Music can produce sublime experiences for us; equally, it can create pain and discomfort at a physical level. Why is it that something as neutral as a piece of music can affect each of us in such remarkably different ways? It changes our mood, stimulates memory and touches our emotions directly. Do you ever wonder what’s happening in your body for music to affect you in this way?
The tingling sensations we know as ‘musical thrills’ – whether induced by melody, rhythm or the effect of a singer’s voice – happen simultaneously throughout our body, so we know that in some way music travels through us, triggering reactions that form part of our emotional responses.
Dr Candace Pert, pharmacologist & author of ‘Molecules of Emotion’ suggests a ‘communication’ system in the body distinct from our central nervous system or bloodstream, which governs our body’s chemical activity. She describes tiny molecules – ligands & their receptors – binding to deliver specific messages to our cells in a ‘dynamic’ interaction – rather like ‘two voices … striking the same note’. Musical thrills signal a chemical rush of endorphins releasing which we experience as pleasure, joy, or even ecstacy!
French scientist Jacques Benveniste spent 15 years researching the specific frequencies that activate our body’s biological processes. His findings support the significance of external sound on our body’s internal functions, demonstrating that all the frequencies fell within the range of human hearing – 20 to 20,000 cycles per second. Music offers a broad spectrum of sound frequencies for our body to respond to, through the principle of sympathetic resonance.
We can view our body either as one large vibratory system or divide it into numerous smaller ones – e.g. organs like the heart, liver or stomach. All physical matter vibrates and every object or system has a ‘natural’ frequency at which it will vibrate most spontaneously – whether it’s a table, a wine glass or even the human body. So when we pass a ‘symphony’ of different frequencies through the body as we listen to music, then different areas of our body naturally vibrate to frequencies within the music.
So why don’t we like all music? Why do we sometimes experience pain or discomfort when we listen to a particular instrument or musical genre?
In order for sound vibrations to pass easily through our system, the pathways of our body have to be supple and move easily. The most extensive network in the body is connective tissue – a continuous vibratory matrix of cellular material which connects all systems of the body, maintaining & generating new cell growth. It also appears to play a role in storing incomplete emotional experiences – creating the equivalent of a physical ‘memory’ of past events.
Our body’s natural suppleness deteriorates over time as we accumulate tensions of an emotional and physical nature. Those incomplete experiences – often with a history extending back to childhood – become held in our body in some way. Voluntary muscular tension soon transforms into involuntary holding that affects connective tissue – reducing its natural flexibility & impeding our emotional responses. The tissue becomes thicker & drier dampening its natural resonance. That area effectively becomes a ‘blockage’ in the body restricting its capacity to vibrate.
We know connective tissue plays a role in storing emotional memories though we don’t yet fully understand how the process happens. In deep tissue bodywork, such ‘blockages’ can be released through external contact & pressure in specific areas. The area is heavily manipulated forcing it to move and as it does so it heats up and softens, allowing fluid back into the cell tissue. A simultaneous ‘reliving’ and resolving of emotional memories stored in the area being worked on is well documented.
Sound & music can produce a similar phenomenon when listened to consciously. The difference being that the blocked area is stimulated internally with sound as opposed to externally through manipulation.
Sound/music can cause pain or uncomfortable sensations in very specific locations in your body, and with those sensations you may experience a memory from the past. The discomfort indicates that a specific part of your body is beginning to vibrate again under the influence of its resonant frequency. By using sound/music in a conscious way, such experiences can bring about a resolution, where pain disperses and any feelings associated with it also go away. The resulting ‘release’ often leads to a change in personal perception.
Conscious listening to music can help create both emotional and physical change. It’s not a phenomenon we’re familiar with because we tend to listen to music for enjoyment, limiting ourselves only to music we like and this won’t touch us in the same way. Music we ‘reject’ gives us information about where tensions or blockages exist by touching them directly. The key to working in this way is controlling volume and listening time.
The following exercise can help you clear emotional blockages and re-establish your system’s natural movement. Sit upright but relaxed in a comfortable chair with eyes closed. Place your feet on the floor with cushions, if needed. It is better not to lie down or cross your arms or legs.
Start by listening for 5 mins to a favourite music at whatever volume you like.
Next, lower the volume & put on music you have had a strong reaction to. While you listen, breathe deeply and be open to the movement & feelings created by the music. Put aside your musical expectations and any judgment you might have. If you can, listen for 5 mins allowing the music to flow through you. If any uncomfortable sensations become too strong, stop listening & go to step 3.
Return to your favorite music at whatever volume you wish until you feel centered again.
Afterwards, briefly note any physical sensations, feelings, memories or thoughts, images or emotions you experienced. This will help complete the listening exercise for you. Repeat the exercise as often as needed until you are able to feel the music’s effect without discomfort.
Music that creates sublime experiences and music that makes us uncomfortable both use the same pathways and mechanisms for activating the body. Culturally, we are accustomed to avoiding music that makes us uncomfortable because we have difficulty imagining that it can have any benefit for us. By avoiding this music we do not use its full potential to help us create change.