Music and sound are among the world’s earliest medicines to cure illness and help restore wholeness to those suffering from mental, emotional or physical distress.  Chanting, meditative music, and nature’s sounds are a few forms of music that serve to uplift, energize and restore us, keeping us healthy and balanced.  Here are six ways that music heals us:

One: Music helps us appreciate our mortality without being morbid.

Music helps us adapt to the reality that death comes to everyone. Song lyrics can bring comfort, as well as the melodies of our favorite pieces of music.  Hearing music that has been enjoyed by generations before us brings a reassuring appreciation of our own place in humanity’s story.

Music has the power to transport us back in time and it can trigger memories that make us feel safe, secure and soothed.  Live music is especially powerful and resonates in our bodies, bringing an added dimension to the experience by taking a moment in time and transforming it into something magical and extraordinary.

Two: Music alleviates physical, mental and emotional suffering.

Music affects the physical body by reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. Music can be used before surgical procedures to lower anxiety and reduce the need for sedatives. Playing music in the operating room produces less discomfort during surgery, and music played in the recovery room lowers the use of painkillers.

Listening to music is an effective treatment for mental health issues.  I know from professional experience working with clients in alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs that music and meditation are a potent combination that helps reduce physical pain and emotional distress.

Music can add to the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s by helping them manage their emotions, focus their attention, increase awareness, and adapt to their environment. Popular songs from the forties and fifties, semi-classical, Latin rhythms, and New Age music are all soothing to those suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The effects seem to last for several hours afterward and include improved mood, increased socialization, better appetite, and reduced agitation.

Music therapy can also help people recovering from a stroke or traumatic brain injury that has damaged the part of the left-brain responsible for speech. You may remember seeing video of Gabby Giffords’ recuperation using this technique after she was shot in the head at close range. (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/w_MindBodyNews/gabby-giffords-finding-voice-music-therapy/story

Three: Music gives people the strength to go on when life is challenging.

When we face a serious illness, or when this happens to someone we love, music can bring a great deal of comfort.  It can help us acknowledge our painful feelings, distract us from our depressing thoughts, and console us, giving us strength to go on. Music doesn’t abandon us during our times of greatest need for emotional comfort.

When someone dies, music is often associated with them and their importance in our lives.  Hearing certain songs can carry us into memory states that bring poignant happiness and, eventually, into a more peaceful acceptance of our loss. This is one reason why music has always been part of funeral services; it brings the deceased’s memory to all who hear it and we often feel the deceased’s presence through music.

Four: Music can shut the world out, uplift our senses and invite our creativity.

There are times when music, and other forms of art, completely grasps our attention and shuts out the world around us.  We lose all sense of time. Music takes over, and transports us to a place where we are absorbed in the musical experience.

Sketching portraits does this for me; I think of time spent with my art as high play, where the creative part of myself is fully engaged.  The net effect of music and other forms of art serves to recharge our emotional batteries, remove tiredness, and affirm the beauty of life, and to allow us to be in the world, but not of the world.

 Five: Music alleviates grief and grieving.

The night my mother died, I drove home from the hospital under a sky that was a blanket of deep blue with bright shining stars overhead.  As I looked up at them, I wondered if she were in the heavens, and pondered what a full life she had led.

About two weeks after the funeral, I was given a tape of music with beautiful lyrics and music from a friend that matched my sense of wonderment.  This collection of music, so lovingly organized, helped me in my grieving process, and felt very special to me, comforting and reassuring. I didn’t feel so alone in my grief, and I had music to remind me that there is order and sense to be found in life, death, and grieving.

There are120 special choirs, called Threshold Choirs, in the U.S. and in the world, whose purpose is to sing lullabies to the ill and dying. As they point out, “The human voice as the original instrument, is a true and gracious vehicle for compassion and comfort.”  Their songbook is a special collection written just for the purpose of bringing comfort and peace.  You may be pleased to learn that Indianapolis has one of these Choirs and their soothing music eases the transition between life and death and brings a sense of completion and transcendence.  (www.thresholdchoir.org)

Six: Music builds community and a sense of connectedness with others.

Music connects us with our history and cultural traditions, and brings us closer together. In my studies to become a Life Cycle Celebrant, I was taught that music plays a central role in diverse rites of passage, rituals and celebrations.  It is a part of every religion; sacred music takes many forms, such as chants, hymns, and prayers set to music.  My personal favorites are harp and cello music; their sounds are so hauntingly beautiful and they bring people deeper into prayer, quiet, and peacefulness, perfect for a funeral or at the bedside of someone dying, or at any time when we want to feel close to creation and to the universe.

Music shared in a group experience opens the door to a new world of emotions, and gives insights into the collective thoughts and feelings we may have as a generation. During crises and other difficult circumstances, music provides relief and consolation; it brings new hope and new strength; and enables us to see new possibilities.  Towards that end, my private practice is hosting a musical concert “Music for the Soul – Celebrating Life, Facing Death” featuring musician and folk singer, Bill Cohen.  It will be held at St Paul’s Episcopal Church at 6050 N. Meridian Street in Indianapolis.  To learn more go to http://elainevoci.com/concert/