This is Your Brain on Music

If you’ve ever been in our office, you’ve noticed that music is fairly important to what we do. Not only is there ambient music playing, but Dana’s other life involves being a musician. And yes, it’s hard to go anywhere without hearing music (or muzak, as the case may be). Have you ever wondered what your brain was doing while your feet were tapping and your head was nodding? And how you can use that to hack your life into something even more awesome? Read on, MacDuff…

So it turns out that one of the nifty tricks your brain does is that once the auditory cortex gets activated by a song, you can hit mute on the actual music, and your brain will keep playing the song in your head exactly as if you were still hearing it! In fact, you don’t even have to hear it. I could just ask you to start singing “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream……” and your brain will finish off, without you asking it to, “Merrily, merrily” – well, you know how it goes. Or at least your brain does.

So what does that mean? That means that something that reminds you of an album cover, a picture of Indiana Jones, an ad that asks “Who let the dogs out?” all activate your auditory cortex and get your brain singing. This, in turn, changes your perception of time. Seriously. If you hear a snippet of a song you don’t like and that song gets activated in your brain, your brain ‘hears’ the whole song, and your body reacts with displeasure. And displeasure ain’t good for the body, folks. And if it’s actually playing? You hear the song in your head very quickly, pop back into present time – and still have to hear it again in the ‘real’ world. That can make time feel longer. Depending on the song, much, much longer.

Conversely, hearing music can distract you, making you think less time has passed. Thanks, folks who originally figured this out and told all of the department stores without pointing out that Musak is not, in fact, music. It’s more like the ramen noodle of food…it looks like food….it tastes like food…but it’s not so much with the real nutrition.

On top of that, studies have shown that surgeons operate better while listening to music, and people who are getting surgery or dentistry done are more relaxed while listening to music (blood pressure lowers and nervousness is reported as lower as well). Also music after surgery can reduce post-op pain. The pace and type of the music matters, though. In fact, there are other studies that show that changing a teen’s music from rock to classical will cause them to slow down their driving speed. And athletes all over the world have their rituals to get their blood pumping, many of which include pump-up music – like one of our nephews with “300 Violin Orchestra” (which is really SO much more exciting than the title suggests).

How does that translate to your life? Two ways that we’d like to point out.

Point one – if your brain is going to get sparked by music snippets, visuals, or text anyway, and that in turn will change your behaviour (brain AND body), then why not choose your mood? Your life is DEFINITELY cool enough to deserve a soundtrack. Why not play calming or uplifting music for the hellish drive in traffic? Distract yourself while folding laundry or cleaning toilets? Why not help your brain choose an emotion for your body to feel?

Point two – and you know we have to go here…if just SEEING a picture of Gilligan or The Skipper makes your brain start singing the theme song, which brings back memories of watching Gilligan’s Island with your first-grade crush, which makes your brain get nostalgic and happy, which lowers your blood pressure and raises your seratonin levels, which makes you remember that your mom brought you both popcorn while you watched, which makes you crave popcorn, which spurs you to take your kid to the grocery store to get popcorn, which gives you quality time with your kid while your brain is on seratonin, which gives you a great hour giggling with your kid, which….well, you get the picture. If that one glance at a photo can change your life in ways that are unexpectedly great…that’s energy medicine, folks. Intention, and attention, and watching things change for the better afterwards. You’ve already been doing energy medicine yourself for your whole life. Music is just one way for you to start to do it more consciously.

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