Editor’s note: The following excerpt is taken from the new book The Harmony of Health, by Don Campbell. It is published by Hay House (May 2006) and available at all stores or online at www.hayhouse.com
Stories illustrating music’s power to reduce stress have been told and retold for thousands of years. For example, the Bible tells of David, the giant-slayer, whose lovely harp playing soothed the anxieties of the powerful King Saul.
From Greece to China, music was a bridge of magic for spiritual and physical transformation. Pythagoras’s two-stringed monochord provided the basis for all future tuning and mathematical correlations to sound. Plato sensed the power of the musical interval for creating war, harmony or cures. In China, intervals and tones served identical purposes through the use of bells, chimes and gongs. Even Bach was commissioned to compose The Goldberg Variations to help one of his wealthy patrons fall asleep.
A few years ago, I was giving a series of lectures on the healthful aspects of music to the subscribers of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. During one of the question-and-answer sessions, a lovely lady mentioned that she and her husband had attended the Friday-evening concerts for more than 30 years…and throughout every one of those events, her husband had fallen asleep during the first half hour. She found it frustrating and embarrassing, and she wanted to know what she could do to help him pay attention and reap the benefits of the music.
The woman’s husband, who was sitting next to her, blushed, and simply explained that after his workweek, he looked forward to the symphony because it relaxed him. He was able to forget the stress of his job and became renewed by the end of the evening. He felt that the second half of each performance was the high point of his week. His wife then understood that music was having a deeper impact on his life than she realized.
From my earliest days as a health-conscious musician, I began to experiment with composing music to help others relax. By integrating low, prolonged thematic phrases based on breathing patterns with higher, superimposed rhythmic harmonies, I found that I could actually write music that spoke to different parts of the mind and body. The higher sounds allowed beautiful mental images to form, while the lower sounds set up long phrases that affected breathing. A dynamic change in the depth or shallowness of breath became apparent within three to seven minutes of listening.
The result was Crystal Meditations, an album that was used in many of the studies for relaxation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas under the observation of Jeanne Achterberg, Ph.D. Most of the patients in these studies suffered from stress, anxiety, high blood pressure and lack of concentration.
However, the results of this multi-layered music were easily observed in the changes in patients’ brain waves, blood pressure, heartbeats and breathing patterns. Even I was surprised to see that it took only seven minutes of listening for each patient to enter a measurably calmer state of being.
For the first time in my career as a composer, I began to look at the body as a kind of instrument itself – one capable of achieving a resonant state with the power of sound. By that time in my career, I’d written scores for modern-ballet companies and had seen how effectively music directed the movement and expression of the dancers. I began to search for additional compositional techniques that would bring alignment to non-dancers. At the same time, I started experimenting with combining imagery and music to access the other senses’ potential for sparking the dramatic physical responses that can lead to daily self-improvement.
I gave a cassette of what I’d composed for the hospital studies to my 80-year-old mother. Her response, although a little startling, displayed some insight as well: "I can’t believe that your father and I sent you to the conservatory in Fontainebleau, and this is what you’re creating. It makes me want to fall asleep!"
For someone like my mother, who was high-strung and very physically tense, this music was actually having a physical effect. She didn’t consider it art or entertainment; it was a sedative. Little did she know that that effect was precisely what I’d intended.
The past two decades have brought music’s power into hospitals, rehabilitation centers, assisted-living facilities, dental offices, massage rooms, spas and exercise classes. Highly clinical work on head injuries, strokes and autism is now performed by certified music therapists, and relaxation techniques are commonly used by psychotherapists. Music provides an essential tool to improve the effectiveness of these professionals.
Massage therapists are able to bring added value to their sessions by using progressive-music-relaxation techniques during each massage.
"With many clients, the right music helps set the atmosphere and lets me do my work more deeply and effectively. Not only does it help my clients relax more quickly, the music at the end of the session helps them center and become more grounded and integrated as I massage their feet," says Bev Sharette, a longtime massage therapist in Boulder, Colo. "Silence is also important. As I get to know each client, I can tune in to their musical preferences."
Many of my students have used a three-phase system of music for massage sessions:
– Induction, comfort and release for 20 minutes
– Deep relaxation and surrender for 20 minutes
– Centering, integration and grounding for 5 to 10 minutes
A wide variety of music is used in each of the three phases, depending on the client’s physical and psychological needs. Classical selections, New Age music, light jazz, inspirational hymns and chant all fit into the menu. There are even selections that help the therapist maintain stamina and strength for the last clients of the day.
The pillow that heals
Last year I became aware of research being done in Europe with a pillow that heals. As the director of music and acoustic services with Aesthetic Audio Systems, my interest in bringing music to health-service environments has greatly increased as the medical community has come to accept the arts as a more vital part of treatment. It had long been clear to me that not only would a better acoustic environment benefit patients, but that the medical staff, visitors and families required a healthier and safer acoustical environment, as well.
During my research into this topic, my associate Annette Ridenour brought to my attention a curative pillow designed in Denmark by the composer Niels Eje and physician Per Thorgaard. These collaborators’ belief in the positive effect of music in a clinical setting is so strong that they’ve created one of the world’s largest foundations to study its benefits. The pillow they designed, already thoroughly studied in Europe and now employed in pilot programs throughout the United States, is used to supplement traditional treatments for patients during the high-stress periods immediately preceding and following surgery. Speakers imbedded in the comfortable cushion play recorded natural sounds and soft improvised music, delivering healing melodies directly to the patient without the need for long cords, bulky equipment or headphones. Patients find the music comforting, but beyond that, studies have shown that using the device reduces their need for preoperative sedation and shortens their postoperative recovery time.
The pillow is just one of many emerging ways that music can assist patients and allow health professionals to do their jobs efficiently. From emergency waiting rooms to maternity wards and operating rooms, stress is an unavoidable part of the health-care experience. Calming the mind and spirit can go a long way toward relaxing and even healing the body. By bringing harmony and accord to the environment – with carefully selected sounds that clarify without overstimulating – all our sensory abilities can be brought together to improve our emotional outlook, resolve and physical strength.
Optimizing the power of relaxation
Studies have shown that prolonged periods of stress create wear and tear on the body. The immune system is suppressed, increasing the chances of hypertension, headaches, stroke, coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Simple techniques can be used daily, however, to lessen the tension that can lead to these and other complications. For nearly three decades, psychologists and mind-body therapists have made use of these progressive-relaxation techniques to heal their patients.
This simplified version is designed to consume a minimal amount of time and can be accomplished easily in a comfortable chair, lying in bed or even at work. Take some time to observe its effects, and experiment with adapting it to your own needs.
Progressive relaxation in five minutes
– Find a comfortable position in a chair, on the floor, or in bed.
– Close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Exhale deeply and slowly threeor four times.
– As you continue to breathe, release all the tension in your feet and legs. Letthem feel light.
– Then release any tightness from your thighs, hips, and pelvis…let go of themuscle constriction in the lower parts of the body.
– Imagine all stress leaving your torso, from the depths of your stomach up throughyour chest.
– Feel a lightness in your shoulders, arms, and hands. Stretch slightly and thenlet go, sensing greater relaxation coming to your body.
– Release the muscles in your neck, throat, and jaw. Feel the inhaling breath bringinga soothing sensation to these areas.
– Exhale all stress out from your face and the top of your head, allowing your mindto become clear…let the breath take away all your thoughts.
– Remain quiet for another minute or two and allow your body to bring itself intobalance.
– Exhale with a long breath and begin to stretch, letting your voice sound "Aaaahhhhh."
– Become aware of the room around you, take your time standing up, and then continueyour day.
There are many variations on this technique. If you use it at night, it can increase the restfulness of your sleep. It can help you in preparations for meditation or tasks that make you feel stressed. You may even find it useful to perform these exercises before going for a run or starting some other workout.
Music can be used to assist in this process. You can create your own musical style for morning, afternoon and evening routines. No matter how many times you use this exercise, you’ll find that it always provides benefits.
Once you begin to experiment with the progressive-relaxation technique, you may notice more sounds in your environment. Air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators, lights, computers and traffic all produce noise that we become so accustomed to that we may not realize how much stress it’s creating. If you begin picking up on these disturbances, especially those of low frequency, you may be pinpointing one of the invisible causes of stress.
Some sounds are negatively charged, bringing fatigue and stress to the body. Others can actually charge the brain and body, and create energy and refreshment. Sounds and music are like our diets: We need a balance of silence, stimulation and relaxation throughout the day, otherwise our bodies begin to tire.