The language of music is a very powerful tool that on so many levels has the power to heal and destroy. After a tiring and long day, do you ever get exhausted or depressed? Perhaps, you become highly stressed or anxious while stuck in traffic as you go to work or go home after work. Due to music’s instant impact on the emotions, it has long been used to relieve depression and stress. Since ancient times, music and sound have been used by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in order to exploit its healing powers. Over time, it developed into an art form known as 5-element music therapy.
Music naturally stimulates the production and release of the body’s own “feel good” neurotransmitters in the body called endorphins. It is not surprising that music is often integrated into different rehabilitation programs all over the globe. The healing power of 5-element music has demonstrated to uplift the quality of life of cancer patients.
Medical studies have validated that 5-element music therapy positively affects people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, seasonal affective disorder, and depression.
What Is 5-Element Music Therapy?
The Nei Jing, (The medicine classic of the Yellow Emperor), written over 2,200 years ago, was the first document to mention music as a form of therapy. The healing power of music is a major component of traditional Chinese medicine. Its role within TCM is directly associated with the 5-element principle.
This principle is a way to describe the process of change within the bodily systems. This process is represented in the 5 elements of nature: water, metal, wood, fire, and earth. Each element is connected to various aspects, which include emotion, climate, time of day, season, taste, internal organ, and a musical note.
In Chinese classical music, there are only 5 sounds/notes that correspond to a specific element. These sounds include gong, shi, jiao, yu, and zhang. They are traditionally played on Chinese classical musical instruments that include the flute, zither, drum, and gong. Playing 5-element music has shown to lead to a variety of amazing healing benefits.
Here is a brief summary of 5-element therapy, including the Chinese musical sounds/notes and their health benefits.
Water is associated with fear, winter, cold, and black and the energetic organs of the kidney and bladder. In Western music, it is equal to the A note and makes a ‘la’ sound. In Chinese 5-element music theory, water affiliates with the ‘yu’ sound and this sound has the power to lessen lung fire, protect kidney essence, and nourish the kidneys.
Metal associates with emotion of grief, the season of autumn, the quality of dryness, the color white and the musical sound of zhang. The zhang note corresponds with the ‘D’ note of Western music and produces a ‘re’ tone. The zhang note nourishes and protects the lungs and large intestine.
In general, fire is related to joy, summer, heat, the color white, and the ‘shi’ sound (corresponds to the ‘G’ note). Shi creates a “so” musical sound and nourishes the small intestine and heart.
The Earth element associates with pensiveness, late summer, dampness, yellow, and the ‘gong’ sound. This sound or note corresponds to the ‘C’ note in Western musical notation. Gong generates a “do” sound and help strengthen the abdomen and spleen.
Wood affiliates with anger, springtime, wind, blue and green, and the ‘Jiao’ sound, which influences the gallbladder and liver. In Western musical notation, Jiao corresponds to the “E” note, and it generates a ‘mi’ sound. The Jiao note promotes smooth chi flow and treats depression.
Four Benefits of 5-Element Music Therapy
Medical research efforts have strove to study the health benefits of 5-element music therapy. This Eastern therapeutic system benefits patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, seasonal affective disorder, depression, and cancer.
- 5-Element Music Therapy alleviates chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue is diagnosed as extreme fatigue that endures for over six months. Other symptoms can include sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, exhaustion following mild exercise, and loss of appetite.
In 2015, the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Maitland published a study showing that a combination gong (earth) and jiao (wood) sounds plus a dish of lixujieyu led to the significant alleviation of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome especially of joint and muscle pain.
The study arbitrarily divided patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome into 5 groups. The first group used the lixujieyu dish with a distinct elemental note, including shi, zhang, yu, jiao, and gong. The second group was only given the lixujieyu dish.
- Treats Depression
About a tenth of Americans suffer from clinical depression, with women twice at risk of developing depression than men. People with depression often have the feeling of worthlessness, irritability, anger, hopelessness, and guilt. This condition can also weaken the immune system, while often going hand-in-hand with other chronic illnesses. Persistent ideations of suicide and death are also common.
In 2015, the Int’l Journal of Nursing Practice published a recent study revealing the positive effect of 5-element music therapy in reducing the levels of depression levels in 71 nursing students suffering from depression. The control group made up of 40 students did not listen to music while the 31 students listened to the 5-element TCM music therapy group.
Saliva samples were taken by the researchers from the students to measure their cortisol levels. They also used the Self-Report Depression Mood Inventory for Adolescents to evaluate the students. Based on their salivary cortisol levels, the group who listened to music therapy group reported a meaningful decrease in the severity of their depression.
- Relieves SAD (seasonal affective disorder)
SAD is a type of depression that occurs in the dark months of winter that tend to disappear during spring and summer. Sufferers of SAD struggle with more than a bad mood. Additional symptoms include strong cravings for cravings for carbs and sweets, low sex drive, weight gain, concentration difficulty, lethargy, fatigue, and a desire to sleep more.
The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine recently published a study revealing that 5-element music therapy can relieve SAD symptoms among older people. The study recruited 50 patients half of whom were placed into a control group that did not listen to music and the other half designated to the 5-element music therapy group.
For eight straight weeks, one to two hours each week, the musical therapy group listened to music. The outcomes showed that 5-element music therapy reduced decreased psychological distress and bolstered inner peace.
Improves the quality of life of cancer patients
The quality of life of cancer patients gets drastically reduced when they begin undergoing radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In 2013, the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine published study showing that 5-element music therapy can help uplift the life quality of patients with advanced cancer. The study involved the participation of 170 patients who divided into three groups: 34 were placed in a group that did not listen to music at all, 68 were placed in a Western musical therapy group, and 68 were placed in the 5-element music group.
During the three-week study, the two music therapy groups listened to music 5 days a week half an hour each day. Before and after treatment the researchers evaluated the patients using the HQOLI-R (Hospice Life Quality Index-Revised) and KPS tests (Karnofsky Performance Score). Both techniques are utilized for cancer patients to measure their quality of life. Between the other groups, the 5-element musical therapy group showed marked differences in the scores of KPS and HQOLI-R.
The Difference between Western Music Therapy and 5-Element Music Therapy
In general, music is widely deemed to be extremely therapeutic and this is the reason why we need to discriminate between 5-element music therapy and Western music therapy since they really have certain differences. 5-element music therapy uses certain musical sounds, which pertains to a specific element that traditional Chinese medicine uses. On the other hand, Western music therapy works much like techniques such as physical therapy, psychotherapy, and occupational therapies, which involves a patient and therapist were individual improvements and responses may vary.
Western music therapy is made up of two major branches: passive and active. In passive music therapy, the patient rests while the therapist plays relaxing music. The therapist would then tell the patient to reflect on inner dialogue, feelings, and sensations and imagine soothing images. Active music therapy is an interactive process between the patient and therapist, and they work together with their voices, instruments, and their bodies, if needed.
5-element music therapy and Western music therapy are unrelated but it seems though that Western music therapy offers more proof that music has healing abilities for sure. Studies indicate that Western music therapy alleviates anxiety and stress, and because of this, reduces the need for prescribed medications such as tranquilizing or hypnotic drugs.
Research also connected Western music therapy to the proper management of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, the improvement of communication and self-expression, and decrease of schizophrenia symptoms and other psychological disorders. It has also proven to reduce anxiety in patients who went through cardiac procedures and has shown to work on a person’s mood after suffering a stroke. In addition, music therapy affects brain waves, stress hormones, and brain circulation.
To summarize, deeply rooted in the 5-element theory, 5-element music therapy is one important component of traditional Chinese medicine. The 5 elements pertain to the notes/sounds gong, shi, jiao, yu, and zhang, and each sound possesses a certain amount of healing.
Clinical studies reveal that 5-element had a beneficial effect on the quality life on patients suffering from cancer, and on patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, seasonal affective disorder, and depression. To know how 5-element music therapy can benefit you, talk to a qualified practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine.