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Moving to a different beat

  • Article by: JAY BOLLER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 27, 2011 - 8:53 AM

Getting physically and emotionally fit can be challenging, but something as simple as music can help.

Music's healing properties have been lauded since the days of Aristotle, when physicians were often also trained as musicians, said assistant University of Minnesota music therapy professor Annie Heiderscheit.

"Rhythm is very much a part of our being," she said. "From our heartbeat, to our breathing, to our brainwave patterns, to our digestive cycle, to our speech pattern, to our 'gate' pattern -- everything has rhythm."

Music therapists invoke what's known as entrainment -- essentially training one's brain -- to synchronize bodies with rhythms, reducing stress and anxiety, Heiderscheit said. It's a powerful tool that can aid with eating disorders, general medical treatment, hospice care and any number of areas in between.

Music therapy's flexibility is one of its greatest strengths, she said, because it works when people are actively creating music or simply listening to it.

Three Twin Cities residents use music for relaxation and fitness in different settings. Here are their stories:

PAM MURPHY HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER

At first, Pam Murphy played classical music in her classroom for one reason: background noise. With no vocals to compete over, it was the logical choice and became a constant. But she soon learned it was also a boon to her kids' brains. "I started doing some more research and found that classical music is actually conducive to math learning," said Murphy, who teaches pre-calc and geometry at Minneapolis Southwest High School. She added that the Ke$ha-reared youths never complain about classical pieces. The orchestral offerings have another benefit, too. "It absolutely helps me relax throughout the day," Murphy added. "It's soothing."

What she recommends: KSJN (99.5 FM).

MOLLY FURGESON

ZUMBA INSTRUCTOR

Zumba is the Latin-flavored dance fitness craze that combines salsa, merengue and reggaeton. "It sure feels like it [is getting more popular] to me," said Molly Furgeson, who teaches Zumba. "My classes are certainly growing and it sounds like they're getting 300 people on a Sunday at LifeTime Fitness Zumba classes." The secret to Zumba is intrinsically tied to the music: Participants get so busy dancing they forget they're also getting a workout. Bit of a clod on the dance floor? No worries, says Furgeson. "It can be quite the workout," she said. "But what's great about it is that people can adapt it to their fitness level."

What she recommends: Harry Belafonte, Daddy Yankee, Ricky Martin.

MARY LUGER-SARTOR MASSEUSE

The massage is a sensory experience and Mary Luger-Sartor, owner of Massage & Healing by Mary and Friends in northeast Minneapolis, thinks music is a key element. "Music is soothing and flowing, so it helps the person on the table relax," she said of her shop's melodic aesthetic. "You have reggae on? They're not gonna relax; they're gonna want to move." Luger-Sartor leaves the play list up to the customer, but flute and harp music are standbys. Some clients prefer more offbeat selections, including one who vibes on bagpipes and another who prefers bluegrass with his rubdown.

Her recommendation: David Young on recorder, Robin Berry on harp.

Jay Boller is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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