Man listening to music on couch

Explore Healing Music and Sounds

In the Greek myth of Orpheus, we find a powerful testimony to the power of music. Throughout his journey in the underworld, Orpheus played his lyre and sang. His music pacified the dark forces, bringing tears to the eyes of the gods and softening their hearts. Music stirs emotion. It is no wonder that music has been called the language of the soul. Music can soothe, energize, enervate, or fan passions. You’ve no doubt experienced the emotional effects of music at some point in your life—perhaps at a wedding, a graduation, or a funeral.

In every culture, spiritual or religious ritual is accompanied by music, whether it involves the rousing drumbeat of a tribal dance, the mournful strains of a medieval requiem, the awakening call of a cantor, or the joyous chorus of hand-clapping gospel singers.

Music alters the body and the mind. Just as loud, harsh sounds can injure eardrums and set the nervous system on edge, so too can music and other gentle sounds, like the ocean or your own heartbeat, enhance deep relaxation, supply you with new energy, stimulate creativity, and even transport you into other states of consciousness.

When used consciously, music is a form of healing. So when you are particularly stressed, feeling sick, or in pain (with a backache, arthritis, or a bothersome cold, for instance), try using a little music therapy on yourself. Plants grow better with certain types of music. Why shouldn’t the same be true for you?

Lose Yourself in Music

The key to using music for healing is to allow yourself to become part of it. Many people listen to music critically, identifying the interactions of the various instruments or comparing the selection with other pieces. This is listening with the mind, whereas therapeutic listening is done with the whole body.

Instead of paying attention with your head, concentrate from somewhere lower in your body. Imagine that your heart is listening; allow your abdomen to be filled with the music; let the music come in through your hands and feet; breathe it. Abandon yourself to the music, as if the sounds were waves or clouds that are carrying you away or supporting you.

Depending on the type of music you choose, this method of listening can be either deeply relaxing or highly energizing. Listening with this degree of openness will alter the frequency of your brain waves, your rate of respiration, and your blood pressure. Imagery can be stimulated, memories evoked, emotions released, and tension dissipated.

Are you ready to expand your sensory awareness and appreciation of music, or to experience the healing effects? Music and sound-healing expert Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect, suggests that you spend ten minutes of undivided listening time every day for five days.

On the first day, select a piece of your favorite music (something that does not have vocals). Then sit back or lie down and close your eyes. Breathe. Notice whatever you notice.

The second day, as you listen to the same piece, do some ordinary activity like washing dishes or opening your e-mail or writing out checks.

The third day, while you listen to the same piece, conduct the music, as if you are a famous maestro.

The fourth day, listen to the same piece of music while you eat a meal.

On the fifth day, relax the same way you did on day one. Notice the difference in your appreciation or any effect from day one.

Other Creative Uses of Sound for Wellness

  • Sing. Open your mouth, your eyes, your throat. Sing at the top of your lungs, or quietly hum under your breath. Use singing to lift your spirits and to breathe more fully. Chant or hum to get your energy vibrating. Repeat the same sound or phrase to relax you, raise your consciousness, or reprogram your body with a health-inspiring message.
  • Play an instrument. Maybe it’s time to dig out that old guitar, recorder, or drum, or to start taking lessons. For many people, playing music is both a form of releasing energy and relaxing, and a means of creative expression. Drums are particularly good for this and can be used without any instruction.
  • Listen to natural sounds. Hear the air move through your nostrils as you meditate. Use wind sounds in combination with visualization to help you clear certain conditions, like headaches or a sense of confusion. Use water sounds for encouraging relaxation. The sounds of birds chirping are excellent for inspiring hope and joy. Be creative. Make up your own uses for natural sounds.

Build Your Repertoire

Perhaps you have plenty of musical favorites to choose from already, different selections to help you relax or to release built-up frustration. But if you don’t, it may be time to start accumulating a music library of pieces that you can use for winding up or winding down.

Many large music stores have a section of New Age instrumental music (also called Ambient or Space music) with a variety of interesting selections. Classical music also offers unending possibilities. See the following resources for some suggestions.

Contemporary Audio *

Anugama – Shamanic Dream II
One of the finest examples of healing music to date. Ideal for bodywork or movement.

Bruce BecVar – Forever Blue Sky
Bruce is a guitarist with a naturally commercial sound. His heartfelt guitar playing is augmented by orchestration and other effects that expand the sound of his music. Relaxed yet lively, this recording never gets old.

Patrick Bernhardt – Solaris Universalis
Patrick is a well-traveled Canadian artist with a heavenly voice and a gift for universally appealing music. This is his most popular release, with long tracks, multitracked Sanskrit mantras, and a spiritual feeling that is reminiscent of Enya’s music.

Robert Haig Coxon – The Silent Path
Recommended to massage practitioners. The combining of gentle keyboards, Tibetan gongs, and orchestral instruments such as oboe and flute make for a deeply moving recording of peaceful music.

Jonathan Goldman – The Lost Chord
Deep chant and overtone. Wonderful music for meditation or deep listening, with a Tibetan influence. Based on the extensive training that Goldman has had with lamas from that part of the world.

Incantations- Incantations
This CD has probably accompanied numberless human passages: births, deaths, healings, and celebrations. Keyboards, Middle Eastern doumbek rhythms, a jazz bassist/flute player, a percussionist, and two angelic singers join in this musical communion.

Deva Premal – The Essence
Beautiful chant recording, mostly sanskrit mantras, such as the “Gayatri Mantra.” Deva Premal’s magnificent voice and emotional expression set this apart from the field.

Raphael – Music to Disappear In
Neoclassical composing meets shamanic heart rhythms. Can be used for movement, deep listening, massage, and in other inspired settings.

Suzanne Sterling – Bhakti
This is chant/world music with original songs sung in English. Suzanne’s superb voice, excellent production, and world music elements from the all-star supporting cast make this a highly popular vocal release.

Weave – Cho Ku Rei
This music is designed for Reiki healing and is equally effective for bodywork, meditation, simple relaxation, or nighttime listening. Warm melodies, plenty of space between the musical passages, and an overall sense of wellbeing fill this recording.

Classical Audio

Bach – The Six Brandenburg Concertos
Evoke a wide variety of feelings.

Beethoven – Symphony #6 in F, Opus 68 (Pastoral)
Inspirational and soothing. For pure joy, listen to the famous “Ode to Joy” at the end of the Ninth Symphony.

Mozart – Jupiter Symphony and Violin Concertos #3 and #5
Almost anything by Mozart is great, but these are
particularly magical and joyful.

Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake ballet suite and Sleeping Beauty ballet suite.
Dance with your heart.

* Music selections for healing and wellness were compiled by Lloyd Barde, Backroads Distributors, Corte Madera, California. For a catalog or to order, call 800-767-4748.


Reprinted with permission, from Simply Well by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan. Copyright 2001. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.

The online version of Dr. Travis’ Wellness Inventory may be accessed at (www.WellPeople.com). The Wellness Inventory may also be licensed by coaches, health and wellness professionals, and organizations.

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John W Travis MD MPH Written by John W Travis MD MPH

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