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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Music, dance and medicine!

Music expresses what cannot be spoken and what is impossible to remain silent about.                                                                                       ---Victor Hugo

For time immemorial, music (or ‘healing sounds’) has been considered as an aid to medical therapy. Recently, research has established its scientific merit, showing the therapeutic efficacy of music in such diverse fields as cancer, chronic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, anxiety and depression, pregnancy and labour etc. etc. Music acts by modulating our emotions, as negative emotions are implicated in many illnesses such as hypertension, anxiety, depression, lowering of immune mechanism in the body etc.

Music is processed and memorized by the medial pre-frontal cortex of the brain which is termed ‘music processing centre’, situated just behind the forehead. Research shows that music has a discernible effect on cardiovascular and respiratory functions. Depending upon the class and rhythm, music affects heart rates and respiratory rates, either by increasing or decreasing myocardial oxygen demand. In cases of acute MI, relaxation exercises and music has been effective in reducing stress.  Music has been found to be effective in reducing anxiety, psychological and physical symptoms, and improve host immunity. Music was used to improve trauma and wound treatments in hospitals during the two world wars. In invasive procedures like cardiac catheterization, music has been found effective to reduce anxiety.

Researchers have found that soft sounds with regular and low rhythms (‘lullabies’) is beneficial to babies ‘in utero’. The foetus can recognize music as early as 20th week and can ‘learn’ music. Music therapy help mothers in antenatal period to alley anxiety and avoid arrhythmias that may occur during pregnancy due to increased sympathetic activity. Music of Mozart (‘slow rhythm, soft sounds’) has been found effective in these circumstances. Music also improves cognitive functions of the foetus, and is helpful in allaying post-partum depression.

In music therapy, classical music (e.g., Bach, Mozart and other Italian masters, Indian ‘rags’) has been found to be more effective than other types of music, Interestingly, the tempo of music (‘slow, relaxing’ to ‘upbeat’) has a similar effect on humans in general and is independent of one’s particular preference. Soft music (in contrast to loud) is beneficial in reducing pain and anxiety in situations such as critical care settings, and reduces the need for sedatives. Elderly patients benefit especially from such music, recalling sweet memories of ‘youth’ days and ‘better’ days. It is found to improve mood, motivation and social interaction for them. Patients with Alzheimer disease are also documented to benefit from music therapy. However, heavy metal or similar music is harmful to health; it ‘encourages rage, disappointment and aggressive behaviour’ and result in increasing heart and lung rates, and blood pressure.

Similarly, dance, which is frequently accompanied by music, has enormous health benefits. It is a type of physical activity which is as beneficial as other forms of exercise such as jogging, running, swimming etc. While many are avert to regular exercise, dance may be sustainable because of its ‘fun’ element, improving both body and mind! Dance ‘increases flexibility of the body, tone and strength of muscles, endurance, balance and spatial awareness and a general feeling of well-being’. Different postures in dance helps to strengthen the weight-bearing bones of the thigh and legs, full0range motions of the hip joints and ligaments, and thereby contributes to the lessening of low back ache. It also improves blood circulation to the brain and improves memory by facilitating new connections in the old brain.

The social component of dance promotes relationships with fellow dancers and audiences and helps in lowering ‘stress, depression and loneliness’. These effects are mediated through the mood-elevating hormone “endorphin” which is produced during exercise. Dance as a form of movement therapy has healing effects in quite a number of illness conditions such as stress management and prevention of health and mental conditions, rehabilitation of stroke victims, children with developmental motor problems.

From the above discussion, it is obvious that music and dance has a place in healing, and sometimes curing physical and mental conditions. This is a relatively virgin area in our therapeutics…it’s high time that we pick up this earnestly and use it as an adjunct to medical therapy to facilitate our connection with nature!

For more:

Trappe HJ (2012). The effect of music on human physiology and pathophysiology. Music and Medicine 4(2):100–105.

Alpert PT et al. (2011). The health benefits of dance. Home Health Care Management and Practice 23(2): 155-157.

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