Did You Know…an ancient type of music can improve your physical health and well-being?
In his hit song “American Pie,” singer Don McLean asks: “Can music save your mortal
soul?” While a definitive answer to that question has yet to emerge, it is clear that some music can significantly improve your health. Dr. Alan Watkins, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London, told reporters that research proves Gregorian chanting can physically heal the body, among other health benefits of chanting.
Chanting to Heal
Communal vocalization has been a part of almost all cultures worldwide. In more developed societies, however, those types of sessions have become a rarity. It seems that may be to the detriment of our health.
In his book Human Sounds, Jonathan Goldman, a “sound healer” living in New York, shares the story of a group of French Benedictine monks who decided to cease their daily chanting in order to take up more “useful” activities. Soon afterward, they became fatigued and depressed. When they begin chanting once more, their energy levels quickly rebounded.
What Science Can Tell Us About Music
According to Dr. Watkins, “the musical structure of chanting can have a significant and positive physiological impact.” Findings from Watkins’s research indicate the benefits of chanting include…
- Lowered blood pressure
- Increased levels of DHEA (a performance hormone)
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved mood
These findings are supported by preexisting research documenting the neurological effects of sound. Some scientists believe music can stimulate the production of endorphins—natural opiates known to generate feelings of excitement and satisfaction. It’s also possible that music helps the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate more effectively and that it creates new neural pathways in the brain.
Watkins and his fellow researchers arrived at their conclusions based on measurements they took of the heart rates and blood pressure levels of five monks over a 24-hour period. When they were chanting, both their heart rate and blood pressure reached their lowest recorded levels. Watkins stated that the regular breathing and musical structure of the chanting seem to be behind the physiological effects they observed. “The control of the breathing, the feelings of well-being that communal singing bring, and the simplicity of the melodies, seem to have a powerful effect,” Watkins said.
The health benefits of chanting may even reach beyond the chanters themselves. Benedictine Sister Ruth Stanley, head of the complementary medicine program at the Central Minnesota Heart Center at St. Cloud Hospital, found that having her patients listen to chants could ease chronic pain and other ailments. “The body can move into a deeper level of its own inherent, innate healing ability when you play chant,” said Sister Stanley. “About 85 percent of the time, the body goes into very deep healing modes. It’s quite remarkable.”
If you would like to experience the deep healing Sister Stanley witnessed for yourself, many chant CDs are available for purchase online or at major retailers. For those interested in a more immersive experience, it’s possible to find chant classes in some cities. We can’t say for sure that chanting will save your soul, but it certainly seems to do the body good, so why not give it a try?