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Greenwich hospital The sound of healing

August 2, 2018

GREENWICH — Twice a week during lunchtime at Greenwich Hospital, a sign is hung outside the chapel that reads: “Quiet Please! Meditation in Progress.”

Inside the chapel, a music therapist plays a flute, taps a gong and encourages deep breathing to help participants find tranquillity and peace of mind. The meditative sessions, which have been offered to patients, staff and the general public for more than a decade, operate on the assumption that music, meditation and the inner power of the mind can be channeled together to achieve better health and well-being.

Roberta Brown Brugo, a nurse and program coordinator for integrative medicine at Greenwich Hospital, said there are valuable tools to develop better health through the mind-body connection, besides the conventional array of drugs and surgical procedures.

“We’re bringing evidence-based practices to complement traditional medical care,” she said in the hospital chapel. “It’s using the body’s internal intelligence - and the relaxation response - so the body can heal.”

Before she led the music meditation session Wednesday, Amy Zabin was working with a cancer patient in the intensive care unit. Zabin was playing Bach on her flute and bringing a sense of calm to the woman, a lover of classical music who was undergoing a procedure.

Zabin, who holds a doctorate from NYU in music therapy, believes that music can play a valuable role in restoring and maintaining health.

She attributes the healing quality of music to three factors. “Number one, music is something almost everyone connects with. You already have powerful paired associations that people have in their lives,” she said. “Two, it’s able to alter your heart rate immediately. The music does the work. And the third part - people get tied into music, and they forget what else is going on.”

Zabin worked previously with Dr. Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist and author who explored the mysteries of the brain. Sacks’ studies showed patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease were better able to communicate after taking part in certain kinds musical performances. Sacks once wrote of his research on music therapy, before his death in 2015: “Music is much more than a beautiful luxury: It is a fundamental way of expressing our humanity — and it is often our best medicine. ”

Zabin said music has been shown to lower the levels of stress hormones, and boost immunity, in clinical studies.

The sessions in the chapel draw current patients, as well as former patients who are on the road to recovery. Staff members also drop by.

During a recent musical meditation session, Zabin took up a mateki flute, a wooden instrument from Japan, and sounded its other-worldly, haunting tones. She rythmically struck a large bronze gong. Encouraging participants to breathe slowly and deeply, she called on them to think about being healthy, ending the session with an admonition to “rejuvenation and serenity.”

After the meditation and music session was over, nurse Indigo Sunshine said she has been a regular at the meditative sessions. They help her de-stress from her job, she said. “When I get back, I feel so much better, and more relaxed. I sleep better, too,” she said. “And I feel more present when I’m with my patients.”

A former cancer patient said she liked what the sessions did for her — “de-stress, focus and calm,” as she described it.

Besides running the meditative sessions, Zabin also takes part in end-of-life moments at the hospital, helping family members say good-bye when words can be hard to articulate. Music has a way of bringing people together and easing communications, she said, opening hearts and minds when it is needed the most.

Music has its own therapeutic value, she concluded. “It’s the most immediate way to access people, physiologically, psychologically and emotionally. Instead of focusing on illness, they (patients) are focusing on health,” she said.

The half-hour sessions, which are free, are held Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. and Wednesday at noon.

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