Traditional Chinese medicine operates on the principle that the normal circulation of energy through energy channels in the human body is essential for a healthy life.
hile all internal organs influence circulation, the heart dominates the major functions of internal organs, as it is the source of all movement and energy. The heart is deeply impacted by emotions, so in order to be healthy, a person has to be in excellent spiritual and mental condition.
Music has the amazing power to change our state of mind, stimulate brain activity, regulate the heart and increase our metabolism. In other words, soulful music can generate a good and positive psychological state, and as a consequence, affect the body as a whole. But beyond these general relationships, there are much deeper or connections between music and the human body.
Ancient Chinese scholars asserted that the five musical notes of the Chinese musical scale have a corresponding relationship with the five principal sensory organs – ears, eyes, lips, nose and tongue. As the saying goes: “with the five internal organs and with the five elements.”
According to the ancient theory of the Five Elements, ‘fire’, ‘earth’, ‘metal’, ‘water’ and ‘wood’ constitute all things and matter in the universe, including the human body. When the human body shows symptoms of a disease, it is because one or all five elements have lost their balance.
While sound exists as in a physical field, it is also composed of the five elements. Different musical melodies are composed of different specific substances. Hence, authentic traditional or classical music can have a healing effect on the respective internal organs according to the predominant musical note.
For example, if one has problems in the spleen, this means that the body has earth element deficiency, and the treatment – or the musical component of a broader medical treatment– would be to listen to beautiful and virtuous music (from the perspective of traditional Chinese wisdom) composed primarily of the “do” note, which corresponds to the earth element.
Traditional Chinese music is based on an ancient five-tone scale (known as the pentatonic system) and its five tones are called gong (note Do), shang (Re), jiao (Mi), zhi (Sol) and yu (La). Each of these five tones can affect the internal organs and act as a regulatory mechanism.
Each person is different, and the internal organs also differ from person to person, so everyone perceives music in different ways. Thus, each of the five basic tones can exert different influences on one’s body. However, there are some general patterns that have been used to treat people whose systems are out of balance.
For example, gong-based melodies (Note C) are noble, earth-related, and influence the spleen. Listening to this kind of music, as long as it is moderate and harmonious, will encourage kindness and tolerance in the person.
Shang (Re) melodies are heavy and inflexible as their element–metal. This type of music influences the lungs. Hearing it can help the patient feel a sense of recovered strength and tenacity.
Music based on Jiao (Mi) heralds the arrival of spring and the renewal of life. This type of music influences the liver, and listening to it produces states of harmony and a desire to make peace with others
Zhi (Sol) music is extremely emotional, like its basic element, fire. It influences the heart, and listening to it brings out a warm, generous spirit in the person.
Yu-based melodies (La) are melancholy, like water flowing in a quiet stream. They influence the kidneys, and hearing them helps balance us mentally. As the ancient Chinese would often say, their sounds are “sad but not painful” and “happy but not in excess.”
Whatever emotion the music expresses, if taken to an extreme, it can harm the body and the flow of qi energy.
With the rise in popularity of music therapy as a field of study and practice in the West, there has never been a better time to explore the profound insights of Chinese tradition. Seeing music as an integral part of medicine could inform a modern world in search of alternatives to costly and addictive pharmaceuticals.
(The cover photo from Public domain/United States public domain tag)