In the movie, The Weeping Camel, after a long and painful labor, a camel gave birth to a stillborn in a small Tibetan village. The animal, grieved beyond her owners’ imaginations, lay down in grief and would not get up. She keened and groaned in pain.
The villagers tried everything to encourage her back to the world of the living. They enticed her with foods. They cajoled her with caresses. They pushed her, pulled her, and pleaded with her.
But the camel was beyond their emotional reach. Barely sensing their presence, the grieving mother had become entombed in her own loss.
One day, a villager had the inspiration to call in a local musician. When the musician arrived at the weakened camel’s stable, he became very still. He listened for a long time until he picked up his instrument and made the sounds of the camel’s weeping. He “sang” this way with her until she lifted her head. He kept playing. In time, she stopped weeping and started looking for her food. Finally, she stood. Her grief was resolved.
A colleague told me about this movie before I gave a workshop on classical homeopathy and I included it to demonstrate the power of vibration and the principle of “like cures like” (or similia similibus curentur). In clinical terms, it is called pacing and is considered to be one of the most powerful healing tools in a therapist’s kit.
I also told my husband about it since he’s a musician and engineer and I thought he’d not only understand but be delighted by this mystery of resonance and musical healing.
“So, what do you think?” I asked.
“So she had to have someone to grieve with?” he said.
“Precisely,” I answered. Then he added, “Well, there’s the blues for ya.”
Vibrational resonance has been no secret to musicians or lovers of music. Mystics and prophets have been privy to its power, using music to celebrate and call forth the Divine.
But where is science on the matter? There’s an old saying: “The scientists climbed the mountain and found the mystics waiting.”
I imagine there will be more than a few musicians there as well.
Verbal First Aid and The Resonance of Words
Vibration–whether in the form of words or song–moves us deeply.
According to cellular biologist and author, Bruce Lipton, our environments (the amalgam of all vibration, including thought) determine how we function at the genetic level, which resources are tapped, which are discarded or repressed.
Lipton’s research found that DNA–amazingly–was not “fixed” as almost everyone had previously thought, but that the proteins would find a variety of expressions depending on their environments–both physical and emotional.
From his research, he concluded that little about us was immutable. In fact, he contends with conviction that thought itself–belief, emotion, and perception–is the variable that determines how genes express themselves.
Words–while seemingly “only” sound–are actually conveyors of thought. One word conjures forth a multitude of images of feelings: “Ocean,” “Breeze,” “Fireplace,” “Mommy.” Those images and feelings, in turn, call on a cascade of chemistry that literally alters the most fundamental physiologic responses: bleeding, autoimmunity, blood pressure, peristalsis, inflammation. There is no biological process that does not vibrate along, for ill or good.
That is the basis of Verbal First Aid and the reason why it is so powerful.
One colleague tells a beautiful story about the power of words in her clinical practice:
G had come to my office five times, and I hadn’t been able to help her feel better. She was only twelve years old, but had the posture and stance of an old woman. Her early childhood, back in El Salvador, had been plagued by fright and uncertainty. She had seen war, known grief, and she had been raped by a group of soldiers.
When she arrived at her new school in Washington D.C., her teacher recommended she be taken to a doctor, as she complained of leg pains and sometimes she stayed in her classroom during recess so she could sit quietly, rubbing her legs. The doctors found nothing wrong with her legs. In fact, it was found that she was in remarkably good health for the ordeal she had lived through only a few months earlier.
During my time with her, on her sixth visit, she casually told me that her oldest brother had been tortured in front of her, and that a soldier had fractured his leg with the butt of his rifle. I immediately suspected that the pain in her legs had to do with the incident. Later I asked her about the time she had been raped, but she clammed up, as usual. Feeling ineffective in front of this damaged child, I let my intuition take me, and I asked her if she liked her biology classes. She nodded. I asked her if she knew we were made of many, many cells of different kinds. She nodded, and let her chin sink into her chest.
I let her stay in her silence while I spoke in a whisper:
“You know, G. Cells are continually renewing themselves. Older cells die and new cells are born to take their place. Our skin cells fall away all day long, when we shower, when we sleep and are brushed by our sheets, when we get dressed. All of our cells are rejuvenated regularly. Think of this. All of the cells that were in your body when those men took you, have died to let other new cells take over. You have no cells left that were touched by them. All of your cells are new and don’t know what happened to the others.”
G lifted her head and looked at her arms and legs. She felt the skin on her neck. She didn’t say anything, but I knew a change had taken place. That day, she did not limp when she left my office. She looked back at me and smiled. The following day her teacher called me to tell me that G had joined the others during recess, that she no longer complained of leg pains, and that she smiled frequently.
To me, this was confirmation that the right words at the right time can perform miracles. I have used the image of cells falling away to leave the spot to new ones. It works every time.* (courtesy Teresa Bevins, Santa Fe, NM)
The Scientists Are Climbing the Mountain
The research is being conducted and the evidence is growing rapidly. Sound–not only moves us emotionally, but affects us at a profound, preconscious, cellular level.
One study recently demonstrated that we vibrate with our environments before we’re even “legally” considered alive in most Western cultures.
At the University of Leicester’s School of Psychology in England, researchers exposed babies in utero to music for up to three months before they were born and then not again until they were at least a year old–that is, only the first six months of gestation.
In the data Dr. Alexandra Lamont found evidence that the babies not only remembered and recognized the music they heard in the womb, but retained the memory of it for at least a year. This sensitivity to music continues as we age.
Research led by Dr. Frederick Tims of Michigan State University (November 1999, Alternative Therapies) showed that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease who underwent four weeks of structured music therapy showed significant increases in their level of melatonin, a chemical linked with sleep regulation and immune response.
In one of the latest, more pointed studies, several researchers studied the effects of music on hypertension. Arq Bras Cardiol.2009 Nov;93(5):534-40.
They concluded: “Music therapy has contributed to an improvement on the quality of life and blood pressure control of patients, suggesting that this activity may represent a therapeutic approach to help strengthen the programs of multidisciplinary care of hypertensive patients.”
What is this Magic? How Does Sound Heal?
How does this work?
How does sound make for the mending of bones, the softening and soothing of broken hearts, the nearly instant increase in auto-immunity?
According to some experts, it is the vibration itself. The simplest example of this principle is the use of sonic vibrations (like what is used in the generation of sonograms) to heal soft-tissue injuries. This is now a common occurrence in vocational rehabilitation.
Frequency healing, as it is called, has been studied intensely and broken down Hz by Hz. Every frequency “range” has a specific, non-random effect. For instance, 1.0 Hz impacts the pituitary, stimulating the production of growth hormones, while 111 Hz will increase beta endorphins and stimulate cell regeneration.
When I offer seminars on animal-assisted therapy, I spend quite a bit of time on the therapeutic nature of animal-sound and animal vibration (just in their presence). Their cooing, purring, whinnying, sighing, and happy barking can be enormously healing. Apparently, the frequency of a cat’s purr helps broken bones to knit together faster. When investigated further, they found that vibrations between 20 and 140Hz at low db are anabolic for bone growth, mending muscles and ligaments, and reducing swelling and pain.
The Common Consensus: What we Know Intuitively
Do people need science to tell them music is good for them?
Or that sound impacts them?
Or that words have power?
For some people, music (whether that is the strain of a violin or the crash of the ocean’s waves) is as vital and necessary as breathing. One woman’s chronic nausea from cancer treatment was only alleviated when she listened to classical music. Yet another client who recently lost her son claims she can only get through her day by playing old records of Peter Pan, which she used to play for him. One dear friend wrote to me,
“Music hits me on a level I cannot describe. I have asked the Lord to be in the part of Heaven where the singing is.”
We feel music in our hearts just as we hear words in our cells: Who hasn’t felt the electricity of driving down the road at a normal clip only to find himself cruising at 85 mph when the Allman Brothers came on the radio or felt hopeful and young when she heard the words to an old song that reminded her of that perfect summer and her first boyfriend?
Regardless what music we choose or how it makes us feel, regardless of the words we hear or those we use, we all seem to instinctively know and respect their impacts on us. We know it in our bones, in the beating of our hearts, and in the tapping of our feet. And if the research is correct, we know it far before we even have the words to say so.
Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT is a licensed psychotherapist and clinical homeopath in private practice in Placitas and Albuquerque. Her areas of specialization include the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She has appeared on both television and radio and is a regular lecturer throughout the U.S. She is the author of The Next Osama and co-author of the books, Verbal First Aid and The Worst Is Over, which has been dubbed the “bible of crisis communication.”