Sunday, March 16, 2014

The soothing power of music - By Elizabeth Giammarco

 Music has charms to soothe a savage breast ~ William Congreve

I was reminded recently about the power of music and what it can do for people as well as pets when it comes to mental and physical health. One of my relatives has a daycare for dogs where she commits herself and her personal living space to several large canines on a weekly basis. After viewing one of the pictures of the pack that she sends frequently, I asked her how she was able to get all of them to behave and to lay back contentedly. Her answer was simple – classical music. She has it streaming continually and it does seem to lessen their innate need to romp while in the house. Her explanation resounded within me as I too have classical music playing most of the time and notice that my cats are more relaxed when it is on as am I.

Music has been around since we have. From celebrations of life to the dirges observed during death, music has been our companions. For instance, mothers have sung to their babies to comfort them as far back as can be remembered. In fact, songs such as lullabies have been found carved onto walls of caves from well over several thousand years ago. What parents have known probably from early beginnings, studies have now confirmed. Music is therapeutic. Research involving various conditions suggests that music alone or in conjunction with other treatments bolster health and recovery. 

According to Oliver Sachs, M.D. who teaches at Columbia University, children (and adults) respond well to music therapy. For instance, those who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have lower levels of hyperactivity, better focusing ability, and greater social experiences when exposed to treatment by music. Yet other research has also shown where generational music such as might be found during the Big Band Era help residents who are in long-care facilities be more active, more social, and less depressed. Then too, premature babies thrive and rebound when soothing music is played, according to some studies. One reason for the health benefits of music can be found in the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which allows for feelings of well-being and pleasure to be felt by the individual when certain sounds are experienced. Other ideas involve the rhythmic beat of music that helps the brain and cardiovascular system retune.

However, the types of music that can have a positive effect on one’s mental and physical health varies from person to person and also from time to time. While one individual might enjoy classical music, another one might find it stifling or frustrating. The mournful, deep resonance of the chanting that comes from Himalayan monks might be too depressing for some; although, others might find it relaxing as well as invigorating. Soft rock might help one to weather bouts of the blues one time; whereas, Blue Grass might be enjoyed by the same person more so when the sun is out. Finding what is best for the pets and for people depends on what the goal might be – is it for relaxation, to lessen anxiety or depression, to bolster motivation, or to just feel at peace. Some might have to go through trial and error before deciding which selections might be best. 

Because I was surrounded by many types of music from when I was a child, I have found several pieces that help me when I need them. When I have to get housework done, I put either Beethoven’s Fifth or Glenn Miller’s In the Mood on as I dust and polish my way through the house along with two Maine Coon cats that romp by my side. If I am feeling a bit down, it is the Traveling Wilburys End of the Line. I might choose Handel for spiritual healing or Eric Clapton when I just want to hear a beat from my generation. Whatever the choices are for any of us, music does charm and soothe the savage breast as well as the one that is more refined. Music is the essence of our lives and the rhythm from our souls. 

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