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Music therapy

The power of music

Ms. Marie Carlsson

Editor’s note

Everybody feels that music heals. But nobody knows how. This experiential article opens the window a little. Through the Bonny method of guided imagery and music the author explores the deep effects on the inner being. Music ceases to be the domain of artists alone and glides into the field of medicine.

This article opens new vistas in the field of healing...

“An ear of mind withdrawn from the outward’s rhyme
Discovered the seed-sounds of the eternal Word,
The rhythm and music heard that built the worlds,
And seized in things the bodiless Will to be. (1) “

The origin of creation is sound. Music or harmony is the source and origin of nature (2). It is life itself. Jalal-ud-Din Rumi, Sufi Master and poet, says,

“All day and night, music,
a quiet, bright
reed song. If it
fades, we fade” (3).

Music is beauty. It can lead us into the mystical state beyond words. Helen Bonny (1985), a music therapist and founder of the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), describes music as,

“the language of immediacy” (4). She says,

“Music as a medium of the moment can be an ‘opener of the doors of perception´” (5).

At that moment,

“you break the barriers of limitation into All-That-Is” (6). The Mother says,

“ music is one of the methods of inner opening and one of the most powerful” (7).

Since words cannot truly express the experience of music, to make the written words of these pages come alive, feel free to resonate with your own experiences of music. Let yourself be with the music that takes you beyond, the music of your heart. The Mother says,

“The role of music lies in helping the consciousness to uplift itself towards the spiritual heights”(8).


In the field of music therapy, the inherent qualities of music are used to facilitate transformation and growth. The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) is a music therapy method developed by Dr. Helen Bonny in the 1970’s. She (2002) says, GIM is, “a process of listening to classical music in a deeply relaxed state of consciousness to stimulate imagery, feelings, memories that lead the client to psychological and spiritual transformation” (9).

In the first part, the GIM method will be introduced. This is followed by a presentation of a study of experiences of energy and light, evoked during the music journey of the GIM session.

The seeds of this study are found in my own GIM experiences of energy and light. These experiences had a profound and transformational effect, as well as led me to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. When patients started to have similar experiences, a question based on the therapeutic process in a clinical setting, emerged: how does the experience of energy and/or light influence the person/the experience of the person? To answer this question, 140 experiences of energy and/or light were explored.

The Bonny method

In the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), Western classical music is used to facilitate healing and growth. Grounded in her own mystical experience while playing the violin, Bonny was inspired to find a way for others to be ‘infused’ (10) by music in a similar way. Participating in a research project at Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, in which the clinical applications of mind-altering drugs were explored, Bonny enhanced her knowledge of the holding and expanding effects of music on the consciousness of a person, as well as its healing potential. Out of this work, the GIM method developed. Today, the method is practiced in several countries, i.e. the US, Canada, Australia, Germany and Sweden.

The GIM session

In an encounter with music, the state of listening influences the experience. Lamb says,

“Music jealously guards her deepest secrets. She yields them only to those who listen with full concentration. To these she extends a life-nourishing embrace” (11).

The GIM experience starts with a relaxation of the body. The intention of the relaxation is to help the person to let go of the body and mind, and open up for a deeper and more focused state of listening. The journey into a receptive and altered state of consciousness begins. The Mother says,

“the best way of listening is to be like a still mirror and very concentrated, very silent” (12).

After the relaxation, the traveller moves into a state of visualization. An image is either introduced by the therapist or emerges naturally from within the person. While the person is experiencing and exploring the imagery, the music is introduced.

With the music as a companion and guide, the inner journey of the traveller expands. By letting the richness of the music fully enter one’s awareness and by exploring the imagery, emotions, memories that are evoked, the experience deepens and develops. When music touches the deeper aspects of one’s being, the core and inherent nature of the music can be revealed and experienced. The Mother says, “If you listen well and let yourself go, you move on and glide, glide into a psychic consciousness.... One can easily glide within it and climb back to the psychic origin of music” (13).

The effect of music listening as used during the GIM session is described by Bonny and Savary. They say,

“Music listened to in altered states of consciousness can bring out things in you that nothing or no one has ever previously elicited. Many describe the experience as full of insight; others find a healing force; some let the music take them to unexplored provinces of the psyche; while for others it provides a heightened awareness to their ordinary world” (14).

During the music journey, the traveller communicates his/her experiences to the therapist.

Western classical music is rich in harmony, melody, rhythm, timbre, dynamics, tension and resolution. It is holding. Like a mother, it can soothe, rock and reassure the traveller about the safety and beauty of existence. It may also stimulate the person to explore and uncover unknown areas of consciousness. At the beginning of a piece, the music introduces a mood or a feeling. Through a development of the various elements of the music, the mood is altered and a complex musical elaboration takes place. This melodic and harmonic complexity supports and encourages the person to move deeper and explore the secrets of the inner realm. He/she may connect with memories and deep feelings, work through inner conflicts and tension, expand into transpersonal realms, etc. As the music moves towards resolution, the traveller is guided towards reaching an inner state of resolution of the experience that is currently explored. A transformation, a new understanding or perspective emerges. Through this exploration and expansion, the core of one’s being may shine through and be experienced. The music moves the person to the depths, where a taste of the Divine is offered.

“I caught the echoes of a word supreme
And metred the rhythm-beats of infinity
And listened through music for the
eternal Voice (15).”

The music that is used during GIM consists of a sequence of classical works. After the session is completed, a verbal dialogue usually takes place between the traveller and the therapist for a process of integration to begin.

GIM therapy has been shown to enhance — “self-understanding, therapeutic goals and spiritual transformation” (16).

In this process of growth, experiences of a transpersonal nature play an important role. In the next section, the experiences of energy and light are explored. As an exploration based on clinical work, I hope it will also offer a glimpse into the nature of GIM experiences.

The influence of experiences of energy and/ or light

The material of this study is based on 140 experiences of energy/light of four people: three clients and myself. Each experience has been explored separately, asking the question: how does the experience of energy and/or light influence the person/the experience of the person? During a GIM session, the therapist writes down the experience of the traveller, expressed during the journey in the music. The experiences of energy/light are based on these written transcripts.

In exploring the question mentioned above, patterns emerged, i.e. the energy/light influences the body of the person. Each pattern (category) will be presented, followed by a selection of examples. In some cases, only the part of the experience that exemplifies the specific category is presented. At other times, a larger extent of the experience is introduced, to offer a greater context. While reading, you may ask yourself the question: isn’t category two a natural consequence of the experience expressed in number three? That may very well be true. This exploration focuses only on the person’s expression of his/her experience at that moment in time. An experience may also fit in more than one category at the same time.

I am now opening a door to experiences that are precious to the owners. Let us tread the territory with gracious and thoughtful steps. How does the experience of energy and/or light influence the person, the experience of the person?

1. Energy/light influences the body

Sometimes, the energy/light influences the subtle energies of the body. At other times, a more concrete change in the physical body is described.

"Yellow energy is coming in, re-arranging my whole body ..."

"Red energy from earth is coming up my feet and legs. The energy is working to get through the belly, pelvis area. It is stuck there. It's working on it. I'm taking off my clothes at the same time. The energy moves up. It is locked at the top of the head. There's a lid. Red energy is trying to break through it. A wooden lid. I try to get it off with my hands. It needs fire to burn it."

"It's like I'm in a cave and I can expand and then go up to the surface. Energy is working on me, helping my body to be a container.
When the energy came up to my head, it opened the lid without force."

"A big cross with a very powerful energy is coming down from the sky.... I'm in the big, big cross. I'm floating in it and it's floating in me. I can feel the energy of the cross within me. It's like it's getting the other energy out [the existing energy of the body] and this energy in. It's totally changing something."
"A person came - Jesus.... He is putting his hands on my right arm and leg healing them. I feel energy from his hands. He wants me to let him in. I'll try."

"Jesus is becoming a part of me and I become bigger, because his field [energy field] is larger. He is still working on different parts of my body, because the vibration of his energy is higher."

"I feel the energy going through a barrier, that I have between my legs and feet."

"Energy is moving from underneath. The goddess says: 'Just go into it.' It is all around me, the different colors and sounds, too. I'm bigger and it is all in my body. I'm slowly expanding. All the water and all the landscapes are in my body. Outer space, too."

"I'm being hooked up to the bigger mind [purple energy] through a spiral - to re-charge my body and mind - to keep myself on that high level."

"There is gold pouring into my body. Light all around too - a white light. I notice that my body is different. Many layers of myself. Not bodies. I don't know what it is."

"Pain in my shoulders and back. Light is entering my whole body - chi or... 'You are not supposed to be scared of the darkness. You are to take in the light.' It feels good in the body. The light will heal me. It feels warm in my whole body. The heavy load on my shoulders is gone."
"Everything is red - a red light. It comes in waves. Into the body, too. It is warm. My body feels more flexible."

"I'm lying down in the air somehow. I'm big. Yellow energy coming into my body. I don't really experience boundaries of my body. It's really beautiful."

"The intense light is coming over and over again. It creates heat. It is re-fuelling me, charging my batteries."

When the energy/light enters the experience, the body sometimes becomes more tense. As the energy continues to flow, the body relaxes.

"Here is the light again. A warm and comfortable energy. It is a re-fuelling of energy. Oh, what a light! Tension in my back and the jaws. The light is creating the tension. It is not an uncomfortable light. Now I'm relaxed."

"I'm in a green light. It is sometimes changing into blue. It feels warm in the body, like electricity. Especially in the right side of my body. I was tense like hell for a while. It felt like my right leg became longer, but now it is relaxed. It is pulsating in my fingers. It almost hurts. My whole arm is pulsating. It's almost burning.... An intense light. It gives me energy. I feel lighter."

"The light is flowing into my stomach and chest, down into the feet. Electricity. A white, blue, light - blue light. Pretty cold. The body is becoming more stiff. It gives me tension. I'm tense all over. It has changed color now; yellow, golden. Warm and nice. I'm more relaxed. I have had a pressure over my eyes. It is almost gone now. Now the energy is more red. Like a bed of live coal. The intensity is shifting. It's easing the pressure."

"Everything is light. But it felt sad and heavy. It felt like my head was going to explode. I feel it in my head and back. The light can take away the discomfort. The pain disappeared."

2. The energy/light influences the emotions

"Light is entering my whole body - chi or ... Light, like a laser beam, is entering my body. It is cutting away the bitterness. It doesn't work. The light is not giving up. The light is insisting. I have the bitterness in my hand, like a small, shrivelled up orange with eyes. Let's see if he can be happy. It is getting more round. It is not bitter now, mostly surprised. It has become a small child. Someone says, 'It can grow.´ The child is happy. I feel confident, peaceful."

"He [Jesus] is putting his hands on my right arm and leg healing them. I feel energy from his hands....Calm and peaceful. It is really me. I feel my body, walking. The reason why I'm so peaceful is that there is nothing in my body stopping the energy - so simple."

"The light is going through me. It feels good. I'm starting to feel calm. The light is going through everything. The heaviness disappears. Calmness in my whole body."

"Many different kinds of energy are entering me through the head. It melted all the frozen within. It gave me strength. Courage, too - a clear blue light. Trust - a golden light. Peaceful in my body."
"There is a golden light in the room. It feels like I have come home, where I'm supposed to be. I feel a longing. [Rafael, the guide says:] 'You have to give in to your feeling of longing. You can't always let it go.´ I experience an inner knowing. It will work out fine."

"I'm in a big hall. Golden light. It is going through my whole body. I feel calm and peaceful. I rest and gain strength."

"Energy... blue, purple and white. I'm wrapped in the colors. White light within me. Now the blue color is entering me. I become calm. Now the purple... spiritual power. Light and calm and purple. Happiness deep into my stomach. Deep happiness, peace. The feeling is growing. Both the happiness and the peace."

"The light is all around me. It feels secure. It is all around. It is not disappearing. It seems like it will stay around me, even when I go back [to an ordinary state of consciousness]. It is there. I just don't see it."

"Here is the light again. A warm and comfortable energy. It is a re-fuelling of energy. Oh, what a light!... Almost a little bit sad. Sadness, melancholy."

3. An expansion of consciousness

"I don't know what happened. She and the man are all energy. The castle is golden. She can sense everything, at the same time she is nothing - particles, vibrations. She is still there, sensing. In a similar way, the castle is there, but it is nothing. Ohhh, I feel what she is feeling - heat, vibrations. Hard to describe. I can see 'the heat'. I'm the heat.... Energy is continuing to flow into my legs and thighs.... I'm in the heat. I am no one and at the same time I am everything."

"I'm just in yellow energy flying - in a different sphere, a different world. It's empty space, very calm and peaceful, above everything. She [the Goddess] is showing me this. I'm alone there, but everything is there at the same time. I become everything.... I don't exist as a person, but I'm still every small particle. I want to know why I'm here. There is energy in waves and I'm part of it - dancing, movement, alive. I feel like I'm ... outside of my body and being everything in the air.... I was sucked into the globe of light. Like 'Now it's time you see it'. It [the force] peeled off everything from me. It feels light. There's nothing left - just empty space. Because there is nothing there stopping anything, energy can just come in..... The force, the energy, was so strong, that everything disappeared. Then again, there is the flow of energy."

"Red energy is coming in through my head. The music is so beautiful. All around me, flowers are starting to grow. Energy is pouring out of my body spreading all around. The energy is Her [the Goddess'] grace. It is now expanding, wide, all over and I'm not really a person anymore. I'm part of the energy."

"Fire is coming out of the crystal. I was burned up. I don't know what's left. I only see a spiral of energy in the place where I was left. It's moving up and down... a spiral. I guess that's me. There are more spirals like this one. I'm moving with the others. The Goddess is bringing the energy - spiral, me - up into her arms. I can feel the energy in my body, the energy of the spiral. She says, 'You are my mini-spirit. The latest born.´ Her immense power made this mini-spirit grow, made my body big and then small, normal again filled up my body. It became stronger when it was filled up. My body is now filled with this divine energy."

"It feels like everything is energy. [The guide says,] 'When it is difficult, come back to this state.´ I can come back to this state."

"I am a bubble of light. I'm ascending, becoming like a soap-bubble, but with warm light. It feels good. I don't see where we are going, but I feel secure."

"It is a strength to be a part of the tree. It feels right to be a piece of bark. Now it feels like the light and the tree are one. I'm part of everything. Everything is connected."

4. Further knowledge

"I'm going down to the centre of the earth. I'm being massaged by the energy. The voice [of the red energy spirit] says, 'Just keep centered.´ I balance myself. I see red energy going out. Warm energy. Red vibrations. To carry out the mission, I need to be balanced. I need to be there and stay close to myself. "

"A light is wrapped around both me [the tree] and the bird. The light says, 'I will take care of both you and the bird.´ I need to trust it but I don't have the courage. I know that it can help, but I still don't have the courage. The light says, that I need to ask for help, but I still don't have the courage. I asked the light for help.... Whatever happens, I will have the strength."

"A great light is coming from somewhere. It is telling us, that we can't go on like this. 'Of course, the head needs to be part of it, the heart and the stomach, too.´ The head doesn't want to, but it is coming closer, because it has great respect for the light.... The light says, 'For you to be whole, you need all three of them.´ "

"I fill up with red energy.... The red energy spirit says, 'Stay in touch with me, otherwise you will burn out.'"

"I am the energy and the channel [in the body]. So I can choose to flow or not. I'm flowing down into myself. I can choose where I'm going to flow down to. I'm learning how to do it. I need to be the energy. Then I can use the energy to go into myself. Then energy will flow there."

"It feels secure at the same time. It is probably because of the light. But it is sad. The light said, 'But I have told you, that I will take care of you. Trust me.´ I need to let go."

5. Knowledge about some aspect of life/reality

"I fill up with red energy. I see the beauty. I get it out into the landscape. The music is interconnected with nature. Beauty is the source of everything."

"The music is the energy that makes this process happen, from the base chakra up to the diamond, to the mouth. The music is the energy, movement, that makes this happen. The music is also the diamond. I'm looking for the core of music. I'm waiting and waiting.... I see the energy as a spiral. A red spiral. The music has the shape of a spiral. The music is the spiral."

6. Different qualities of energy

By experiencing the energy/light as deeply as possible, a greater knowing of the specific quality of that energy is sometimes gained.

"The purple energy is the mind power, directing. A strong mind directing this energy to the earth.... It is so intense. It creates upheaval.... It hurts to be re-organized in accordance to the purple, divine mind power."

"Purple all around. She [the Goddess] says, 'It is one of the finest instruments.' Without this organization, there would be no earth, no people or anything. This is the heart of things; earth, systems, organization."

"The energy is very pure. It also has a quality of being like a sword. A wonderful, sharp edge quality."

"I saw the yellow energy and the black energy intertwined. Then I was moving in the black energy. When I expand beyond the black and yellow energy, they become the same. As long as I can expand, they can be the same."

7. A transformation

"The whole cave was blown into pieces. It's no longer dark in the cave. The light did it! We are still in the water. The light is making the old woman curious. She is getting up from the water. The girl is saving me."

"Something special is about to happen. I'm supervising it, making sure everything goes as it is supposed to. People are sitting down, meditating. There is a big cross coming down into the cathedral. A big, yellow cross. I'm taking in the energy. The cathedral is blown to pieces by this power. The cathedral can't hold the power. The energy is spreading throughout the world."

"I see the circle - the sacred space - again. The energy is flowing through. They are holding hands, strengthening the circle even more. The energy becomes so strong. The red spirit is part of the circle. The boundaries of the rocks went out. So much power! It boomed out, so that the rocks spread all over. They are sitting there without their rocks. They don't need the sacred space any longer."

"Something wants to come out of the egg. A beam of light is going through the egg. The light is working on it, to help it come out. A lot of things are coming out of the egg. Tears."

8. A guide

"Now I'm going down into the earth. There is a tunnel of light. I'm following the light. I'm moving towards dark aspects."

"There is a rock wall down there. The girl is pushing on the wall and it's turning. I begin to follow the light, going faster and faster."

"The light from the last session is entering the pool of water.... She is trying to get on the light.... A yellow path is created. She is riding on the path [light].... In front is a cross. It is the leader of the path."

9. An image holding great meaning for the person

"The energy is transformed into a child. It turns golden. The child becomes one with me - one with my heart."

10. Transforms a part of creation

"I have just been through this totally new organization; my body, other people, every thing on earth. The mind [the purple energy] was that strong and organized itself in the most perfect way. It changed everything completely. I can feel that change in myself and in everything else on earth. I saw earth with a powerful purple energy."


"The Divine calls the soul to the joy of the rising Light" (17)

The combination of relaxation, imagery and music offers a means for inner opening, exploration and transformation to occur. By moving the person towards the depth and core of being, the music opens paths to inner states of Beauty and the touch of the Divine.

In the therapeutic process of GIM, experiences of energy and light were found to influence the traveller in the following ways:

1. The energy/light influences the body.

2. The energy/light influences the inner state of the person, i.e. the emotions.

3. The person experiences an expansion of consciousness, identifying with the energy/light.
4. The energy/light influences the person to gain further knowledge of him/herself.

5. The energy/light influences the person to gain general knowledge about some aspect of life/reality.

6. The energy influences the person to explore and experience different qualities of energy.

7. The power of the energy/light enters the imagery of the person, and creates a change, a transformation, of his/her experience.

8. The energy/light functions as a guide, bringing the person's process of exploration forward.

9. The energy/light changes into an image, that holds great meaning for the person.

10. The energy/light transforms a part of creation, not only within the traveller, but also externally.

Through the experiences of energy and light, doors into new dimensions were opened for the travellers. Transformation occurred and world views were expanded and, in two cases, radically changed. The beauty, inherent nature and origin of the music provided the space and state for these experiences to be born.

Through grace, our personal paths towards growth and transformation continue to unfold. The Mother's words lead the way:

"Let Thy Light be in me like a Fire that makes all alive; let Thy divine Love penetrate me." (18)


1. Sri Aurobindo. Savitri. A Legend and a Symbol. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, 1993, p. 273.

2. H.I. Khan. The Mysticism of Sound; The Power of the Word; Cosmic Language. The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan. Geneva, Switzerland; International Headquarters of the Sufi Movement, 1979, p. 78.

3. C. Barks. The Essential Rumi. San Fransisco, CA; Harper sanfransisco, 1995, p. 46.

4. H.L. Bonny. Music - the Language of Immediacy. National Conference of Art Therapies Association, 1985, p. 6.

5. Ibid, p. 15.

6. Ibid, p. 5.

7. The Mother. Anand, K.C. (Ed.). All India Magazine. On Music. Pondicherry, India; Sri Aurobindo Society, 1999, p.16.

8. Ibid, p. 2.

9. L. Summer (Ed.). Music and Consciousness: the Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music by Helen Bonny. Gilsum, NH; Barcelona Publishers, 2002, p.179.

10. H.L. Bonny. Background of the Bonny Method. Excerpts from presentation by Helen Lindquist Bonny. Retrieved May 26, 2002, from, 1999, p.1.

11. Op. Cit. Music and Consciousness: the Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music by Helen Bonny. Gilsum, NH; Barcelona Publishers, 2002, p. 181.

12. Op. Cit. All India Magazine. On Music. Pondicherry, India; Sri Aurobindo Society, 1999, p.16.

13. Ibid, p.10.

14. Bonny, H.L. & Savary, L.M. Music and Your Mind. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1973, p. 19.

15. Op. Cit. Savitri. A Legend and a Symbol. Pondicherry, India; Sri Aurobindo Ash-ram Publication Department, 1993, p.405.

16. Op. Cit. The Bonny Method. Retrieved July 14, 2002, from http://www., p.1.

17. H.D. Hindocha (Ed.). White Roses. Pondicherry, India; The Havyavahana Trust, 1999, p.36.

18. The Mother. Prayers and Meditations. Pondicherry, India; Sri Aurobindo Ash-ram, 1999, p.3.

Marie Carlsson has done her masters in Music therapy and is a practising therapist. She is also a Reiki master.

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