As I was sitting in a jazz lounge the other night, listening to four incredible musicians play their hearts out, I looked around and noticed people all over the room collectively bobbing their heads to the music. People of all ages, genders, and ethic origins were entranced, myself included, and moving their bodies together in a communal rhythm that matched what the musicians were offering us. I found this to be remarkably beautiful and was reminded of what is intrinsically woven into our DNA: the power of communal bonding through a shared experience, and in particular, an experience of sound. This shared experience not only fosters a better connection with our communities but can also provide some much-needed relief to our nervous systems.
Sound is vibration that moves through mass, be it solid, liquid, or gas. Sound literally moves through us, through our cells and membranes, and as it does, it greatly impacts our nervous systems. Rhythmic sound (sound that occurs regularly and can be predicted) is found to be comforting to our nervous system, influencing our heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure, and often synching them to the rhythm being heard. This process of synchronizing rhythms is called “entrainment,” and when we listen to music, poetry, or any other organized sound, our nervous system becomes entrained with not only the rhythm being felt but also each fellow listener’s nervous system as well. All those who are a part of the experience literally get on the same wavelength with one another. Talk about connecting! It is no wonder why we feel intimately bonded to people we see performances with and how we easily mesh with people who have similar listening tastes.
This entrainment with rhythmic sound is also soothing to our nervous systems because it gives us an opportunity to rest from the random and chaotic noise that surrounds us daily (i.e., noise pollution), and a calmed nervous system means less stress overall. Connecting with others is hardwired into our beings; we survive and have survived for thousands of years because of it, and feeling united with our community generates a greater sense of purpose within each of us.
These benefits add to our quality of life, so let us then seek out regular opportunities to be a part of a shared communal rhythm, be it through orchestras, concerts, choirs, plays, musicals, or dance. Especially as we head into the holidays filled with family, friends, and community, what a perfect time to incorporate more “shared rhythm” into all of our lives.
- Seek out performances. Find a day in your week (or every other week) to regularly see music/poetry/plays/dance, and if you can, get a friend or group of friends to join. Whether it’s a symphony hall or a local café with live acts, there is almost always something to be heard around your community.
- Take it in, listen, and feel. Try not to converse much through the show; really listen to what you hear and be present with what’s being offered onstage. Feel how the rhythm of the music or words affects you both during and after the performance.
- Process your experience with others. After the performance, talk about it with friends! You’ll gain so much more insight and depth into what you experienced if you share your thoughts and feelings with others. And if you happen to be alone, try saying something to the person sitting next to you or standing in line with you for the bathroom. You may even find a new friend along the way.