The Amazing Benefits of Music Therapy


If you haven’t created a personal favorite relaxation playlist, here’s a good reason to do so: Healing music can help you fight stress, find comfort, and manage pain. And if you want an additional release through music therapy, put down your earbuds and pick up a drum! Getting your groove on enhances the effect of healing music.

Healing Music: Creating Your Personal Playlist

Start by identifying music that soothes you and helps you feel comfortable. Feeling obligated to include a little classical music? Only do so if it really works for you. Whether you like Mozart, Johnny Cash, or Aerosmith, the music that most helps you relax is a highly personal decision.

“What people say soothes them, soothes them, even if it’s heavy metal,” says music therapist Joanne Loewy, DA, director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. “The most important aspect is how it is incorporated in your life.”ADVERTISING

Healing Music: Finding a Music Therapist

If you aren’t sure what healing music suits you, Loewy recommends working with one of the 5,000 trained music therapists across the country. A music therapist can evaluate your taste and interests and make some recommendations in one visit.

For example, says Loewy, a shy person might benefit from “lilting” music that can be integrated with breathing rhythms, while a more expressive person might want to include vibrations such as gongs or drumming in their music therapy. As a personal test to see which personality type you more closely fit into, Loewy says you should ask yourself what you do when you stub your toe: Grin and bear it or curse and yell!

Healing Music: Grooving in Labor

Women planning vaginal childbirth are usually encouraged to bring along music that will help them relax during their labor; some women even hire musicians to provide live accompaniment.

“The way that music seems to be helpful is either as a distraction, where the mind creates images, or as an integration to more actively create breaths,” says Loewy, who recommends a mix of fast and slow music to support the breathing changes of labor. “It’s also used as a release of pain during labor.”

Focusing on rhythmic music, inviting a drummer into the delivery room, or even beating out a rhythm with a free hand can interrupt the cycle of pain to provide release, says Loewy.

And don’t underestimate the benefit of control over your labor. Women generally recall the birth experience as positive in proportion to the amount of control they felt over their experience.

Having a supportive spouse is important of course, but the feeling of empowerment women gain from being able to choose music or the position in which they labor makes a significant difference in the birth experience.

Healing Music: Keeping the Beat

You don’t have to be a musician to appreciate playing a musical instrument or drum. The ability of rhythm to ease pain has been noted among patients in cancer wards and nursing homes, and it could even counter painful menstrual cramps or other daily aches.

Simply joining a drum circle — an informal gathering of people for the purpose of creating rhythm — can extend the pain-fighting benefits by:

  • Increasing relaxation
  • Reducing loneliness
  • Providing emotional release
  • Enhancing a spiritual connection

Healing Music: Music Therapy and Your Health

Here are some other direct connections between music and health:

  • Healing music protects the heart. A study of 10 healthy adults in their mid-thirties showed that their blood flowed 26 percent more easily when they were listening to music they defined as joyful, an increase in blood flow similar to aerobic activity. Listening to music can’t replace a workout, but appears to be good for the heart. And if high blood pressure is a concern, try this prescription: at least 12 minutes of Mozart three times a week can help lower your blood pressure, according to another study.
  • Music therapy fights addiction. Participating in group music-making can help people struggling with addiction find relaxation, social connection, and emotional release.

So go compose that playlist, or fill up your iPod or CD changer with your favorite musical selections: This is an amazingly easy and entertaining way to combat stress and boost your overall sense of well-being.

By Madeline R. Vann, MPH

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