Cancer and the art of relaxation with sound

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During my cancer diagnosis and treatment it became apparent how important relaxing was and that this was as important to recovery as sleep, exercise and good nutrition. I thought maybe people going through this scary and uncertain time would benefit from being able to take part in harp circles. Harp circles allow groups to play and create music together without having to express anything with words.  There is not much creativity or soothing sounds in cancer treatment so a harp circle would fill this gap nicely.   I also thought that sound could promote relaxation, and be a medium to put people in a relaxed and restful state.

As an occupational therapist I believe that activities such as sleeping and relaxing are occupations that we need to invest time and energy in.  If I don’t have a good night’s sleep my next day is not going to go as planned or probably be very productive.  I’ll probably talk myself out of doing any exercise as I’m ‘too tired’ or because ‘I need to conserve my energy’.  I will probably have a slump in the afternoon and struggle to focus on my tasks and be guided by my mind and body to take a nap.

As somebody who used to prioritise chores over relaxation I know how difficult it can be to devote time to essentially switching off and doing nothing.  There’s a pile of washing up, and ironing, there’s a really long shopping list waiting and don’t mention what needs doing in the garden……

Relaxation is so important to heal and repair, and allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and relax the body and give us some respite.  Nowadays we seem to be on constant alert, always ready to respond, we always have incoming ‘stuff’ to deal with.  The post, the landline, fax (anybody still have one of these?) mobile phone, email, text messages, and goodness knows how many apps we can receive messages or updates from.

I’m currently training as a sound therapist so I can offer people sound baths and gong baths.  People come along for about an hour bringing with them a mat, pillow and blanket so they can create a nest of comfort, lie down and ‘bathe’ in the sounds.  I play a relaxing score on gongs, and bowls, crystal bowls and some percussion.  During this time people are able to relax, the parasympathetic nervous system will be in a rested state so enable us to rest, relax and repair.  I’ve found the training very beneficial, it’s helped me to slow down,enjoy creating the sounds and be mindful while I do it and playing the gong, and the various bowls is a relaxing occupation.

So I plan to invite you soon to come along, and escape from your technology for an hour and invest some time and effort into the forgotten occupation of relaxation.

More about gongs and sound baths soon, in the meantime if you curious please check out this article in the Huffington Post about why every stressed out person should try a bit of gong.

 

 

Music really is powerful stuff

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Music is all around us and a part of daily life, whether we choose to listen to it or come across it playing in shops or restaurants that we visit. Prehistoric humans had music in their lives despite it not being essential for survival like hunting and shelter. Old bone flutes and many cave paintings of instruments from prehistoric times have been found around the world.

Occupational therapy is all about the art and science of living, what we do makes us who we are and music has a lot of meaning to us. We can self regulate by using music so if we need to do household chores we may put on something fast and upbeat, if we want to relax or go to sleep we may play something soothing and slow.

Music is also used to distract ourselves, for example when you are kept on hold on the phone or when waiting in a surgery there is often background music playing.

Music can also serve as company for us, at work, at home and in the car. It gives us an identity through our record collections and our spotify feed. It often helps to bring memories back or enables us to communicate emotions.

It is also an entertainment and is part of every celebration.  The presence of music in our lives shows how important it is and how different meaning is incorporated through music.

Learning to play an instrument strengthens the synapses between the brain cells which has a positive impact on our sensory and perceptual systems, cognition, gross and fine motor skills, co-ordination and learning memory.  All these benefits when we can be having fun, and enjoying ourselves when we are playing our instruments!

I am doing a sound therapy course and have had to buy more instruments to complete the course.  Purchasing instruments as been great therapy, before the sound therapy even starts!  As I sit typing I am surrounded by gongs, crystal bowls, a range of precision, the harps of course, nobody is ever far away from a harp in this house, and the old Joanna – cockney rhyming slang for piano.

As an occupational therapist I am approaching sound therapy from a therapeutic activity perspective.  As part of my course I have had to learn to play these new instruments and engage my senses with them.  Some of the sounds are ethereal.  Hearing them for the first time is an incredible experience, and not one that the mind or body first knows how to process as there is no previous experience of it to go on.  That’s my experience of it anyway, and what a fantastic experience, the older I get the harder it seems to be able to experience things for the first time.  I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground so that does limit my choices, no bungee jumping for me thank you.

I find playing the instruments is energising, and having them next to my desk is the perfect antidote for any mid morning or afternoon slump and serves me better than any coffee would.

Making music is powerful stuff, and energising activity, why isn’t if on prescription?

Relive the J Arthur Rank moment at a gong bath

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I am doing a sound therapy course and have had to buy more instruments to complete the course.  Purchasing instruments as been great therapy, before the sound therapy even starts!  As I sit typing I am surrounded by gongs, crystal bowls, a range of percussion, Himalayan bowls, the harps of course, nobody is ever far away from a harp in this house, and the old Joanna – cockney rhyming slang for piano.

As an occupational therapist I am approaching sound therapy from a therapeutic activity perspective.  I find playing the instruments is energising, and having them next to my desk is the perfect antidote for any mid morning or afternoon slump and serves me better than any coffee would.  I get up and bash a gong for a bit or caress a crystal bowl and hey presto I’m ready for work again.  Doing makes me feel good, am I a human doing, and not a human being?  No just an occupational therapist who knows the power of occupation, and the necessity to engage in activity that is meaningful to us.

As part of my course I have had to learn to play these new instruments and engage my senses with them.  Some of the sounds are ethereal.  Hearing them for the first time is an incredible experience, and not one that the mind or body first knows how to process as there is no previous experience of it to go on.  That’s my experience of it anyway, and what a fantastic experience, the older I get the harder it seems to be able to experience things for the first time.  I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground so that does limit my choices, no bungee jumping for me thank you.

Sound is energy that we can hear so it makes sense that producing the sound waves is energising.  We all have a personal response to sound, and may have associated certain memories with sound and have a different perception of what is music, what is sound and what is noise.  Birdsong isn’t technically music, but it is melodic and we like to hear it.  It is a sound of an early spring morning.

Most of us have only ever experienced a gong sound at the start of a J Arthur Rank Film if we’re old enough.  Now gongs are getting more popular and gong baths are popping up everywhere I thoroughly recommend one for a truly relaxing experience.  Relaxation is an underrated occupation that we need to invest more time in, so get yourself to a gong bath, leave your smart phone and tablet behind for a while and invest in yourself as recommended by Huffpost and catch one of mine in Southsea soon.

via Daily Prompt: Sound

What is a harp circle?

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A harp circle is an opportunity to play a harp, most people don’t often come across harps in their day to day lives, and don’t get an opportunity to play one!  This is where From the harp comes in and enables you and your group to enjoy a harp circle.

Being part of a harp circle can energise and sooth,  a harp circle provides an accessible and engaging musical activity, that can boost self esteem, and it provides a way of communicating beyond words.  It’s the opportunity to get your hands on a harp and try something new.  It engages your senses as you listen to the sound you create and feel the heartwarming good vibrations.

From the harp has six lightweight lap harps that are easy to play, they have straps and knee sticks so are easy to balance while we sit in a  circle and play.  My harps have 26 strings, and a lovely resonance when the strings are plucked or a glissandi is played.  a glissandi is a continuous slide of the finger over the strings producing a range of sounds.

It is easy to produce a lovely sound on the harp when you first try by using the plucking and glissandi techniques and this is very satisfying.  You too can play the harp!

So a harp circle is a group of people making music together on harps. A harp circle allows groups to make their own music together. Each person has their own part to make a collective sound together.

No musical experience is necessary as we can improvise and let the creativity flow.  There is no wrong note and we’re all musical, so we can develop some music with it’s own sound and depth.  Improvisation is music on the spot, it is spontaneous, and won’t be heard again!

In a harp circle we can also play well known favourite pieces, I have colour coded the strings of my harps so nobody needs to know how to read music, we can do it all by looking at the colours.

We can also do ’rounds’ together.  A round is when we each play a different part of the song at the same time, and listen as it harmoniously fits together.

We can do a round with Frere Jacques that would sound something like this singing version.

So harps circles can use set music and improvisation, we can also have a lot of fun learning different techniques to create different sounds and play some games.

No experience is necessary to take part in a harp circle. The harps are small and lightweight, and can easily be positioned on the lap or held in place with a shoulder strap. If this is not possible the harp can be placed on a table or held for somebody to be able to participate.

Get in touch if you would like a harp circle for your group, and let me know what would be a favourite tune of yours that you would like to play on the harp.

 

What is harp therapy?

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I became aware of harp therapy before I even played the harp or was an occupational therapist.  I was fascinated that the harp was being used for healing in health care settings.

I realised the benefits for myself when I got my first harp, I found it soothing and found I could use it to reduce my own anxiety when I was feeling anxious or uptight.  I recognised my breathing and heart rate went down when I started playing when I was feeling like this.

It seems that it was well known in the ancient world that the harp was beneficial for health and healing.  In 1500 BC music was a science taught and studied by Pythagoras, music was used to heal the sick, he taught students to use notes, chords, and melodies to induce physical responses in the body.  Pythagoras believed that music could change behaviour patterns and accelerate the healing process.

In the Old Testament book of Samuel there are 46 references to King David’s use of the harp as a healing instrument. The use of the lyre by King David to help reduce King Saul’s anxiety and anger is well documented in the Old Testament.

Fast forward to 1741 and Bach was writing the Goldberg Variations – 32 harpsichord pieces, for Count Kaiserling who needed ‘keyboard works with a sufficient soft and lively character and a constant sameness of the fundamental harmony to enable him to sleep’

Harp therapy is well established in the USA, there are a few training programmes, and harp therapists are employed in hospitals and hospices.  There is evidence to show that harp therapy can reduce pain and anxiety, and lower racing heart and breathing rates.  It seems like we’re relearning the lessons from the past.

These days harp therapy is done in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, day centres, cancer centres, learning disability settings, mental health units and in the community.

Therapy harps are small and lightweight, and have a strap so can be played standing and walking around facilities.  Smaller harps started to be made around the 1970s and it was at this time the harp started to be used therapeutically.  Large numbers of overtones (variety of tones) are produced when plucking the vibrating strings of the harp which produces the resonance and soothing sound that people enjoy.

The harp music will be delivered therapeutically to create an individual experience and offer some respite from the routine of the day for the client.  The music is made personal at the chair or bedside for clients to support them with whatever physical, mental, emotional or spiritual difficulties they are dealing with.

Every interaction with a client is unique and will be suitable for that moment. During a visit a client may watch, sing or hum, have a go on the harp or close their eyes, I respond to the client by doing what seems to be beneficial for them at that time.

Harp therapy is not a performance, there is no set pieces to be played. Familiar and improvised music can be used to meet the needs of the client. While playing I observe the clients breathing, body movement and facial expressions and any sounds they may make and tailor my playing.

I aim to provide a soothing space for deep rest, provide distraction from health or environment and reduce stress as the body relaxes and breathing settles.  Familiar songs can stimulate memory, and provide joy to lift mood.  The feedback from clients, family and staff is all positive and the soothing tones defiantly change the atmosphere.

I deliver harp therapy to individuals and groups please get in touch with me if you would like harp therapy.

 

 

What is occupational therapy?

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I’m proud of being an occupational therapist, but I don’t always like explaining it.

Occupational therapy is a profession that a lot of people don’t understand, some people think it is all about work and others confuse it with occupational health.

In June 2016 an occupational therapist sent a confession into the Simon Mayo BBC radio 2 show, she stated that she was not going to give her job title or explain her role as it was too confusing.  It soon became clear to myself and all occupational therapists across the land that were listening that she was an occupational therapist.

It was a shame that she didn’t want to explain our profession, what a great opportunity to fly the flag for occupational therapy on national radio at prime time.  But also completely understandable that she would not want to take this task on, and endeavour to succinctly explain on national radio.  Occupational therapists were listening and an occupational therapist from the OT Practice was on the programme the following day explaining very well what occupational therapy is.  The profession sighed a huge sigh of relief.

You may have heard that we are called OTs too, that’s right, but I’m not using the phrase here as I think it confuses matters more, and that as a profession we need to use our full title to promote occupational therapy.

Some people say that the physiotherapist will support you to walk again, but the occupational therapist will support you to put your dancing shoes on and get back on the dance floor.  An explanation I heard when I was studying was that the doctor will help you live longer and the occupational therapist will help you live better.

The trouble is with explaining occupational therapy is that the profession is so broad and occupational therapists work in so many settings.  We are dual trained in physical health and mental health, we work in paediatrics, orthopaedics, social care, learning disabilities, hospice, hospitals, community, the list is endless, but we could pop up anywhere.  All of these roles will be different, so there is not a set answer for what is occupational therapy?

But let me have a stab at explaining it for you here.  Occupational therapy is a profession that promotes health and well being through occupation. Occupational therapy focuses on enabling people to take part in their hobbies and activities despite illness, disability, mental health or emotional difficulties.  We are motivated and inspired by the things that we want to do, this is what gets us out of bed in the morning!

We view occupation as being anything that we do, so this includes having a shower and brushing your teeth, paid or voluntary work, leisure and sports activities, even sleeping.  While we can take these things for granted, if we have an accident, illness or disability it can become much more difficult and exhausting to do any of our activities or our occupations.  If you are fortunate enough to be fit, well and able bodied how would you cope if you broke an arm or a leg?

After illness or injury it can be difficult to participate in your every day roles, and maintain structure and routine, especially if your mind and body are affected.  When you have barriers to achieving your goals an occupational therapist can support you as an individual to accomplish what is important to you, by building on your skills and adapting your activities and environment.

After my breast cancer surgery I was unable to run, so I had to adapt and substitute running with walking.  I could not reach or lift things so again I had to adapt by placing things in reach, and getting help with the heavy stuff.  I was fatigued so I had to learn to pace myself throughout the day and I had trouble sleeping so I developed a good sleep hygiene routine.

I was being my own occupational therapist, making adaptations to the way I do things and to my environment to enable me to live life my way, and continue doing my occupations.

This is what occupational therapists do, we treat the person, not the diagnosis, we find out what is important to you, what you’re having difficulty with and support you to live life to the full.  We are problem solvers, and love to be creative in our approach, we treat you holistically and will work on small goals with you to reach the big ones.

If you or somebody you know are living with or beyond cancer and you think you or they could benefit from occupational therapy please get in touch.

From the Harp is based in Portsmouth, Hampshire and operates in the city and surrounding areas on the south coast of the UK.  Phone or Skype consultations are available.

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Copyright © 2017 From the Harp

Hello and welcome to Alice at From the Harp

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I had the idea for From the Harp while working as an occupational therapist.  A week before winning the enterprise award that would help me start my business I was diagnosed with breast cancer, going through treatment slowed me down but did not stop me.

I’ve started this blog to keep you updated about my developing services, let you know why they’re important to me and why I believe they’re good for health and well being.

As an occupational therapist my passion has been to enable people to live life to the full despite disability, illness, mental health or emotional difficulties. I want people to be able to engage in the occupations that are meaningful to them.

I am dual trained in physical and mental health, activity analysis (breaking down activities to their component parts) and grading activities for different abilities. I use these skills to plan suitable activities for my clients.

I’ve played the harp for several years, and have recently completed a harp therapy course so I am a harp therapist as well as an occupational therapist. I wanted to combine my occupational therapy and harp skills to enable people to ‘do, be, (belong), and become’ (Wilcock 1998) through musical activity.

I have been playing my harp regularly in a nursing home for a year. Residents enjoy hearing the harp and having a go playing a glissandi themselves. I am able to play individually at the bedside and have had fantastic reactions from residents living with dementia who will smile, hum, sing and move to the music, when otherwise they may be inactive. In the lounge I have facilitated residents to play well known songs on a set of desk bells, and improvise on therapy harps, it always gets everyone singing and laughing.

The harp is a very soothing instrument and not one that is seen that often. My therapy harps can be played sitting or standing, in a wheelchair or in bed, they are really light and produce a lovely sound.

I believe there is no wrong note, and we’re all musical, just listen to the birds they have had no musical training but sound great don’t they?  You can too playing one of my harps!

If you or anybody you know would benefit from an individual harp therapy session please get in touch.

My next blog posts will cover what From the Harp is all about and will include more about occupational therapy, individual and group harp therapy.