Healthful Music
harmonizes with our natural body rhythms

Western culture favors vision over all other senses, as well as, conscious thinking over unconscious activity and the written word over oral tradition. These factors tend to alienate us from our bodies. The ‘revolution of thought’ began with the Prussian philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and continues to the present day.

“Rhythm is harmony in time.”                                      

Joachim-Ernst Berendt
Nada Brahma, 1987

Everything in the universe is in rhythmic movement. Within the human body, there are many different, yet related, pulses. This pulsing dance of rhythm occurs in our glands, organs, hearts, and respiratory systems, the electrical circuitries of our brains, and to every cell down to the atoms and strings which form the basis of physical reality. These life-giving pulses are regulated through interactions between our brain and soma. When we are healthy, our body rhythms are in harmony. Degrees of illness occur when our body pulses are not fully coordinated. This coordination provides:

“… fluency due to some organizing principle, to ever renewed impulses whose very orderliness … gives … ease to the flow [of life].”

Curt Sachs
Rhythm and Tempo,1953

“… the body is itself a kind of place – not a solid object but terrain through which things pass, and in which they sometimes settle and sediment. The body is a portable place wandering through the larger valleys and plains of earth; open to the same waters and winds that cascade across those wider spaces. It is … a sensitive threshold through which the world experiences itself, a traveling doorway through which sundry aspects of the earth are always flowing. Sometimes the world’s textures move across the threshold unchanged. Sometimes they are transformed by the passage. Sometimes they reshape the doorway itself.”

“The wild mind of the planet blows through us all, ensconced as we are in the depths of this elusive medium. … No two bodies or beings ever inhabit this big awareness from precisely the same angle, or with the same sensory organization and style. Since … our bodies interface and exchange [in unique ways] no one can feel, much less know precisely how the big mystery reveals itself to another. … Our carnal immersion in the depths of the Mysterious thus ensures an inherent and inescapable pluralism. [This is] … the same mystery that we each experience from our own place within its depths.”

David Abram
Becoming Animal, 2010


“For people of my tribe, with its rich musical context, exposure to music begins in the womb, when pregnant mothers join in the community dances. From inside the womb, our babies feel the vibrations of the rhythms enter their bodies. Infants are then wrapped onto their mother’s backs with a cloth and taken into the dancing circle with everyone else. Children are included in the community celebrations and hear the same music as adults. Our children are welcome to participate at any age.”

Yaya Diallo
Quote from musicthoughts.com

Types of Body Rhythms

Ultradian  
Ultradian rhythms occur 90 to 120 times a minute. They are multi-physiological processes involving many parasympathetic (resting impulses) and right-hemisphere (intuitive) functions.

Circadian
Circadian rhythms happen within a twenty-four-hour period, e.g., waking/sleeping cycle, body temperature changes, blood pressure rhythms, cardiac and renal functions, urinary excretions, and endocrine activity.

Infradian
Infradian rhythms occur every several days or weeks, e.g., sexual activity like the menstrual cycle.

Annual

“Annual rhythms … vary with the seasons. They include heartbeats, which are faster in summer than in winter; the basal metabolic rate, reflecting thyroid activity, which is lower in winter than in the spring or summer; hair growth; blood pH balances; potassium excretion from the kidneys, which increases in the spring; and muscular and mental activities.”

Kay Gardner
Sounding the Inner Landscape: Music as Medicine, 1990


Kay Gardner
Sounding the Inner Landscape: Music as Medicine, 1990 (page 77)

Homeostasis

The body maintains a healthy state through its instinctual responsiveness in maintaining interior, life-enhancing conditions.

[These responsive rhythms] “… come into play as part of the body’s constant readjustment intended to support living processes by maintaining internal equilibrium—a state of well-ordered steadiness … known as homeostasis.”

[Whenever harmful conditions present themselves], “. . . the integrated coordination of every tissue is mobilized to restore homeostasis. [The] …vascular system [arteries and veins], along with the immune, endocrine (hormonal), and nervous systems, link [the various tissues] all together in the common enterprise of sustaining life.”

Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D.
The Wisdom of the Body, 1997

Healing Music and Sound

The proper performance of three major ‘functions’—heart, breath, and brain—is necessary for our health and wellbeing. Healing sound addresses those rhythms which can be duplicated musically – heartbeat, breathing cycle, and brain waves. In addition, the ear plays a significant role in processing sound. Certain sounds and music help us stay healthy. Throughout the ages, the heartbeat reflected in music has been associated with personal wellbeing.

The Heart

“One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery


"... the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

I Samuel 16:7
Quoted by Malcolm Gladwell
David & Goliath

In the present age of ceaseless activity, the knowledge and wisdom of the heart are particularly needed to balance the distancing effects of appearances and rationality. As early as 4,500 B.C. in Egypt, about the time that the ancient moral code, The Book of the Dead, was set down on papyrus, the heart was considered a person’s ‘inner sun.’ This was three thousand years before the Ten Commandments were written down. Over the centuries, as language formation, technology, and visual predominance have moved us away from the wisdom of the body, the heart has been reduced to the visceral—merely a biological organ that keeps us alive. Presently in contemporary society, heart knowledge is distrusted or considered nonexistent. We are in need of a more balanced approach to life, which honors our intuitive powers and offers opportunity for transcendence beyond physical reality.

In addition to its life-giving pulse, the human heart has been associated with our true sense of being throughout the ages. It continues to reflect the state of our health and life experience.

Our tradition of favoring ‘seeing’ goes back to the ancient Greeks and the Renaissance (14th-17th centuries); particularly due to the influence of gifted individuals like Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and Johann Goethe (1749-1832). In the West, we have no corresponding tradition regarding the ear, hearing, or thoughtful self-reflection. During this time, however, there were some exceptions, which unfortunately, are largely forgotten in today’s world.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a mathematical genius and mystic, believed that truth was known “… not only by reason but also through the heart.”

Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), a Sephardic Jew raised in Amsterdam, while admiring Descartes’ power of reason parted ways with his insistence that the mind and body were separate entities. Spinoza contended the mind and body were:

“… simply two different attributes, or aspects, of one and the same substance, which he called Deus sive Natura, ‘God as Nature.’ … Spinoza [believed] the vast and organizing power that his contemporaries called ‘God’ was … the creative dynamism and intelligence of Nature itself, so the human mind was simply the specific sensitivity and sentience of that part of nature we recognize as the human body. …The human body was the outward, material aspect of the human mind, as the mind was nothing other than the internal, felt sense of the human body. The mind and the body are one and the same thing.”

David Abrams
Becoming Animal, 2010

The following quotes support and encourage this world view:

“Contrary to his older contemporary Rene Descartes, the father of Rationalism who formulated the Cartesian mind-body split, and unlike Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who would a century later side rhapsodically with heart and throw reason overboard, Pascal saw the two as complementary.” 

Gail Godwin
Heart, 2001

“The melody of the heartbeat is imitated by drummers globally from the Native American medicine men to the Japanese taiko. Highly complex eastern Indian rhythms are based on the heartbeat, using three tempo ranges that are multiples of the normal heart rate.” “In African, Latin American, and Asian music, the pulse rate is clearly perceptible. …Western classical music … is characterized by a fixed tempo of fifty to eighty beats per minute (bpm).”

“European music from the mid-fifteenth century until the end of the sixteenth century was composed in this manner. This tempo corresponding to a slow to normal heartbeat was the pulse underlying [Johann Sebastian] Bach’s music.”

Joshua Leeds
The Power of Sound (Second Edition), 2010

“… my heart teaches me night after night,”  Psalm 16, Verse 7

“The utterances of the heart—unlike those of the discriminating intellect—always relate to the whole. The heart-strings sing like an Aeolian harp only to the gentle breath of a premonitory mood, which does not drown the song but listens. What the heart bears are the great things that span our whole lives, the experiences which we do nothing to arrange but which we ourselves suffer.”  
C. G. Jung

Quoted by Gail Godwin
Heart, 2001

Findings of recent research “ … show that the central role of the heart in our consciousness is much more than mere metaphor. Transmitters, which play such a crucial role in neural behavior, have now been found in the heart and are somehow connected with the brain. Already we know that the heart is controlled by hormones and responds to our thoughts and feelings; stress can conjure or stop a heart, and people can, quite literally, die of heartbreak.”

Breath

The rhythm of the normal breath cycle is quite a bit slower than the heartbeat: generally about fourteen to sixteen cycles occur each minute. When we sleep, meditate, or relax, our breath slows to eight cycles per minute, the average rhythm of breakers at the seashore. Below are several other features of our breathing cycles.

“Respiration is enabled by our body’s orchestration of a polyphonic harmony of certain principles of the physics and chemistry of gases and solutions, the mechanics of breathing, the structure of the air passages, the distinctive characteristics of lung tissue, the molecular behavior of hemoglobin, and a set of specialized reflexes.”

“The entire sequence and timing of the melodious concertante of respiration is conducted, as are all bodily compositions, by neurological and hormonal controls and by the anatomic and physiological qualities of the participating tissues. They work together to provide constant surveillance and assure the process will occur with such spontaneous regularity that even an act as conscious as breathing will take place without deliberate thought.”

 Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D.
The Wisdom of the Body, 1997

The normal breathing rate (inhale, exhale) is between twelve and twenty cycles per minute (cpm) or three to five seconds per cycle. Our tempo of breathing increases during exercise or anxiety (dual cycle) and slows when we are in a relaxed state (triple cycle). The breathing cycle is generally thought of as being a two-step process, although the rhythm of breathing is actually threefold (inhale, exhale, let be) when we are not physically exerting.

“Inhalation and exhalation are most often thought of as the sum total of the breathing process, but the rhythm of breathing is three fold. Many believe that the true point of power lies in the moment of stillness between breaths, an awareness which we can cultivate. The moment of stillness is the instant that begins to expand—as though by itself—when we detach ourselves from activity and enter deeper levels of consciousness, as in sleep or meditation. As we allow ourselves to go deeper into this breathing process, we will find the ‘letting be’ cycle of stillness becomes as long [or longer] as the phases of inhalation and exhalation. At this point, we are breathing in a triple rather than a dual cycle.”

Joshua Leeds
The Power of Sound (Second Edition), 2010

"Disrupting your body's breathing pattern can knock your body's balance of oxygen, nitric oxide, and carbon dioxide out of whack, which in turn, play a part in exacerbating stress-related conditions."

Arianna Huffington
Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success
and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, & Wonder, 2014

The Brain

The brain’s activity is measured in terms of frequency levels. These brain waves are produced by the electrochemical interaction within the brain. The four major brain wave states are:

  1. Beta waves (14 to 35 Hz or cycles per second) Normal waking state functioning
  2. Alpha waves (8 to 14 Hz) Relaxed wakefulness - daydreaming and meditation
  3. Theta waves (4 to 8 Hz) Near unconscious states, such as deep meditation
  4. Delta waves (0.5 to 4 Hz) The deepest part of the sleep cycle

In addition to Western culture’s preference for seeing among all other of our senses, we consider rational thought as more meaningful than intuitive insight and the conscious mind more reliable than the unconscious. For an engaging and informative history of the various conceptions of the unconscious mind, consider reading:

Guy Claxton
The Wayward Mind, 2010

The Ear

The ear has three functions, apart from hearing:

  1. Regulation of balance
  2. Spatial orientation
  3. Capacity for transcendence

In addition to these functions, Alfred Tomatis, a French physician who specialized in audiology, established a link between the psyche and the ability to hear. He discovered that a primary function of the ears was to convert sound waves to impulses, which charge the neocortex of the brain, as well as, the entire nervous system. Tomatis's memoir is  a very interesting read about his experiences and theories.

Alfred A. Tomatis, M.D.
The Conscious Ear, 1991

Higher frequency sounds optimize our functioning, while lower sounds tend to weaken and produce fatigue in the body. John Diamond, M.D., discovered a method of assessing changes in the life energy of the human body in response to music and sounds, as well as, many other aspects of the environment. He named the method Behavioral Kinesiology. Dr. Diamond repeatedly demonstrates how our bodies can discriminate, through the strengthening or weakening of the musculature, between energy-enriching and energy-depleting influences including sound and music reception. Although the musculature throughout the body registers these effects, the deltoid muscle in the shoulder is used for this purpose due to its ready access. When the body is exposed to music with irregular, anapestic beats, which are out of sync with body rhythms, however, subjects test weak. The person is not able to resist the downward pressure on his extended arm.

Dr. Diamond has tested over 20,000 recordings of all types of music and has concluded that much of rock music during the late sixties and seventies weakens the body due the irregular beats of the music, which set off stress-alarm reactions that weaken the body. Apart from Dr. Diamond’s explanation, there is evidence that the body’s sensitivity shuts down when overwhelmed by external stimuli.

John Diamond, M.D.
Your Body Doesn’t Lie, 1979

Tomatis found that high frequency sounds above 3,000 Hz are needed for at least 30 minutes each day to adequately charge the nervous system. Much of popular music fails to achieve that sound threshold.

Higher frequencies have nothing to do with volume or sound pressure. Insect songs, which range from 12,000 to 16,000 Hz, are a good source of energizing sound needed by the brain for optimal functioning.

A good source is insect songs recorded in nature settings. One of my favorite compact discs is recorded by Gordon Hempton:

Asia, The Misty Isle
NRCDH06
(An excerpt is currently available on this site)
Listen now

Historically, many experts have talked favorably about the power of sound.

“Hearing is … the most spiritual of our senses ….”

“The ear finds, the eye seeks.”

“The fact that the eye constantly thrusts outwards distracts us from self-knowledge and the way inwards. It dissipates attention….The ear establishes a ‘more correct’ relationship between [us] and others. It implies unity rather than division.”

 “The world began with sound. All light is merely a passing manifestation of the sound of creation. The sun … is only a sound that has become luminous and hot."

Joachim Ernst-Berendt
The Third Ear, 1988

“One of the most remarkable manifestations of the degeneration of modern [humans] is an increasing weakening of [our] acoustic sense.”

Marius Schneider, anthropologist,
musicologist & mythologist

“The eye takes a person into the world. The ear brings the world into human being."

Lorenz Oken
19th century scientific researcher &  philosopher

“The human soul can … become diffused by way of the eye whereas what is heard results in focus and attention.

Aristotle

“There are three times as many nerve connections between the ear and the brain as between the eye and the brain.”

 Alfred A. Tomatis, M.D

“Tomatis believed high-frequency sounds - the overtones of music and the voice - energize because of the preponderance of specific cells in the inner-ear membrane that respond to high notes by sending electrical impulses to the brain. Indeed, the number of nerve cells in the cochlea that respond to high-frequency sounds is four times greater than for those stimulated by sounds of under 3,000 Hz.”

Joshua Leeds
The Power of Sound (Second Edition), 2010

So far, you have discovered how and why healthful music is essential to our personal health and well-being. This music is also beneficial for our culture.

A Historical Musical Event

In 1938 as Hitler was rising in power, the storm clouds of war were gathering on the horizon in Europe. Many Americans were troubled about the possibility of being engulfed in war. During these dark days, Kate Smith, a popular singer of the time, approached Irving Berlin requesting a patriotic song that would remind Americans of their spiritual values as a way to assuage their fears and bolster morale.

Berlin chose to revive an earlier composition to serve as an anthem for peace. On Armistice Day, 1938, Kate Smith introduced Berlin’s ‘God Bless America’ on her radio show. It was an instant hit and has been a stalwart inspirational hymn for our country. The song remains a poetic and richly textured piece of music for America’s soul, especially during times of unrest.

Let us all be grateful for a land so far.
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God bless America.
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.