As we move through our often busy lives, music is all around us. There is rhythm in a crowd crossing a busy street or a yoga class moving through a Sun Salutation, melody in the cacophony of taxi horns or a gentle bird song. We hear music in stores, in subways, and when on hold on the phone. The question is: how can we intentionally use music for mental health?
It all starts with noticing. Noticing is a key aspect of mindfulness, without which even the most beautiful music or well-intentioned exercise will likely float right past your ears, mostly unnoticed.
1- Pay attention to your own rhythms, and the rhythms around you. Remember that we as humans are composed of rhythmic patterns – the way we walk, talk, move, and breathe is all rhythm. Notice when your body’s rhythms feel rushed and pressured, or relaxed and easy. Notice where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with. The simple act of noticing can yield some valuable information.
2- Develop personalized playlists. It can be so useful to have several different playlists at the ready. Think about when you need some music in your day – could be to relax, energize, or focus (or something else!). Play around with different styles and tempos, and find what works for you. If you’re creating a playlist to help you relax or energize, you may want to start out with a piece that is the opposite, and work your way to the desired mood (i.e. a relaxation playlist can start with a fairly fast piece, move through medium tempos, and wind up with a slow, soothing piece). Notice if songs vs. purely instrumental pieces affect you differently. I don’t believe in using specific pieces/genres of music for mental health, but that different styles work for different people.
3- Take a moment to ground and breathe. Here’s a simple exercise for grounding that I often use with my clients and workshop participants.
Pause for just a moment, wherever you are. Whether you’re sitting or standing, moving or still – just take a moment to come into stillness.
Now, notice the top of your head and the bottom of your feet. Become aware of how much space there is in between the two – space for breath, space for energy, space for movement.
Take a moment and take a few gentle breaths, in and out. Notice the sensation of each inhale and exhale. Imagine you can inhale what you need/want, and exhale whatever you don’t need. Perhaps inhale peace or ease, perhaps exhale stress or tension.