Music and our feelings, breathing and blood

“This sound, which like all music- indeed, like all pleasure- I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys the house had known: the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work”. (Sacks 2008)

Above is an account taken from writer William Styron’s memoir. After hearing Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody, Styron realised he cannot injure people by committing suicide and admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital.

Music conjures emotions within and is an emotional language. In an online survey I did which gathered 201 responses, most of the respondents indicated how music has affected them emotionally in a positive way.

Music’s grip on the emotional life of Man can be seen even from birth and in olden cultures. According to Dr Rainer Patzlaff (2017) in a lecture given on early childhood language acquisition, he has found from research that infants are extremely sensitive to the musicality in the speech heard around them. The musicality in speech and language is the foundation for infants to acquire languages as they grow up through their childhood. Music has a deep connection with human beings from birth which has been proven from research into language acquisition.    

According to English psychiatrist Anthony Storr, infants respond to the rhythm, pitch, intensity and timbre of the mother’s voice; which are all elements of the music. (Storr 1992)

“It is not unreasonable to speculate that speech and music have descended from a common origin in a primitive language which was neither speaking nor singing, but something of both”. (Ehrenzweig 1975)

Communication in the distant past is prosodic in nature; poetry, words and music are combined as emotional expressions. This prosodic form of communication gradually changed into a functional use of language to convey meanings and thoughts. In olden cultures, people sing to one another in order to express their feelings before they speak to each other to express their thoughts.

According to Gaynor, music can affect the physical body through emotions. “Through the process of entrainment, sound can transform negative, repressed emotions into a state of psychological equanimity, that has direct and immediate effects on our physiology”. (Gaynor 2002)   

Faces blush when there is anger or shyness, hands turned cold when there is fear, the heart pounds faster with rage. Anxiety often causes an increase in breathing rate. These phenomena can be experienced in self-observation.

There have been many studies done on the effects of emotions on health. Following is a snippet of it:

“People who are more content in their lives have mostly healthier heart and circulation. This is empirically demonstrated by a low level of hormone cortisol in the blood, with high levels correlating with diabetes type 2 and high blood pressure. At the same time, the frequency of heartbeat and levels of fibrinogen in the blood decrease. Increased fibrinogen precedes heart trouble. Positive emotional experiences and optimism relate to relatively higher life expectancy”. (Zdražil 2015)

According to Steiner, emotions can change the movement of blood:

“In man we can see that a stirring of the soul is accompanied by a movement of the blood. If a man is afraid he feels he wants to withdraw completely into himself; he is transfixed; he breaks out in a cold sweat; his hair stands on end; the blood rushes towards the heart; he turns pale. This has nothing to do with the respiration, nor with the digestion. It is a process in conscious soul life. If a man is afraid the circulation of the blood is changed. The blood withdraws or rushes forth. It is because, in man, the movement of the blood is connected with such inner experiences that he is so very different from animals”. (Kolisko 1943)

Science in its efforts to be rigorous in empirical data analysis has measured extensively the effects of music on the physical bodies:   

“When Beethoven‘s Fifth Symphony was played for twenty two college students during a music appreciation class, noticeable changes were recorded in their heart rates that directly correlated with changes in the tempo of the first movement”. (Gaynor 2002)

Researcher Johannes Kneutgen demonstrated that babies who fell asleep to the sound of lullabies began to breathe in rhythm with the music. In a series of studies that examined how music affects blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing, and other aspects of the autonomic nervous system, participants’ heart rates were found to respond both to the volume and the rhythm of the music. And in some cases, the heart rate or respiratory rhythm actually synchronized with the beat of the music”. (Gaynor 2002)

From these research, music can be deduced as having a connection to feelings and also to the breathing and blood circulation.

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