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Sound Therapy and Cancer
by Lisa Bakewell
A Sound Renewal
Based in neurology and biophysics, sound healing is gaining mainstream acceptance. And in recent years, sound healing has also found its way into cancer centers—helping patients deal with both treatment and recovery.For Jahmaal Hays, president of Eastern Vibration (which specializes in vibrational healing), sound healing is nothing new. Cultures around the world use sound therapeutically. “Music, and using sounds consciously, has always been a part of my life,” he says. “However, I first discovered sound therapy in treatments for health-related reasons when I discovered Himalayan singing bowls during a trip to Nepal when I was 12 years old.” According to Hays, when he first started his sound therapy practice, he didn’t know anyone teaching or even doing sound therapy. “I pieced my practice together from tantric and yogic scriptures, pranic healing, ayurvedic medicine, and Chinese medicine, until we developed our own practice and training methods,” he says.
“Today, people are practicing sound therapy in many forms, and it is much more mainstream. You see sound healing in TV ads, business hotels, celebrity events, yoga studios, and full moon gatherings. People are open to it and driven to it!” And today, the work is not only building its body of research evidence, it’s being taken into hospitals as well. The Touch and Vibration for Cancer Care Program was developed in 2017 when Eastern Vibration (EV)—which Hays owns with his mother Christine Hays— and the Christine Clinton Cancer Care (CCCC), owned by Christine Clinton, formed a partnership to create a treatment experience that uses sound and touch. Hays came into contact with Clinton through The Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit organization with a mission to empower wellness worldwide by educating public and private sectors about preventive health and wellness. Upon getting to know Clinton better, Hays realized that a cancer care program would be a great collaboration. “We both have the same ideology— helping the body to heal itself in our treatments,” Hays says. “CCCC focuses on gentle techniques and using sound to improve energetic flow; our focus, at EV, is to educate and share the use of therapeutic sounds with as many people as possible.”
The Touch and Vibration for Cancer Care Program
The program familiarizes bodyworkers with the basic principles of cancer and sound therapy. Through the program, practitioners have the opportunity to experience the touch and vibration treatment they will offer to their clients upon completion of the program. “Our training teaches practitioners how to use singing bowls in treatment and provides the necessary knowledge to add it to their practice and begin working with cancer patients,” Hays says.
Why Sound Healing is Beneficial to Cancer Patients
Stress is the biggest threat to the immune system, which is severely compromised in cancer patients. “Stress stops the body from operating in the right rhythms,” says Hays, “causing hormone and chemical imbalances, for example.” Sound helps the brain slow down into a relaxed, sleeping state, which is therapeutic for cancer patients. According to Hays, “Vibration can be used in sound healing to massage specific points in the body to help strengthen the body’s processes like digestion and liver function.” He says that sound healing works to help the body heal itself. “The body knows what it needs to do and how it should function.” Stress relief is important for cancer patients, but many forms of traditional bodywork are not practical for this demographic, and many are turned away from traditional spas. Since sound healing offers a gentle, stress-relieving, vibrational massage, it’s a better fit for some clients with cancer. It is the hope of EV and CCCC that soon no cancer patient or survivor will be turned away from spa treatments simply because they have, or have had, cancer. Sound also influences thoughts and emotions, so adding therapeutic sound promotes relaxation and allows the body’s healing pathways to open.
The practice of sound healing allows the body to be more receptive to other forms of treatment as well. In his practice, Hays uses many instruments and impromptu sounds— including his voice, gongs, and a didgeridoo—to promote relaxation and open healing pathways. But he feels the “most common, and arguably the most therapeutic of them, are Himalayan singing bowls. These instruments create sounds that help us return to homestatsis— bringing balance or balancing us physically, mentally, and emotionally.” Hays says sound acts on a very deep level, while still being gentle and noninvasive. “Sound is an amazing modality for cancer patients,” he says, “as it reduces stress, helps the body heal itself, and makes it easier to cope with all the side effects of typical cancer treatments.” Hays says sound healing also helps relieve the side effects of cancer treatments, including nausea, insomnia, lack of appetite, irritable bowel syndrome, and pain; it also helps patients let go of stress and noisy mind chatter. “Most people find an immense sense of relief.”
What Is Sound Healing?
Sound healing (or sound therapy) is the use of sound vibration for its therapeutic effects. Also known as vibrational medicine, this practice uses the vibrations of the voice and other resonating objects (such as Himalayan bowls, tuning forks, bells, etc.) to promote healing. Sound healing has a basis in neurology and psychology, and sound practitioners, as well as some medical doctors, believe sound vibration has significant physiological effects. The vibrations during a sound healing practice, experts say, encourage relaxation in brain wave patterns, which in turn helps reduce stress, lower blood pressure, slow respiratory rates, and restore the heart rate to its natural rhythm.
How Does Sound Healing Work?
Sound healing uses both audible and inaudible sounds and vibrations to achieve a therapeutic effect that shifts brain waves into alpha or theta states in order to activate the body’s regenerative pathways. These pathways allow for healing on a cellular level. During sound healing treatments, vibrations pass through tissues to massage the cells and help facilitate shifts in the brain. This process is called brain wave entrainment (BWE), a practice that uses rhythmic stimuli to alter the brain’s state. By using rhythm, vibration, and frequency, brain waves can be synchronized (entrained) to slow down the normal beta state (waking consciousness) and enter into an alpha (relaxed consciousness) or theta (meditative) state. Some clients might even enter a delta—sleep and healing—state. BWE has been investigated and used since the late 1800s, although many clinicians, scientists, and practitioners are just becoming aware of its existence today.
Vibrational sound healing can either be used “constructively” or “destructively.” Because sound has the fundamental properties to manipulate all matter, vibrations can be used to organize (or disorganize) molecules and reorganize cells. Constructive sound, used by bodywork practitioners, returns the brain to a normal, unexcited state, where the immune system can calm down, inflammation and swelling may subside, and the brain is better prepared for a proper, healthier response to stress and illness. Most constructive sound is audible sound. Used correctly, vibrations can gently massage the cells individually (generally in the 20–2,000 hertz range). Destructive sound, at the right frequency, is used to break up tumors, clots, stones, scar tissue, bacteria, viruses, etc. Most destructive sound is above hearing level—approximately 20,000 hertz (ultrasound) and is performed in clinical locations by doctors.
History of Cancer Treatment Using Sound
Since the 1940s, ultrasound has been used for treating disorders and injuries of connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons. The US military incorporated music into recovery programs during World War II (described as the official dawn of music therapy). Beginning in the 1960s, ultrasound was—and still is—used to view a developing fetus in utero, to check for reproductive system abnormalities like uterine fibroids, and to help screen for breast cancer. In recent years, doctors, educators, and scientists have been using various sound therapy treatments as a safe and noninvasive cancer treatment alternative. Hays says ultrasound has a 90 percent success rate for destroying prostate cancer without remission. Today, the interest in using sound frequency to boost human health is growing, and research is beginning to back up its therapeutic benefits.
“We can be met with some skepticism,” says Hays, “but most people who understand health will recognize the value of our treatments once they experience them firsthand.” For example, cancer centers are beginning to utilize sound as a vital part of the healing process and are showing astounding results; mainstream medical schools, like Duke University and the University of North Carolina, have added programs that link body, mind, and spirit to cancer treatment; and neurologist David Simon found that sound makes chemical changes in the body that create endorphins, which act as internal painkillers/healing agents.
Other studies and advancements in sound healing for cancer include:
Grimal and Maman - In 1981, biologist Helene Grimal partnered with composer Fabien Maman to study the relationship of sound waves to living cells. With a camera mounted on a microscope, the researchers observed uterine cancer cells exposed to different acoustic instruments (guitar, gong, xylophone) and the human voice. Using the nine note Ionian Scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D), they observed that cancer cells lost structural integrity when exposed to sound until they exploded at the 14-minute mark. Far more dramatic was finding that the sound of a human voice destroyed cancer cells at the 9-minute mark.
Dr. Mitchell Gaynor - Mitchell Gaynor, MD, founder of Gaynor Integrative Oncology, board certified medical oncologist, former director of medical oncology at the Weill Cornell Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, and author of The Healing Power of Sound (Shambhala, 2002), began using sound as a complementary therapy for cancer patients in 1991 with “remarkable results.” According to Gaynor, “After either chanting or listening to certain forms of music, immunoglobulin—an index of your immune system—goes up. There’s no part of our body not affected.” Even our heart rate and blood pressure are lowered with certain forms of music, according to Gaynor. “It affects not only our soul and our spirit,” Gaynor says, “but it affects us on literally a cellular and subcellular level.”
Anthony Holland - Anthony Holland, associate professor and director of music at Skidmore College in New York, uses sound frequency to attack cancer cells. According to Holland, destroying cancer cells using sound vibration is based on the same principle that a piece of glass shatters when it’s exposed to a noise at the right pitch. Using this principle, Holland and his team wondered if they could recreate the same effect in a living cell. During their 15-month study, the team discovered a particular combination of two related frequencies that could completely shatter cells. The frequencies consisted of one high and one low. The high frequency had to be 11 times higher than the low, which in music is known as the 11th harmonic. At this frequency, cells start shattering like crystal glass. Using this sound therapy method, they found that pancreatic cancer cells shattered at frequencies of 100,000–300,000 hertz. They then tested the frequencies on leukemia cells and were able to shatter them before they could even divide. Not only were cancer cells killed in the process, but cancer cell growth rates slowed by over 65 percent. They also had success in attacking ovarian cancer cells.