Sound Healing for People Affected by Cancer

Sound Healing for People Affected by Cancer

“When I attend the gong sound healing meditations, I feel so completely relaxed, it is like I am being transported to another dimension for an hour.”

— Martha, age 53, stage 3 breast cancer survivor

The power of sound.

We all know how quickly a favorite song can lift our mood and transport us away from our troubles, even if only for a moment. Whether it is Pharrell’s hit “Happy” or a jazz combo, we all have our favorite music.

Sound healing can also include other forms of music besides the type we hear on the radio, it can include chanting and mantra, gongs and crystal singing bowls, voice intonation, drumming and other forms.

The healing benefits of sound encompass a wide variety of modalities that can provide relaxation, peace, and pain relief. A meta-analysis of studies on music-based interventions in palliative cancer care from 1970-2012 that was published in a 2013 edition of Supportive Care in Cancer showed a that music-based interventions may have a positive impact on pain, anxiety, mood disturbance, and quality of life in cancer patients.

The researchers of this meta-analysis concluded that music-based interventions had power far beyond the mere elimination of negative side effects, as they wrote:

“The capacity of music to restore a sense of familiarity, and the therapeutic value of such a reassuring stimulus (regardless of where a patient may be in his or her disease trajectory), may be underestimated. Such reassuring familiarity could be provided in the form of a playlist of favorite songs on a portable mp3 player with headphones or even through melodic arrangement by a live music therapist that actually incorporates tones from the surrounding environment.

It should not necessarily be assumed that the benefits of music are limited to the relief of symptoms; that is to say, that music merely counteracts the negative consequences of disease.

The need for beauty (and for some, spiritual solace) may be particularly great toward the end of life for many patients. In this respect, music may exceed where standard pharmacologic means fall short.

Many qualitative studies support both the potential symptom-alleviating and wellness-promoting effects of music.”

How Does Music Benefit People Affected by Cancer?

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, founder of Gaynor Integrative Oncology, is a board certified medical oncologist and the former director of medical oncology at the Weill Cornell Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, and the author of The Healing Power of Sound and Sounds of Healing, has been using sound as a complementary therapy for cancer patients since 1991 with “remarkable results.”

In an interview with Bill Thompson, Dr. Gaynor stated:

“Sound can change our immune function. After either chanting or listening to certain forms of music, your Interluken-1 level, an index of your immune system, goes up between 12 and a half and 15 percent. Not only that, about 20 minutes after listening to this meditative type music, your immunoglobin levels in your blood are significantly increased.

There’s no part of our body not effected. Even our heart rate and blood pressure are lowered with certain forms of music. So, it effects not only our soul and our spirit, but it affects us on literally a cellular and sub-cellular level.”

Music and Music Therapy

Music medicine is not the same as music therapy. In “music therapy” interventions, patients are offered prerecorded, live, and/or interactive music that is individualized by a trained music therapist, involving a therapeutic relationship based on individualized assessment, treatment, and evaluation. In music medicine, there is a stimulus and response without the clinical therapeutic framework, however, it seems that music therapy could happen informally in certain relationships and settings as well.

Bowls and Gongs

Many traditions use instruments such as bowls and gongs to create vibrations and tones that support healing on many levels.

Marian Kraus is a beloved sound healer who often played the gong and singing bowls for people with cancer. His work was featured in a short documentary film by Deborah Libby titled, “The Healing Song,” which can be found on his website. This film is not about cancer care, but documents the personal transformation of Toni Morales, who found inner and outer healing through the gong meditations, resulting in her 140 lb. weight loss. In this film, Marian comments that over time, we experience stress which affects our flow of qi, or prana, and sound healing allows one to tap into the power of vibration and transformation.

Mantra and Chanting

The use of mantra is part of the ancient system of yoga and it is a part of other cultural systems. A mantra is a word or sound repeated to aid meditation or achieving a meditative state, so it is a form of concentration that can lead to meditation. Chanting is the rhythmic repetition of a phrase or phrases, words or sounds and occurs in a wide variety of cultural traditions, from Gregorian and Anglican to African, Native American and Hindu.

Ayurvedic and yogic traditions emphasize the use of mantra as an important part of a path to balance and wholeness. However, this is an area where more clinical research studies are needed in order to determine the best use of this modality.

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