The harp has been revered and utilized as a healing instrument for thousands of years. The heavenly vibrations of the harp have been shown to have restorative benefits that promote physical, emotional, & mental homeostasis.
"Studies show that harp therapy can equalize and slow down brain waves; affect respiration, heartbeat, and pulse; reduce muscle tension; and improve body movement. Premature babies who have received harp therapy are able to drink more of their mother’s milk and gain weight more rapidly, resulting in earlier departure times from the hospital. Harp therapy increases endorphin levels, regulates stress-related hormones, boosts the immune system, and stimulates digestion and the overall feeling of well-being. Therapeutic musicians help to create a relaxed, healing environment through live music, which studies find to be even more effective than recorded music." --Marcie Swift, Psychologist & Certified Music Practitioner
Documented clinical research has revealed an array of positive effects of live therapeutic music which include:
* Relief of Stress, Anxiety, Agitation, & Depression of Both Patients, Family Members, and Facility Staff
* Promotes Emotional Catharsis by Gently Releasing Repressed Emotions
* Improves Oxygenation of Blood & Deepens the Breath
* Relieves Physical Pain
* Enhances Feelings of Peace, Comfort, Safety, Relaxation, & Euphoria
*Relief of Stress, Anxiety, Agitation, & Depression of Both Patients, Family Members, and Facility Staff
Negative stress takes an enormous toll on the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. The negative effects of stress, especially chronic and prolonged stress which is commonly experienced when facing challenging health issues, include tension headaches, decreased immune system functioning, gastrointestinal disturbances, appetite imbalances, increased likelihood of stroke and heart attack, high blood pressure, increased susceptibility to infections, heart disease, sleep disturbances or excessive slumber, social withdrawal, memory problems, inability to concentrate, pessimism, excessive worrying, racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, frequent illness, body aches and pains, feeing overwhelmed, nervous, agitated, anxious, and/or depressed, loneliness, lack of perceived meaning in life, low self-esteem, panic attacks, and fear. And often in response to stressful situations, people may become anxious, agitated, or depressed. Symptoms of anxiety include feelings of terror and panic, apprehension or dread, extreme worry and fear, feeling tense or jumpy, pounding heart, sweating, dizziness, fatigue, twitching, shortness of breath, and insomnia. Also, patients who are in the dying process can experience terminal agitation or restlessness where they become extremely irritable, show signs of physical distress such as tossing and turning in bed, exhibits mood swings, appear "out of control," or feel confused. Depression can also be common where they may feel hopeless, helpless, guilt, worthlessness, sad, empty, low energy, and suicidal.
The harp is known to elicit a powerful stress-relieving influence for a multitude of listeners. For centuries, the harp and voice have been used to soothe newborns to sleep, ease the pain of the dying, and to nurture sorrowful emotional states. Studies show that therapeutic harp music can significantly reduce anxiety, stress, agitation, and depression levels for a wide array of conditions pertaining to hospital and hospice settings. Music (in this case, my harp & voice) achieves this aim by decreasing the levels of stress hormones, cortisol & adrenaline, and by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Research has shown that after healthy individuals listen to music, they experienced a decrease in cortisol levels which in turn increases immune system functioning (Crowe, p.182). Music counteracts stress' long-term activation of the sympathetic nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and thus slowing down the physiological processes associated with it such as heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure (Crowe, p.218). The PNS allows the body to heal, regenerate, and recharge. Music can influence the body to sedate itself and the mind to relax itself. The slow and relaxing rhythmic effects and beautiful overtones in harp music may produce marked shifts in tension, stress, and anxiety--thereby promoting slower brainwave patterns, feelings of relaxation, peace, and comfort. Harp and voice can also be powerfully uplifting tools to influence positive emotions like joy, happiness, and laughter for someone suffering from depression or anger. For those suffering from anxiety, who often do not feel safe, grounded, or comforted, music may promote an avenue for optimism, emotional balance, and loving comfort.
*Promotes Emotional Catharsis by Gently Releasing Repressed Emotions
Many people understandably use the repression of emotions as a psychological defense mechanism to deal with the aftereffects of traumatic or overwhelming emotional experiences. It is a type of regulation strategy that is supposed to make uncomfortable (or fear-based) feelings easier to manage. Our emotions are a variation of two basic emotions--love & fear. Fear-based emotions are expressed as anxiety, anger, control, sadness, depression, inadequacy, confusion, hurt, loneliness, guilt, and shame. Emotions such as joy, happiness, caring, trust, compassion, truth, contentment, and satisfaction are love-based emotions. Fear-based emotions release biochemical reactions in your body (like cortisol & adrenaline) that are vastly different from the love-based emotions (such as dopamine & oxytocin). Holding onto, or repressing, fear-based emotions can have potentially devastating psychological and physical effects such as mental rigidity, low self-confidence, depression, emotional numbness, fatigue, and headaches. It is even said that long-term repressed emotions are stored in one's physical and energetic bodies that can eventually manifest as illnesses like kidney stones or cancer. Sometimes talking about, or intellectualizing, our repressed emotions are ineffective methods of resolution because our thoughts cannot reach those deeply buried regions of our psyche--because emotions are subconscious processes. That is why many people turn to music for emotional catharsis and relief.
When I play Therapeutic Harp music and sing, it is not uncommon for me to see people who are touched profoundly and become teary-eyed or begin to cry. Others become intensely joyful and express heart-felt laughter or smiling. That is because music can uniquely touch one's inner-most being on a very deep level. Music has the ability to access the limbic system of the brain, which is the physical center of emotional processing, and as a result bypass cognitive interpretation and analysis. Our response to music occurs at a subconscious level--beyond our intellectual interpretation and conscious awareness. Interestingly, our emotions also occur at the subconscious level. We do not stop and think about getting angry or happy--this just happens beyond our cognitive awareness. In this way, music can speak the language of emotion at the subconscious level. This means that music can transcend the logical mind and access our deepest emotional states, such as joy, grief, love, sorrow, anger, and bliss in immensely cathartic ways. Music has a way of bringing to surface our emotional depths for healing and renewal. This is evident in the popular behavior of listening to music to either express our current emotional states or when we listen to music to soothe agitated states or calm anxious ones. Sad songs can make us cry and happy songs can trigger laughter. At an instinctual level, beyond conscious processing, the majority of people use music to non-verbally express repressed emotions and to promote catharsis. Music is a commonly used, safe, and natural medicine.
It is not uncommon for individuals with health challenges to face sleep disturbances or insomnia that negatively impacts their physical, emotional, and mental well-being throughout the day. Sleep is an incredibly important and crucial part of our healing, recovery, and optimal functioning. Even with minimal sleep disturbances, our mood, energy levels, and physical health can be negatively affected. Studies have shown that individuals with sleep deprivation display symptoms such as impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, lower tolerance to stress, increased emotional sensitivity, mood swings, feelings of hopelessness & helplessness, increased rate of accidents, relational stress, physical weakness & fatigue, decreased optimism and sociability, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, depression, and even increased risk of heart attack. The reason this happens is because our brain needs sleep to regenerate neurons, form memories, generate new synaptic connections & repair our body at a cellular level.
The harp is known to be an instrument of peace, relaxation, and delicate beauty as revealed through its heavenly sounding glissandos and abundant overtones. The music of the harp can promote a deep state of relaxation that is necessary for the onset of sleep, the deepening of the sleep, and to promote the elongation of the sleep process. Music has been shown in research studies to increase melatonin--a hormone produced in our bodies to regulate sleep. The harp's ethereal & calming melodies are amplified by the soothing qualities of the human voice and are catalysts for creating a deep level of peace, sedation, and contentment. Therapeutic harp music and voice can be especially beneficial for NICU infants experiencing sleep disturbances and for elderly hospice patients with terminal agitation or sleep deprivation due to a distressing medical condition. In such cases, I may play and sing gentle lullabies, classical music, and/or improvise in the dreamy Mixolydian mode or in the soothing Ionian mode. In total, therapeutic harp music can create a tranquil and quiet atmosphere that is beneficial for slumber. When we get sufficient sleep, we can again experience the love of life, optimism, and healthy vitality that enables us to function at the best of our abilities. Benefits of sufficient sleep include strengthened immune function, improved mood, increased ability to cope with stress, improved cognition & memory, cardiovascular health, increased creativity, better ability to handle life's challenges, as well as higher brain functioning.