GOOD NEWS! Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation

In processing the (emotional outcomes of) Schore’s article that Jean linked in a response to one of my previous posts I remembered a conversation I had with Monika Herzig a few years ago, who is a lecturing member of the faculty of Jazz Studies at Indiana University and kindly shared this article with me:

PLOS ONE: Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation.

To put this article in a nutshell, they found that during Jazz improvisation brain areas typically employed when monitoring self and being in control in a prototypical functionning manner and such were much less active and also certain parts of the limbic system were deactivated to create the conditions and make room for spontaneous creativity. What I took away from those findings is my tentative conclusion that being immersed in improvisation creates a feeling of flow in the respective person, thus making them almost oblivious to their surroundings and – according to how I understand this – coming very close to this natural state of bliss that children encounter while immersed in play. The article doesn’t say this verbatim, but the presented findings lend themselves to this conclusion in my opinion.

What’s relevant here in regards to symptoms of (C-) PTSD and in particular to Schore’s –  pretty discouraging, retriggering – article is that activities along the lines of spontaneous creativity seem to have a beneficial, healing effect on individuals dealing with the outcomes of (C-) PTSD. I find this also relevant as according to my own research and preliminary findings on the condition it seems to be(come) crucial to roll back the vulnerability of the limbic system to distressing feelings that may occur upon being triggered by one or the other situation. I had to find from personal experience, that too many triggers create a state of more or less constant hyperarousal, which I can only describe as pure torture! It IS torture, actually, as the physical outcomes are as brutal as someone performing physical harm on a victim. And I was exposed to this situation again over the past years in a more or less ongoing manner. I honestly thought I was going to die from a heart attack, symptoms had become this brutal all over again…. And at the peak of this, I didn’t seem capable of accessing that realm where the above described happens. Which seems to bring about another important conclusion: It is a good idea – a must, almost – to remove oneself from environments and situations that are rich with triggering conditions…  Unfortunately, in the previous living situation, I had not seen the amount of triggers coming and it took years to be given the opportunity to move somewhere else. (not to mention the need for prior approval by the respective social security department). I’m fairly sure, this will have shortened my overall life expectancy by half a decade or more. But well… whatever. Will make the most with whatever time I have.

So: Music actually heals! And in a measurable, almost quantifiable manner! I’d like to imagine that the same is true for other creative activities and if you take a look at existing therapies like CBT and DBT, they also make use of occupying patients with creative activities. In other words: Find an activity you love and give yourself permission to immerse yourself in it whenever and as often as you can. And healing shall occur!

update: The wikipedia article on flow I linked here and above actually confirms my conclusion of the healing qualities of music along with other activities that give you a feeling of being in the moment. Woohoo!

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