The Healing Chair
Good vibrations. It's far more than the classic lyric from the Beach Boys. It also describes a surprising technology for delivering relaxation and pain relief through specially designed furniture. Developed simultaneously in Scandinavia and the US some 30 years ago, vibroacoustics feature speakers in recliners, mats, mattresses and other types of soft furniture that transmit music and vibrations directly to the body. Unlike massage chairs, which are one-vibration recliners, vibroacoustic equipment features numerous simultaneous vibrations that surround the individual with the soothing effects of the music. Target benefit: Pain and medication reduction.
The underlying principle of vibroacoustics is that the body has many of its own pulsing vibrations that maintain key functions -- the heart pumping blood, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract pushing food through the digestive process, the kidneys sending urine on its way -- and that the resonance of vibrations and sound merge with these biological rhythms to promote good health. Vibroacoustic research is still limited, but what does exist is promising. A number of studies, including one by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), whose Clinical Medical Center has used vibroacoustic equipment for more than 10 years, have found that the equipment sharply reduced patients' symptoms of stress and pain. Smaller studies have shown that it calmed Alzheimer's disease patients and autistic children, reduced tension, pain and symptoms associated with chemotherapy treatment, reduced the amount of time patients were in surgery and the number of postoperative medications they needed, and it lessened the pain of arthritis.
WHY IT WORKS
There are several theories as to why vibroacoustics works. The most widely accepted is that it brings about the "relaxation response," so named by Harvard professor Herbert Benson to describe a mental, physical and emotional state of lowered blood pressure and decreased heart, breathing and metabolic rates. A second theory is that it stimulates certain receptors under the skin and in connective tissue around organs and joints that prompt the brain to inhibit the sensation of pain. And there are researchers who postulate that vibroacoustics might trigger a sort of internal massage that facilitates a cleansing effect on brain cells, although this is still highly speculative, according to music and imagery specialist Chris Brewer, MA, who works with vibroacoustics in institutions around the country. She says that the equipment is becoming increasingly popular for in-home use, especially by people who have chronic back pain. A company called Somatron distributes vibroacoustic equipment and now offers a wide range of items for sale to consumers and institutions. These include bean bag chairs, wedge pillows, mats (which Brewer says are popular with physical therapists because they relax patients and thereby facilitate range of motion and treatment), a recliner cushion and chair, mattresses, pillows and other items. Brewer says that the most popular item is the recliner chair. The design places the body in the same position as astronauts are in for blast-off because the particular position puts the least amount of pressure on the body. This equipment is relatively expensive (e.g., nearly $3,000 for the recliner chair, $1,195 for the body pillow and $195 for the headrest), but... it's far cheaper in the long run than pain medication or other medical treatments.
PICK YOUR PLAYLIST?
Somatrom offers music designed specifically to maximize the quality of vibrations and in turn the experience of relaxation, but Brewer says that you can use any type of music you prefer. (Music is provided through your own sound equipment hooked up by a cable to the speakers in the furniture.) She recalls a group of teens who chose their favorite rock music for use in the mat as they lay on it, and they were delighted with the effect. The amount of time people generally spend in a vibroacoustic session is from 10 to 40 minutes, though 30 minutes is about average. To maximize the benefits of a vibroacoustic session, Brewer advises creating a peaceful setting -- low lights, an area with privacy and few or no competing sounds. As to how long the benefits will stay with you after a session, the answer is that thus far no one really knows. Brewer reminds me, though, that the chair can help people cut down on the amount of painkillers they use and that people using the equipment learn to put themselves in a relaxation mode quickly even when they are in other environments, far from home and their vibroacoustic recliner.
For more information on the Somatron Company and its equipment, go to www.somatron.com.