It seems like everyday I read a new article articulating the benefits of mindfulness. From incorporating it in healthcare, schools, and business, more and more people and organizations are recognizing how mindfulness can have a positive effect for them. Traditionally, mindfulness has been cultivated through engaging in the mindfulness meditation practices of Buddhism, such as sitting meditation and walking meditation.
However, some people in society today find it difficult to sit in silence. Others may hold personal beliefs that find meditation to be inappropriate. Therefore, in order to help introduce the benefits of mindfulness practice to these people, I like to incorporate the concepts of mindfulness to music. (Please note that I do believe formal meditation practice to be beneficial, and I encourage those who have no moral objections to the practice of meditation to start out sitting for a short period of time, such as 5 minutes, if they initially find it challenging to meditate. As they become more comfortable, they can increase their meditation time).
The following four activities are some of the ways that I encourage people, including other music therapists, to engage mindfully with music and sound. These four activities were selected specifically because they are accessible to a wide variety of people and don’t require special equipment.
- Authentic Movement to Music
This activity involves choosing a piece of music that you can thoughtfully move your body to. Preferably this song should be without words, so that your focus can be solely on the music and how your body desires to move in response to the music. As you move, be aware of how your body is wanting to naturally move. With this movement, try to do so without judgement. If thoughts or feelings arise, simply label them as such and come back to the movement that is being elicited through the music.
- Vocal Toning
Voicework can be intimidating to engage in- even as a trained singer! Because of this, I find toning to be a safe, simply structured vocal activity. From the perspective of toning as a mindfulness practice, toning is simply breath made audible. To tone, select a vowel that you can sound on a sustained pitch. (The more you do this, you may find that certain vowels resonate with you more than others, or that what resonates with you may shift and change from experience to experience). When toning, set aside a few minutes when you can engage with your voice in this way where your awareness is directed to your breath and sound. Notice what thoughts, feelings, or sensations come up for you as you tone. Label them as such, and then return to your breath and sound.
The premise behind using a mantra is similar to toning, except that words, different sounds and pitches are incorporated. In this example, a mantra is a short phrase that is repeated, as opposed to the traditional understanding of mantras. The phrase can be a word, such as, “compassion,” or it can express a specific intention, such as, “loving kindness.” Keep it simple.When repeating your mantra, direct your awareness to your breath and sound. As with toning, notice what thoughts, feelings, or sensations come up for you. Label them as such, and then return to your breath and sound.
This activity can be more challenging, since one has to create lyrics, but I find it to be an effective way to reinforce concepts of formal mindfulness practice. Here is a song I wrote about racing anxious, critical thoughts and the benefits that sitting meditation can provide when one is in such a state of mind.