Tag Archives: Music Therapy

Singing Trumps The Pain

Naaman and Elisha
Namaan, cured from leprosy by a seemingly simple act, offers payment to Elisha, who refuses to accept. Image by Pieter de Grebber [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is evidence that singing can be used to alleviate pain and can also be used therapeutically.  Some of this evidence is reviewed by Deb Preachuk, a Chronic Pain Relief, Posture Restoration and Athletic Performance Enhancement professional, on her blog.

I have experimented with this myself and have found it effective in the past.  There is no guarantee that it will work for you, so check with your doctor before trying therapeutic singing.    I don’t know of any negative side effects from singing, but even a glass of water can be harmful to some, therefore it is best to consult with your medical authority about the information you read on the web.

On several occasions singing has been my therapeutic agent.  On two incidents where I was feeling nausea,  I was determined to avoid the seemingly inevitable outcome.  I thought to myself that it would be impossible to eject stomach contents and sing at the same time, so I grabbed a Seventh Day Adventist Hymnal from my bookshelf and began singing at the top of my lungs.  Sure enough, the nausea dissipated preventing the anticipated volcanic event.

Luckily, it is not often that I feel nauseated and so several years passed until the feeling recurred.  This time I remembered the singing tactic and tried it again.  The effect was the same, negative feelings dissipated and my spirit was uplifted by rhapsodic singing.

Recently, I had some tooth sensitivity pain and was not a happy camper.  As I was driving home from work, I decided to try the singing tactic.  I figured that It wouldn’t bother anyone else on the noisy highway and so I unleashed my voluminous vocals, with improvised comical lyrics.  To my surprise the tooth pain vanished after about 5  minutes of singing.    Several days later the same situation arose and again the singing trumped the pain after a few minutes.   The pain has not returned since.  Pain trumped and vanquished by singing .  Go figure.

But surely,  singing cannot be the solution to everyone’s pain.  Some would never even consider singing while in pain.  “Foolishness,” they say.     This reminds me of a bible story where the commander of the Syrian army named Namaan is asked by the prophet Elisha to bathe in the Jordan river 7 times in order to be healed from leprosy.  Namaan refused to perform this foolish act.  However, his servant convinced him by reminding him that had more difficult and expensive tasks been required he would have happily complied.   Namaan performs the simple tasks and is healed.

Many people would happily spend thousands of dollars on surgeries or expensive treatments that “make sense” rather than trying a simple approach that seems silly.  But what have you to lose?

The healing power of singing may be magnified when performed in groups.  Listen to the Virtual Choir orchestrated by Eric Whitacre and be inspired to sing for healing, rejuvenation and social bonding.

How Singing Does It

There are several mechanisms that may explain the healing and pain reducing effects of singing.

    1.  Endorphins –  Singing may trigger endorphins, the bodies natural painkillers.  This is especially true if you are elated by singing.  That is, singing songs you love or songs that bring back memories can trigger tears of joy or emotion.  These tears can have a cleansing effect on the mind and the endorphins released can reduce the sensation of pain.   Other similar activities that trigger endorphins are laughter and aerobics.
    2.  Gate Control Theory –  this theory is based on the idea that the nervous system can only process a certain amount of sensory data and that certain pathways when activated will, therefore, suppress other pathways.  The theory was developed in 1965 by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall.  This theory is discussed by Kelley A. Lyons in a master’s thesis published in 1988.
    3. Relaxation –  This concept is also discussed in Kelley A. Lyons’ master’s thesis.  Relaxation reduces stress and allows the immune system to function better thus inducing healing.
    4. Vibration –  The voice is a powerful source of energy for the body through vibration.  Vibration may be essential for the function of the immune system just as movement is necessary to move lymphatic fluids.  That is, vibration may serve as a natural pump for the body to allow the body to realign with healing.

What to Sing

Find songs that you can sing with gusto.  Songs that inspire you.  For example,  many years ago I sang in a local Rhode Island quartet named the Kings’ Men, and we performed a version of “What a Mighty God We Serve”  that allowed me to bellow out with full vocal majesty.  Today I keep this song in my medical music file.  Find songs that are meaningful to you and give them your all.

Music+Dance=Festive Fitness

When auditory hair cells vibrate in your inner ear you perceive sound.  But when auditory hair cells dance you perceive music.

The relationship between music and dance is rooted at the sensory level.   Both music and dance result when space and time form an intimate bond that takes on a life of its own.   The power of music and dance on the brain and body has a profound healing potential that is part of the future of preventive and restorative health care.

In 1905 Einstein introduced the idea that space and time are not separate but rather form a spacetime continuum.   In his new book, ‘Reality Is Not What It Seems’, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains that the past, present and future exist together in an ‘extended present’ that is interconnected by timeless light beams.  I say ‘timeless’ because if you were traveling on a light beam time would stand still for you.  For example, the sun that we see in the sky is the sun from 15 minutes ago, because it takes 15  minutes for light to travel 90  million miles to the earth.  However, the light is not 15 minutes old!  In essence we are witnessing a direct connection through time and the sun’s past is directly connecting to our present through spacetime energy fluctuations.

In a metaphorically similar way, music and dance also connect the past, present and future in the brain resulting in powerful stimulation and regeneration of brain cells.   In the 2014 film, Alive Inside, by  Michael Rossato-Bennett, Dan Cohen of Music and Memory discusses how music awakens elderly people suffering from dementia by reviving brain circuitry from the past that has remained dormant for long periods of time.

The Alive Inside video shows dramatic examples of the power of music for combating brain degeneration resulting from illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  One can only imagine the power of music, when used properly, to keep the brain vibrant, healthy, and free from illness.

Now consider that by combining music with dance we can magnify the beneficial effect on the brain in a way that is more than just the sum of the parts.  This approach is being promoted by a nonprofit organization named ‘Dance for PD.’   As shown below, this approach appears to trigger brain activation that allows Parkinson’s patients a greater degree of freedom to move.

Researchers led by neuroscientist Joseph DeSouza at York University in Toronto believe that dance can rebuild the brains pathways.  He states that dance is a very effective form of brain training because it involves complex brain functions associated with timing, movement, coding and decoding.

Participants claim that dancing helps them not only physically but cognitively as well.  In paper published in January 2015 by Prabhjot Dhami , Sylvain Moreno and Joseph F. X. DeSouza, it is argued that dance appears to be a tool that combines both cognitive and physical rehabilitation strategies.  The authors state:

“Not only does it incorporate physical and motor skill related activities, but it can also engage various cognitive functions such as perception, emotion, and memory, all while being done in an enriched environment.”

But of course, dance is not only a good tool for rehabilitation, and the authors also mention a study by Kattenstroth et al. (2010) in which elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activity were able to prevent cognitive decline when compared to non-dancing controls.

So what are we waiting for?  Let’s get our dancing on!

References

Kattenstroth, J. C., Kolankowska, I., Kalisch, T., and Dinse, H. R. (2010). Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activities. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2:31. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2010. 00031