I compose a variety of music, some of which is appropriate for meditation, stress management, message, and relaxation. I wanted to write this short page on music and meditation, for beginners. I thought it best not to include difficult physical and mental rules about what has to be done. Those more deeply involved in Yoga and other meditation exercises are aware of the technique of their path. Being from the mid west, I tend to take a practical approach to many things. I am not going to be involved in the measurability of exactly how music affects the mind and body. I'm interested in encouraging you to find and use music that is subjectively good for you. Even though I have worked in the field of mental health for over 25 years, I am not a scientist, or a researcher. What I offer here are impressions seeped in some practical experience rather than data.
For those of you that wish to try a starters meditation and relaxation journey, you may scroll down to the sub heading Diaphramatic Breathing below. Otherwise please read on just a bit.
I want to offer a practical look at how music can help in slowing one down, or initiate what has been called "The Relaxation Response". In "gleaning" feedback from clients I have worked with in using music and relaxation, I discovered a few things. Some of these may be generalities but here goes:
Music that offered certain tones and frequencies, but that were devoid of structure, rhythm, harmony, or melody, could seem unfamiliar and foreign. Music overly "vacuous" or "ethereal" with no structure was sometimes frightening to clients who had a history of being abused, OR suffered from isolation and a poor sense of self. I find ethereal music pleasing. But perhaps this spaceous music left them "too alone" with as yet "unresolved past issues of trauma". On the other hand, gentle music with a familiar melody comforted them and made them feel less alone. They were with something familiar, and the familiar is usually comfortable (There is an irony here in that people who are victims of spousal abuse for example, sometimes choose to stay in that situation because of familiarity. So, familiarity can be both positive and negative). We tend to drift to what we know.
Once when leading a seminar on music and relaxation to about 30 women in a drug rehabilitation center, I found that some of what we termed as popular music was relaxing for them. One particular lady felt a sense of calm, familiarity, while listening to the blues. Another enjoyed traditional jazz. Yet another classical. As I didn't want to force these ladies to deal w/ more than they had on their plate (Being in a 30 day drug rehab program can be tough.), I thought it best to utilize what was best for THEM. AND, I want to emphasize the same thing with this little article. Whatever makes you feel COMFORTABLE, SAFE, CENTERED, CALM, is what I invite you to use.
Some of the music I compose uses the sounds of nature. I have always had a fondness for the sound of water, so I utilized various water sounds in the album THE PROPERTY OF WATER. I find it soothing and enduring. Others however may not. BUT, the point I want to get across, is that you may not even wish to utilize music. There are a number of fine CD's available that have the sounds of Nature recorded. Whether it be a soothing stream, babbling brook, birds chirping, rain and thunder, or a waterfall, they may also be of use as an aid to help you "slow down". I haven't always been fond of the inexpensive CD's I've seen displayed in large chain stores that offer this. It's my personal opinion that music and nature is an important marriage, and when it is thrown together without thought, it is less effective. There are many places such as Pandora, Internet, You Tube, Sirius Radio, Music Choice Radio, etc. Find what feels comfortable for you (There is a wide range of quality available).
MUSIC, A SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE.
I have even seen some individuals relax with music that may have a higher level of rhythm and energy. There can be many reasons for this. Familiarity (What is familiar seems safe - even if it isn't.) or desensitization. Some music today is so loud and aggressive that folks don't react to it the way they did initially. As an example, I once gave a lecture about music and communication to a group of 5th and 6th graders. I played my fastest and most energetic finger style guitar song (In a major key). I asked them how they felt, and they said "sad." I was dumbfounded!? When I asked why, they said it was "because the song was so slow." When I then played them another 8 bars in the same fast tempo, they realized that this song WAS QUITE FAST and ENERGETIC!? The class was stumped about this seeming contradiction. Then, one young girl said,"I think it was because the music wasn't' loud."
Ah Ha!! Play 12 notes at a volume of 10 and it will sound "faster" than the same notes at a level of 5. Hmmmmmm....
A VERY RUDIMENTARY START
I remember years ago when I initiated into Transcendental Meditation. The basic approach was using FOCUS, BREATHING, AND MANTRA. A Mantra was a word repeated while meditating or sitting quietly. The minds natural tendency is to wander, drift, or jump from one thought to another. When I found my mind doing this, I was taught to gently bring myself back to my "Mantra" and focus on that. The entire exercise was a cycle of this.
It was very restful and peaceful. However, for some people, sitting still is difficult. If this is the case, shorten up your meditation time, and do not be hard on yourself for this. Although sleep is discouraged during meditation, you may try the exercise while sleepy and drift about. This may help you adjust to sitting still. Many of us in the west don't often sit still very well!
RELAXATION and CHEMISTRY
It goes without saying that certain substances do not go well with relaxation. Any type of stimulant from caffeine to illegal substances are counter productive. Alcohol is also discouraged.
Some people who have been appropriately diagnosed with high levels of anxiety may be prescribed something in the benzodiazpine class of medications (Xanax, Atavan, Klonopin etc). This is hopefully by a reputable physician who knows his stuff, as these medications can become addictive. There is also a class of anti depressant medications known as SSRI's (Prozac, Paxil, etc.) that may be helpful for those appropriately diagnosed with Depression and/or anxiety. Yet an older class of anti depressants known as Tricyclics (Elavil, Disimramine, Tofranil, etc.) have also been known to be helpful. Please stay away from non prescribed medications. AND, please follow your instinct with your physician. He must be good, AND willing to listen.
Breathing is important to the exercise of meditation. I'll make a short mention of the term DIAPHRAMATIC BREATHING.
Of coarse we know breathing is important. But certain types of breathing can be helpful in focusing, and making sure we get all the oxygen we need. It also helps us to "center" on this activity. Some even use this as their Mantra or focus point. Many people breathe with their upper chest area. This diaphramatic breathing technique assures us that the lungs get air to full capacity.
Place your left hand on your chest, and your right hand on your stomach area. Breathing with the diaphragm will raise your right hand (And stomach) as the lower part of the lung expands. The left hand on your chest will move very little by comparison. It is encouraged that you breath slowly and deeply into the diaphragm, then slowly exhale. It is said that by habit or pattern, most of us breathe using our chest area only. You can repeat the previous exercise on a daily basis in order to teach yourself a more complete breathing process. Go slowly and eventually, breath in while counting to 5. Exhale while counting to 7 and repeat the process.
MANTRA, FOCUS POINT and GETTING STARTED
Now you can introduce your Mantra or Focus Point. For right now, perhaps you could think of a pleasant memory, the sound of your grandmothers voice, or summer breeze sitting next to a babbling brook. Anything that brings you safely and comfort. Sit comfortably in a chair or sofa. Try to make sure that your clothes are not overly restrictive. Remember that your mind will wander. When it does, gently bring yourself back to your Mantra. Remember again, to bring yourself back to your Mantra when your mind drifts. Do so in a non judgmental way. Take it easy on yourself. If music and/or nature is helpful, use it as an aid
More to come...