I've read news reports about a study in England in which Gregorian chants were found to reduce stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, but I haven't seen any scientific studies on the subject. In May 2008, the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, published an account of research in London on five monks who had their heart rate and blood pressure measured over the course of a 24-hour period. The investigators found that blood pressure and heart rate dropped to their lowest points when the monks were chanting and theorized that chanting can improve mental state, reduce tension and increase efficiency in the workplace.
I wasn't surprised to read about these results. Music can have a powerful effect on mind and body. In fact, hospitals use music therapy to ease pain, boost patients' moods and counteract depression, help them sleep and reduce muscle tension so that they can relax. Music therapy is also used to stimulate nursing home residents and improve the moods of psychiatric patients and help them to gain more control over their lives.
If you check out the Web site of the American Music Therapy Association, you'll find claims that music can ease pain, lessen anxiety and fatigue, and can even reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Some small studies have suggested that music therapy can slow the progression of Parkinson's disease.
Our bodies react instinctively to different rhythms. When you listen to slow, relaxing music, your heart naturally beats more slowly, breathing deepens and brainwaves slow down. These physiological reactions are all components of the relaxation response.
A few years ago, I helped create a CD called Sound Body, Sound Mind: Music for Healing with music designed to influence brain wave activity and encourage the body's natural potential for healing.
Listen to whatever kind of music relaxes you to help you wind down and neutralize stress and anxiety. It doesn't have to be Gregorian chants, but certainly give that a try if it appeals to you.
Andrew Weil, M.D.