By Dr. Joshua Phillips, ND (For the Source Weekly)
Whether you align more with conventional medicine, holistic and alternative medicine, or some combination of the two, chances are good a lot of it revolves around what you are consuming by mouth, one to three times daily. We live in a healthcare culture that is hyper-focused on solutions to health and illness being the foods we eat, alongside some combination of capsules– herbal, supplemental, or pharmaceutical, taken several times a day. Without a doubt, these approaches have their place in health care (I must admit I recommend them all the time) and contribute to a degree of our well-being. To put all of our healthcare focus into the foods and pills we are consuming, however, is to lose sight of what’s possible in terms of greater health and vitality.
We are also thinking, feeling, spiritual and creative beings, and as it turns out, these aspects of our human experience have a huge 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, the arena of art and music as medicine, and the influence of creativity on health is still gaining traction.
We humans have a seemingly inherent love and attraction to harmonious sound and music and have woven it into the tapestry of every aspect of our lives, regardless of what culture, religion, or ethnicity we are from. Our internal experience of being inspired by making or listening to music 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 music making and even just experiencing music has a huge impact on our bodies as well, and contributes 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 impressive 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.
Multiple oncology studies have been done using music therapy, demonstrating improved outcomes in cancer patients. Additionally, 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 that are known to contribute to chronic disease.
Patients involved in a NIH sponsored stroke-recovery study proved that listening to music hastened their recovery, contributing to cognitive and other neurological symptom improvement. Those that also included singing in their program recovered even more quickly from depression and confusion.
Another study showed how group singing resulted in better immune system function than passive music listening alone. The list goes on, with volumes of research demonstrating how engaging in creative and musical 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. Perhaps though, making more space in our lives for our creative pursuits could mean another level of health, vitality and disease treatment and prevention. Making and enjoying 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 musical and creative self-care.