Whether you lean toward conventional medicine, holistic and alternative medicine, or some combination of the two, chances are good a lot of it revolves around what you are putting in your mouth one to three times daily. We live in a healthcare culture that is obsessed with solutions to health and illness being the foods we eat, alongside some combination of capsules, whether they be herbal, supplemental, or pharmaceutical, taken several times a day. Obviously these approaches are important and contribute to our degree of health or illness, however to put all of our healthcare focus into what foods and pills we are consuming, is to lose sight of the bigger picture of all that we are capable of as humans.
We are also thinking, feeling, spiritual and creative beings, and as it turns out, these aspects of our human experience have an enormous impact on our physiology, and play an important role in influencing our health. The concept of mind-body medicine has been around for a long time, and has been proven again and again through virtually every field of medicine, demonstrating the inextricable link between our thoughts, feelings, and biochemical/physiological processes. While meditation, yoga and other mind-body practices have rightfully earned their place in self-care in the West, not as much attention has landed in the arena of how arts, music, and creativity can influence our health.
We humans have a seemingly inherent love and attraction to harmonious sound, music, visual arts and beauty, poetry and prose. Our internal experience of being inspired, making art and music, and creativity in general seems to elevate our sense of well-being, creates connections within communities, and brings a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to our lives. As it turns out, engaging in creative practices can also have a huge impact on our bodies and contribute to a physiologic environment that is consistent with a healthy and balanced endocrine system, nervous system, and immune system. Creative and inspirational practices really should be considered tools for both preventative medicine as well as supportive treatment for existing health concerns.
The research and data that has been compiled on these topics is pretty stunning, and includes studies that look at the effects of many areas of human creativity—sound and music, visual arts, and creative writing, to name a few. One collaborative study between a medical team and Remo drums demonstrated that group hand-drumming lowered stress and fatigue and improved immune system function in participants. Many oncology studies have been done using art and music therapy, demonstrating improved outcomes in cancer patients. We have studies on how playing piano and other instruments, as well as simply listening to relaxing music will lower cortisol and other stress hormones associated with chronic disease. Patients involved in a stroke-recovery study proved that listening to music hastened their recovery, and those that included singing in their program recovered even quicker from depression and confusion. Another study showed how group singing resulted in better immune system function than passive listening to music. The list goes on, with volumes of research demonstrating how engaging in creative/inspirational activities lowers stress hormones, improves the balance of neurotransmitters, while also influencing a more balanced and effective immune system.
There is no doubt the foods we eat, and the supplements and medications we are using are important considerations for our health and well-being, but perhaps making more space in our lives for our creative pursuits could actually mean another level of health, vitality and disease treatment and prevention. Making and enjoying art and music is not just inspiration for the mind and spirit, but also informs and inspires our bodies physically at the same time. Perhaps the prescription pad of the future will include fewer pills to take three times a day, and more recommendations for inspirational and creative self-care.