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The Sounds of Healing: A Physician Reveals the Therapeutic Power of Sound, Voice, and Music

The Sounds of Healing: A Physician Reveals the Therapeutic Power of Sound, Voice, and Music

by Mitchell L. Gaynor
"My belief is that we can all find the rhythms and harmonics of our celestial music, and that our efforts will enable us to live extraordinary lives filled with peace, passion, health, and a sense of unity with the universe."

We are all familiar with the tremendous power of sound to energize our bodies and soothe our spirits, whether we experience it in the


"My belief is that we can all find the rhythms and harmonics of our celestial music, and that our efforts will enable us to live extraordinary lives filled with peace, passion, health, and a sense of unity with the universe."

We are all familiar with the tremendous power of sound to energize our bodies and soothe our spirits, whether we experience it in the form of rousing music or in the hushed noise of waves on a beach at night. A pioneer in the revolutionary new field of sound medicine, Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, a leading oncologist and director of integrative medicine at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center, has been using sound as complementary therapy in the form of chanting, music, and quartz crystal bowls to treat patients since 1991 with remarkable results. In Sounds of Healing, he shares his philosophy and sound-based techniques for self-healing, which can be used by anyone, whether faced with a life-threatening disease or simply seeking relief from the stresses of daily life.

Sound, voice, and music are potent tools for restoring the inner balance of the body and awakening the spirit. Dr. Gaynor explores the science behind how and why sound and vibration affect us on a physiological level and outlines the sound traditions and practices that promote relaxation and body-mind healing. Rooted in the musical principles of entrainment, resonance, toning, and harmonics, his methods help us achieve overall wellness, greater energy, and the realization of our highest spiritual potential.

His easy-to-follow exercises include:

  • Life Songs—Discover your personal, mantra-like song that resonates with your own particular essence anduse it as a means to healing and self-discovery
  • Essence Sound Meditation—Use your voice or another instrument to help you rise above everyday worries, relieve stress, and begin the healing process
  • Energetic Re-creation—Give voice to your emotional conflicts and create new blends of sound to help you resolve them

Dr. Gaynor also describes his unique vision for a holistic approach to medicine that treats the whole person and creates the conditions for a higher quality of life. An extraordinary blend of science, music, and spirituality, Sounds of Healing is an enlightening, inspiring guide to fostering inner harmony and tuning in to the music of our own souls.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Initially requiring readers to take a leap of faith from traditional Western medicine to Eastern philosophy, Gaynor, director of medical oncology at New York's Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center, convincingly explains the therapeutic power of sound. He advocates the use of sound--chanting, singing, using Tibetan singing bowls and other instruments--as a necessary component of treating illness. Historical medical studies referred to illness as disharmony or imbalance within the body; Gaynor (Dr. Gaynor's Cancer Prevention Program, Forecasts, Nov. 16, 1998) uses the disharmony modality and the concept of entrainment (two separate but adjacent entities eventually developing matching rhythms) as the basis of his premise. The author, who started using sound as a source of healing after being introduced to singing bowls by a Tibetan monk whom he was treating, begins his book with a philosophical and spiritual exploration of sound and music as they are incorporated into worship services of the world's religions. With this as a background, Gaynor offers excercises on proper breathing, toning (voicing one's breath) and meditating (with a mantra) and recommends therapeutic music. In this hopeful book, Gaynor provides enough hard medical information to appeal to skeptics and enough philosophy to attract spiritual seekers. Author tour. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Most complementary healing techniques prescribe methods designed to restore balance to the mind/body system. Sound and music therapy act similarly but have not received the same wide publicity that other alternative therapies have recently enjoyed. Gaynor (Dr. Gaynor's Cancer Prevention Program, LJ 1/99) examines the theory and practical use of sound in therapy. Director of medical oncology at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York, he provides personal anecdotes as well as validation from the research literature to show how voice, sound, and music can restore harmony. He also documents the therapeutic use of sound throughout the world, from Tibetan singing bowls to shamanic practices. Gaynor includes short exercises that incorporate guided imagery into music therapy and provides a referral list of organizations and names. Included is a well-documented list of the research Gaynor cites. Recommended for larger public libraries and medical collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/99.]--Andy Wickens, Univ. of Illinois-Chicago Lib. of the Health Sciences Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
That music hath charms to soothe the savage breast is argued persuasively in this highly personalized presentation on the use of sound and music as healing tools by a mainstream physician. Gaynor, director of medical oncology at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York City, tells of his discovery of the healing power of sound through one of his patients, a Tibetan monk who taught him sacred chants and played the Tibetan singing bowls for him. The experience, he says, led him to explore harmonics as a powerful healing force. Here he explains the techniques he uses with his patients and the philosophy behind the practice. While providing numerous confidence-building stories about his own and his patients' experiences, Gaynor also cites research to back up his assertion that harmony can be restored to the disharmonious, or diseased, body with bells, vocalizations, and other forms of music. Among the techniques he has developed is the chanting of "life songs," rhythmic, one-syllable mantras, and he suggests ways to create one's own life song and incorporate it into meditation. In preparation for this, he recommends practicing deep breathing and toning (the vocalization of simple vowel sounds), and straightforward instructions for these are also given. A student of Sufi philosophy, the author speaks frequently of one's essence, or life force, and he promotes an exercise called "Energetic Re-creation" designed to enable one to achieve a higher spiritual level. For those who find this a bit over the top, there is always guided imagery with music. Gaynor recommends getting in touch with one's emotions by combining guided imagery exercises with listening to selections fromBeethoven, Brahms, and other classical composers, whose works he categorizes into earth, air, water, and fire music. Enthusiastic advocacy of an approach to healing likely to be most appealing to those already familiar with and open to New Age thinking. ($40,000 ad/promo)

Product Details

Broadway Books
Publication date:
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6.41(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

Beyond Medical School: A Doctor's Awakening

If somebody had told me when I was a medical student in Dallas, Texas, that one day I would be teaching my patients to use singing bowls to heal themselves, I would have thought he or she was crazy. Yet today, only fifteen years later, prominently displayed in my consultation room at the renowned Strang Cancer Prevention Center, where I am Director of Oncology and Integrative Medicine, is a beautiful ten-inch quartz crystal bowl, which plays a key role in my busy practice of oncology and internal medicine. Although I once prescribed only the traditional remedies for the treatment of cancer and other ailments, I no longer see a contradiction between chanting and chemotherapy, between visualization and radiation. In fact, just the opposite: I openly advocate for what has come to be known as holistic medicine--combining allopathic regimens with complementary therapies that include nutritional supplements of herbs and algae as well as regular visits to acupuncturists and energy healers. You'll notice that I refer to these modalities as "complementary," rather than "alternative." I have long since come to accept nontraditional, holistic approaches as necessities, rather than potential options, that must be integrated with the care and treatment of my patients.

Given my rather innovative paradigm for healing, some might label me a bit unconventional. I assure you that one doesn't necessarily follow the other. I attended the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School, one of the most rigorous and competitive institutions in the country, where class rankings and grade point averages are figured to thethousandth of a decimal point. I did well enough there that when I graduated I was accepted as an intern at New York Hospital, the prestigious teaching hospital affiliated with Cornell University Medical School, where I eventually became a clinical fellow in hematology and oncology. I later spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow in molecular biology at Rockefeller University, then completed my training with an appointment at New York Hospital as the chief medical resident. In other words, I had the best possible educational foundation in Western medicine, one that gave me a rock-solid grounding in all the state-of-the-art lifesaving techniques that medical science has to offer in this last decade of the twentieth century.

But something was missing--the amalgam of psychology and spirituality that would satisfy my patients' needs to be treated as whole human beings. I first felt this void as a medical student, eager to absorb every lesson our instructors had to offer. At the busy county hospital where I did my rotations, the patients were the occasional butt of jokes among the medical staff. Perhaps the humor was a necessary antidote to the life-or-death demands of the job, but it reinforced for me the sense that we students were being taught to divorce ourselves from our emotions. We were often reprimanded for talking too long to patients. We were criticized for feeling sad or sympathetic because we were "getting too involved." We were rewarded, on the other hand, for being fast and efficient, for treating and releasing patients as quickly as possible, for walling ourselves off from our hearts.

If this absence of feeling was the model for my medical school experience, it was even more the prevailing ethos during my internship and residency. The emphasis was placed almost exclusively on information and knowledge: How many papers could we quote from? Did we have the most up-to-date facts and figures memorized and ready to spit out on command? Could we cite the latest set of statistics on any given study?

No one ever urged us to empathize with our patients. The men and women we treated were seen as cases, rather than human beings. Never mind that they brought with them the totality of their life experiences--all their anguish and joy, fear and hope, past traumas and future ambitions. We were discouraged from considering the possible underlying causes of disease, other than proven cause-and-effect links such as family history, disease pathogens, or environmental factors. We were to concern ourselves only with the symptoms, diagnosis, and medical treatment of whatever illness had landed them in their hospital bed.

Every day I struggled with a medical culture that insisted I keep my distance from patients, and my inclination to get more deeply involved with them. Perhaps my perspective was skewed because as a young child, I had watched my mother die of can-cer. I knew about pain and loss. I knew about the will to live, the impulse to keep on fighting to survive, the need to surrender and grieve when every viable medical intervention has been exhausted. I wanted to know more about the people I was treating: What mattered to them? What were they about? Who were they beyond their most obvious identity as "cancer patient"?

In college I had developed an interest in world religions and philosophy. I had also begun to meditate on an almost daily basis. Through meditation, I had learned to take deep breaths and stay calm when I was studying for finals or writing papers. The practice had also improved my ability to concentrate. On a deeper level, meditation had given me treasured moments of realization that I was part of, rather than alone in, the universe--a comforting recognition for a college student who was away from home for the first time and living in a much bigger city than Plainview, the small town in northwestern Texas where I had spent my childhood.

The time constraints of medical school and my postgraduate studies had forced me to give up this practice, but I knew from firsthand experience that meditation was, at the very least, soothing and relaxing. Yet my esteemed physician-professors never recommended the use of relaxation techniques and meditation, which studies had proven could help alleviate many of the worst side effects of chemotherapy, including anticipatory nausea and vomiting.

I remember my frustration verging on despair as time and again one of the more seasoned oncologists under whom I did my postresidency training delivered the cold-blooded diagnosis of, for example, lung cancer: "You'll very likely experience hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and/or fatigue. You will also probably need a blood transfusion. The statistics tell us that most people live three to four months with your type of cancer. I'll see you in two weeks to start chemotherapy."

It was incredible to me that these brilliant and highly skilled physicians seemed to screen out their patients' inevitable reactions of devastation and bewilderment after hearing such news. The cancer diagnosis was terrifying enough. Now they also had to anticipate treatments that promised potentially punishing side effects and an uncertain future. Yet nothing was being offered to relieve their stress or pain. Nor was there nearly enough kindness on the part of the doctors who--from their patients' perspective--suddenly seemed to hold in their hands all the power to heal and give life. I realized, even then, that in the midst of so many discussions about radiation, chemo regimens, and bone marrow transplants, many deeper, perhaps more subtle words were left unspoken.

I will never forget one patient I met while I was in medical school, an orthopedic surgeon who had metastatic lung cancer (i.e., the cancer had spread beyond the primary tumor to other parts of the body). Opinionated and imperious, he clearly reveled in the authority conferred on him by his medical degree. Now, suddenly, the tables had been turned. This stern, headstrong man lay helpless and scared in the hospital bed, desperately searching his doctors' faces for signs of reassurance and hope. He wept uncontrollably, hardly able to believe that such a fate could befall him. "Why is this happening to me?" he asked repeatedly. "What did I do to deserve this?"

His agonizing questions echoed those put to me by many other patients. The common motif was the distorted assumption that they did indeed deserve their disease; they must have committed some terrible wrong or hurt someone badly, to be so cruelly punished. The therapists and psychiatrists who visited them in the hospital tried to help, but they usually focused on the more obvious problems: Who would take care of their fam-

ily? Were they worried about how they'd look after they lost their hair? Certainly, these were matters worth talking about, but even these mental health professionals were sidestepping any real investigation into the deeper realms of the psyche or spirit.

I like to think that I brought a broader, more open-minded approach to alleviating my patients' emotional anguish. I tried to listen when they talked about their grief and fear. I made a concerted effort to give them the warmth and sensitivity they so plainly needed. But I cannot take credit for deciding to teach them about meditation, visualization, and other relaxation techniques. Quite the contrary. It was my patients who taught me to believe in and trust these methods.

Meet the Author

Mitchell L. Gaynor, M.D., is Director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center, affiliated with New York Hospital. The author of Healing Essence and Dr. Gaynor's Cancer Prevention Program, he has been featured in numerous publications including Newsweek, USA Today, Fitness, Healthy Living, and Common Boundary. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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