Music Therapy

“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor!……”

Thus starts the Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night”, with the love-struck Duke Orsino ordering his musicians at his palace to feed him with music all the night, as he desires to have the sweet strains feed his appetite for romance. The bard makes him describe the music played as an energizing “food of love”, and in the following lines makes him pour forth sweet words of passion, all of which originate from the tranquilizing effects of the music being played.

Centuries before, while this play had been staged, and even epochs later, the cultivation of music and the arts used to be perceived merely as aesthetic pursuits, entertaining and relaxing the mind and the soul and also connecting the performers with people at large. Today, while numerous groundbreaking researches have proved that music, as an entity, has a profound effect on the body and the psyche of all living organisms, that which was perceived only as an aesthetic pursuit is today regarded as an established therapy to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. In fact, quite some time back researches had shown music used as a therapy to not only bring about qualitative changes in humans, but also in animals and plants.

While today’s youth are completely in love with music having beats and rhythms, it is a fact revealed by scientists that these beats have a definite impact on the stimulation of the body of an individual. Let us for once think about the immensely mentally invigorating music like the symphonies of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart! Can anybody ever deny the level of creativity, positive energy, powerful melodies and harmonies they produce that compel the mind and the soul to embark on a journey of powerful emotions and impulses? Any classical form of music, for that matter, has been said to have profound effects on both the body and the psyche of individuals, playing an instrumental role in the healing and harmonizing of the mind, body and spirit. Long accepted as both soother and stimulant, any form of “positive music”, including classical music has been proved to profoundly impact the cognitive abilities, creativity, optimism levels and the overall ‘state of the mind’ of an individual. By the term “positive music”, researchers have actually referred to the kind of music which is usually emotionally and spiritually uplifting, and that which is gifted with beneficial qualities, healing the mind and the body in the process. Apart from the pure classical variety of music, pop songs that are romantic in content, country tunes, and some amount of rhythm and blues (earlier referred to as ‘race music’) with evocative lyrics and tune are considered to be parts of “positive music”. Today’s world music, a vast arena of music dedicated to the great non-western traditions of music, including Indian, Chinese, Persian (Iranian) and Sufi forms-comfortably fall into the category of “positive music” as defined by scholars and exponents of music.

What the ancient cultures, including the Vedanta philosophy, the ancient Greek philosophy had to say about the effects of music on an individual:

If we look back into the history of ancient, age-old philosophies and cultures, the extent of philosophical, spiritual impact that music was said to have on the human soul would become obvious to us. Ancient historians have come up with the fact that for thousands of years, the Vedic culture had used the profound sound effects of music not only for the tranquility of the mind, but also for the proper balance and equilibrium between the body and the soul, for encouraging a heightened state of awareness in humans, and even for health enhancement and promotion of healing. It had been believed by the unique Vedanta philosophers that ancient oriental music, in its true nature, was an enriched exercise of the human mind in its path of exploration into the mysteries of Nature and of Ultimate Truth (the “Brahman”). It was ages and thousands of centuries ago that in the ancient Vedanta philosophy, music had been considered as a subtle divine thread capable of linking the “Jeevatma” (individual soul) with the “Parmatma” (Supreme Soul). And why not, when the Vedanta philosophers had identified “shabda” (sound) as “brahma” (absolute reality), the primeval source of creation of the universe? This ancient concept of the “shabda-brahma” had been embraced in its entirety by ancient Vedic philosophers to understand the beauty, depth and elevating powers of ancient Indian music. On the other hand, the myriad effects that the various “raagas” of classical Indian music that inspire the human mind and rejuvenate the senses are quite undisputed till today. Saying this, it is imperative why the ancient spiritual music form (termed as the “Dhrupad”) performed in the temples and the courts from the ancient to the medieval times was connected to its spiritual roots and also why even contemporary researches still try to delve deep into its magical prowess on the human body and soul.

On the other hand, researchers have found out that in ancient Greece, the legendary mathematician Pythagoras theorized that music had the power to diminish and even eradicate negative energies and emotions from the human mind. Other ancient Greek philosophers had full faith in the ethical powers of music, including philosophers from around the fifth century B.C. to around third century A.D. Most of them recognized the immense impact of music on the development of one’s personality. The stupendous power of music over the ethos of an individual, and on the overall human disposition has been time and again emphasized by philosophers like Plato and also by Chinese authors of various documents.

The healing benefits of music established by modern science:

Apart from the immense spiritual, emotional and ethical impact of music in the human mind, today modern scientific studies are constantly emphasizing on the astonishing benefits that music has in terms of healing human ailments. Adequate amount of modern scientific researches in recent times have explicitly shown that specific sounds and music have resulted in measurable and multiple healing benefits. Even in case of critical human ailments, the ever-growing field of health care popularly known as “Music Therapy” is utilizing music and its various forms to heal cancer patients, children with ADD, and so on. It is amazing to find out today how hospitals and health care services are treating music therapy as a distinct research area in order to help with pain management, to help ward off depression, to promote movement, to calm patients, to ease muscle tension, and for many other benefits.

Numerous researches starting from 1950 till today have proved that music has a strong impact on the human brain. The beats and rhythm of music, which can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, has the ability to transport the human mind to a crescendo of concentration, and even promote a tranquil, meditative state of the mind. Similarly, as the beats and rhythm of music have the ability to impact the brainwaves and other resulting physiological functions, researches have revealed that activities related to the autonomous nervous system, like breathing and heart rate are greatly impacted by the “magic wand of music”. Keeping this in mind, exponents of music therapy today are constantly using the super-power of music to counteract or prevent the damaging effects of chronic stress, resulting in relaxation, health and wellness. It is even been claimed by researchers that the pleasant, soothing effects of “positive music” can reduce the risk of stroke and other health problems over time, boost immunity, ease muscle tension, working as an ultimate “stress-buster” of all times!

It is a fact that most of the findings of the current researches regarding the effects of music emerged in the wake of the realization that all our bodily functions, starting from breathing and pulse to heart rate and the pumping of blood in the heart-work in a cohesive, cyclical and rhythmical pattern, just like music does. While the basics of music are based on the rhythmical and cyclical movements of sound patterns, it is the synchronization of the various sound patterns and rhythms that influence all our physiological actions. All music therapy interventions, designed by experts to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, and promote physical rehabilitation emphasize on this synchronization of various sound patterns and rhythms as the fundamentals of music therapy.

Very recently, a new type of music therapy has reportedly been offered to individuals with severe intellectual disabilities, with some remarkable results. As reported by The World Today, music, very much like mediation and yoga, two of nature’s own tranquilizers, is giving a voice to profoundly affected people, thereby providing new insights into their inner, emotional lives. The World Today reported as many as a half a dozen case studies of individuals with severe disabilities responding to music as an absolute direct channel of communication, which is definitely an instance in itself.

Keeping in mind these profound effects of music which many have discovered in their lives personally, I guess now when somebody would say that a certain kind of music “lifted” him in spirit, mind and body, every word of that should be taken, literally. The ultimate sense of intense well being that one is capable of reaching through music, is truly euphoric in its essence, and quite amazingly, sustains even moments after listening! So, from now on, take some time everyday to move out of the chaos of the world, pick up Mozart, Beethoven or some other classical music CD, create a simple playlist for yourself to ensure tranquility, productivity and calm living for an entire lifetime!

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