“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears - it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many neurological patients, music is even more - it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
This quote by the late, renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks is a powerful statement on music’s essential role in health. In a time when being kind to our mind has never been more critical, the importance of opening our ears and embracing the therapeutic benefits of music has never been greater or more important.
Music has been a great “healer” since ancient times. Long before the Western entertainment world got a hold of it and started packaging music into genres and 3-4 minute “hits” and jingles for commercial use, written records show that Greek physicians used music to heal their patients using vibration to aid in digestion, treat mental disturbance and induce sleep. Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician wrote,
“Each celestial body, in fact each and every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having its own function and character, contributes to the whole.”
Ancient Egyptians describe musical incantations and a certain kind of instrument that generated an “ultrasound” for healing the sick, which is still in use today.
Underlying such historical anecdotes, there is the reason why it’s so easy to embrace, relate and find relief in music...music is a part of the cycle of natural life. Music is based on rhythm and harmony. Human life is all based on rhythm. Day and night, seasonal changes, tidal ebbs and flows and all physiological and biological functions are rhythmic. We inhale and exhale, our hearts contract and expand, our sleeping, eating, menstrual cycles and most, if not all, functions of life are rhythmic.
Life’s pulsing rhythm that moves in us and around us is a great reminder that man, nature and music are bound by the same common force: rhythm.
Dr. Sacks also once said, "In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”
It’s so easy to find a sanctuary in sound. Nearly every culture around the world throughout history “self medicates” through music. But we have yet to fully grasp or appreciate how far the therapeutic powers of music can go in managing our emotions, reducing stress and other health issues. But we are approaching a tipping point as modern science and research are uncovering musical primitives that deeply impact our brains, bodies and performance. It’s not just our intuitive belief in music’s “magical powers” anymore, and there are more and more ways to intentionally engage with music and sound experiences that can actively and positively impact our health. Change is here, and the more we can give our screen-exhausted eyes a rest and open our ears to the therapeutic benefits of music...that’s just the change we need.
Jamie Pabst is the founder of Spiritune, a sonic wellness app that combines the principles of music therapy with neuroscience. Available for download here.