This week’s guest blog post, Music for Wellness, comes from my childhood friend Dr. Tricia Oney. Music is a discipline that exercises our right brain and contributes much needed balance to life. How appropriate for the next “spoke” in my Wheels to Wellness summer series! Enjoy! And thank Tish!
Music for Wellness
By Dr. Tricia Oney
It is gratifying to see that the arts may finally be reclaiming their prior stake among core classes in the American educational system, and that more children may be offered the opportunity to explore and practice visual and performing arts as part of their regular school day once again. Countless studies have shown that engagement in musical study enhances a child’s cognitive development, which enhances his/her performance in math and science. Music represents not only a necessary part of a child’s education, but also an important source of mental, emotional and physical wellness throughout one’s life.
Left Brain, Right Brain Balance
The arts in general provide so much to our core being as humans on this planet. Visual arts, music, theater, dance. . . each discipline exercises our right brain, stretching our global and spatial learning capacities, and igniting our creativity. Using one’s whole brain (rather than simply the analytical/logical aspects of cognition, understood to be located on the left side of the brain) contributes balance to life and “opens the mind.” Using both right and left sides of the brain at a high level of proficiency enables children to learn in multiple ways and promotes different types of concentration.
Sustained concentration during musical performance accompanied by freedom from stress or distraction (often referred to as being “in the zone” or finding “flow state”) allows for an elevated level of performance excellence so often elusive in day-to-day work.
The ability to find that “flow state” can enhance one’s work life, home life and personal goal attainment.
“Flow” can be applied to other disciplines such as meditation, exercise, sports, cooking, writing, public speaking or a host of other normal activities, resulting in a highly efficient, productive period of accomplishment. Cultivating “flow state” through the study and performance of music simply adds to one’s quality of life, and is good for the brain, body and soul!
In addition to increasing mental acuity, the emotional benefits of habitual engagement with music cannot be overstated. Choral music in particular holds important emotional benefits in that the act of group singing builds a sense of belonging, cooperation, team-work, camaraderie, and overall well-being for the group as well as for each individual. Instrumentalists receive similar benefits when they actively engage with a band or orchestra. The achievement of a positive performance result in a group or solo situation creates confidence, trust, and feelings of accomplishment. Musical performance also provides a needed outlet for reducing stress, thereby recharging one’s joy reserves.
The interpersonal and emotional benefits provided by musical engagement are vitally important facets of a healthy life, a healthy family and a healthy workplace!
Music’s healing properties have been applied in recent decades to the field of medicine under the umbrella of Music Therapy. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.” (www.musictherapy.org). If music can have such a powerful healing effect upon those in need of medical attention, imagine the ways we all could benefit from its healing properties and positive health benefits each and every day!
Physical Benefits – The Breath
One key area of physical benefit from musical performance is the cultivation of a deep breath. Deep breathing is a necessary element of correct technique for singers, woodwind players, brass players, conductors and pianists. Many string players and percussionists also benefit from the study of deep breathing techniques that coordinate with the rhythms of the music they play. The study, practice and performance of music for these breath-conscious musicians often results in greater lung capacity, relief from (or better management of) breathing maladies including asthma, decreased stress and anxiety, slower heart rate, stronger intercostal and abdominal muscles, and better oxygenation of blood cells. Deep, full breathing can slow a rapid heartbeat, calm a panic attack and provide a nearly instant supply of fresh oxygen to a stressed brain.
By means of improving breath management, musical study comes out on top as a wellness-promoting activity!
Improved posture is another physical benefit of musical study. Trained musicians are taught to align their bodies properly in order to promote maximum efficiency of the muscles, breathing mechanism and resonance chambers necessary for optimal performance results. Our postures change as we age, so continued attention to posture through an ongoing pursuit of musical engagement results in potentially huge health benefits. Choral singing, band or orchestra performance, solo practicing/performing or private lessons can provide these benefits. The coordination of deep breathing techniques within the framework of excellent posture during active engagement of the body for a musical performance delivers a surprisingly empowering, positive result upon one’s health. The aerobic activity of coordinating a performance with good breath management and proper spinal and physical alignment explains why so many professional musicians are in outstanding physical condition.
Listening to Music and Dance
For those who are not inclined to pursue musical study or performance in their adult years, enjoying recorded or live music can also create a positive atmosphere for wellness. Dancing is an excellent form of exercise and stress relief. Soft, soothing music can aid meditation or help a person wind down and relax after a long workday. Listening to jazz or classical music may help organize brain pathways.
Music can improve a mood, facilitate mindfulness (staying in the present moment) and provide a lovely background to otherwise mundane activities.
Being creative about implementing a musical accompaniment to parts of one’s day can be fun and joy-giving.
Music and the arts contribute immeasurably to the core of our culture, and to the beauty and creativity within our daily lives.
The mental, emotional and physical benefits of incorporating music for wellness are significant and measurable.
How can you immerse yourself in a health-giving musical activity today?
About Dr. Tricia Oney
A widely sought performer/professor, Dr. Oney currently tours nationally as an Artist-In-Residence at various universities and schools of music. She often performs as a headlining singer with symphony orchestras, big bands, jazz combos, and as a vocal/piano soloist. A freelance jazz musician and Artistic Director of over ten nationally touring shows, Oney is also an active arranger, composer, conductor, clinician and producer. She is currently producing her fifth jazz album highlighting songs by contemporary jazz composers. She also enjoys writing as a columnist, blogger and interviewer for All About Jazz.