12 Recent Studies Reveal the Life-Changing Power of Rhythm
Science proves that we are born to groove
What’s the most powerful force in the world?
There are so many options to choose from. How about gravity? Taxes? Love? And don’t underestimate plain human stupidity?
But rhythm belongs on my list, maybe at the top. Everything moves to the beat—and not just music.
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It starts with your body—which is a miracle of polyrhythmic virtuosity.
Here’s how I described it in the opening to my book Healing Songs.
Stop for a moment, and consider the rhythm within.
Your heart pulsates at roughly the same tempo as Ravel’s Bolero, an insistent seventy-two beats per minute, some thirty-eight million times during the course of a year. Twenty thousand times each day, you inhale and exhale, mostly oblivious of the process. Each day, your body’s circadian rhythms run through a repeating cycle, with pulse rates and blood pressure rising upon wakening and temperature increasing during the day, declining at night. Even your hours of sleep are comprised of repetitive cycles of around ninety minutes duration. Your endocrine and immune systems run through their own diurnal cycles. Cholesterol, stomach acid, blood sugar, hormones—all ebb and flow at predictable points during the day.
I wrote that more than fifteen years ago. But we now know so much more about rhythm as the foundation of health and well being.
So let me share an update on recent research on the power of rhythm.
Some of this stuff is mind-blowing.
12 Important Recent Studies on Rhythm
People can achieve altered mind states simply by taking deep breaths synchronized to the beat of music.
A report on breathwork therapy describes a typical session:
The instructions were simple: Lying on cots while wearing eyeshades, participants were directed to take deep belly breaths without pause to the beat of fast-paced music booming from loudspeakers.
The exercise, they were told, had the potential to induce an altered state of consciousness….A few minutes into the session, which lasted nearly three hours, several participants began to weep. Some shook their limbs wildly, looking possessed. An outsider walking in would have been startled by the scene.
These participants weren’t cult members or New Age enthusiasts—they were health care workers in a certification program.
Researchers at NYU stimulated natural gamma oscillations in the brains of animals who had demonstrated signs of anxiety or depression. The results were encouraging.
A press release from NYU provides more details:
Suppression of gamma oscillations in the olfactory lobe induced behaviors resembling depression in humans. In addition, feeding an amplified olfactory bulb signal back into the brains of depressed rats restored normal gamma function in the limbic system, and reduced the depressive behaviors by 40 percent, almost back to normal.
“No one yet knows how the firing patterns of gamma waves are converted into emotions,” said senior study author György Buzsáki….Moving forward, we will be working to better understand this link in the bulb, and in the regions it connects to, as behavior changes.”
I’ve been following the exciting research of Tam Hunt for several years. He has made bold claims about rhythm as the origin of consciousness—literally the “missing link” between mind and matter.
His essay in Scientific American is essential reading for anybody who cares about these things—it has the quaint title: “The Hippies Were Right: It’s All About Vibrations Man.”
And Hunt continues to share new research. He has now uploaded his recent PowerPoint presentation online. You can find the link and read more about it here.
Here’s one slide—which shows that the rhythms underpinning mental activity are transferred to other parts of the human body.
Experimental visualizations of polyrhythms reveal their rare combination of stability, fluidity, and unpredictability.
I’ve been interested in the visualization of sound and music for many years (and recently contributed a foreword to a new edition of Cymatics, the leading book on this subject). But I’m still learning new things all the time about how music creates order in the physical world.
Recently, I encountered fascinating research by Dom Aversano, a subscriber to The Honest Broker. Dom has been experimenting with the visualization of polyrhythms. “The results were not what I imagined,” he explains. “I was surprised by what appeared. I expected something dryly mathematical, but instead saw something curious and beautiful.”
He shared this image of a 750-voice polyrhythm.
You can read more about his work at this link.
16 different clinical studies confirm that a variety of neurological disorders can be treated by altering brain gamma rhythms.
Back in 2016, MIT scientists discovered that they could counter the effects of Alzheimer’s simply by using a light flickering at different rhythms. Since that time 16 additional studies confirm that a range of neurological issues can potentially be treated by altering the brain’s gamma rhythms.