The idea of music as a healing influence is ancient and goes at least as far back as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. Music as a healing art and science began to be studied more intently after the two World Wars when musicians went to hospitals to play for the veterans suffering war trauma. Their success in creating a healing response convinced the doctors of music's value as a therapy.
So we know that music aids healing - but how does this actually work?
The role of stress
One way to look at this is to consider the idea that the deeper cause of all physical and emotional pain or illness is some form of stress. We tend to think that stress is just an emotional issue and that if we ignore it then it will go away, but doctors now know that stress results in physiological changes that can have serious health implications.
Stressful events and ongoing difficult situations creates what is known as a stress-response, also known as the fight-or-flight response. When we are in the stress-response, our sympathetic nervous system is dominant and prepares us to fight off an enemy or to run from it. In this state we are primed for action, we feel energised and alert, but there's also a big down-side - we stop performing important restorative functions like digesting and healing.
In order to be in an optimal state for healing and recuperation we need to get out of the fight-or-flight response and into the parasympathetic nervous system's rest-and-digest response.
And this is exactly where music as therapy can play an important role. Music, with its ability to rapidly shift our emotional state, can easily trigger both fight-or-flight or rest-and-digest.
The role of the mind
The second way music heals is by lifting us out of mind-based thinking - which sees problems everywhere - to heart-based appreciation, which sees wholeness and solutions.
Music based on harmony and balance is able to entrain states of harmony and balance in the listener. Just think of how you feel after listening to some of the great classical composers, or even to some modern pop or rock that is created from a place of artistry and positive intention. One feels a sense of beauty, inspiration, perhaps even of awe. This sense is not the mind thinking - it is the heart that is opening. When the mind is still and the heart is open, the body gets the message that it is well and that it can rest and heal.
To summarise, one can say that music is therapy when it:
connects us to a conscious, heart-felt experience of life
is inspiring and life-affirming
contains harmonies that entrain a harmonious response in the listener
relaxes us and gets us out of the stress response into the rest and healing response
Now that you know some of the ways in which music heals, you can be your own best music therapist! Simply choose some positive, uplifting and harmonious music and listen to it with the intent of balancing body, mind and spirit. You can also use some good ambient background music while conducting guided meditations or therapy sessions. The music itself is therapy - so just let the healing frequencies and positive intention behind the music do the work for you as you relax into healing states of being.