By June Leslie Wieder
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2006.
The spine sings a song, but sometimes it sings out of tune. When the spine sings well, it moves effortlessly and harmoniously, with all parts of the body working as an integral unit. When the spine is out of tune, movement becomes stiff, uncomfortable, and, too often, painful. A new kind of vibrational therapy, bone toning, makes it possible to restore the natural resonant harmonics of the spine. In other words, it helps to re-tune the spine.
Resonance is an amazing phenomenon that occurs throughout all of nature—from the smallest subatomic particles to huge galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. Anything that vibrates has a natural resonant frequency and will spontaneously begin to vibrate in response to external vibrations that share the same or a similar resonant frequency. This sympathetic vibration is called resonance, which literally means to re-sound, to echo.
Resonators have the ability to transmit as well as respond to their resonant-frequency vibrations, something easily demonstrated with tuning forks. When a middle C tuning fork is struck and begins to vibrate, a second middle C tuning fork nearby, but not touching, will also spontaneously begin to vibrate. Nearby tuning forks that produce the other notes of an octave (D, E, F, G, A, B ) will not vibrate because their resonant frequencies are different.
The human body itself is a natural resonator, with each organ, tissue, bone, and fluid generating and responding to harmonic vibrations that ripple out in waves. This concept is poetically expressed by Deane Juhan in his book Touched by the Goddess: “Waves emanating from a source are precisely expressive of the activities of that source. And they are interactive with all the other waves they encounter and with all other sources they contact. In this sense, every one of my organs is like a radio station, broadcasting through various wave mediums in and around me their current news, commentary, weather, and sports. Every other organ is listening and responding.”1
The living matrix of the human body is wonderfully capable of absorbing different kinds of vibratory energy and responding with harmonic vibrations. Therapists whose treatments are based on touch, heat, light, aroma, and sound are using resonance and vibratory energy to heal.
After I graduated from the Swedish Institute of Massage in New York, I studied with Milton Trager, MD, and learned a simple yet profound approach that uses gentle, rhythmic waves to produce new sensations of lightness, freeness, and softness. By inducing wave-like motions in the body, Trager work sets up a harmonic resonance, resulting in standing waves, which vibrate at the body’s natural frequencies.
During a Trager session, the practitioner enters into a calm, all-accepting, all-loving state called hook-up. Many other kinds of vibrational therapy, including massage, make use of the therapist’s ability to tune into the client’s natural rhythms.
A standing wave is a special type of harmonic resonance. By definition, a standing wave is a wave and its reflection; energy is transferred back and forth between its two parts. For instance, when a string of a guitar is plucked, the vibrations are reflected from the top and bottom boundaries and create a standing wave. It is the standing wave that gives each instrument its own signature sound.
How standing waves can create patterns and shapes was demonstrated by a German scientist, Ernst Chladni (1756–1827), more than two hundred years ago. He showed that geometric patterns could be formed on a metal plate covered with sand when a violin bow was drawn on the edge of the plate. As a result, he’s often referred to as the father of acoustic research because of his work on the mathematics of sound waves. In the twentieth century, Hans Jenny, MD, became so intrigued by Chladni patterns that this Swiss physician/musician/researcher/artist spent fourteen years studying shapes sculpted purely by sound. Using powders, liquids, or pastes, Jenny found that vibration caused material to take on a life of its own—and in its dance, beautiful symmetrical patterns would take shape. These patterns seemed to mimic astrophysical, geological, biological, or atomic events, and Jenny photographed thousands of shapes as they were unveiled in his research. Some patterns, for example, looked like rotating spiral galaxies or solar flares, others like flowers blossoming or amoebae fusing. Jenny’s work clearly demonstrated that not only does sound move matter, but shapes it as well. Jenny named his study of wave patterns cymatics and published his work in two volumes, which now are available in a single book, Cymatics: A Study of Wave Phenomena and Vibration.2
An Echo of Energy
The spine, with its primary and secondary curves, resembles the look of a standing wave. I wondered, is it possible that some kind of resonant energy echoes between these primary and secondary curves of the spine in order to maintain its structural and neural integrity?
A newborn baby’s spine, when viewed from the side, has only one curve, called the primary, or kyphotic, curve. There are twelve thoracic vertebral bones in the primary curve. The secondary, or lordotic, curves develop when the infant is able to sit and learns to crawl, stand, and walk. The developed human spine has two lordotic curves, one at the neck, the other at the lower back. Together, the seven cervical vertebrae and the five lumbar vertebrae of the lordotic curve total twelve, exactly matching the number of bones in the kyphotic or primary curve.
Studies of the human body have clearly demonstrated that the curves of the spine are essential to its strength and functioning. A straight spine would put excessive stress on the lower vertebrae, and a spine with only a single curve would provide less flexibility for maintaining balance. When the primary or secondary curves of the spine become distorted, not only are the biomechanics of the spine adversely affected, but the nervous system as a whole is compromised.
Like muscles, bones can lose their tone. Factors such as insufficient use, trauma from overuse or accidents, poor nutrition, stress, and disease can result in bone degeneration and loss of tone. Lack of gravity also causes a loss of bone tone. NASA reports a thinning of bones in astronauts who stay in orbit for many weeks; they also become about one inch taller because the spine expands in the absence of gravity.
Resonant Frequencies of the Vertebrae
Bone is an excellent conductor of vibration and is therefore capable of resonance. The fact that each vertebra in the spine has a characteristic shape prompted me to wonder if each might also have a characteristic, or fundamental, vibrational frequency. It turns out that indeed each vertebra does have a resonant frequency.
After years of research and testing thousands of people, I have determined what seems to be the fundamental resonant frequency for each of the twenty-four “movable” vertebrae. More importantly, my research shows that applying the correct vibrational frequency to a vertebra can induce sympathetic vibration that restores the vertebra’s “natural” fundamental frequency.3 When all the
vertebrae are restored to their optimal frequencies, harmonic waves reverberate up and down the spine, creating a standing wave that maintains the functional integrity of the spine.
If the bones of the spine lose their tone, the harmonic waves traveling up and down the spine are interrupted. This can lead to an exaggeration or lessening of the curves of the spine, which in turn affects the stability and flexibility of the spine and the integrity of the nervous system.
A healthy spine generates its own harmonic waves that not only maintain the spine’s structural and neural integrity, but also are transmitted to the brain and the autonomic nervous system where they help balance breath, heart rate, digestion, and other body functions. In other words, the vibrations of a healthy spine help keep the body’s entire nervous system “in tune.”
The nervous system is also entrained by the beating of the heart. Isaac Bentov’s pioneering research studies revealed that meditation creates a standing wave between the heart and the brain.4 During deep meditation, the timing of the pressure pulses traveling down the aorta is altered until it is in phase with the reflected pressure pulses from the aortic bifurcation, which produces a standing wave that is transmitted to the skeleton, skull, and spine. Bentov wrote: “When an individual achieves a deep state of meditation, breathing becomes slow and shallow and the heart activity becomes synchronized so as to create a resonant vibrational link between the heart and the brain.”5
It is apparent there are resonant systems in the human body that enable our various body parts to work in harmony. I believe these resonant systems are essential to maintaining healthy, harmonious functioning. Prolonged disruption of the body’s inherent harmony produces disease; one way to restore the body’s balance is the judicious application of vibrations.
Joshua Leeds, author of The Power of Sound, stresses the importance of using care with sound: “Be aware of the power of sound; use it consciously. As with any substance, there can be positive and negative applications. Consider music and sound as ‘thinking people’s drugs.’ They can enhance, arouse, or depress. Like food, water, wine, sex, and pharmaceuticals, it all comes down to frequency and dosage. The question becomes: how often and how much? Applied to the effectiveness of auditory stimulation, as well as nervous system balance, the answer is always individual. This is the nature of sound: subtle, powerful, personal.”6
Applied Kinesiology/Muscle Testing
Tuning forks play an important role in vibrational medicine. They are also used in a variety of other vibrational therapies. In Acutonics, for instance, precisely calibrated tuning forks are applied to acupressure and acupuncture points; in Holographic Repatterning, developed by Chloe Wordsworth, tuning forks are one of the modalities used to regain harmonic resonance throughout the body.
In my studies of the harmonic frequency of the vertebra, tuning forks were a convenient tool. However, the testing process was cumbersome because many different tuning forks had to be applied to each of the vertebrae. A hand-held electric vibrator that can be quickly and easily tuned to precise frequencies would have been a more efficient tool, but at the time such a device was not available to me.
How can one determine the effect of a vibrating tuning fork on the vertebra? One way would be to detect the sympathetic vibrations in the vertebra after the tuning fork was removed. But I could not find an instrument to do just that. Fortunately, because of my training as a chiropractor, I was familiar with a diagnostic system called applied kinesiology that uses muscle testing as a primary feedback mechanism to evaluate how the body reacts to various stimuli applied to the nervous system. Applied kinesiology has also been defined as a functional neurology, the study of how the nervous system controls muscle and body function. Originally, the technique was developed to evaluate muscle strength in polio patients, and most people continue to refer to the technique as “muscle testing” even though the term is somewhat of a misnomer. Today, the test is rarely used to determine if muscles are strong or weak. What actually is tested is the control of the muscle function by the nervous system.
Two physical therapists, H.O. Kendall and F.M.P. Kendall published the 1949 book, Muscles—Testing and Function, which is the basis for modern muscle testing techniques. Utilizing his patients, chiropractor George J. Goodheart Jr. discovered that the test could be used as a diagnostic tool to determine neuromuscular functioning. He refined the technique and re-named it applied kinesiology.
Muscle testing can be applied to any limb, but most often an arm or leg is used. Because it is convenient, the arm-extension method is most common. The person being tested is asked to extend an arm. The test can be conducted while the person is standing, sitting, or lying down. The examiner puts a hand on the extended arm on or close to the wrist, and asks the subject to resist having the arm forced down. Firm pressure is applied, and the pressure is slowly increased. Usually the muscles will lock-in and the subject easily resists the applied pressure (if the arm fails to resist pressure, another limb can be used). The applied pressure test is done several times so the examiner can determine the strength and tone of the muscle group when it tests strong. It is also important to slowly increase the pressure so that the subject’s nervous system and muscles can adapt and respond to the force placed upon them. A rapid increase in pressure or too much force will overwhelm the resistance and push the arm down.
After the strong test has been established, parts of the body can be tested for dysfunction or imbalance. The patient or examiner touches the part of the body while the arm test is repeated. A strong response means no impairment or lesion, but if the arm suddenly oscillates or drops, then there is a malfunction in the touched region. Prominent leaders in the field of natural medicine have found muscle testing to be valid, repeatable, and universal. In my experience, muscle testing has proved to be an accurate, non-
subjective test for accessing the body’s wisdom and acquiring invaluable information. Because muscle testing is exquisitely specific, it allows one to identify individual vertebra that are not functioning optimally.
In my research, I first determined whether a vertebra responds to tuning fork vibrations. I found that indeed there was a response, but not to all frequencies. Next came testing each vertebra to the twelve semitones in a full octave and determining to which frequencies the vertebra responded. In these initial studies I worked with a fellow researcher. One of us would perform a muscle test on the subject while the other pressed a vibrating tuning fork on the bare skin over a vertebra. The subject and the researcher who performed the muscle test did not know which tuning fork was applied, and in many cases, the muscle tester also was unaware of which vertebra was being tested. The testing was arduous—twenty-four vertebrae each tested with twelve different tuning forks.
The tests revealed that each vertebra had a preferred frequency which generated a strong muscle test response. Other frequencies produced a weak response. My research showed that the twelve semitones of the first octave below middle-C, which has a frequency range of 130.81-Hertz (cycles per second) to 233.08 Hertz, has a direct relation to the twelve bones of each spinal curve.7
To determine if the response was to a tone or note instead of a specific frequency, I tested two vertebrae that responded to 130.81 Hz C tone with higher pitches of C, and in all cases the higher pitches failed to produce a strong muscle test response. This indicated that a vertebra responds to a specific frequency, but not to the harmonic multiples of that frequency.
Why do bones of the spine respond to the same vibrational frequencies that are found in a single octave? I don’t know, and perhaps future research may show that the optimal resonant frequencies of the spine are not exactly the same as those in the musical octave. And that won’t matter because what is important is that there are resonant frequencies to which the vertebrae do respond, the implications of which go beyond the scope of our present knowledge. In fact, I believe that with the correct resonant frequencies, the body can create new neural connections and regenerate spinal and muscular lesions.
Music affects not only our minds, but the body as a whole. Music has been used to move us in many ways. It is used in ceremonies and celebrations. It marches soldiers to war, and is used to celebrate peace. Music soothes a crying soul and lulls a child to sleep. In cultures throughout the world, music has been used to heal. Because music is as old as mankind (more than forty thousand years ago, Neanderthals played the flute) I believe that music—like speech—is an innate human trait. Our bodies respond to the pitch and rhythm of music. So it should be of no surprise to find that the bones respond to pitch, to specific notes in our musical scale.
With BioSonic Repatterning, John Beaulieu, ND, PhD, uses tuning forks to realign the nervous system and to restore the natural rhythms of the body. When two different tuning forks—say C and G—are made to vibrate simultaneously, they produce a harmonic sound called an interval. This particular interval is known as a fifth because G is the fifth note in the scale of C major. Beaulieu believes that the vibrational effect of specific intervals generates a healing response in the body.8 The fifth interval has one of the most powerful healing effects because the ratio of its frequencies is 3:2 and this ratio plays an important role in the physiology of our bodies. For example, the “optimal” blood pressure of 120/80 is a 3:2 ratio, and the sodium-potassium pump that generates the action potential of nerves and muscles operates on a sodium/potassium ratio of 3:2.9
After I completed my initial research, I undertook a subsequent study using two measuring devices, as well as muscle testing, to determine some of the effects of bone toning on the spine. One device delivered a low-force impulse to measure the tension of muscles along the spine, while the second device measured the spine’s surface EMGs and heat differences (infrared thermography). The results showed that contracted muscles along the spine were relaxed by bone toning, and muscles that had been slack showed increased tone. Further research is warranted, and it is my hope that MTs and bodyworkers will be among those who will pursue the study of bone toning and vibrational therapy.
Bodywork and Bone Toning
Some of the astounding effects of a bone toning treatment include relaxation of the central nervous system and balancing the autonomic nervous system. Massage and bodywork practitioners can take advantage of relaxation effects of bone toning to restore the body to a more natural, harmonic, and homeostatic state. The use of bone toning can augment and enhance the success of any massage or bodywork treatment.
An experienced MT or bodyworker should be able to do bone toning easily. Because bone toning utilizes vibration as an adjunct to massage, no formal training is required. The technique of applying the vibrating tuning fork to the vertebra is straightforward.
Bone toning can be done before or after a massage or bodywork session. In my practice, I usually do the bone toning before bodywork because restoring the harmonic integrity of the spine also induces muscular relaxation. In some cases, however, it may be preferable to reinforce a bodywork treatment with bone toning after the work is done. Whether bone toning is done before or after depends on the circumstances and the judgment of the practitioner.
A good starting point is to determine where the client is experiencing muscular tension. Complaints such as headaches, stomach, heart, or lung problems offer clues about the region of the spine to check. Headache often responds to toning the first and second cervical vertebrae and the first and second thoracic vertebrae. For visceral changes such as digestive disorders, or heart and lungs dysfunctions, look at where the nerves for that function exit the spine. For example, the spinal nerves that innervate the lungs are at the level of the second and third thoracic vertebrae. Several vertebra in this region can be toned successively.
Use muscle testing to check if a vertebra needs to be toned. Touch the vertebra with one hand and perform the muscle test with your other hand. In most cases, using the patient’s arm or leg for muscle testing is the most convenient. If the response to the muscle test is weak, this is an indication that the vertebra would benefit from toning.
To conduct a muscle test, ask the person being tested to extend an arm. Place your hand on, or close to, the wrist and ask the subject to resist having the arm forced down. Apply firm pressure, increasing it slowly and steadily until either there is locked-in resistance or the arm suddenly moves down. Do not increase the pressure rapidly. This slow increase in pressure allows the subject’s nervous system and muscles to adapt and respond normally. When a person is on a table, muscle testing may be performed on a raised leg, with pressure applied near the ankle.
After a vertebra is toned, you can use muscle testing again to verify if the bone has responded to the stimulation of vibration. A strong response to a muscle test indicates that the toning has been effective. If the muscle-test response is weak, then repeat the bone toning.
The tuning forks should be within easy reach of the therapist. Hold the selected tuning fork by the stem and tap it firmly against hard rubber. Hold the fork at an angle while it is struck, and make the strike using wrist action. With a good strike, vibrations will last twenty to thirty seconds.
Place the stem of the vibrating tuning fork on the bare skin directly on the vertebra and hold it there for about ten to fifteen seconds. If there is fat or muscle padding over the bone, a second application of the tuning fork may be necessary for the vertebra to “recognize” its frequency.
I have found many conditions that can be treated successfully with bone toning. Headaches caused by tension in the neck muscles are particularly receptive to bone-toning treatments, which relax the sub-occipital muscles and the trapezius and increases nerve and blood flow. Individuals with fibromyalgia, chronic muscle tension and arthritis also respond well and report greater muscle relaxation, easier movement of joints, decreased inflammation, decreased stress levels, and restful sleep. To maintain the beneficial effects of bone toning, it may be necessary to repeat the treatment at regular intervals until the body regains the ability to keep itself in balance.
Although the use of vibrational energy is used primarily for diagnostics in conventional medicine, researchers are beginning to explore the healing effects of vibrations. Some orthopedic surgeons report that applying electromagnetic vibrations can accelerate the healing of a fractured bone, but the vibrations must be of a certain frequency.10 In fact, any incorrect frequency not only interferes with healing, but could be detrimental to the healing process.
Another medical researcher has shown that regular doses of vibrations will increase bone density.11 In this study, one group of sheep stood on a vibrating platform for twenty minutes a day for one year. A control group shared the same pasture but did not receive the vibration treatments. Bone density in the vibration animals was 34 percent higher than in the control animals. The researchers are now conducting human clinical trials with the goal of increasing bone strength in the elderly and patients with bone-wasting disorders. If the human trials show that simple, regular doses of vibration increases bone density, then NASA may have a solution to the bone loss problem of astronauts when they are in a gravity-free environment for a suspended period of time.
We know very little about how vibrational energy is transferred into cells and what events the vibrations trigger. At the University of California in Los Angeles, an atomic-force microscope is being used to measure the vibrations of a yeast cell.12 A tiny probe is placed on the cell’s membrane and both the amplitude and the frequency of the vibrations are recorded. Healthy yeast cells have a high-pitch sound, and mutated cells have a much lower pitch. The researchers hope that this technique, which they call sonocytology, will lead to new diagnostic methods for determining the health of human cells, or early detection of disease and cancer.
The resonant frequencies of the different types of cells in the human body have yet to be determined. Each system in the body, each organ, each type of tissue has a natural resonant frequency at which it vibrates. In order to determine what these resonant frequencies are, we need to create new electronic devices that can be tuned to deliver specific frequencies to specific regions in the body. With such instruments we can then concentrate on learning how to apply vibrations to promote healing.
Practitioners of sound therapy, or sound work, utilize vibration, resonance, and entrainment to modify physiological and neurological responses. Resonance is a key part of sound healing, and of any type of vibrational therapy. Resonant links are active throughout the body, and the oscillating systems between the heart, brain, nervous system, and the spine are based on simple, harmonic standing waves. These harmonic impulses help to restore balance in the autonomic nervous system which controls breath, heart rate, digestion, the release of hormones, and most other physiological activities. When the bones of the spine lose their tone, re-tuning them with bone toning can restore the spine’s role in maintaining the body’s natural harmony.
June Leslie Wieder, DC, is a graduate of the Swedish Institute of Massage, a Trager practitioner, and a chiropractor. For more information, visit her consumer’s guide to structural therapy website: drwieder.com. A detailed account of the discovery and application of the resonant frequencies of the vertebrae and the appropriate guidelines are given in her book, Song of the Spine, available from Amazon or www.songofthespine.com.
1. Deane Juhan, Touched by the Goddess (Barrytown, NY: Barrytown Limited, 2001), 104.
2. Hans Jenny, Cymatics: A Study of Wave Phenomena and Vibration (Newmarket, NH: MACROmedia, 2001). This edition is a complete compilation of the original two volumes published in 1967 and 1974.
3. June Leslie Wieder, Song of the Spine. (N. Charleston, SC: Booksurge, 2004).
4. Itzak Bentov summarized his findings in a chapter titled "Micromotion of the Body as a Factor of the Development of the Nervous System" in Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment, edited by John White (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1990).
6. Joshua Leeds, The Power of Sound (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2001), 101.
7. The resonant frequency for each vertebra is listed in my book, Song of the Spine, along with guidance on how to use these frequencies in bone-toning sessions.
8. Shirley Vanderbilt, “The Music of Life—Biosonic Repatterning creates resonance in the body.” Massage & Bodywork, December/January 2002, 28.
9. These ratios are from standard physiological sources.
10. To be effective for bone fracture healing, the electromagnetic field must be low energy and very low frequency, in the range of 1 to 60 Hz. The effectiveness of various parameters are still to be investigated. Oscillating electromagnetic fields have recently been shown to promote healing of spinal nerve injuries. Cyberkinetic Neurotechnology is commercializing the neuro device.
11. The original research by Professor Clinton Rubin, Department of Biomedical Engineering, State University of New York at Stony Brook, was published in Nature, 9 August, 2001. Additional information is at www.webmd.com/content/article/34/1728_85890.
12. Sonocytology is being developed in the laboratory of Professor James Gimzewski, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles. For images and sounds of vibrating yeast cells, go to www.chem.ucla.edu/dept/Faculty/gimzewski/teapot.