Remember that classic Beach Boys song about “pickin’ up good vibrations?” The 60s megahit was about young love, but now there’s evidence that good vibrations of another kind may be good for your health.
In past issues, we’ve explored the many benefits of music – from the social perks of singing in groups to the proven relief it can give those with dementia. But did you know that there is something called vibrational sound healing?
This therapy uses special sounds that produce vibrations believed to affect the body’s functions, including the brain. Before you dismiss this as the latest New Age cure-all, let’s dig into the theory behind it. . .
Advocates say sound therapy isn’t just about the feel-good mental benefits. Practitioners use different sound frequencies to “hack” the brainwaves and promote physical healing.
“Everything in the universe has a vibrational frequency,” says Mark Menolascino, M.D.,1 an integrative and functional medicine practitioner. “We’re hard-wired to have sound be part of us. In the brain, all our neurons fire at different frequencies based on the data they receive from things around us. Those vibrations interact with every cell in your body.”
The theory behind sound therapy is more complex than merely listening to random music. The specific frequencies generated by devices such as tuning forks, gongs and singing bowls may actually alter your brainwave frequencies.
Advocates also believe the therapeutic effect has to do with the basic anatomy of the ear that contains something called a vestibulocochlear nerve.2 This nerve is connected to the vagus nerve, the major parasympathetic nerve in the body.
Why is this important?
The vagus nerve helps control hormones, digestion, blood sugar, inflammation, heart rate and blood pressure.
Well, lo and behold, there’s a small branch of this nerve that goes right to the tympanic membrane, which vibrates in response to sound waves. That means that every sound that you process through your ears delivers information to the vagus nerve.
Sound healing practitioners theorize that an inactive or blocked vagus nerve is detrimental to your health. However, stimulating it with ‘good vibrations’ may address this issue, balancing your body in countless ways.
Vibroacoustic therapy is one type of sound healing. During vibroacoustic therapy, the patient lies on a mat or bed or sits in a chair embedded with speakers that transmit vibrations at specific computer-generated frequencies.
“It is basically stimulating the body with very low sound – like sitting on a subwoofer,” according to Lee Bartel, Ph.D, who led a study3 at the University of Toronto in Canada. “But it requires special speakers that carry sound almost too low to hear in a way that changes it basically to something you feel instead of hear.”
Prof. Bartel’s study included two groups of 20 Parkinson’s patients who were treated with five minutes of 30 Hz vibrations. Results revealed “marked improvement” of all symptoms in both groups; including less rigidity, better walking speed, and less tremor.
According to Prof. Bartel, frequencies between 20 and 100 Hz or pulses per second correspond to brainwave activities and function. He adds that 40 Hz brain waves are thought to carry information between the parts of the brain that control movement.
“So, adding extra stimulation in that zone should help that communication and so assist in movement control,” he notes.
Two-Thirds of These Back Pain Patients Got Relief
In another study,4 this one lasting a full twelve weeks, researchers at the University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur applied low frequency sound wave stimulation through the hands and feet of 23 patients with chronic back pain. At the study’s conclusion, significant reductions in pain sensation and pain-related disability were observed.
In fact, a notable 65% of the patients experienced a reduction in their pain index. The study’s authors concluded that this type of therapy was “effective in alleviating pain and improving functional ability in patients with chronic pain.”
Sound healing has also been proven to help treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, autism, and more. Plus, there’s some evidence that because it can lower stress, sound healing can lower the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.
How About Do-it-Yourself Vibrational Therapy?
As you can see, vibroacoustic therapy is different from just listening to music. But don’t let that discourage you from taking advantage of your own favorite “good vibrations,” whether they’re by Bach or the Beach Boys. An upbeat playlist can make a long walk seem short and mellow music can help you wind down after a stressful day.
The advantages of music therapy are real, even if they aren’t the same as vibrational therapy in a clinical setting.
Concrete scientific evidence on the latter is limited at this point, but I believe it’s worth further exploration. I hope to bring you more info soon.