The Healing Power of Sound Pt.2: Music, Massage, and Entrainment

Many massage therapists incorporate music into their practice, and for good reason.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Peter Ostwald of the University of California, San Francisco, who researched and wrote extensively about music and mental health, music has the ability to create moods very quickly and powerfully.

But what kind of music is best for massage therapy?

Researcher Heather Larson interviewed Sherry Donovan at Peace Media, a company that specializes in music for spas. Donovan cautions against music with jarring tempo changes; rather, she recommends instrumental with subtle rhythms and melodic flows.

According to Larson, music therapist Mary Capone recommends music with an “adagio pattern”; at 60 beats per minute, that synchronizes with our resting heart rate, leading to “entrainment.”  During entrainment, our bodies harmonize with the music that is playing, which can align with the listener’s emotional state and transform negative feelings into positive ones.

Larson believes massage therapists should also enjoy and be inspired by the music they play — so they should have a selection on hand that they enjoy, and then can consult with the client on the choice of music. (Larson also encourages therapists to have extra CDs on hand to sell their clients, and even include in gift baskets with oils and other massage goodies.)

Linda Gertrude Means, Ph.D., CMT calls music a “powerful vibrational input which shifts our energy patterns through the process of listening.”  Means explains how brainwaves are classified by the speed of vibration in hertz (cycles per second):

  • Beta waves: >12 Hz, normal walking-around brain activity while awake
  • Alpha waves: of 8-12 Hz, daydreaming and hypnotic trance states
  • Theta waves: 4-8 Hz, dreaming sleep or extremely deep meditation (advanced meditators)
  • Delta waves: 1-4 Hz; slowest brainwave patterns, non-REM sleep

According to Dr. Means, it’s in the slower-than-beta brainwave frequencies that healing states of consciousness exist. She points to The Monroe Institute, which has worked to develop music specifically composed to entrain the listener’s brain into the slower, healing brainwaves.  She also notes that music with a tempo of 60 beats per minute (adagio pattern) has been found to shift brainwaves from beta to alpha frequencies. Shamanic drumming is also known to produce theta brainwaves. 

Watch the following video on music therapy, “How Music Can Heal Our Brain and Heart” by Dr. Kathleen Howland to learn more about music therapy.

And check out this post on The Relational Economy to find five free resources for music for your massage practice.

Image courtesy of: NYC Health Hospitals


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