New therapy of note: toning up musically

With little more than an old La-Z-Boy and a bunch of CDs, Robert Sewak's 'guided imagery' helps people find inner harmony

Science & Technology

July 18, 1999|By Matt Reed | Matt Reed,Cox News Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Robert Sewak, Ph.D., has some far-out cures he can't wait to tell you about. So please, have a seat in his music studio. And try to keep an open mind.

Your organs each emit their own vibrations or sounds, Sewak explains as you ease into an old green recliner. Together, those vibrations form a "fundamental tone" or musical note for your body. And keeping your mind and body in harmony by exposing them to music can do wonders for your health, he says.

By the way, that's a vintage, 1943 La-Z-Boy rocker you're sitting in. And -- whoa! -- it's starting to vibrate to the chimes of New Age music coming from ... somewhere.

Dr. Bob, as friends and patients call Sewak, evidently has flicked a switch hidden behind his chair to make a point about vibration. Transducers send the musical tones buzzing through your body.

"Music is totally noninvasive. You can't overdose on it," Sewak says. His voice is deep, smooth and hypnotic.

Dr. Bob, who works out of an old house in Delray Beach, explains how he's expanded students' reasoning skills by exposing them to Mozart. He explains how chanting, the basis of shamanism, can heal the body. And he tells how "guided imagery," visualization exercises put to music, has improved his patients' mental health.

He can remedy much of what ails you, he says, using CDs, synthesizers or voice exercises. Using gadgets here in the (Voice) Academy, as his clinic is known, he can pinpoint your fundamental tone.

Then the chair stops vibrating. A feeling of calm washes over you. Step this way, Dr. Bob says.

You're now standing in a sunny back room, near a black keyboard synthesizer and racks of CDs.

"Thought precedes any sound you make with your voice," Dr. Bob says, and any thought will skew the tone of your voice. To find your "fundamental" tone or note, you must emit one of the two sounds you don't trigger with thought: a sigh or a yawn.

When you're relaxed, he says, sigh slightly on the exhale without influencing the tone. You do, and Dr. Bob is there, gently holding a sensor for an electronic tuning device on your neck near your voice box.

You're an F sharp, the tuning device says (your tone might be something else, but for the sake of illustration, let's go with F sharp).

Dr. Bob slips behind the keyboard and tells you to rest your palms on the speakers. "Tell me which of these tones you find stimulating, depressing, irritating or pleasant."

Without telling you the notes, he blasts out a series of chords that reverberate up your arms and down through your abdomen. The notes all sound OK. But one definitely feels irritating, another depressing, another stimulating.

The pleasant, warm-feeling chord -- an F sharp.

Dr. Bob spends hours compiling libraries of songs in keys that match your tone and can stimulate your body and mind back into "harmony."

He also urges patients to try chanting their note themselves and to try to guide the vibration through their bodies to remedy anything from a cold to constipation.

It would be easy to dismiss Dr. Bob as eccentric or "New Age" if science didn't already support some of his music-therapy concepts. And Sewak seems to know his stuff: bachelor's degree in music education and voice; master's degree in psychology; Ph.D. in voice pathology.

Research on sound therapy is relatively new. But a number of findings indicate music can work like drugs:

* Doctors at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore found that 30 minutes of classical music played in the critical-care unit produced the same effect as 10 milligrams of Valium.

* A 1980 study of disabled children in Norway found that a "musical bath" reduced spasms and increased the range of movement in their spines, arms, hips and legs.

* Scientists at the University of California at Irvine confirmed that students who listened to Mozart performed better on spatial-reasoning IQ tests. Music therapists like Sewak already had been experimenting with what's now known as the "Mozart effect" on the brain.

It adds up to a profound relationship between music and the human body and mind, Dr. Bob says.

Take a seat in that tall chair over there. Got any problems or issues you'd like to deal with better each day? Turns out, you've been stressed. You need help focusing.

Close your eyes, Dr. Bob says. Breathe deeply. You hear him fiddling briefly with with a plastic CD case.

From the stereo flows Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." In his mellow voice, Dr. Bob walks you through a visualization exercise.

Picture the list of all the things you have to do today. Now imagine doing the one thing you need to do first ... Now you're holding a mound of cool, wet clay ... You're sculpting it, spinning it ... and it begins to form a vessel ... Now you take all the other things on your list and you place them in the vessel ... You close the clay over those other things ... and you set the clay aside.

The music ends. You feel relaxed, focused.

You've just experienced "guided imagery," an old technique boosted by the power of music.

"The key to health," Dr. Bob says, "is harmony."

Pub Date: 07/18/99

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