Archive for May, 2016

Elegy to Remo Belli

Visionary innovator leaves legacy of drumming for healing the human condition.

by Ping Ho, Founder and Director of UCLArts and Healing

Dear Remo,

I will miss our telephone calls that began with ni hao in Chinese and ended with either zai jian or “OOO-K young lady.”

I will miss your strength of conviction, when sharing the harmony you witnessed – in every sense of the word – among diverse participants in drum circles.

I will miss your random exciting news of a connection made around the globe.   Or experiences that validated your observation of the same social conditions everywhere.  Or possibilities for healing individuals and communities, through drumming.

I will miss the twinkle in your eye when revealing the latest invention from your workshop, intended to empower the community with accessible self-expression.

I will miss the Proud Papa tours of your pristine manufacturing plant with happy employees that could easily have replaced the set for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

I will miss the radiance of your inner artist with a pair of mallets in hand.  And the passion for rhythm that you instilled in me.

I will miss your willingness to walk the talk when investing in innovative projects that no agency would have the courage to support.

I will miss the myriad ways that you found to “do well by doing good”.

I will miss your howling laughter whenever I would share an inadvertent business lesson, which you had already known for years.

I will miss the privilege of your mentorship and your faith in our work – and in me.

I pledge to carry on your vision and legacy.

With gratitude beyond words,


– – – – – – – –

For those wishing to learn more about Remo Belli, please see his New York Times obituary.


Do-It-Yourself Music Therapy

Barbara Reuer

by Barbara Reuer, PhD, MT-BC
reprinted from the MusicWorx, Inc. website

When you hear a song you like on the radio, your entire mood lightens. You sing along, hum the chorus, or snap your fingers. Listening to a tape or CD of your favorite artist help you relax or feel more energized. You may even use music to practice yoga or meditate.

When a favorite song comes on the radio, we all turn up the volume and listen more closely or sing along—and instantly feel better than we did moments before. It turns out that there’s a lot of science behind this phenomenon.

New research in the field of music therapy continues to expand experts’ understanding of how music contributes to good health. Whether your taste runs to Bach, the Beatles or Beyoncé, you can use music therapy techniques at home to boost immunity, reduce stress, ease certain symptoms, or just feel and function better overall.

“You don’t need to read music, play an instrument or even sing on key to benefit from music therapy. The ability to respond to music is natural within every person,” said Barbara Reuer, PhD, director of MusicWorx Inc., a music therapy practice and training program in San Diego.

Music’s profound effects on health have been demonstrated in many studies. Examples:

1  When volunteers listened to joyful music, their blood vessels dilated by 26% on average, improving the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients.

2  Increased levels of germ-fighting immunoglobulins were found in the saliva of study participants after they sang and played instruments.

3  Patients listened to music of their choice before, during and after eye surgery… a control group did not listen to music. In both groups, blood pressure rose just before the operation. But in the music group, blood pressure quickly came back down, whereas in the control group, it remained elevated during the procedure.

4  Stroke patients with impaired vision on one side could perceive objects more accurately while listening to music they enjoyed than while in silence or listening to music they did not like.

In a nutshell: Music has been shown to . . .

  • boost the immune system
    • lower blood pressure
    • ease chronic and acute pain
    • relieve nausea
    • improve muscle control (for instance, in Parkinson’s patients)
    • promote visual and auditory abilities
    • improve brain function, focus and memory (including in Alzheimer’s patients)
    • reduce stress, anxiety and muscle tension
    • combat insomnia
    • lift mood

While almost anyone can benefit from music, for a person with a significant health problem, it is most effective to work with a board-certified music therapist, Dr. Reuer suggested. Treatment might include listening to specific types of music, singing, songwriting, playing simple instruments, moving to music and/or doing tactile exercises involving vibration. Some insurance policies cover the cost.

Referrals: American Music Therapy Association phone (301) 589–3300

Try This at Home

For an emotional and physical boost, you can tap into the power of music therapy on your own every day. Dr. Reuer explained, “You’re not just putting on a CD as background music. Instead, you are engaged in the music—for instance, by singing or playing an instrument or by listening to music in a focused, intentional way.” What to do . . .

  • Pick appropriate music. No single style of music is more therapeutic than all the rest. What matters most is the effect that you are trying to achieve and your personal reaction to the music, Dr. Reuer said. For instance, to promote relaxation, listen to music that you find soothing while you practice deep breathing. For pain management, look for music that focuses your mind on things other than your discomfort. To stimulate memory, experiment with music you enjoyed as a teen. To lower blood pressure, use a home blood pressure monitor before and after each music session to identify music that has the desired effect for you.
  • Sing or hum (remembering to breathe deeply) in the car or around the house. If you used to play an instrument, take it up again. Dr. Reuer urged, “Try not to pass judgment on your singing abilities or get frustrated if you make mistakes as you play your instrument. The idea is to be in the moment and just let go.”

Source: Barbara Reuer, PhD, NMT (neurologic music therapist), MT-BC (music therapist-board certified), is founder and director of MusicWorx Inc., a music therapy practice and clinical training program in San Diego, and author of Group Rhythm and Drumming with Older Adults (American Music Therapy).

Poetry Shares Rewarding Brain Effects with Music

A new study by Adam Zeman and colleagues from the University of Exeter used functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques to find that poetry, compared to prose, uniquely activates brain areas associated with introspection, such as the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes.

The research team also found that emotionally charged words activated the same (predominantly right side) areas of the brain that register emotional responses to music, associated with shivers down the spine.

UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman has reported that putting words to feelings may help with emotion regulation.  His laboratory conducted brain scans of 30 individuals, as they described distressing pictures, and discovered that putting words to feelings reduces activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain associated with emotion and fear) and increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for self-regulation).  They also found that the effects were greater for long-hand writing than typing.

Click here to purchase the study.
Zeman A, Milton F, Smith A, Rylance R.  By Heart An fMRI Study of Brain Activation by Poetry and Prose. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2013; 20 (9-10): 132-158(27).

Click here to view the article.
Lieberman, M. D., Eisengerger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18(5), 421-428.

Dance and Aging: A Critical Review of Findings in Neuroscience

old couple dancing.jpg

This article reviews research that measures the benefits of a variety of dance forms with older adults, for cognitive and sensorimotor performance (such as balance and gait), social and emotional wellbeing, and underlying neurobiological factors.

 Besides reporting the measurement methods for each study, this article draws three important conclusions from the studies as a whole:

1.  Sensorimotor performance (such as balance, gait, speed, and functional exercise-based capacity) seems to improve with long-term and not short-term (e.g., 3–5 days per week for 2 weeks) participation.

2. All forms of dance (cultural, social, modern, jazz, mixed, ballroom, dance/movement therapy) led to significant improvements in static, dynamic or functional balance.

3.  Many positive benefits were found in cognitive and sensorimotor performance.

Click here to read the article.
Kshtriya S, Barstaple R, Rabinovich DB, and DeSouza JFX.  Dance and Aging: A Critical Review of Findings in Neuroscience.  American Journal of Dance Therapy. (2015) 37:81–112 DOI 10.1007/s10465-015-9196-7.

New Online Creative Caregiving Guide

NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide

Imagine a world where every caregiving act for adults with alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders contributes to quality days for both the caregiver and their care partner.

The public is invited to utilize FREE video clips and curriculum materials developed by the National Center for Creative Aging to facilitate cognition, self-expression, movement and social connection in adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders.*

The guide is constantly expanding with lessons for additional languages and cultures.

* Note from Ping Ho, MA, MPH – Founding Director of UCLArts and Healing:

The lessons are applicable to other populations such as special needs and young children.

Social Competence Predicts Life Outcomes

Social competence
The prestigious American Journal of Public Health published a study in July 2015 that supports the development of social-emotional learning as a public health mandate.

753 kindergarteners from low socioeconomic neighborhoods were rated by their teachers on social competence and followed by Jones et al for 19 years (to approximately age 25) to determine outcomes in education, employment, public assistance, crime, mental health and substance use.

Social competence was measured by such characteristics as “cooperates with peers without prompting,” “is helpful to others,” “very good at understanding feelings,” and “resolves problems on own.”

Even after taking into consideration gender, race, number of parents in the home, socioeconomic status, early childhood aggression, early academic ability and other factors, social competence in kindergarten predicted:

  • graduation from high school on time
  • completion of a college degree
  • stable or full-time employment in young adulthood
  • less use of special education services
  • fewer repeated grades in high school
  • less use of or requests for public housing or public assistance
  • less involvement with police or detainment before adulthood
  • less likelihood of arrest or appearing in court, and fewer arrests for a severe offense in young adulthood
  • fewer days of binge drinking or marijuana use
  • fewer years on medication for emotional or behavioral issues through high school

Social-emotional learning can be effectively facilitated through supportive arts experiences informed by mental health practices because they are experiential, engaging, embodied and, thus, enduring (Petty and Caccioppo).

The arts are also uniquely able to enhance positive emotions, which builds social connection, despite racial and cultural differences (Frederickson).

Shared creative experiences can deepen possibilities for reflection and meaningful dialogue, in an organic process that develops empathy and empowerment (Freire).

The synchrony that occurs in arts experiences (whether singing the same note, doing the same movement, accepting an idea and running with it as in improvisational theater, or simple eye contact) is a form of empathic communication that develops social competence (Kokal).


Frederickson BL.  Are you getting enough positivity in your diet?

Frederickson BL.  How Positive Emotions Heal.  Presentation delivered at the International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health 2012 on16 May 2012, 8:15 AM-9:00 AM.

Freire P.  Education for Critical Consciousness.  London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1974

Jones DE, Greenberg M, and Crowley M.  Early social-emotional functioning and public health: the relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness.  American Journal of Public Health.  Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015: e1-e8.  doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630,

Kokal I, Engel A, Kirschner S, and Keysers C.  Synchronized Drumming Enhances Activity in the Caudate and Facilitates Prosocial Commitment – If the Rhythm Comes Easily. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27272, 2011.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027272,

Petty RE and Caccioppo JT. Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change. New York: Springer-Verlag,1986.