I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music.
- Billy Joel
The hills are alive, with the sound of music! Picture if you will, Julie Andrews running, open armed, with gay abandon, across the buttercup spotted rolling foothills of the Alps and telling the world (or at least half of Switzerland) how her heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds and sing every song it hears! Our culture is littered with references to all types of music now a days. Take a minute to think of your favourite song. Is it pop, classical or rock? Does it make you feel alive, happy, thoughtful or just like kicking off your shoes and dancing madly around the room never mind who is watching?
Music can be such a powerful part of our lives. It can pick us up and calm us down, it can heal and soothe, it can fuel wars and end wars. There are pages of research about music as therapy. Great activists like Pete Seeger, a pioneer who used music to influence major change in society and mental health and wellbeing in the sixites, encouraged many professionals to continue improving public health through use of this tool. As Obama said at his death;
‘He believed in the power of song to bring social change’.
Music makes a powerful difference. In one of her many books, the PMA guru, Gabrielle Bernstein, encourages readers to make a positive perception playlist. I have added a page to this website called A Space To Listen where I do just that. I wanted to share the tracks that have helped inspire and encourage me, but also explore how and why we find this art form so therapeutic. I also want to use this opportunity to take a huge step out of my comfort zone (one of the scariest things I have actually ever done!) and illustrate how singing has been such a huge healing tool for me both emotionally and physically.
Music has been widely researched as having numerous health benefits. In an article called ‘Mozart as Medicine’, James Clear researches the specific ways music can help with illness;
‘Music therapy is a burgeoning field. Those who become certified music therapists are accomplished musicians who have deep knowledge of how music can evoke emotional responses to relax or stimulate people, or help them heal.’
- Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch, November 5th 2015
These benefits include relieving pain for patients post surgery, boosting immune system functions by decreasing stress hormones and increasing growth hormones. Research has also linked music to happiness by stimulating the same areas of the brain that trigger joy in other activities such as humour and foods. After my first ever PET scan, we were mid house move and after getting back from the hospital, I turned on the TV and ‘Footloose’ was on. When my husband got home from the supermarket, rather than lying down and resting, he found me dancing around the kitchen packing boxes! Maybe it was the effects of the radioactive glucose but that song always gives me the boogie bug and I felt rejuvenated from the inside out.
So, does music really have the ability to relieve stress and anxiety? Listening to my iPod during chemo helped me tune out and connect with a calmer part of me. While the rest of my body was revolting like an exhausted army sitting on its heels and refusing to fight another battle, my little beacon of calm, right in my solar plexus, would be sparked like a flame when I heard certain music. Research does indicate that music therapy can help reduce heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. That would be it then!
‘If music makes you happy, then it might be possible that it is good for your health’
One lady I have been introduced to recently, Catherine Rannus, uses music (and exceptional talent) to produce the most beautiful melodies to help health and wellbeing;
‘I had the idea to use my voice as the main instrument as my discerning palette for music was not impressed by synthesised running water sounds, birdsong or waves and since stumbling across the research suggesting that our energy resonates with certain notes and frequencies.”
- Catherine Rannus
Catherine wrote her first album, Belightful Music, which is now used by many therapists to aid healing in treatments such as reiki, reflexology, and massage. I also know a lot of people who have it in the background when they cant sleep, or when they are working to aid concentration. The link below should take you to a taster of her music;
Catherine believes that when our mind and body are in harmony everything functions as it should and she has found her music to treat patients with common ailments to more serious conditions like heart disease with great success.
Not only has music been a huge influence on my wellbeing and recovery but so has my love of singing. Using my voice and consequently my breathing, has been an incredible meditative tool that has helped my confidence and creativity too. In Psychologies Magazine last August, a group of women were interviewed about what helped them during challenging times. Amanda Greatorex said that song writing helped her through her husbands death because;
‘It is healing for me to take a situation and almost boil down an idea over months, like alchemy, to a pure five minute song.’
I also had the fortune to meet another amazing lady recently, while at a talk in London. Nadine Benjamin bravely stood up in front of a room of strangers, to vouch how she had found her voice again after being in recovery. A lot of things she said resonated with me and I was fortunate enough to find her after the talk. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind letting me use her experience as another illustration of how music and singing can be so healing.
Music helps us connect to experiences we sometimes cant make sense of. It can be easier to express our true feelings through singing and song writing than talking face to face to someone. It gives us a creative channel to express our inner most thoughts and feelings, promoting empathy and even trust.
Lyrics such as ‘Doesn't take a genius to realise that sometimes life is hard’ can immediately resonate, lifting a fog. The lyrics of Heal Over by KT Tunstall have always struck a chord (pardon the pun) with me, so when a great friend asked if he could record me singing it, I jumped at the chance.
The sound file of True Colours, on the Youtube video of the Samspaces bracelets on the Services page, is me! I found my amazing new singing teacher, Brijitte in 2017. I have sung all my life, in choirs, at school and college, as well as for fun at friends weddings and parties, but I was itching to get back into a regular practice, especially after my third diagnosis. I knew it would calm me, focusing on my breathing and the vocal practice would make my spirit soar again. I didn't care if I was any good, I just loved doing it. When I met Brijitte I struck gold. Not only is she an amazing singer but she has also done a counselling course and knew instantly how much I needed to do this to help my own healing process on a totally different level.
What I love about teaching people to sing is watching someone grow in confidence. To be able to refine what they already have and see them blossom to a point of self correction is wonderful. My singing lessons focus on the student getting to know their own voice so in a way it's like guiding someone to a deeper understanding of their own being.
- Brijitte Dreyfuss
Through Brijitte’s teaching, I have accessed a voice I didn't know I had. I didn't realise how fearful I was of certain aspects of singing. It is like learning a new language. Now I feel open and able to sing songs I only dreamed of. Breathing is key and I have accessed a way of centring myself and appreciating what a spiritual process singing is.
Despite my love of music and singing and all the arguments to support its super powers, there is the other side of the coin, that music is no better than other alternatives such as exercise, meditation and holistic therapies. There are also a lot of people who have found that during treatment, their love of music was diminished and replaced by a preference for silence. I can understand that, as the peace and stillness in silence is deeply healing too. There is a huge amount to be said for silent retreats and listening to natural sounds.
Personally, I believe a little bit of everything does you good and if music can be another tool in the box, we can use it! Referring back to the spirit junkie Gabrielle Bernstein;
‘Music is one the strongest tools we have to reconnect ourselves to our inner spirit.’
- Gabrielle Bernstein, Miracles Now
The benefits of using anything we love, to help us in times of adversity are second to none. Music can discover a stronger side to us we never knew about. It is a totally non invasive therapy and with social media today, it is inexpensive, convenient and portable. Healing and music go together hand in hand. Plato couldn't have put it better;
Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.
So, with that in mind, the next time you see me running across buttercup spotted meadows with my arms wide open wearing a pinnafore, you might just be mistaken for thinking music is one of my favourite things!
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Over the course of all my cancer experiences I kept a diary. These are the blogs I have written from the thoughts and feelings I recorded there. xx