Let the Music Heal You

Icckk!  I don’t like the MRI test. It makes me anxious and claustrophobic. For those who may not be familiar with it, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. The test is an excellent tool for monitoring multiple sclerosis. But if you’ve ever experienced one, you know how anxiety-provoking they can be.

Some MRI centers allow patients to bring their own music to listen to while undergoing the test. I do this and it does help relax me. I bring a CD of what I call my “healing music”. I hand it to the technician, and they put it into their computer, hand me earphones that play my music. I still do not like the test, but the music gets me through it.

Music has a way of stirring my innermost feelings and all of my senses, of tapping into parts of myself unlike anything else. Music is a universal language that has the ability to speak to me deeply and uniquely. Music calms my spirit.

If you've paid much attention to how you respond to a variety of music, you may have noticed that some music seems to energize you; some music can move you to tears or spark a special memory of a time, place, food, or perhaps a certain person. Some music seems to make you relax, feel less stressed, and feel happier. And some music fills you with deep spiritual attunement.

So what makes music “healing music?”

According to composer Steve Halpern, who for forty years has composed meditative, instrumental music, “I refer to my recordings as Sonic Spiritual Technology for the 21st Century. The music is about the space — between notes, the gap between thoughts — where we can align and attune fields of infinite potential.” In his earlier career, Halpern played trumpet, bass, and guitar with jazz and R & B bands. 

I have collected a few of Halpern’s CDs over the years. As a musician, I liked the genre (often called New Age Music) because it did not distract me by trying to determine the composer, the melody, the beat. I did not feel I was analyzing this music, that I was being technical-critical with it. It simply let me relax and enter in. 

Critics of Halpern’s healing music believe his work not only entertains listeners, but entertains their brains, leading them to the higher octaves of consciousness by orchestrating tone and timbre to automatically slow down their brain waves into the alpha and theta ranges in which our natural healing energies are amplified.

I might not understand the science behind the music that relaxes me while I listen to it, but I know which tunes relax me. I have other composers who seem to do the same for me: Constance Demby, (Novus Magnificus); Jon Marks (Standing Stones of Callanish);  David Lanz (Cristofari’s Dream); and Steve Halpern  (Deep Alpha). As they say in art, “I just know what I like.” I often use healing music for meditation and prayer, walking my hand held labyrinth, and some days at home when I want to relax.
Forty years ago, Dr. C. Norman Shealy, a holistic doctor, prescribed Halpern’s Chakra Suite album to patients who needed to reduce their stress. It was part of what made his patients heal and relax. 

So, when you are preparing for an MRI, a medical test or a doctor’s appointment that has you a bit anxious, try a little healing music. It is relatively inexpensive, and can help you relax in the present moment, while you are listening to the music.

It’s just what some doctors order.
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Karen Zielinski, OSF

Sister Karen Zielinski was the Director of Communications for the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, from 1991 to 2008. She is now director of Canticle Studio, a creative office of products which focus on spirituality and health. She holds a BA in education and a master’s in music. She is a monthly columnist for several magazines, including St. Anthony Messenger, and is regularly published in other journals. She lectures on chronic disease and coping strategies. Karen has lived with multiple sclerosis since 1975.

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  • jay qureshi   May 5, 2016 8:07 PM
    I will never go through "the tube"...who needs microanalysis of the spine and brain? it's ugly...and worse then nudity...beyond nudity...the thing will scrape your back, yet you're supposed to lie still with your MS swimming bugs in your head...and on the sense of balance...very bad...love yourself and all that you are everyday...they always get it WRONG anyways...eat an apple each day and B+ (bee positive)~
  • Laura   May 6, 2016 10:33 AM
    I recently had my first MRI due to optic neurosis and testing for MS. Fortunately scans came back with just the lesions in my optic nerve and I don't have MS currently, but am told that I am at an increased risk over the next few years and have more MRIs in my future.
    Everyday, I am a certified music therapist. I used to work at a children's hospital and often used music for procedural support. Suddenly, last week I had to put my own practice to the test. That MRI is terrifying! Using music as a way to calm and regulate during these procedures can make such a difference. I few things I would tell my patients (and now myself):
    -Use the music to remind you of your surroundings.
    -Choose well known songs so you can sing along in your head and focus on the words rather than the sounds of the machine
    -Count the songs. If you know an MRI will take an hour, estimate that is about 12-15 songs. Or if you can make your own playlist, add a specific song at certain time intervals (15min, 30min, etc) to help you know how far along you are in the test
    -Use the beat of the music to help regulate breathing

    Hope this helps!
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    kzielinski  May 6, 2016 12:53 PM
    Jay, believe me, I feel your dislike for the MRI. I just think it is such an excellent means for doctors to get a glimpse of what is going on in our bodies. Of course, you have the right to refuse one. Good luck on the course of your MS!
  • Rebecca   May 6, 2016 2:06 PM
    If you are claustrophobic, close your eyes once you get on the table. Keep them closed as they move you into the tube and during the whole procedure. Works every time. No sweat.
  • Avatar
    kzielinski  May 6, 2016 5:09 PM
    Rebecca, that "close your eyes" trick works for a lot of people. Thanks!
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    seclorum  May 6, 2016 7:23 PM
    When I had mine done, I went in with plenty of thoughts buzzing through my head considering my family has had bad experiences with extreme claustrophobia or just plain broken machines that they got overheated in and began to freak out.

    But I was in a bad way to start with, had just had a needle shoved into my spine, and I was getting help from someone who made me feel like they might know what was going on with my body.

    So I put in the earplugs and just closed my eyes.

    Then the music started, the machine started up and I could swear its bangs and clunks and snaps came in like dubstep music!

    So I lay there listening to the beat of the machine and had to restrain myself from bobbing my head to it.

    Pretty quickly it ended and I was on my way back to my hospital room.

    Overall it wasnt anywhere near as bad as pop culture and my parents lead me to believe.
  • kateg59  May 7, 2016 12:01 PM
    I used to dread MRI's, and would request valium ahead of time. But like my daily copaxone injections, they have gotten easier. One trick, introduced to me early on by an MRI tech, is to cover my eyes with a washcloth or towel. This way I don't blink, and inadvertently see the "ceiling" of the MRI tube, introducing visual claustrophobia.
    Another thing which helped tremendously was the story a friend told me about his mother's MRI experience. This woman was a retired music teacher. She marveled to him about all the loud buzzing and thumping of the machine, likening it to a Benjamin Britten symphony. Ever since then, I actually LISTEN to the asynchronous tones of the MRI doing its work, and try to hear the music of it. This is truly an act of Zen creativity, and reduces the frustration of the study greatly. Hear the music!!
  • Adrianne Elayne Leighfield   May 8, 2016 12:08 PM
    If you go private they play music for you, so I don't see why the NHS can't do this. You end up with less of a headache. I've had it done both ways many times, so I do know
  • Ann Marie Emon   May 9, 2016 9:25 AM
    You always leave an affirming thought in your articles. You did it again. Thanks
  • guy hogan   May 10, 2016 5:03 PM
    Please take a look at FlawlessHerbs, & Youtube, Amazing results after suffering with MS. Very interesting results.
  • Kim Gilchrist   May 19, 2016 10:42 AM
    Hi. My name is Kim and I live in Southampton, United Kingdom. It's the first time I've been on here.
    I've had primary progressive m s for 10 years.
    I just want to say that I've really enjoyed Karen Zielinski's blog and as someone who has a deep fear of the MRI machine after experiencing two sessions! Claustrophobia is the deep rooted fear!
    My first experience was interesting to say the least. I had no idea that it would feel, or what I imagine, being in a coffin would feel like! After three attempts to calm myself and go into the machine, I finally succumbed ! Once inside, with my eyes squeezed tight and eye mask on, I suddenly heard music coming from my headphones! I can honestly say it wasn't to my taste but it instantly calmed me. I found myself drifting into another world and totally relaxing, imagining the things I used to be able to do. I didn't even hear the clanging and banging of the machine.....well, it seemed like the noise was in time to the music if that makes sense.
    When I was sitting in the waiting room for my second session I was watching a young lady whom seemed so nervous. I went and sat next to her and told her to keep her eyes shut tight and listen to the music. And not to open her eyes for any reason! Just concentrate on the music. It seemed to work as she came out of the room smiling!
    Anyway I just wanted to describe my experience and thank Ms Zielinski for her wonderful blog. Very interesting and insightful reading.
    Kim 😀
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    natalia0709  Jun 6, 2016 9:41 PM
    I've had three MRI and every time I cry. The worst was the cervical cause they slide you in all d way till the pelvic; you literally feel like you're in a casket. Then they tell you you cannot move and of course that is when everything starts itching...everything. But oh well it is what it is. It provides a better look into the progress and that's what matters. A better look helps for a better treatment and thus a better future for me and my kids. Thank you next time I will try the music.
  • Tara1869  Jul 10, 2016 8:13 AM
    The first time I had an MRI for MS symptoms I was in there for over two hours. It freaked me out a bit but thankfully the hospital I was in played music for me. Whew! The last one I had done took a little longer and there was no music. i really had to focus on my breathing - not because I'm claustrophobic generally - but I get fidgety and laying still for almost 3 hours on that table isn't easy.