, almost instinctively detecting where pauses begin and end to register where a word begins and ends. Just as music has a rhythm, so does language.
On the other hand, turning music and rhythm into movement promotes motor skills and the development of cognitive skills in children such as perception, thinking, learning and memory. The auditory centres affect the motor centres.
As a tool for the readaptation of refugees, the Demetrios Karamintzas integration project MitMachMusikuses music education as a first aid measure and welcomes children in Berlin, Germany who have been displaced from their home countries and the burden of war, dispossession and separation.
"They have learned how serious and precious life is, and this project aims to awaken this in the refugees who arrive there. It's about giving them confidence and giving them back their security, leaving behind everything that happened before," says Karamintzas.
According to Stefan Kölsch's observations, a practice like the one in MitMachMusik gives these people who are being readapted a better chance of survival,
"Studies show that after playing music with others, people behave in a more peaceful, prosocial, altruistic and community-oriented way which is an important evolutionary effect because, when people cooperate with each other, the social bond is strengthened."
Mental and Emotional Healing: The healing Power of Vibration in Diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and in Palliative Care
At its core, music is sound, and sound is based on vibration. Under the direction of Dr. Lee Bartel, professor of music at the University of Toronto, researchers are studying whether sound vibrations absorbed by the body can help alleviate symptoms of Parkinson's disease, fibromyalgia and depression. Known as vibroacoustic therapy, the intervention involves using low-frequency sound - similar to a low rumble - to produce vibrations that are applied directly to the body. During vibroacoustic therapy, the patient lies on a mat or bed or sits in a chair with speakers that transmit vibrations at specific computer-generated frequencies that can be heard and felt, says Bartel. He compares the process to sitting in a subwoofer.
The group is also examining what is called thalamocortical dysrhythmia, a disorientation of rhythmic brain activity involving the thalamus and outer cortex that appears to play a role in several medical conditions, including Parkinson's, fibromyalgia and possibly even Alzheimer's disease, says Bartel, who heads the co-lab.
"We have already seen glimmers of hope in a case study with a patient who had just been diagnosed with the disorder," says Bartel. "After stimulating her with 40 Hertz sound for 30 minutes three times a week for four weeks, she was able to remember the names of her grandchildren more easily, and her husband reported a good improvement in her condition.
The aim of all this work is to develop "dosable" and "prescribable" protocols for music therapy and music as medicine that serve specific neurological functions and address the deficits that can result from many of these neurologically based conditions. Instead of considering music only as a cultural phenomenon, says Bartel, one should see art as a vibrational stimulus that has cognitive and memory dimensions.
Music to Improve Physical Performance and Rehabilitation
According to a publication in the journal The Health Science Academy, Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a world leader in performance music research and author of more than 100 studies, states that music can be thought of as "a kind of legal performance-enhancing drug". Music enhances athletic performance and can be a very compelling intervention to improve the way one relates to both their actual performance and their end result.
The same publication points out 4 ways in which music achieves better sports performance:
- Dissociation Through Music Distracts the Mind
Dissociation is about distracting the mind from the feelings of fatigue that come and go during performance. Research has repeatedly shown how music can improve performance by diverting attention away from feelings of fatigue and pain when performing endurance activities such as running, cycling or swimming. In fact, sports scientists at Brunel University (UK), one of the leading centres for research on music in the service of athletics, have shown that music can reduce the rate of perceived exertion by 12% and improve endurance by 15%.
- Music Promotes States of Fluency for Internal Motivation.
Flow involves an altered mental state of consciousness during activity. Although it is a feeling of energetic concentration, it seems that the mind and body operate on "autopilot" with minimal conscious effort. Some coaches and athletes call it "being in the zone". It has sometimes been said to be a fascinating state and can be trance-like.
- The Synchronised Movements of Music Can Enhance Your Level of Training
The synchronisation of music with repetitive exercise is linked to increased levels of work performance. Research supports the synchronising aspect of rhythm as an important piece of skill and performance. For example, music can balance and adjust movement, thus prolonging performance.
- Several Studies Have Linked Music to Positive Feelings and Memories
Music can enhance internal motivation by triggering good emotions, helping you to experience much greater pleasure from the activity. This is magnified when a piece of music evokes an emotionally meaningful aspect of your life. Why is this important? Researchers believe that these factors can increase adherence to a long-term exercise programme. Adherence is crucial for non-conditioned people and for those in a rehabilitation programme involving exercise, such as physiotherapy, treatment of chronic pain or a heart condition.
On the other hand, in Leipzig, Germany, neuroscientist Thomas Fritz, has created a device that is activated by the movement of the body called Jymmin that allows you to combine training with music in a way that you have not experienced before and that allows you to get motivated, feel less pain and fatigue.
According to Fritz, after about 10 minutes of exercise there is an improvement in mood that lasts for a long period of time and corresponds to what is known as "Runner's High" or runner's euphoria that produces a rush of endorphins. The difference is that while it takes a runner 30 minutes of training to achieve this, with Jymmin, which combines music and exercise, the person achieves it in 10 minutes.
The combination of music and physical exertion activates the reward system in the brain. With Jymmin, for example, people with addiction problems experience euphoric effects that reduce their addiction. In pain patients, it relieves suffering and fear of movement involving sensitive or injured areas. This is thought to be due to an increased release of endorphins, the hormones that act as an endogenous painkiller and increase motivation.
In both sport and rehabilitation, it is about training at the limit of individual performance. In sport, the athlete wants to go further, higher, faster, and the same applies to a convalescent person.
According to experiments, the effects of Jymmin are quite encouraging as the physiological and cognitive response is very fast and, if done continuously, patients can reach the maximum of their individual performance. Possibilities are currently being studied for its use as an adjuvant therapy in rehabilitation.
Watch the video about JYMMIN HERE
Music for Pain and Stress Relief
In a meta-analysis of 400 studies, Levitin and fellow graduate researcher Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, of Mc Hill University in Montreal, Canada, found that music improves the functioning of the body's immune system and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April 2013).
Levitin who is the author of the book "This is Your Brain on Music" (Plume/Penguin, 2007). He also points out in his analysis how music influences health. The researchers found that listening to and playing music increases the body's production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells, the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the effectiveness of the immune system. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
On the other hand, researchers at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore found that palliative care patients who participated in live music therapy sessions experienced relief from persistent pain (Progress in Palliative Care, July 2013). Music therapists worked closely with patients to individually tailor the intervention, and patients participated by singing, playing instruments, discussing lyrics and even writing songs as they worked to come to terms with illness or weighed end-of-life issues.
"Active participation in music allowed patients to reconnect with the healthy parts of themselves, even in the face of debilitating illness or disease-related suffering," says music therapist Melanie Kwan, co-author of the study and president of the Singapore Music Therapy Association. "When their acute pain symptoms were relieved, patients were finally able to rest.
Whether you want to improve your physical condition, heal emotionally or know people who can benefit from this tool, give music space in your life and allow it to activate the self-healing mechanisms in your body.