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DR. LEPISTO: Striking a chord with music therapy

I don’t mind admitting I am a sentimentalist when it comes to certain songs.

You know the ones … you put on the track and suddenly the whole world is distilled down to a single moment, the memory unfolding as though it was happening right there for the first time. A memory of a loved one who has died; a cosmic alignment of sun-over-mountains on an epic road trip; a first kiss.

There is something moving, comforting and visceral about that certain song; you know, THAT one, the one that is music to your ears. I have a playlist on my computer titled, “Makes me Cry.” The one that gets me the most these days is Ben Harper’s “Walk Away,” which pulls instantly to mind the memory of my best friend. Who is it for you? Waylon Jennings? Billy Joel? Sarah McLachlan? Michael Jackson? And what is it about those tracks that end up being such a soothing and healing experience?



Perhaps Mozart can help us out here with some very interesting studies. Over time, when plants are placed in a room where Mozart is played, the plants grow fuller with larger foliage and more robust signs of health than the ones placed in a room without sound. Perhaps more revealing, plants exposed to the harsh sounds of heavy metal grow spindly with obvious signs of stress.

While I’m not a critic of heavy metal music, there is often something undeniably harsh about its delivery. With Mozart, other research shows that children played his methodical and structured compositions in the early years of development demonstrate higher IQs with greater focus than other children. Couple this with breastfeeding and children get a very good chance of healthy intellectual development.



In 2002 on a trip to New Zealand, I found Paulina, a Dutch psychotherapist and educator, who was transforming the lives of adults and children using a form of music therapy called Tomatis-based Listening Training. For the several months I lived at her facility (www.joyacentre.co.nz); she allowed me to experience this technique directly, which uses high and low frequency changes coupled with classical music and special acoustic headphones. What is really fascinating is that not only are people benefitting dramatically from this therapy, such as people with hearing deficits, neurological disorders, Autism, Asperger, anxiety and stress, but also that often there is a historical association with a particular range of hearing loss.

For example, one woman who had an inability to hear in the range of the human male voice had corresponding physical and emotional abuse by her father in childhood. The Tomatis training was then tailored to encourage greater hearing in that range. This works not only for people with significant neurological problems, but also can encourage a healthy pregnancy or be used to speed the rate at which new languages are learned. I was profoundly impressed.

Locally, harpist Kate Ellis takes her art to a therapeutic level by playing in various settings that encourage a calm and healing space. She has played her harp along with Carol Welch’s BioSomatics movement classes, in St. Mary’s Hospital patient rooms, and at Hope West as a hospice volunteer. Perhaps even more so, we can relate to the indescribable feeling that is created when we hear music that is relaxing for us. Blood pressure naturally drops, the breath slows, shoulders begin to unwind and release. It’s as though a good friend just brought you a steaming cup of green tea and said, “Want to make plans for that vacation?”

Some of you reading this will already have had experience with vibrational medicine, the idea that our physical bodies are made up of matter at a certain vibration, which can be gently modified through the use of various hands-on modalities, devices or therapeutic medicines. There is nothing woo-woo at all about pain relief, such as Linda Hamner, M.D., a physiatrist in Fruita, who is using a laser to help relieve my back and knee pain that occasionally keeps me up at night.

And finally, there is something restorative about moving in proximity to others. It is found in the tribal-like repetition of beats on the dance floor. Our youth (or young-at-heart) understand this art of unrestricted sweating, jumping and spiraling in close proximity, seeking not only a physical release but also a incommunicable transcendent experience. It is also found in the low-lit intimacy of a group of tango dancers, weaving subtly amongst each other as they entwine their art form amidst violins and pianos. It just FEELS good. So whatever your music therapy is, may it be a consistent part of what keeps you healthy.

Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.


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