It’s no secret that hearing the right song at the right moment can have a profound impact on your soul, but now research is proving that your relationship to music is more than just emotional, it’s physical and psychological, too.

In fact, music therapy, which puts music to the task of healing, is an up-and-coming field of health care with a range of practical applications. From managing pain and staving off depression in cancer patients, to encouraging calm and focus in children with ADD, doctors and hospitals are discovering that music can act as a potent tincture.

Humans have long partnered with music. We use it to motivate ourselves to exercise, lull ourselves to sleep, and most importantly to celebrate our joy. Such natural inclinations are not so surprising when the science behind them is revealed.

How music affects us

There are some basic physiological changes that correspond to the music we listen to, and which help explain how music can be so therapeutic.

1. Stimulation of brainwaves

When music carries a strong beat, it can encourage brain waves to align themselves with that beat. As a result, faster beats stimulate the mind resulting in alertness and concentration, and slower beats induce calm meditation.

What’s even more interesting is that when music changes activity levels, the impact on the brain’s ability to change speeds on its own permanently improves. Not sure why this ability is so important? Compare the ease with which you wake up from a nap, to the way a puppy can effortlessly transition from a sleep state to fully alert high-energy excitement, and you may begin to understand.

2. Heart rate reduction

When brain waves are altered, so are other involuntary bodily functions like breathing and heart rate. In fact, any body function that is overseen by the autonomic nervous system is eligible to receive benefits brought on by brain wave changes.

As a result, listening to music can lead to slower breathing and heart rate, and it can activate what is known as the “relaxation response,” an experience similar to Transcendental Meditation, but considered more simple to achieve. In this way, music therapy has been found to successfully combat chronic stress and its effects.

3. Other positive physical impacts

There’s an impressive list of benefits that can be attributed to music and applied music therapy, they include improved immune response, lower blood pressure, and muscle relaxation. It’s impact on aging can be just as dramatic as hormone replacement therapy.

With so many positive health impacts, it’s no surprise that music has also been credited with improved mental states, increased positivity, reduced depression, and with encouraging creativity.

Using music to self medicate

While doctors and hospitals continue to explore ways in which music can benefit their patients, everyday people are also learning how to apply music therapy in their daily lives. Whether to relax, energize, cope with excessive stress, sadness, or to pronounce joy, self-medicating with music can be a fulfilling and life changing experience.