Studies prove the healing power of music.

Music can move you to tears, pick your spirits up, bring back beautiful memories, make you deliriously happy or even rouse violent emotions. However, there's growing evidence that it can heal you - psychologically, physically and emotionally.

A recent study conducted by doctors at Temple University, Philadelphia, found that patients were able to calm their anxiety before undergoing a colonoscopy by listening to their favourite tunes. Studies by doctors at the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff also found that listening to live harp music helped cancer patients deal with the pain related to chemotherapy. And that's not all. Music has also been found to promote cognitive development in children, benefit autistic children and help people suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

These studies, though new, are scientific proof that music can help keep us healthy. The use of sound and music in healing has been recorded in Asian, Native Indian and aboriginal cultures for centuries. The trend is witnessing resurgence today, especially in complementary healing systems. Mala Jham, who practices alternative healing therapies such as Jin Shin Jyutsu, cranio-sacral therapy and rebirthing, uses soothing sounds and music during her mediation and healing sessions with patients. "Music has a way of stirring our innermost feelings and senses and taps into our psyche unlike any other force. Music connects with us through our brain waves. Music and sounds tap into the brain's ability to synchronise with strong and predictable rhythms to promote and increase muscle endurance, minimise pain and induce relaxation," she says.

According to Jham, studies have also found that music stimulates parts of the brain that are associated with emotions. "Music helps release endorphins (the ‘happy' hormones) in our body, which in turn, offer significant benefits to our physical and mental health. Similar studies have found that music stimulates the body's natural painkillers: endorphins, serotonin and enkephalins. Other research has shown that the appropriate use of music can lower blood pressure, significantly improve mood, decrease the amount of anesthesia needed in surgery, improve motor function in patients with neurological diseases and increase the body's immune system," explains Jham.

Drumming for peace

Julie-Ann Odell, founder of Dubai Drums, a company that conducts community drum circles around the UAE, and uses drums as a tool in corporate team building, says, "Sound is a powerful, primitive force that has been scientifically proven to promote wellness. In the native traditions of ancient cultures, sound and vibration have been used since the beginning of time to create music, and to aid healing, most predominantly using the drum," says Odell.

According to Odell, who also offers healing drum journeys, sound has a strong metaphysical aspect to it. "Drumming stops the chatter of the mind and frees us from the stress of everyday living. It moves our awareness outside the confines of the conceptual mind, connecting us to an energy that conveys a primal feeling of timelessness. When we drum, we become one with what we are made of; we become one with the voice of creation, which is a primordial rhythm that pulses within all that exists in the universe," she says.

In support of the healing benefits that come with drumming, Odell also cites a double-blind placebo study that was conducted by a cancer expert, Dr Barry Bittman. The study found that drumming raises the endorphins, boosts the immune system and brings on an alpha state, which is known to relax the mind and body. Odell also conducts monthly ‘Full Moon Desert Drumming' sessions for the Dubai community at large. "This activity has a wonderful healing effect because people can connect with the earth. The sound and the rhythm of the drums and the social impact of drumming with friends, family and other members of the community, is especially therapeutic," she says.

Karen Meyer-Reumann, a life coach, stress management consultant and counsellor, also focuses on the metaphysical aspect of sound and uses concepts related to quantum physics to channel the healing power of sound and light to rid the mind and body of stress, promote harmony and dispel negative thought patterns.

According to Meyer-Reumann, sound waves can balance the body's chakras or energy centres (which holistic healers believe oversee the function and energy flow in different organs of the body and keep us healthy), and create a state of awareness and harmony.

The energy centres in our bodies vibrate at specific frequencies that are also associated with the notes on a music scale. Stress and other conditions can affect the functioning of the chakras and disrupt these frequencies. Meyer-Reumann uses specific sounds and frequencies to correct such imbalances, and activate the healing process.

While music can heal and harmonise the body, it can also provide relief to those dying from terminal illnesses. Music thanatology, a form of music therapy, is used to alleviate the emotional and physical pain that terminal patients endure.

Healing medium

The use of music in such areas and its efficacy in helping people heal and relax has helped make its use of great value in healing practices across the board. In fact, the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London has decided to hold live music performances for its patients because its research revealed that patients who listen to live music need less medication and recover more quickly than those who do not. The measured physiological benefits experienced by patients included a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate and hormones related to stress.