by guest blogger Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, best-selling author and expert on health, fitness, and nutrition
Healers come in many forms, from traditional doctors and nurses to complementary practitioners like acupuncturists, yoga instructors, and massage therapists. There’s now plenty of science to show a whole range of positive benefits from regular use of each of these modalities. Flash-forward to the present and we’re witnessing the re-emergence of a whole new group of healers—artists.
Musicians have been at the forefront of healing and optimizing health for the past decade. In a recent study that appeared in the journal Experimental Psychology aptly entitled “The Joys of Spring,” scientists using EEG technology to measure brain activity discovered that the uplifting “Spring” concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons can boost mental alertness while enhancing attention and memory. Lead study author psychologist Leigh Riby, PhD, noted, “The ‘Spring’ movement enhanced overall activity within the brain but had an exaggerated effect on the area of the brain that’s important for emotional processing. It seemed to give rise to particular imagery in the brain and evoke positive, contented feelings which translated into higher levels of cognitive functioning.” He went on to suggest that music be used in therapeutic settings as well.
Taking this new science a step further, why not pair music and narration with magnificent natural visual imagery through video to produce similar, if not even more intense, results? Enter the extraordinary visual artistry of award-winning producer, director, and cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg. Having spent more than 30 years honing his expertise as the world’s leading time-lapse filmmaker, Louie has created works of art that deeply penetrate our psyche and resonate with our connection to nature. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Louie and experiencing firsthand his “fine art for digital display” that celebrates every facet of life, mood, and emotion. Now you will as well.
Or take a moment to bask in the complicated and intricate process of pollination. I have a renewed respect for bees and hummingbirds.
Have you ever heard the story of the fragile ecosystem that sustains our daily lives…as told by a flower? I cannot look at even the smallest flower now without limitless honor and gratitude. Watch this clip from Schwartzberg’s film The Wings of Life, narrated by Meryl Streep and opening in April.
We are often told to go outside and let nature heal us. And it’s true, there is nothing like the restorative properties of the outdoors. But our artists are also restorative. They can offer new perspective on things that we see every day and expose us to brilliant ideas we may never have come across otherwise. Here are 4 ways artists as healers can help you with your own spring healing:
1) Count your gratitudes. When you awaken each day, before hopping out of bed hitting the rug running, lie there for a just a moment and count your gratitudes. Start by thanking the powers that be that you’re still here to dance through another day! Then think of all of the people, pets, living things, places, and objects in your life that bring you joy and happiness and for which you are deeply grateful.
2) Get an extra boost. Feeling down in the dumps? Music and visual imagery are powerful forces to elevate mood and help you see your life as part of a larger whole. Find the music that works for you and use it to pull you up and out of yourself to get the day going.
3) To go inward, go outward. Want to launch your spring healing? Slip on your walking shoes and get outdoors, cry the ecopsychologists! These scientists have demonstrated how a walk in nature can significantly lower stress hormone levels, and keep them decreased for hours. Nature, after all, is the ultimate healer.
4) Tech your healing. Find a picture, painting, or photograph that just sings to you and have a copy nearby—printed out and framed on your desk, on your fridge, as a screen saver, wherever you’re sure to see it every day. One of my favorites is from my last rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike. I see the red rock and endless blue sky and I’m there. I’ve added it as a background on my smartphone and am constantly on the hunt for great music and peaceful picture apps to help me navigate the roller coaster of daily stresses. You can find lots to choose from when you search for meditation, relaxation, or yoga apps.
Finally, what does it really mean to heal? We physicians know that on a nanosecond-by-nanosecond basis, we are constantly healing and repairing our minds and bodies. This is a dynamic process that continues until our last breath. The word heal originated before the 12th century, and the Old English derivation was not “heal” but “whole.” Isn’t becoming more whole in mind and body what we really seek? If that’s so, then I welcome the healers—from the traditional to the re-emerging—who can bring joy, harmony, and peace that activate and energize both our minds and our bodies…just in time for spring.
Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, is a Pew Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. A triathlete and mountaineer, she is known as “the doc who walks the talk,” living what she’s learned as an expert in health, fitness, and nutrition. Dr. Peeke is featured as one of America’s leading women physicians in the National Institutes of Health Changing Face of Medicine exhibit at the National Library of Medicine. Her current research at the University of Maryland centers on the connection between meditation and overeating. She is the author of many best-selling books, including Fight Fat after Forty. Her new book is the New York Times best-seller The Hunger Fix.