Music And Mindfulness For Stress Reduction
Mindfulness is an incredibly liberating practice; one that has exploded as a recent phenomenon in the western world. Interestingly, us moderns are the last people on the planet to uncover the wealth of treasures it has to offer. Music and mindfulness are indeed complementary practices. Music and sounds make a wonderful object of focus for the mind, with mindful listening proven to boost our overall well-being and reduce stress significantly.
Whilst mindfulness is still finding its way into mainstream culture, music is universal and plays a prominent role in everyday life for most people. Humans are surrounded by music. It is undeniable that it affects people's moods and emotions, as it engages broad neural networks in the brain. Playing a musical instrument or listening to music whilst encompassing mindful values can transform the experience; creating the framework for a powerful stress reduction and unlocking the full potential music has to offer as it unfolds in the present moment.
What Exactly Is Mindfulness?
Tuning in to the present moment allows us to experience everything that's there – using our mind like a spotlight. Mindfulness practice requires us to draw our focus to different areas including sensations, sounds, smells, sights, and the feeling of the breath. Zen Buddhists refer to the constant internal chatter humans experience as the “monkey mind”. Through mindfulness practice, we can all learn to tune in to the present moment and enjoy the flow of life as it unfolds!
The Benefits of Mindfulness
The wealth of benefits mindfulness is able to provide is nothing short of extraordinary. Many professional sports teams and athletes employ mindfulness as a tool for improving concentration, self-compassion, awareness, and mental composure. It is an exceptionally powerful practice that is fundamentally important for mental well-being and reducing stress and tension in our bodies.
Mindfulness For Musicians And Listeners
For everyone who enjoys listening to music, mindful listening is a remarkable way to experience every individual detail within a piece of music; to connect with the sounds in an entirely new way that is free from judgment. Music and sounds make for a great object of focus, and the great news is that we can all learn to tune in to the present moment – mindfulness is just a skill that is developed and nurtured over time.
Using Sounds As An Object Of Focus
How To Practice Mindful Listening
Once you feel comfortable with the breathing practice, you can proceed to press play and absorb sounds through your headphones or speakers. I invite you to close your eyes and focus only on the music as it unfolds. There is so much to explore within the music.
Exploring Different Sounds
1.) Pay attention to the timbre of the musical instruments.
Imagine that it's the very first time you have ever heard a type of musical instrument. Listen to the different sounds produced, and notice if they are dark or bright. Are the sounds sharp and punctuated or smooth and mellow? As the song develops listen to how the different instruments communicate with each other within the composition.
2.) Feel the changing dynamics and the beat.
Without judging or analyzing, familiarize yourself with the beat of the song and the rhythmic flow. Is the music soft and balanced or more dynamic and lively by nature? Rhythm plays a huge part in music and offers infectious energy to the listener.
3.) Absorb the mood of the music.
Now pay attention to the overall mood of the song. Is it upbeat and cheerful? Or does it perhaps have a more solemn tone? Notice how a song progressively evolves and builds up climactic tension. Perhaps there might be a key change. Does the song sound melodic or is there harmonic dissonance?
4.) Focus on the sung vocals.
If the song has vocals, focus on the unique tone and the range of the singer. What sort of voice does the singer possess? It could be softer or a more powerful voice. Listen carefully to the tone, the emotion, and the melodies expressed by the singer.
How Musicians Can Practice Mindful Movement
Maintain focus on all the different bodily sensations you feel as they arise whilst you play the instrument. It can feel surprisingly powerful, as we very rarely place focus on it intentionally. Pay close attention to each part of your body, and the contact between you and the instrument with the hands and the contact with your feet on the instrument or on the floor. Notice what it feels like for your body to execute a musical performance without over-thinking or over-analyzing each note or rhythm. Allow your body to use its muscle memory whilst rehearsing a song you already know how to play. In this way, you can gently retain your focus on all of the bodily sensations.
By noticing the sensations that are present, we as musicians can experience what it feels like to play music in a new and unexplored way. This can be likened to a beginner's mind, helping us to reclaim an intrinsic joy that music provides.
There Is No Need For Real Effort
A simple metaphor for mindfulness practice can be likened to sitting beside a busy highway. As cars pass by we can choose to notice them and let them drive away and fade into the distance, or become distracted and chase after them. Instead of exerting energy to resist or block thoughts (which is nearly always to our detriment), we gently bring our focus back onto the present moment. In this way we deliberately allow thoughts and feelings to float by, and we acknowledge them without buying into them.
The world's leading healthcare systems including the UK's National Health Service advocates mindfulness as a powerful tool in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety amongst patients. Mindfulness has also been adopted from wall-street bankers to top-flight Olympic athletes. With mindfulness, there is no real objective besides being present. There is nowhere to go and nothing to achieve. We simply bring our awareness to what we can feel, see, and hear with each passing moment.
Listening to music is a wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness. Every song is completely different and there are limitless opportunities to explore. There are so many different aspects of music we can gently guide our focus towards. Simply enjoy being with the present moment, and allow all of the experiences to unfold naturally!
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