Monday, April 22, 2013

Resilient Leaders for Our Era

We're told that out of great wounding comes great resilience. Truly great leaders seem to have been moulded from endured injury.

Resilient, great leaders? Yes.

Would you not rather follow a leader who can admit mistakes, correct them and move ahead? Owning a mistake chisels character from the raw block of humanity. It takes guts to recover from a mistake and change course boldly and confidently, especially when lives balance on that choice.

It takes resilience to stand honestly before a bad decision and those who shame it. A resilient leader inspires followers' confidence. Who among us hasn't made a mistake, tried to recover, and then move on? Character and resilience forge a leader's armor against shame, and offer a natural empathic mirror of our lesser trials, errors and recoveries.

Where are these leaders? Young men and women who have survived war? Poets, artists and musicians persevering through poverty, illness and obscurity? Sages and teachers, some displaced from their homes and homelands, quietly telling ageless stories to the next generation of devotees?

Yes. These are the resilient leaders. They always have been.

They are the character worthy of the sculptor's finest marble, where neither shameful incision nor cowardly explosion pierces the armor, where wounding carried deep in the heart gives breath to the next choice.

They are the young over-deployed warrior, the homeless, the street performer, the single parent, the blogger. They have ideas no one has discovered...yet. They are poised and ready but not called...until now.

We need you.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Conversation: Does Music Heal? How?

Some of you have beliefs that include healing through prayer alone -- no doctors, therapists or shamans. You seem uninterested in the idea that music -- on its own -- can heal or change physical, emotional or mental conditions. I can see why you might feel compelled by your beliefs to exclude music as a healing tool, and so it is with much compassion that I'd like to offer you the following conversation.

On the other hand, if your belief set is already open and you just want to feel better, bust up the doldrums -- or create some -- read on.

How Does Music Work?

It's not really music, or sound, that heals, but music is the trigger. What does the work is your own body responding to chemicals released when you hear certain types of sounds. For example, if you listen to high-pitched bouncy music or even bird song, your IQ will increase slightly for a brief period of time. This can be measured. Researchers have confirmed other kinds of responses you will have, ranging from learning faster to deadening pain, based on the types of music or sound you hear.

You might become agitated listening to certain types of music or to a jackhammer. Perfect! Your response indicates that your ears, chemistry and brain all agree. Other music might soothe you. Again, that's exactly right. Other kinds of music might make you want to dance. Researchers were surprised that folks who otherwise could not walk walked immediately while listening to music with a strong beat -- something about music short-circuits the connection between thinking and walking with a really great effect.

What Evidence is There?

Don Cambell's seminal book, "The Mozart Effect," was assembled from his observations about how listening to Mozart made folks smarter, but there was a more profound reason for Campbell's interest in the power of music: by listening to music, Campbell was able to dissolve an inoperable blood clot in his brain. This was medically confirmed.

There have been many scientific studies in the last few years on the effects of music. Researchers find that listeners need half as much pain medication, or can increase levels of chemicals known to speed healing or lower their blood pressure, sleep better, and build -- or rebuild -- memory. Campbell's most recent book, co-authored with Alex Doman, "Healing at the Speed of Sound," catalogs in written, audio and video detail the many various ways music has been shown to work on the human system.

In my own experience with warriors and post-traumatic stress caused by war, I've been told many times that music was the "only way" to keep going, in one case, by a Viet Nam vet who couldn't find relief from drinking or drugs and used music for more than 30 years before finally getting traditional therapy.

Does It Matter What Music I Listen To?

I think it does. Rather than give you my favorite playlists, I encourage you to find music you like and listen to it. You might find you like different music at different times of the day, or for different activities, or for different moods. Good! Use that knowledge to make yourself soundtracks -- playlists -- for all the various times, activities or moods that happen frequently in your life.

I think it's important for you to become aware of the music and sound that's already around you. Once you identify what you're already hearing, try to connect the sounds with the times of day, activities or moods during your typical day. See if you always hear the same music or sounds and decide whether you like them or not; if not, get some headphones for your music player and listen to something else instead. You have a choice about what you're hearing: use it.

You'll know intuitively what kind of music you like, and through experience you'll also know what you like to listen to under various conditions. Trust your ears on this one! Speed up the search for "your" music at where you can test-drive music by category until you find your perfect fit.

So, Is There Specific Music for Specific Conditions?

Sure! If you want calm, put on soothing music. Aerobics class? Better use some dance music. Try watching a movie without the sound track to give yourself a quick idea of music's supporting role. If you have some spare cash, buy a few of those CD sets that assemble mood-specific music from various artists and listen to what someone else thought was "right for the moment." You'll find that, as you listen with awareness, you will quickly be able to connect your mood with music that fits or even complements how you feel. Liking what you hear seems to have the maximum impact for change.

Next time you're feeling agitated and want a change, switch on the soothing music and just observe what happens. Or, if don't want change, turn up your favorite agitating music. My point here is to get you to play around with music and pay attention to how you feel -- it's safe and effective and you're going to learn something about yourself and may even change yourself in ways that surprise you.

But It All Seems Obvious!

Yes, I think we already know this on some very basic level, just like the way being part of a drum circle -- a mimic for our mother's heartbeat -- can make us feel safe and comforted. We're all aware of sound and music on some level; my hope is that you will take this awareness out of your background and give yourself a foreground soundtrack that supercharges your life.

Music and Healing

In very broad terms, music, as a tool, falls into three categories: therapy, practice and experience. I'll explain each one for you, at least from my own understanding. See what you think.

Music Therapy

Recently I met a holistic health practitioner (certified and licensed) who shared with me that she has yet to encounter a music therapist who seemed to really be "lit up" from within. I have to concur. I know you're out there, you amazingly wonderful enlightened and dynamic music therapists, and I'd love to hear from you!

Music therapy is a rewarding but difficult profession: rewarding because one can really make a difference for patients and difficult because, as a therapist, much depends on one's ability to accurately diagnose and treat the symptoms a patient presents. There are rules -- lots of rules -- designed to make certain that the public -- me, the patient -- is cared for properly. It has to be this way for certifications and licenses to be issued. That's the trade-off we permit ourselves so that the agencies that regulate such things can give us assurance that we're not looking to some wingnut whacko snake-oil dealer for treatment. Sometimes those rules can bury the enthusiasm one might have originally brought to an enterprise, especially a healing enterprise; in rare cases, the healer's skill still shines.

Like all health practitioners, music therapists depend on their education and skill for success. A couple of skills that make for a really excellent health care practitioner are intuition and creativity, that is, the ability to find an inspired connection to the patient for a healing purpose, and the inventive ability to tailor a treatment plan that draws the patient into a sort of magical willingness to work with the healer toward better health. I tend to think of musicians as fairly creative people, don't you? The truth is, sadly, it ain't necessarily so.

Healers -- and anyone you really must hang out with for some reason or another -- need to radiate energetic qualities that you (the patient) want to be around! Think of the health care professionals you I right? Think of your close friends, or the people you really enjoy encountering in business, at the store, or wherever your daily walk takes you: do you spend a lot of time with folks who inspire you? If you do, huzzah! If you don't...please change that!

So I really resonated when the holistic health practitioner began to talk about therapists who seem inspired -- lit up -- from within. And when I think of the music therapists I've met, they really aren't. I wish they were. They do such incredible work! Isn't that something to be lit up about?

If you seek out music therapy, take your time -- just as you would to choose a physician or surgeon -- to carefully select a therapist who seems to really "get" you, can "see into you," and radiates the compassion you deserve. They must be out there. You deserve it.

With the "right" music therapist, your issues will be understood. You will feel the care and compassion I mentioned. You will work together using either musical instruments, drums, your voices, or a combination of all of these to achieve progress toward healing. Your therapist will be your guide -- a sort of musical shaman -- and give you musical exercises you can practice on your own as well as intensive, hands-on or voice-on one-on-one sessions, specific to your healing goals.

Music Practice

This broad term covers all the music you make on your own. If you're in music therapy, this is what happens when you are not in session with your music therapist. It covers anyone taking music lessons, too, when they are practicing and not in a one-on-one with their teacher. Practice of music can mean just that: really working it out until you have developed a new skill.

Practice of music can also mean making music for fun, what some are beginning to call "recreational music making." This could be a novice drum circle, a jam session with skilled players, or a "music minus one" experience of creating sounds -- vocally or using an instrument -- for the very first time to a musical backup track.

Music practice implies that you are the musician, that you are creating the sounds. When you create sound -- music -- you engage the most powerful use of music possible. Music and sounds you make actually vibrate through you, and the physiological response of your brain and body to music and sound is immediate. You can use this physiological response in so many ways: to help you heal, to recover from grief, to relax, to get pumped up, to let off rage, to fall asleep, to learn things and to remember them later. The beauty of it is that, while you can't help your brain and body response to sound, you can become aware of the effect of the music you practice on your brain and body and then choose music that supports you in whatever your particular objective of the moment happens to be.

Music Experience

When I think about the experience of music, even as a musician and performer who really has to practice a lot, I tend to think of myself as a member of the audience in a concert setting, or just sitting still with headphones on. The experience of hearing and appreciating music without becoming involved in making is by no means passive. It has the same kind of effect that practicing music has on your brain and body, just generally not as intense.

I know plenty of people who really wouldn't ever join a drum circle or spontaneous sing-along, but who are perfectly content to listen to music and can become quite moved when doing so. Nothing wrong with that! We Westerners are generally listeners; we gladly give kudos to the few among us who are actually brave enough to make music in public in exchange for experiencing that gift.

As you know, I offer a workshop on the topic of using music for maximum effect. I've recently expanded "Connected: the Workshop" into a full-day "Connected: the Seminar." If you're interested in experiencing the power of music first-hand, please contact me. You don't have to "be a musician" or even be musical in any way to enjoy this workshop -- a good many accomplished musicians I know haven't experienced the power of music in the way I teach it -- and I promise you it won't hurt a bit.

Recent Research on the Power of Music

This is one of my favorites, and even though it's from work done at the Cleveland Clinic in 2006, it reached the conclusion that nurses "can teach patients how to use music to enhance the effects of analgesics, decrease pain, depression and disability, and promote feelings of power." A "listening" group and a "non-listening" control group were evaluated on several accepted pain-measurement scales, and it was found that  the music group[s] had more power and less pain, depression and disability than the control group. The model predicting both a direct and indirect effect for music was supported."

Music of Mozart Soothes the Preemie Baby 
The study was conducted on the effects of music on babies. The results found that listening for just 30 minutes a day helped premature babies use less energy, which may help them grow faster. "Within 10 minutes of listening to Mozart music, healthy infants born prematurely had a 10 percent to 13 percent reduction of their resting energy expenditure," the study authors wrote. "We speculate that this effect of music on resting energy expenditure might explain, in part, the improved weight gain that results from this Mozart effect."

The next two articles reference studies done by Dr Claudius Conrad, a Surgery Resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a trained classical pianist, who examined the effect of music on surgeons in the operating room.

"What he's looking at is the subliminal effect that could produce a positive effect on performance.... If I'm in some difficult operation, maybe there is some positive effect on my physiology - not even on my conscious mood - that would translate into a better surgical performance,'' said Dr Andrew Warshaw, Surgeon in Chief at Massachusetts General.

To systematically test the effects of music in the operating room, Conrad created tasks for surgeons to complete on a computer simulator of laparoscopic procedures -- surgeries that involve operating through a small incision. He tested the speed and accuracy of eight expert surgeons under different conditions: Surgeons performed the tasks in silence; while listening to Mozart; and accompanied by the chaotic, stressful noise produced by hearing a different stream of music in each ear - one, German folk music; the other, death metal.

Regular readers of this newsletter will be able to guess correctly how this impacted the surgeons' performance. Or you can just read the next abstract....

"Conrad found that the folk and death metal mix increased the time it took expert surgeons to do the procedures, but did not affect their accuracy compared with silence. It also negatively affected their ability to learn a task: their accuracy did not improve when doing the task a second time while listening to the same music. While listening to Mozart, surgeons' speed varied, but their accuracy improved compared with silence.

"When Conrad tried the same test on 40 participants who had received no surgical training, he found that the Mozart music also had a beneficial effect when they repeated the procedure."

Why Music Matters NOW

Around the world, emotional and mental disorders are on the rise. If you want to know why, read or watch the news, then pick your poison. This is in spite of the best efforts of religion, psychology, alternative therapies of all kinds -- including music therapy -- and medicine. We like to think we know how to deal with depression, attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolarity disorder (this one used to be called manic-depression), borderline personality disorder, toxic behavior, phobias, psychoses and deviant behavior of any conceivable kind, and we do have ways of treating all of these with some success, but here's the deal: there are simply not enough healers for all the patients. We're losing the war on sanity, and it's making us nuts.
Look closely around you: do you know someone who seems just a little bit off? Chances are, they are. In fact, most "normal" folks probably have something hidden under the surface, primed like a trigger wire to blow up in your face if and when the magic words or actions push their button -- or buttons -- as the case may be. It’s part of what makes us fascinating and individual, right?
I was a novice button-pusher for a while, but once I learned not to trip my ex-wife's triggers, things improved...marginally. (Unfortunately for the marriage, I also learned why she got triggered, and that she wasn't going to change, dammit, not now, not ever.)
This raises the primary reason Why Music Matters: most folks with issues can't or won't get help for them, and choose to endure under self-imposed and life-threatening stress, hidden from the rest of us, even those they love most. Life would be so much better for the rest of us if they did get help, wouldn't it? The truth is, like my ex, those same folks have learned to get along in life in spite of what the rest of us might call a "disorder" and act as if they were perfectly normal, in many cases, by simply keeping it hidden from the rest of us. Some folks have arranged their lives such that they really don't have to have much or any human interaction at all. That choice seems like it's great for the rest of us -- one less fruitcake to dispose of properly when the holidays are over -- but it's not so great for the one hiding from society (think homeless Vietnam veteran who can't even get the words "will work for food" on a piece of cardboard, and wouldn't know what to do with such an item anyhow -- don't laugh: that's reality for too many soldiers who served with honor, both in the United States and other countries). In many tragic cases, bearing the weight of a psychological burden is too much to live with, and suicide becomes the only reasonable option. This became clear to me when my best and life-long friend tried to end his life twice: once by jumping in front of a car while jogging at night (which didn't work -- he was in awesome physical shape), and then by setting himself on fire (which worked, but only later on after the paramedics got him to the burn unit and the doctors couldn't stabilize him). The real tragedy was that none of us knew my friend had any problems of that magnitude
(By the way, this is not about how this or that social center/government program/church has failed to help people in need. That's already the subject of too much paper and ink. There is help out there, ready and willing...if it could only get connected with the folks who need it most, which is another reason Why Music Matters. My friend was a top-earning employee, reasonably religious/spiritual, well-loved in his community, and an excellent father -- he had no apparent reason to seek help...and plenty of folks and resources around him who would have done something -- anything -- had we only known.)
So, we all know someone who needs some kind of help, right? That may include you, and if definitely includes Yours Truly. For my part, I've tried religion (several of them actually), talk therapy, acupuncture, and legal mind-altering drugs (anti-depressants); ultimately the only workable alternative was divorce. I'm not joking: nothing you can do for yourself can fix someone else's issues, so often leaving them behind becomes the only reasonable -- and sanity-preserving -- thing to do. Do I need to mention the homeless Vietnam vets again? Profoundly left behind. At the same time, as hard-headed as I am, I actually started to learn something from my ex...but that's not the subject here, and it's already the subject of too much paper and ink, redundancy intended. My point is that the folks we know, and in many cases care about very deeply, more often than not do not respond well to our best efforts to "help." In the case of my friend, we didn't even know there was a life-threatening problem. So what can we do? Honestly: not much. Someone who hasn't experienced any other way to be/behave/live/love has no reason to want to change just because we say it would be better (what do we know about their life anyhow?). It's like trying to order sushi at a hot dog stand. So do we give up? No, there is an option: we change the language.
Music Matters because it helps to remind us that there is a universal language that can give folks who don't even know they are suffering a glimpse of a different way to experience being/behaving/living/loving. Unlocking that experience is the primary goal of my work; if, at the end, I have convinced you that you can, on your own, open a magical portal to a better experience of being/behaving/living/loving, then I have done my job, and you will yourself experience Why Music Matters.

Music and suicide

I'm writing to you today about warriors in distress. Ones who have been discharged from active duty and ones who are about to be discharged. There's a huge issue facing too many of these fine your men and women: suicide.
Not long ago, I sat in the monthly meeting of the San Diego County Veteran/Family Forum. VetFam was put together a few years back so that all the agencies and individuals and private and public companies and non-profit organizations who care about the second-largest population of veterans in America (hint: we'll all in San Diego County together) -- would have something like a clear shot at coordinating a County-wide approach to doing what needs to be done.
Unfortunately, even with that level of commitment, there's more to do than VetFam and all the various groups represented in it can handle.
This last meeting, VetFam touched on the topic of suicide, specifically among warriors. The most poignant observation, made by an individual with experience to back it up, is that counseling someone who is suicidal is NOT intuitive.
Let me repeat that: counseling -- helping -- someone who is suicidal is NOT intuitive.
This means that our human tendencies will not -- cannot -- serve us well if our goal is to help someone in need choose not to take their own life. We need to teach ourselves some very specific techniques if we are to be effective in preventing suicide, even and maybe especially for those who are closest to us.
I absolutely urge each of you to immediately contact one the many many services available to you to learn what you need to do to be effective in identifying and preventing suicide. It may be of use to you some day, especially if you are the family member or friend of a warrior or are in any kind of counseling capacity, professionally or as a volunteer -- and especially if you call San Diego County home.
It could save a life. Perhaps more than one life.
Here in San Diego County we are seeing a huge influx of warriors coming out the service with honorable discharges. As these men and women enter civilian life, they will face unemployment of 24% among their peers. They will face other financial hurdles of all kinds. If they have families, those two issues will be compounded. If they have combat experience, those two issues will be further compounded by recovery from wartime stress, commonly called post-traumatic stress. As if that's not enough, there's just no adrenalin rush from daily life in San Diego County that can compare to the war zone, and the camaraderie of the combat unit will be fractured and inadequately replaced by daily life without their fellow warriors. Getting through the first few months of assimilation is hard; some don't make it. Resilience is low at this stage. Very low.
It doesn't have to be that way.
All the agencies in VetFam are committed to a better result for all the warriors who return to San Diego County. I would hope that flagship corporations in San Diego -- Petco and Qualcomm come to mind -- also reach out to employ these talented warriors. It would be so cool if entire fighting units were employed as teams by savvy businesses. This could take full advantage of the built-in ironclad unit coherence forged as warriors and reduce the unemployment rate to something more like the civilian unemployment rate.
I hope that if you live in San Diego County or if you don't, you will do your part to prepare to be a resource for your returning family warrior(s) or friend warrior(s).
It turns out that one effect of adrenalin is the spontaneous creation of connections within groups. Strangers who are scared tend to join closer together, for example, and emerge from frightening situations as an ad-hoc cohesive unit. This effect is powerful in a trained fighting force. It can also be a powerful non-fighting force. If someone you love is scared, and it scares you, pull together rather than separating from one another. Ride it out together, in silence if that's what it takes -- locked in an embrace if that's what it takes -- but ride it out together. Brain chemicals are powerful things, and working with them instead of against them is good practice.
You can use music to activate your brain chemicals. I've written before about the Viet Nam veteran I met who told me that, without music, he would not have been able to live with the post-traumatic stress of combat. He tried everything, but music was the only way he could self-medicate for 30 years before he had the courage to seek treatment by conventional means.
Grab an iPod, or a CD, and give yourself and your family and your friends a meaningful soundtrack to ride through the adrenalin rush, or depression's pit, or the slashing, frustrating anger. Music will deepen the feeling, yes, and it will connect you with a way to understand that feeling for what it is: a feeling, one of many you may have, but not who you ARE. You will find that you can quickly develop an ability to program your own feelings using music. Program yourself some useful ones, ok?
You can use this for lots of things -- but it won't take the place of a short course in suicide counseling. Do that too, please, even if you don't have a pressing obvious need. It's like CPR; you never know when you'll be called on to use it and save a life.
And, if you'd like me to come over and do my "healing with music" presentation with you, your family, and your friends, please give me a call.
Be well.
Keep your music on!

Quick notes....

The Los Angeles Times published an article on March 1, 2010, from which this quote is taken:
"Patients in the depths of Alzheimer's and other dementias regularly respond to - and even play and sing - music from their distant past, without missing a word or a note. Nursing homes have seized upon that fact, exposing residents to the songs of their childhoods or courtship years to help reunite spouses in dancing and singing and try to coax dementia sufferers from their isolation."
In addition to triggering helpful brain chemistry, music also triggers memory. Have you ever tried to forget the words to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or gotten a song stuck in your head for hours at a time? Monks chanting religious liturgies benefit from the same triggers. Music and memory are intertwined in our minds in a way we can use to re-connect with emotion, memory, and even physical movement. 
Folks whose ability to walk has been compromised by Parkinson's disease were able to walk immediately when accompanied by music with a strong beat. To quote Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, a Harvard University neurologist interviewed for the LA Times article:
"It works well and it works instantaneously, and it's hard to think of any medication that has this effect."
Did you know that stroke victims whose speech has been impaired (aphasia) are able to sing without difficulty? It's called "melodic intonation therapy," in case you were wondering, and it works by musically bypassing the speech centers of the brain. I'd like to suggest that it may actually build new connections in the brain -- and neuroscience is starting to prove this point for me. If you know someone who's having difficulty speaking, ask them to attempt to sing the same words and see what happens.
Keep your music on!

What music should I listen to?

I'm asked frequently: "Bill, what music should I listen to?" You've probably read my response before, but I'll repeat it again because the point is so powerful. Listen to music that you love. We both might love the same music, and that happens often when I perform for people, but I really want to encourage you to find the music that speaks to you in the very best possible way. That can change, depending on your mood and activity, and that's completely fine, especially if you are able to set up iTunes playlists for various purposes or activities like some of the rest of us gearheads.
If you're not a computer geek like me and you're just getting started with intentional listening -- that is, bringing your entire focus and purpose to really hearing the music you choose -- then check out Pandora or Songza for incredible preselected playlists that are assembled by human beings who really know the music. Pandora is free online streaming music organized by category, and it conveniently lets you choose favorites, then builds suggested listening based on what you like. A great tool for the intentional listener, and value-based too, since unlike iTunes you don't have to buy a lot of music in order to get familiar with what flips your skirt.
So, listen to music that you love. With intention. Which means that you 1) sit down, 2) put on some comfortable over-the-ear headphones and 3) give yourself five or ten minutes of music and nothing but music.

This stuff works! Want to know more? Check out the tabs that follow below for my Facebook fan page Notes tab for my current reading list, or the second page of my one-sheet (both are also available here) for real-life examples and medical studies on how and why it works.
And listen yourself well.

How listening to music with intent can relieve anxiety and depression

There's a reason we like music. It can be exciting or soothing. It can help us connect more deeply with our emotions, whatever they are. Whether at the seventh-inning stretch, in a Balinese ceremony, a mosh pit, or in the cry of a hawk, music -- sound -- has a unique and specific physiological impact on us.
Over more than 30 years of observing audiences from the piano my curiosity about music's effect on folks who listen has become something of a project. The volume of research into music and healing has increased dramatically over the last ten years, and I will be sharing some of the recent medical studies with you in this newsletter. Most recently, I've been teaching short seminars based on my research. (Click on my nearby photo to launch my FaceBook fan page, where you can see a brief clip from one of them!
Last July I met a decorated VietNam veteran -- a Native American and County Veterans Services Officer -- who told me his story of dealing with war-related post-traumatic stress. For thirty years -- 1979 until 2009 -- all he could do to relieve his symptoms was lie on the floor for 30 minutes a day with the headphones on listening to music he loves. After 30 years, he finally sought professional treatment. Maintaining a lifestyle that works for 30 years is solid testimony to the power of music.
Here's the bottom line: if you take some time, say, 10 minutes regularly (whatever that means for you) to do nothing but put on the headphones (I prefer the over-the-ear kind because they won't damage your eardrums like the ear buds do) and listen to some music you love, I promise it will change you. Yes: change you. Why? Because you can't help it, physiologically speaking. Set your intention to simply listen...and if thoughts come wandering into your listening presence, just be OK with that. Let me know how it goes!

What is "Music Care?"

There wasn't a name for how music cares for us physiologically -- actually minds us in a safe, effective and useful way -- so we gave it one: Music Care.
Music Care is the use of specific music -- music that YOU love -- to produce a desired emotional, mental or even physical result. That result could be calming you after a stressful day, firing you up at a ball game, helping you focus or study to prepare for an exam, or transforming "negative" emotions into "positive" ones. Good example: music in church can help you to feel reverent or peaceful, happy or connected.
Physiologically, human beings respond to sound without effort or thought. That is, when we hear sound, the vibrational energy of the sound is converted to electrical impulses in our brains, which then trigger the release all sorts of brain chemistry, such as hormones and neurotransmitters. This causes our emotions to change. Just two examples: an "adrenalin rush" can result from certain kinds of music; other kinds of music predictably lower blood pressure.
If you know that, and then pay attention to how the music and sound around you is making you feel, you will have unlocked your own powerful skill to care for yourself using music: Music Care.

Soldiers, Symphony Conductors and Self-Medication

Self-medication. All too common in a negative context. Hardly ever mentioned in a positive one. No wonder, as self-medication often involves substance abuse: alcohol, drugs - both prescription and illegal.
There are other ways of self-medicating too. Extreme sports, extreme speed and mixed martial arts give you an adrenaline boost you can't get any other way.
Or can you?
If you've never been in combat - and most of us never will - you will never experience the kind of brain chemistry overload that it takes to be an effective soldier or cage fighter. Preparation for and execution of an effective combat maneuver - whether on the ground, sea or air - pushes the human system to an incredible limit of endurance, physically, mentally and emotionally. Remarkably, human beings are built to do this. The combination of brain chemicals available to trained Service members is remarkable.
At a recent presentation, I spoke to a Marine F-18 pilot told me he finally got it when it came to the music his team listens to before flight. I asked him what they listen to afterwards.
Think about the music on ESPN before a game, or the music AT the game. It's designed to pump you - and the players - up to peak performance. Just like the music those fighter pilots use. Is this self-medication?
We know that hearing music is directly related to release of brain chemicals (hormones, neurotransmitters and the like), so if you or me are self-medicating with music does that make you or me an addict?
Given the incredible sacrifices made by the folks who fight our wars, crime and fires, it's tragic that their average lifespans are so short. It's even more tragic that we don't have our heroes around to honor for many many years - as parents, public servants and exemplary human beings - and that so many of them take their own lives after they leave the Service.
One ad-hoc study found that, of all the professions and occupations, symphony conductors generally have the longest life span AND continue to perform many years beyond the age where most of us will have retired from our jobs. The same study theorized that the gentle aerobics of conducting an orchestra and the classical music in which a symphony conductor is immersed combine to provide longevity. Make no mistake: it's not life threatening (in most cases!) to conduct a symphony, but it is a HIGHLY stressful, politically demanding, intellectually challenging career which some have likened to herding cats.
To rise to the top of your profession in business, banking, technology, politics, medicine, education or the creative arts for example pretty much demands some kind of self-medication. In the music industry, we think of Kurt Cobain, any number of rappers, John Lennon, Billie Holliday - many many others - who died way too young, but who gave the world some incredible art. What part of self-medication didn't these hugely gifted musicians understand?
Plenty of examples, both of those who survive into old age and those who don't. Sure: plenty of career Service members who are combat Veterans live long lives, as do ex-CEOs, surgeons, teachers, artists, actors and musicians. So what's the difference between those who live to enjoy a long life and those who don't?
All these questions have one possible answer, but it's a difficult one to swallow:
The music you hear matters.
Symphony conductors survive to do their jobs late into life in part because they engage in gentle, consistent movement over many years, and in part because of the kinds of music bathing them regularly. Classical music, it had been shown, provides a life-affirming combination of brain chemistry.
Rock, rap, some kinds of jazz, electronica, hip-hop, house music, the sound of a jackhammer and other similar sounds have the opposite effect. You get a GREAT adrenalin boost, but not much that contributes to longevity. Great music for pumping up for a fight; poor choice for healing.
Folks listening to classical music have been shown to need half as much pain medication, increase their level of the "healing hormone" - pituitary growth hormone, - have more restful sleep, lower their blood pressure. This ONLY from self-medicating with music.
Here's an idea: try it.
An example:
Some Servicemen I know practice cage fighting. Pre-fight, I'd suggest they boost adrenalin by listening to hip hop or rap, as hard and loud as they can without hurting their ear drums. Post-fight, I'd recommend they put on some Chopin, Rachmaninoff, or even the piano jazz of Brad Mehldau (Mozart might be a bit to airy-fairy, but the others have a lot more healing pathos). This will reverse the effect of the adrenalin boost and provide a wash of healing and soothing brain chemicals.
With iTunes or it's easy to get started with musical self-medication, and with it's easier still to find the music that does it for you. I'd be the last to say that one particular song is any better than another - that's a personal choice everyone makes based on their own preferences - but there's enough research to generalize in an effective way about the genres of music and what they can do to the human system.
Many of you know about Guitars for Vets - is playing a guitar to relieve symptoms of combat-related post-traumatic stress "self-medicating with music?" Positive self-medication with music may be a tough term to grasp, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has concluded fieldwork for a study to be released in December 2011 demonstrating the results of the Guitars for Vets program. To quote the study's Purpose:
"Post traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) is a common condition for persons who have served in the Armed services during combat or deployment. Treatments include medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other social support mechanisms.
"[The Study's] aim in this project is to critically evaluate the effects of a novel music therapy intervention on the symptoms of PTSD."
Results of that Study indicate that the Guitars for Vets program is effective for intervention and relief of the symptoms of combat-related post-traumatic stress. Here's the Study link: Guitars for Vets: Evaluating Psychological Outcome of a Novel Music Therapy.
Music as medication? You decide. And choose wisely.