Music can have a powerful effect on mind and body far beyond its ability to promote relaxation and stress relief. Hospitals use music therapy to ease pain, boost patients' mood and counteract depression, help them sleep and reduce muscle tension so that they can relax. In nursing homes, music therapy is used to stimulate the elderly residents, improve the moods of psychiatric patients and help them gain more control over their lives. Some research suggests that music therapy can slow the progression of Parkinson's disease and that some types of music can influence the production of dopamine and serotonin, the neurochemicals that are imbalanced in Parkinson's.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can help lower blood pressure, improve cardiac output, improve respiration, reduce heart rate and relax muscle tension. And a recent review of studies on the subject found that music can reduce pain and anxiety in cancer patients and improve their quality of life and mood.
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.
I'm happy to tell you what music I listen to in order to relax, but bear in mind that my musical preferences and yours may not be the same. The important thing is to listen to whatever kind of music relaxes you and helps neutralize stress and anxiety. That said, to wind down I like to listen to some my favorite classical pieces including Handel's "Largo (from Xerxes)" and "Water Music," Christian Pezold's "Minuet in G Major" from the Anna Magdalena Notebook (and commonly attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach), Pachelbel's "Canon" and Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo's "Fantasia para un Gentilhombre," a concerto for guitar and orchestra.
Andrew Weil, M.D.