Music is like a whole other language that can heal on so many levels. Do you ever get depressed or exhausted after a long day? Maybe you feel anxious or stressed while stuck in traffic commuting on the highway. Music has long been used to reduce stress and depression due to its immediate influence on our emotions. In traditional Chinese medicine, sound and music have been used for their therapeutic benefits in the form of five-element music therapy.
Music can also naturally increase the “feel good” neurochemicals in the body known as endorphins. It is no wonder that music is combined with various rehabilitation programs around the world. Five-element music therapy, in particular, has been shown to benefit the quality of life in cancer patients.
Other research confirms that five-element music therapy benefits people with depression, seasonal affective disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Read on to find out more about five-element music therapy and its health benefits.
What Is Five-Element Music Therapy?
The use of music as therapy was recorded in China’s first medical text, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, which is about 2,300 years old. As a result, music therapy is deeply rooted in the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine. The role of music therapy within TCM has a direct relation to the five-element theory.
The five-element music therapy is a theory of systems and a way of describing the process of change within the systems of the body. The process of change is symbolized with the five basic elements of nature: wood, earth, fire, metal, and water. Each element corresponds to many aspects including colors, internal organs, flavors, seasons, climatic factors, emotions, and a musical note.
What’s interesting is that classical Chinese music was composed using only five sounds or notes that correspond to each of the five elements. These notes include gong, zhi, jiao, yu, and shang. They were performed on classical Chinese musical instruments like the gong, drum, zither, and flute. As a result, five-element music therapy can help achieve a specific level of healing.
The following is a brief synopsis of the five-element therapy, including the Chinese musical note and its health effects.
Wood corresponds to colors green and blue, the spring season, the wind, and anger. It influences the gallbladder and liver.
“Jiao” is the musical note associated with wood. It is similar to the “E” note in Western musical notation, and it makes a “mi” sound. The note helps relieve depression and allows for smooth qi function.
The earth corresponds to yellow, late summer, pensiveness, and dampness. Earth has an association with the “gong” note or “C” in Western musical notation. It makes a “do” sound. The note helps strengthen the spleen and stomach organs.
Fire has a link with summer in general, as well as red, heat, and joy. It is linked to the “zhi” note or “G.” As a result, it makes a “so” musical sound. The note nourishes the heart and small intestine.
Metal has an association with white, dryness, autumn, and grief. It corresponds with the “shang” musical note or “D,” while it creates a “re” tone. It also helps protect and nourish the large intestine and lungs.
Water has a connection with black, cold, winter, fear, as well as the bladder and kidney organs. It corresponds with the “yu” or “A” note, and it makes a “la” sound. The note nourishes the kidneys and protects its essence. It also reduces lung fire.
Top 4 Health Benefits of Five-Element Music Therapy
What are the health benefits of five-element music therapy? Clinical studies have aimed to examine some five-element music therapy health benefits. Five-element music therapy benefits cancer patients, as well as those with depression, seasonal affective disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Let’s take a look at the research on the health benefits of five-element music therapy.
1. Benefits quality of life in cancer patients
Due to chemotherapy and radiation, the quality of life in cancer patients in highly diminished. A study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2013 discovered that five-element music therapy improves the quality of life in advanced cancer patients. For the study, 170 patients were placed into three groups: 68 in the five-element music group, 68 in the Western music therapy group, and 34 that did not listen to music at all.
The music groups would listen to music for 30 minutes, five days a week during the three-week study. The researchers assessed the patients before and after treatment with the Karnofsky Performance Score (KPS) and Hospice Quality of Life Index-Revised (HQOLI-R). Both methods are used to measure the quality of life in cancer patients. The five-element music group showed significant differences between the other groups in the KPS and HQOLI-R scores.
2. Treats seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is known as depression in the dark winter months that will lift during the spring and summer. People with SAD suffer more than a bad mood. Other symptoms include a desire for more sleep, fatigue and lethargy, the inability to concentrate, weight gain, reduced sex drive, and cravings for sweets and other carbohydrates.
A study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2014, found that five-element music therapy helps treat SAD symptoms in the elderly. For the study, 25 patients were assigned to the five-element music therapy group, and 25 other participants were put into a control group that did not listen to music.
The music therapy group members listened to music for one to two hours weekly for an eight-week period. The results found that five-element music therapy enhanced overall inner peace and decreased psychological distress.
3. Reduces depression
Clinical depression affects 10% of the U.S. population, with women twice as likely to develop depression than men. Depression can leave sufferers feeling guilty, hopeless, angry, irritable, and worthless. Depression can also impair the immune system, while it often can go hand-in-hand with other chronic illnesses. Constant thoughts of death and suicide are also common.
A study published recently in the International Journal of Nursing Practice in 2015 found that five-element music therapy decreases depression levels in nursing students with a depressed mood. The study observed 71 depressed nursing students. There were 31 students assigned to the TCM five-element music therapy group, and the other 40 did not listen to music.
The researchers measured the salivary cortisol levels of the students. They also assessed the participants using the Depression Mood Self-Report Inventory for Adolescents. Over time, the music therapy group displayed a significant reduction in depression levels based on salivary cortisol levels, as well as pre-therapy and post-therapy test scores.
4. Relieves chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue is described as severe fatigue that lasts more than six months. Other symptoms may include appetite loss, exhaustion even after mild exercise, headaches, depression and anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems.
A study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2015 found that the lixujieyu recipe combined with the notes associated earth (gong) and wood (jiao) significantly relieved chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms. The treatment also relieved muscle and joint pain.
For the study, Chinese medicine was given twice daily, and music was listened to for 45 minutes daily, five days a week. The researchers randomly divided the patients with chronic fatigue syndrome into five treatment groups. One group used the lixujieyu recipe with a particular elemental sound, including gong (earth), jiao (wood), yu (water), shang (metal), and zhi (fire), and another group used the lixujieyu recipe only.
Five-Element Music Therapy vs. Western Music Therapy
Music, in general, is thought to be very therapeutic, which is why it is important to differentiate between Western music therapy and five-element music therapy because they are slightly different. As mentioned, five-element music therapy uses specific musical notes that correspond to an element used in traditional Chinese medicine. Western music therapy, however, involves a therapist and patient, and it is also comparable to other treatments like occupational therapy, psychotherapy, and physical therapy where individual responses and improvements will vary.
The two main branches of Western music therapy are active and passive. Active music therapy involves interaction between the therapist and patient, and they work together with instruments, their voices, and sometimes their bodies. On the other hand, passive music therapy involves the patient resting while the therapist plays calming music, and invites them to visualize on peaceful images and reflect on inner sensations, feelings, and dialogue.
Although Western music therapy and five-element music therapy are unrelated, Western music therapy, in general, gives more validation that music indeed has healing benefits. Research suggests that Western music therapy relieves stress and anxiety, and as a result, reduces the need for the use of prescription drugs like hypnotics or tranquilizing medications.
Studies also linked Western music therapy with managing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, improving self-expression and communication, as well as reducing symptoms of psychological disorders like schizophrenia. It also helps decrease anxiety in patients undergoing cardiac procedures, while it also has a positive effect on mood after someone has a stroke. Music therapy also influences brain circulation, stress hormones, and brain waves.
Final Thoughts on Five-Element Music Therapy
In summary, five-element music therapy is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that is deeply rooted in the five-element theory. The five elements correspond with the notes gong, zhi, jiao, yu, and shang, and each note provides a specific amount of healing.
In clinical research, five-element music therapy showed a positive effect on quality life in cancer patients, as well as people with depression, seasonal affective disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Consult a traditional Chinese medicine doctor to discover how to use five-element music therapy correctly.
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