Mindfulness is a current buzzword in the lexicon of our society. Everyone’s talking about practicing mindfulness – and for good reason. Mindfulness can enhance our sense of health and well-being in a variety of ways. As a matter of fact, mindfulness is a core part of how I approach the work I do as a music therapist and counselor. But there are misconceptions about what mindfulness is.
Mindfulness is More Than Meditation
For example, mindfulness is more than sitting in meditation and trying not to think. Of course, it’s true that meditation is a powerful tool for practicing mindfulness. But, mindfulness practices can take on many forms.
One way that I use mindfulness in working with clients is through music. This is because, to me, mindfulness and music go hand-in-hand. There are so many ways you can use music and mindfulness together, some of which I’ll outline in this article.
Mindfulness Has Buddhist Roots, But You Don’t Have to Be Buddhist
It’s also true that mindfulness has deep roots in Buddhist teachings. Yet, you don’t have to be Buddhist to be able to practice mindfulness or to receive the benefits of it. The concept of mindfulness itself can apply to anyone. It transcends specific religious or spiritual beliefs.
After all, we all benefit when we can be aware of our true present moment experience. Being aware of what we’re feeling or thinking can help us to better understand what we’re doing. This in turn affects how we treat ourselves and others.
What Is Mindfulness?
When people think of mindfulness a certain image comes up. They often imagine someone sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat or cushion in silence. Surrounded by sage or incense, this person is trying to “empty their minds of all thoughts.” This is a misrepresentation of mindfulness and meditation, though.
While meditation can sometimes look like this, the truth is that we’ll never completely “empty our minds.” We’ll always have thoughts because that’s just how our brains work. What mindfulness does, though, is help you to not get caught up in your thoughts or feelings. Through mindfulness practice, you learn to recognize your thoughts and feelings without judgment. For those of you who struggle with anxiety or feelings of overwhelm, it can help you to manage thoughts and feelings when you’re feeling overloaded and uncertain.
Learning to Become Aware of Your Experience in the Present Moment
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. It sharpens your awareness of yourself. In doing this, it helps you become more in tune with your thoughts and feelings. Once you’re aware of how you’re feeling, you can begin to make changes. That’s where therapy, such as music therapy, comes in.
What Meditation Is
Meditation is a practice that includes becoming aware of your thoughts as they arise. Yes, meditation can look like the stereotype I offered earlier. This is because it often involves sitting quietly in a space that feels warm and inviting. Some people may lie down in silence. Others may walk. All may focus their attention on their breath as they meditate.
All meditation is practicing mindfulness, but not all mindfulness is meditation. Thus, meditation isn’t the only way to practice mindfulness.
Challenges of Meditation
For some people, meditation can be difficult and/or unattainable. For neurodivergent people, such as those with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, meditation may be difficult. This is because sitting in silence could be uncomfortable and overwhelming. They may require some other activity to help them develop more mindfulness in their lives.
As well mindfulness meditation can be triggering for people with a history of trauma. “For people who’ve experienced trauma, mindfulness meditation can actually end up exacerbating symptoms of traumatic stress. When asked to pay focused, sustained attention to their internal experience, trauma survivors can find themselves overwhelmed by flashbacks and heightened emotional arousal.” 
This is one of the many reasons why when I practice mindfulness, it’s more than meditation. It’s a whole way of experiencing yourself. My approach to mindfulness practice is as well from a trauma-informed perspective.
Music and Mindfulness
It may be difficult to understand how mindfulness and music go together, but they’re actually quite a perfect marriage. Music can put people into a meditative state. Some people meditate to music. It can slow us down and heighten our awareness of our senses.
Music can reinforce aspects of mindfulness. In a recent study, participants found that they were more likely to engage in guided meditation or increasing body awareness through yoga postures when they had music available. 
Listening to or playing music on a regular basis can increase spontaneity and a way of being in the world that is more deliberate and meaningful. 
Music Therapy and Mindfulness Interventions
There are many ways that I use music therapy interventions in mindfulness practice. Music can sharpen our awareness if we slow down and pay attention to what we’re hearing or making.
Listening to Music as a Mindfulness Practice
One way to practice mindfulness through music is by listening to music. You can track specific parts of the music, such as lyrics, rhythms, silences/pauses, and specific instruments. This kind of listening creates a greater awareness of the music you are listening to and keeps you in the present.
Tracking music like this also helps you track your thoughts and feelings. You become more aware of what’s coming up for you in the moment as you listen to the music.
Making Music as a Mindfulness Practice
Another music therapy intervention when practicing mindfulness through music is making music. It’s important to tune into the experience. When making music mindfully you notice what it feels like to play an instrument. You hear the sounds you’re making and notice thoughts and feelings that come up for you while making music. Are you judging yourself? Are you allowing yourself to be present in the music?
Moving to Music as a Mindfulness Practice
Another music therapy intervention I use is adding movement to music. Making music is a full-body experience. You can also use movements such as yoga, dancing, or exercise to music. Being aware of how your body is moving to the music, even if it’s tapping your foot or nodding your head, is a way of connecting to the present moment. If you’re playing music, you’re moving your body in order to pay the instrument.
The Importance of Breath
The final music therapy intervention that I use when practicing mindfulness is breath. This isn’t just a music therapy intervention, because breath is universal. But it’s possibly one of the most important mindfulness interventions. If you begin to lose your focus, you come back to your breath. If you focus on your breathing, you can change the way you view your thoughts and feelings. If you’re feeling anxious or are working yourself up, slowing your breath down allows you to get your heart rate back to normal. You can focus on body sensations, the music, and on your thoughts and emotions.
Practicing Mindfulness and Music At SoundWell Music Therapy
At SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, I use music therapeutically to practice mindfulness. These can take different forms – from making music to listening to it. Music and mindfulness go well together. There are many ways to use music and mindfulness together.
If this sounds like the type of therapeutic approach you’re looking for, be sure to contact me. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation during which we can talk more about what your needs are. You can schedule here.