Mindfulness. It seems like almost everyday I read something new about the benefits of it. Research on mindfulness suggests that it could be effective for: depression, managing anxiety and stress, as well as with emotional regulation and relationships. It’s easy to see, then, why mindfulness is becoming incorporated into healthcare, education, and business.
Making Mindfulness Accessible
It makes sense that more people are becoming interested in learning about mindfulness. We live in a fast-paced world where we take in so much more information than we realize. With mindfulness, you connect with your breath as a way to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in that moment. This is done in an accepting, non-judgmental way. By incorporating mindfulness into your life, you can become more aware of the fullness of your lived experience, as opposed to unconsciously or narrowly reacting to situations.
While a secular approach has been taken in introducing mindfulness meditation to the West, the practice of mindfulness meditation is rooted in Buddhism. However, it should be noted that other spiritual traditions also have contemplative practices. Nonetheless, some people may not be willing to engage in mindfulness meditation because of judgements they have against meditation. They may see it as something “evil” that is contrary to their spiritual beliefs.
Still others may find it too challenging to sit in silence. (You may be one of those people!) These challenges could be due to a variety of reasons. Often one of these reasons is because it just feels uncomfortable. (And yes, sitting in silence, observing our thoughts without getting caught up in them CAN BE uncomfortable!)
My own interest in mindfulness began when I was studying at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Maintaining a mindfulness practice was a requirement of the graduate program, and I am grateful that it was. Incorporating mindfulness into my life helped me became better able to handle stressful situations and strong emotions.
Since graduating, I have worked as a music therapist with people who have neurological differences, such as Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Alzheimer’s. Working in these areas has made it clear just how we all take in and process information differently. Because of this, I often think about how mindfulness can be incorporated into my work as a music psychotherapist. I also think about how mindfulness can be used by other music therapists in their work.
Music as a Mindfulness Practice
I take a mindful approach in making my own music, and this has led me to explore ways in which music can be used as a mindfulness practice. I have found that this has been a helpful way to introduce mindfulness to those who may not be able to engage in meditation (or who aren’t quite ready to engage in meditation).
In the “Using Music as a Mindfulness Practice” webinar I offer, I illustrate several ways that music can be used as a mindfulness practice. The following two examples are taken from that webinar. They are ways that I have successfully led people in engaging mindfully with music and sound, including with music therapists from outside the United States. These activities were selected specifically because they are widely accessible to people and don’t require special equipment.
Authentic Movement to Music
This activity involves choosing a piece of music that you can move your body to mindfully. Preferably this song should be without words. This is so you can listen to the music without getting caught up in the lyrics. Your focus should be on your breath, while being open to how your body wants to respond 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.
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. Direct your awareness 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.
I invite you to play around with these ideas for yourself. Set aside several minutes a day where you can engage in one of these mindful musical activities. Afterwards, notice what happens to the quality (and quantity) of your thoughts. Simply observe, without judgement. And, if you would like to learn more about other ways that music can be used as a mindfulness practice, you can register for my webinar here.