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Music that heals

—Judith Acosta, LISW

Music is a mysterious mathematical process whose elements are part of Infinity. “There is nothing more musical than a sunset.” —Debussy, as quoted in The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (1996), by Don Michael Randel

In the movie, The Weeping Camel, a pregnant camel lived in a remote Tibetan Village. After a protracted labor, she gave birth to a stillborn. The camel, pained beyond anyone’s expectation, lay down and would not get up. She keened and moaned in grief.

Her owners tried everything they could to prod her back up. They enticed her with foods. They coaxed her with caresses. They pushed her, pulled her, and pleaded with her.

No response except more keening. She barely seemed to sense that anyone was around her. She had become encased in her own loss.

One day, someone in the village thought to call in a local musician. When he arrived at the camel’s pen, he sat and listened. Then he picked up his instrument and imitated her keening. He “sang” with her that way for a while when, slowly, she started to pay attention. He kept playing. In time, she started to eat. And then she stood. Her grief was resolved.

When I heard about this story, I decided to include it in a workshop I was giving on classical homeopathy as a perfect example of vibrational similarity (or the principle of like cures like). I told my husband about it since he’s a musician and engineer and I thought he’d not only understand but be delighted by this mystery of resonance and musical healing.

“So, what do you think?” I asked.

 “So, she had to have someone to grieve with?” he said.

“Precisely,” I answered.

Then he added, “Well, there’s the blues for ya.”

Musicians and lovers of music have known this since the first instrument struck the first golden note, since the first bird sang the first song, since the first words were written to sing along.

Mystics and prophets have known it, using music to celebrate and call forth the Divine. There’s an old saying: “The scientists climbed the mountain and found the mystics waiting.” I imagine there will be some musicians there as well.

The Science-Music Mountain

The evidence is mounting—music not only reaches us in the obvious emotional sense, but more profoundly at the preconscious, genetic level.

One study provided us with our first clear evidence that music affects us at an exceedingly deep level—even before we’re born.

The study was conducted at the University of Leicester’s School of Psychology in England in which babies were exposed (in utero) to music for up to three months before they were born and then not again until they were at least a year old. In it, Dr. Alexandra Lamont found evidence that babies remember and recognize music they hear in the womb. She was further surprised to discover that not only did they recognize it, but they retained the memory of that music for at least a year. 

But it’s not only the very young. This resonant relationship with music continues as we age. Research led by Dr. Frederick Tims of Michigan State University (November 1999, Alternative Therapies) showed that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease who underwent four weeks of structured music therapy showed significant increases in their level of melatonin, a chemical linked with sleep regulation and immune response.

Yet another study at the Maryland School of Medicine (M. Miller, M.D., 2008) demonstrated that “joyful” music (defined by every individual) improved vascular health, causing the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow. This same response occurred in the researchers’ prior study on the effects of laughter (2005).

In one of the latest, more pointed studies, several researchers studied the effects of music on hypertension. (Arq Bras Cardiol. 2009 Nov; 93(5):534-40. Music therapy effects on the quality of life and the blood pressure of hypertensive patients. Zanini CR, et al.)

They concluded:

“Music therapy has contributed to an improvement on the quality of life and blood pressure control of patients, suggesting that this activity may represent a therapeutic approach to help strengthen the programs of multidisciplinary care of hypertensive patients.”

Intellectual-Creative-Emotional Health and Music

For some people, music therapy enables and inspires creation of another sort. When Albert Einstein struggled with complicated formulas, he played his violin. His oldest son said that “whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music and that would usually resolve all his difficulties.” His sister also said that playing music seemed to put Einstein in “a peaceful state of mind, which facilitated his reflection.”

What did Einstein himself say when asked about the relation between music and his ground breaking physics research? “Both are born of the same source and complement each other.”

According to physicists (particularly quantum theorists) today, the universe itself is musical and all things—regardless of presumed “sentience” or evolutional status—are created from the same bolt of fabric. Some call it hyperstring. Some call it pure Thought. Others call it the Divine Spirit.

Whatever we call it, we’re beginning to record it: In August of 1998, it was discovered that stars sing! Scientists at University of Berkeley California reported a blast of an unusual star producing an unheard of tone in the universe.

I know the Bible itself is not far from this when it tells the story of creation which took place as God spoke. When he called into existence the very stuff of the universe, he said “Let there be…” Words—just sounds, the uttered reflections of intention and thought—were the musical underpinnings of all that exists and has ever existed.

Anecdotally, music has been linked with emotional and mental health for as long as Kings could hire minstrels. It is therapeutic not just to the listener, but to the player as well:

Elizabeth Baer, a clinical social worker and student of the bass guitar, calls her music lessons at Route 66 Music her “therapy.” She says that “playing the bass turns on parts of my brain so I focus. While I am playing music, mundane concerns, problems, anxieties, and obsessions are set aside.” She uses music in her work with disturbed adolescents.

What is this Magic? How Does Music Heal?

Thus the mystery and magic deepens.

How does this work? What does music do that facilitates the mending of bones, the softening and soothing of broken hearts, the nearly instant increase in auto-immunity?

According to some experts, it is the vibration itself. The simplest example of this principle is the use of sonic vibration to heal injuries (a common practice now at rehab centers).

Frequency healing, as it is called, has been studied intensely and broken down Hz by Hz. Every frequency “range” has a specific, non-random effect. For instance, 1.0 Hz impacts the pituitary, stimulating the production of growth hormones. If you want to sleep better, tune in to 3.4 Hz on the dial. For long-term memory, it’s 6 Hz. If you want to be awake and alert, surround yourself with the sound of 14 Hz. Mind you, all of this occurs below the expectable low end of normal hearing. The lowest piano note is 27.5 Hz.

It continues:  111 Hz will increase beta endorphins and stimulate cell regeneration. In the workshops I conduct on the use of animals in therapeutic settings, I can spend an hour listing the ways in which animal-song—cooing, purring, whinnying, sighing, happy barking, even their simple presence and vibration—can be enormously healing.

According to many experts, animal sounds directly affect physiology. Apparently, the frequency of a cat’s purr helps broken bones to knit together faster. When investigated further, they found that vibrations between 20 and 140Hz at low db are anabolic for bone growth, mending muscles and ligaments, and reducing swelling and pain. (See

Mindfulness and Music

Another point of view is that music that resonates with us demands our full attention—both mental and physical. Shawn Phillips, author of Strength for Life, explores the impact of attention on every area of a person’s life: “It’s not necessarily what’s on your mind, but how you hold your attention without distraction.” This attention—focus and intensity—is the basis for all well-being, whether that’s in the form of achievement of specific goals or overall health.

Others see music as a channel to reflection and stillness, which is the flipside of attention. Dave Heidt, veteran musician and owner of Route 66 Music and Recording in Bernalillo, explained it this way: “Maybe the spaces between the notes are a big part of helping us to meditate and reflect. I guess when we only have twelve notes, the possibilities in the spaces outnumber the notes.”

The importance of this stillness is incalculable on every major physical system in our bodies.

Jon Kabat Zinn, a world-renown researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard University, contributed to one study reported in Psychosomatic Medicine 65:564-570 (2003), entitled “Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation.”

Using a well-known and widely used eight-week clinical training in mindfulness with employees in an active work environment, they measured brain activity before and after the period of meditation. A control group was tested at the same time.

At the end of the eight-week period, the 25 experimental subjects and 16 control subjects were given the influenza vaccine. They measured both groups four months after the program and found for the first time significant increases in certain brain activity (left-sided anterior activation) that is commonly associated with positive affect in the meditators compared with those who did not meditate. They also found a significant increase in immune response with the meditators. The study concluded that a short program in mindfulness meditation produced demonstrable and enduring effects on brain and immune function.

The stillness, the focus, the clarity, and intensity of attention—these things are the stuff of music that draws us back to it over and over and over again.

The Common Consensus: What we Know Intuitively

Do people need science to tell them music is good for them? Not really.

For Jack Harrington, a local musician with Redline 7000, music has been a “retreat,” which he defines as anything from the serenity of strumming a guitar alone on a deserted island to the vitality he gets from playing a live venue.

For Sam Quiles, a percussionist and dancer as well as a social worker, the music that moves is the music that heals. Regardless of what ails him, “music makes it better.” For him, “it is the silver thread to the divine.”

For some people, it’s as vital and necessary as breathing. One woman’s chronic nausea from chemotherapy was only soothed when she listened to Mozart. Another man’s depression would be temporarily lifted by playing country music—loud. Yet another client who recently lost her son claims she can only get through her day by playing old records of Peter Pan, which she used to play for him. One dear friend wrote to me, “Music hits me on a level I cannot describe. I have asked the Lord to be in the part of Heaven where the singing is.”

We feel music in our cells: Who hasn’t felt the electricity of driving down the road at a normal clip only to find himself cruising at 85 mph when the Allman Brothers came on the radio or felt hopeful and young when she heard a song that reminded her of that perfect summer and her first boyfriend?

As John Green, a musician and author from Placitas, says, “It’s the joy that drew me early on…I remember experiences of playing in bands and feeling almost mystically joined with the other players.”

And that joy, fraternal twin to pure love, is what heals, after all.

Regardless what music we choose or how it makes us feel, we all seem to instinctively know and respect its power and impact. We know it in our bones, in our hearts, and in our feet. And if the research is correct, we know it far before we even have the words to say so.

Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT is a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and classical homeopath in private practice in Placitas. She has appeared on both television and radio and is a regular lecturer throughout the U.S. She is the co-author of the book, The Worst Is Over, which has been dubbed the "bible of crisis communication." Her new book, Verbal First Aid, which will address the special needs of parents and children, will be out in June 2010. You can reach her at or

The Healthy Geezer


The Healthy Geezer

—Fred Cicetti

When someone says, “that makes my blood boil,” does that mean their blood pressure goes up, too?

Probably. Blood pressure tends to spike when you are excited by an emotion such as anger or fear. But high blood pressure—known as “hypertension”—is very sneaky. It’s called the “silent killer,” because it usually has no symptoms.

Doctors say you have high blood pressure if you have a reading of 140/90 or higher. A blood pressure reading of 120/80 or lower is considered normal. “Prehypertension” is blood pressure between 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number.

The first number represents your “systolic” pressure when the heart beats. The second number represents the “diastolic” pressure when the heart rests. If only one number is  elevated, you still have high blood pressure with all of its dangers.

Isolated systolic hypertension (ISH) is the most common form of high blood pressure for seniors. When you have ISH, only the top number is too high. About two out of three people over age sixty with high blood pressure have ISH. About one in three American adults has high blood pressure. In the U.S., high blood pressure occurs more often in African-Americans

High blood pressure can ravage your body. It can enlarge the heart, create small bulges (aneurysms) in blood vessels, damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, harden arteries, produce bleeding in the eyes. The possible consequences are heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and blindness.

Your chances of getting high blood pressure are also higher if you are overweight, don’t exercise, eat too much salt, drink too much alcohol, don’t consume enough potassium, endure stress for too long. Obviously, changing your diet, exercising, and altering your lifestyle will help.

When you go to your doctor to have your blood pressure taken, there are a few things you can do to get an accurate reading. First, don’t drink coffee or smoke cigarettes for a half hour before your pressure is taken. (What are you doing smoking anyway?) Empty your bladder, because a full tank can affect the reading. Sit quietly for five minutes before the test.

If you’re like me, you have “white coat syndrome.” That means your blood pressure jumps as soon as a doctor or nurse approaches you. If your doctor knows this, he or she may recommend a home blood-pressure monitor or ambulatory monitor that is worn around the clock and takes your pressure every half hour.

If you have high blood pressure and lifestyle changes don’t reduce it, there are medications to treat the problem. Often, two or more drugs work better than one. Some drugs lower blood pressure by removing extra fluid and salt from your body. Others affect blood pressure by slowing down the heartbeat, or by relaxing and widening blood vessels.

Understanding Medicare

—Jason Alderman

Most people are somewhat familiar with Medicare, since it’s likely they or a family member are already covered by the government-provided health insurance program. But with its alphabet soup of options and complex rules, Medicare can be daunting to the uninitiated.

If you’re approaching 65, here are some Medicare basics you’ll need to know:

  • Medicare provides benefits to people age 65 and older and those under 65 with certain disabilities or end-stage renal disease. Most people’s initial enrollment period is the seven months beginning three months before the month they turn 65. If you miss that window, you may enroll between January 1 and March 31 each year, with coverage beginning July 1.
  • Medicare offers numerous plans and coverage options, including:

—Part A helps cover in-patient hospital, nursing facility and hospice services, and home health care. Most people pay no monthly premium and are automatically enrolled upon turning 65, or after receiving Social Security disability benefits for 24 months.

—Part B helps cover doctor’s services, outpatient care and some preventive services. It’s optional and has a monthly premium. Most people are automatically enrolled at the same time as Part A. To opt out, follow the instructions that accompanied your Medicare card (mailed about three months before your 65th birthday). Weigh opting out carefully because there’s often a sizeable penalty if you enroll later, unless you’re currently covered by an employer’s plan.

—Part C (Medicare Advantage) plans are privately run HMO or PPO Medicare plans that provide coverage similar to Parts A and B, but may also include additional benefits such as prescription drugs, dental and vision coverage. In exchange for lower out-of-pocket costs and additional benefits, you’re usually required to use the plan’s provider network, which may be more restrictive than providers you could access through regular Parts A and B.

—Part D helps cover prescription drugs. It’s optional and carries a monthly premium. These privately run plans vary widely in terms of cost and medications covered. As with Part B, you may be charged a late-enrollment penalty if you don’t sign up when first eligible and later decide to enroll. If you’re in a Part C plan with drug coverage, you don’t need Part D.

  • Many people purchase additional Medigap (or Medicare Supplemental) insurance, which is offered by private insurers and follows strict government coverage guidelines. Medigap helps pay for many items not covered by Medicare, including deductibles, copayments, coinsurance and, sometimes, coverage when traveling abroad.

Medigap coverage is already included in Part C Medicare Advantage plans; plus some employers and unions offer it to their retirees. Medigap plans can vary widely in terms of cost, covered benefits and states participating so compare your options carefully.

Understanding and choosing the right Medicare options for your individual situation can be a complicated process. Visit, where you’ll find:

  • Helpful publications, including “Medicare & You 2010”
  • Tools to compare prescription drug plans, hospitals, nursing homes, and Medigap plans in your area
  • A resource to find local doctors and other health practitioners who participate in Medicare
  • Services covered by various Medicare plans
  • Enrollment instructions

For further assistance, call 1-800-633-4227.

Make the most of Medicare’s covered screenings and shots

—Bob Moos, Southwest Regional Public Affairs Officer for the Centers for Medicare and

 Medicaid Services

How many times have you dismissed a new ache by sighing, “Maybe it’ll go away?” Sometimes, the pain does disappear. But playing the waiting game isn’t the smartest way to look after your health.

Medicare covers a broad range of exams, lab tests, and screenings to detect health problems early, when they’re most treatable or curable. It also pays for a number of immunizations to help beneficiaries avoid diseases or illnesses and stay healthy.  Prevention is becoming a bigger part of Medicare.

Beneficiaries are entitled to a preventive physical exam during the first 12 months they’re enrolled in the Part B medical insurance program. It’s known as a “Welcome to Medicare” exam.

Beneficiaries can make the most of their visit by coming prepared. That means bringing a complete list of their prescription and over-the-counter drugs and their medical records, including immunizations. They should also have their family health history, with any details that would suggest risks for certain conditions.

During the exam, the physician evaluates the patient’s health, discusses any preventive services that may be needed, such as shots or screenings, and makes referrals for more care if required. The doctor also measures height, weight, and blood pressure. The exam doesn’t include lab tests.

Beneficiaries on original Medicare pay twenty percent of the Medicare-approved amount for their Welcome to Medicare visit, but the annual Part B deductible is waived for this one-time exam.

Keeping up-to-date with screenings and immunizations is important, so Medicare encourages beneficiaries to visit and sign up. There, they can see a description of their covered preventive services, the last date they had a particular test, and the next date they’re eligible for it again.

Here’s a rundown of some of Medicare’s preventive services and how original Medicare and its beneficiaries divide the cost. Medicare Advantage plans may pay differently.

  • Cardiovascular screenings check cholesterol and other blood fat levels. Medicare pays for the test once every five years. There’s no out-of-pocket expense.
  • Blood sugar screenings check for diabetes. Based on their health, beneficiaries may be eligible for up to two screenings per year. Medicare covers the full Medicare-approved amount for the test.
  • Glaucoma tests are available for people at high risk for the eye disease. Medicare pays eighty percent of the approved amount for an annual test. Beneficiaries are responsible for the other twenty percent, after meeting their deductible.
  • Immunizations: Medicare covers flu, pneumococcal and Hepatitis B shots. Beneficiaries pay nothing for the flu or pneumococcal shots. People at risk for Hepatitis B pay twenty percent, after the deductible, for those immunizations.
  • Mammograms check for breast cancer. Medicare covers a screening every 12 months for women 40 and older and one baseline screening for women 35 to 39. Beneficiaries pay twenty percent of the approved amount.
  • Prostate cancer screenings consist of a yearly digital rectal exam and PSA test for men 50 and older. Beneficiaries are responsible for twenty percent for the rectal exam, after meeting their deductible. There are no out-of-pocket costs for the PSA test.

In addition to these tests and shots, Medicare covers eight counseling sessions each year for beneficiaries with a smoking-related disease or on medications affected by tobacco use. During the one-on-one sessions, a physician or other qualified practitioner helps the smoker quit.

For more about Medicare’s preventive services, visit the Medicare Web site at or call Medicare’s 24-7 customer service line at 1-800-633-4227. A Medicare publication, titled “Medicare’s Preventive Services,” can also be downloaded from the Web site or requested by phone.

Eat well while eating out

—Teen Health®

If I Eat Well at Home, What's Wrong With Splurging When I Eat Out?

A slice of pizza once in a while won't do you any harm. What's important is a person's average food intake over a few days, not just in a single meal. So if you eat a less-than-healthy meal once in a while, try to balance it with healthier foods the rest of that day and week.

But if pizza (or any fast food) is all you eat, that can lead to problems. The most obvious health threat of eating too much fast food is weight gain — or even obesity.

But weight gain isn't the only problem. Too much fast food can drag a person's body down in other ways. Because the food we eat affects all aspects of how the body functions, eating the right (or wrong) foods can influence any number of things, including:

  • mental functioning
  • emotional well-being
  • energy
  • strength
  • weight
  • future health

It's actually easier than you think to make good choices at a fast-food restaurant, the mall, or even the school cafeteria. Most cafeterias and fast-food places offer healthy choices that are also tasty, like grilled chicken or salads. Be mindful of portion sizes and high fat add-ons, like dressings, sauces or cheese.

Here are some pointers to remember that can help you make wise choices when eating out:

—Go for balance. Choose meals that contain a balance of lean proteins (like fish, chicken, or beans if you're a vegetarian), fruits and vegetables (fries and potato chips don't qualify as veggies!), and whole-grains (like whole wheat bread and brown rice). That's why a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato is a better choice than a cheeseburger on a white bun.

—Watch portion sizes. The portion sizes of American foods have increased over the past few decades so that we are now eating way more than we need. The average size of a hamburger in the 1950s was just 1.5 ounces, compared with today's hamburgers, which weigh in at 8 ounces or more.

—Drink water or low-fat milk. Regular sodas, juices, and energy drinks usually contain "empty" calories that you don't need — not to mention other stuff, like caffeine.






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