Music and mindfulness

We feel music in our bodies – whether we start to tap our toes, move with the rhythm, get up and dance; or else sit more quietly, at a classical concert perhaps: listening to music is never just on our heads, in our thoughts. Playing a musical instrument, or singing, involves the whole of the body, but even just listening to music is never a purely intellectual exercise.

Music also involves emotions – emotions which may have nothing to do with how we felt before the music started. Sometimes, music can seem to validate our existing emotional state, but other times it can transform our emotions, sometimes significantly. Music can provide a safe container for working through difficult emotions – a space from which we can explore our emotions and come to develop a new relationship to them.

Like music, mindfulness is an embodied way of living, and like music, mindfulness can help us approach our emotions in a new way. Music and mindfulness have a beneficial effect on our brain functioning and physiology – increasing the connectivity between the left and right brain hemispheres, improving executive functioning, and strengthening the immune system, for example. Listening to music or playing music can also help us step outside our small sense of self, into a larger, more expansive awareness, just as meditation can.

In our society, we place a lot of emphasis on intellectual problem solving, on figuring things out and coming up with solutions. This has its place, but is generally more limited than coming from a more embodied, experiential perspective. Music therapy, and the use of mindfulness in clinical applications, have both been validated through extensive research studies. We can all find ways of including some of these principles into our day to day life – going for a walk in the park perhaps when our mood is low, or baking a cake, singing along to music, or doing some yoga stretches. Sometimes, we just need to ‘be’ for a while, and our perspective will shift. Our life doesn’t necessarily improve because we’ve managed to solve a problem – sometimes simply stepping outside our heads, and making time and space for beneficial activities, can help us to deal with our life much more effectively.

Weekly practice idea:

What is one activity you enjoy, which gets you out of your head and back into experiencing life? This week, set aside half an hour for this activity, and notice how you feel before, during and afterwards.

Anja Tanhane