Music, Mindfulness and the Meditation Benefits

One question that comes up in my meditation classes is, “should you meditate to music and are there any meditation benefits if you do?” Paradoxically, the answer is yes and no. It depends on your approach to meditation.

Music, Mindfulness and the Meditation Benefits

Music, Mindfulness and the Meditation Benefits

If you have chosen a Vedic, transcendental, mantra based approach, then listening to, and certainly playing, music is not recommended, because the focus of the approach is deep inner silence and music will draw you attention away.

Because mindfulness is the quality of being in harmony with the present moment and starts by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, it is the perfect meditative approach to music for both listening and playing.

Rolf Hind, a teacher at the Guildhall School of Music, discovered the benefits of meditation and felt compelled to share the practice with his students, but hey, I’ll let him tell it in his own words…ᅠ

ᅠ“…It dawned on me that meditation naturally appeals to musicians, as clearly evidenced by my mini vox pop. Musicians spend a lot of time – even as children – in a state of solitary absorption, called practice. And when we perform, we seek and occasionally know (generally by not seeking) those elusive “flow states” where, in the coming together of all our preparation and the right circumstances, playing feels wonderfully natural and unselfconscious. The latter is something that people sometimes get mystical about,ᅠbut there is increasing research to suggest that it has a physiological and neurological basis.

For me, the practice of meditating – in its more secular usage, the cultivation of mindfulness – has brought an enormous amount to my life and music-making. A sense of clarity and control, less neurosis about ambitions and “career”, greater efficiency, awareness and body sense as a pianist. As a composer, I’m more in touch with the sources of my own creativity. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, it occurred to me, if more musicians (and more people generally, come to that) could benefit from this straightforward practice?”

“Science is increasingly endorsing mindfulness. It’s been shown as an effective treatment of stress, anxiety, psoriasis and depression, and approved by the Mental Health Foundation. It is taught in prisons and schools and widely used by sportsmen. And among the enthusiastic proponents of this approach is no less than the Dalai Lama. With our western thirst for scientific corroboration of experience, there is now more and more data emerging about the proven effects of mindfulness practice in many trials. But none yet specifically geared toᅠmusicians…”

“So when the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I teach, suggested I apply for funds to instigate a course with students, I leapt at the chance.

With my friend and colleague, Chris Cullen, an eight-week course was devised to introduce some techniques and encourage the participants to make mindfulness a part of their practice and life. We also wanted to develop a specific form of mindfulness-teaching tailored for musicians. To me, there were four key areas that might benefit: developing a practice routine, dealing with nerves, gaining an increased awareness of the body, and unlocking creativity. All of which could, I hoped, help in all aspects of music-making and listening.

Chris, a highly experienced and effortlessly motivating teacher of mindfulness, brought a wealth of warmth and kindness to the sessions. Indeed a participant wrote: “To be kind to yourselfᅠisᅠ… very important, but in an environment of pressure and competition, I keep forgetting about it.” There was sufficient buzz from the first course thatᅠweᅠwere able to run it again the followingᅠterm.

Its structure was based on the groundbreaking work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has been bringing mindfulness meditation into the US medical mainstream since 1979. A version of his mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course is recommended by Nice (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) in the UK for sufferers of recurrent depression and anxiety. Kabat-Zinn has worked with the management of chronic pain as well as with specific clients with particular needs: prisoners, the mentally ill, sportsmen and lawyers to name but a few groups.

The students meet for two hours a week. The time is filled with a guided meditation, a discussion relating to their progress with the practices they have been taught, and suggestions of ways in which they can develop mindfulness as a tool in their musical lives. One of the key practices is the guided body scan – you lie on your back and slowly work your way around your body, trying to feel it from within.ᅠParticular themes are explored – embodiment, or dealing with one’s inner critic…”

“If there is not the time for a longer daily meditation (and even if there is) the students are encouraged to see if they can carry out some everyday activities mindfully: while you are brushing your teeth, being fully immersed in the sensations; walking to the tube you are feeling the sensations of your feet on the pavement, the air on your exposed skin, and so on. You’re fully living the experience. They also take three-minute mindfulness breaks when things are in danger of gettingᅠhectic…”

“The feedback has been relentlessly positive. Some students have used the term “life-changing”. “I have become less prone to stress and anxiety, my self-image has become more stable (I feel like I know myself better) and my concentration has improved hugely,” says one. Another writes: “I think the course is a must for musicians wanting to fulfil theirᅠpotentials.”

It’s a piece with calm episodes, but also moments of high anxiety, excitement and violent joy. This seems to surprise people, who, when you’ve come off a retreat, generally say: “Oh, I’m so jealous. Did you have a lovely relaxing time?” Well yes … to an extent … although you would be surprised what an ecstatic cacophony emerges from your mind when there’s nothing around to distract it.”

Listening to music can end up being, besides a meditation, a meditation benefit in its own right. Listening to music is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. Instead of daydreaming or thinking of all the things you need to do, listen to the music with full attention. When your mind wonders off, gently return to the music, and continue to do that as often as your attention gets drawn away.

There will be times when your slip into the “flow” and you lose yourself in the sound so that you sound merge, only the listening remains. It’s in that moment that you’ve stepped out beyond the mind. Click here to visit the original source of this post

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