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You settle back in your easy chair with your feet up and a pillow behind you. On the turntable is Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. As the celestial music fills the room, your body relaxes and your mind unwinds. The music holds you and lifts you, carries you beside beautiful wooded brooks and through cities of gold.

Physiologically, your heartbeat and breathing are both slowing down and becoming more regular, synchronizing themselves with the beat of the music. Your airways are opening up. Your blood pressure probably drops a few points to a more serene level.

The resplendent strains of Baroque music have a direct impact on your autonomic nervous system. Your heart, your smooth muscles (like your stomach), your gland system, even your metabolic rate, all respond.

Pitch, harmonics, tempo, melody—all contribute to the effect music will have on your mind and body. But the most important factor, says composer and researcher Steven Halpern, Ph.D., is your individual response.

Tempos of around 50 to 60 beats per minute are usually the most soothing. Some Researchers theorize that this tempo’s calming effect may result from its similarity to our mother’s heartbeat, which we heard in the womb.

Psychiatrists, who have successfully used music in place of sedatives and other drugs to reach and relax people with deep emotional disturbances, also point out that music touches us at our most fundamental level of feeling.

But how can we choose the music which will have the most calming effect on us? Simple, says Dr. Halpern. Just check your breathing. If it is deepening and becoming more regular, the music is relaxing you.

(From Emotional Health, by Myron Brenton and the Editors of Prevention Magazine, Pub.—Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1985, p 85)

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