Gordon Richman is a writer and student of American Buddhism. He has been practicing various meditation techniques for 15 years, and he strongly believes that meditation works for people from all walks of life. He enjoys writing about Zen in the internet age and good meditation practices. Gordon writes for Rama Talks.
Meditation is a great holistic solution to many problems. It reduces stress levels, lowers blood pressure and increases physical energy. There are many different meditation methods, and all are equally valid. Meditation is about your journey to inner peace, your road to enlightenment, your clear mind and your healthy body. What puts you in a calm state and makes you feel good is, by definition, different than someone else’s. Some people meditate best when they listen to music. This method is called Nada Yoga, which means “union through sound.” Truly, meditation with music can help you to achieve unity with your thoughts, your body and the world around you.
Why Meditate with Music?
Everyone knows how music affects them. Everyone is aware of their relationship with music. Therefore music is a great meditation technique for beginners. For many people, focusing on music is much easier than focusing on their breath or focusing on a certain color. In meditation, that kind of focus leads to the act of letting go of unwanted thoughts, abstract worries and irrational emotions. The actual letting go part can be pretty difficult, so music is a great guide for the journey.
- Natural – Music happens all the time in the natural world. Waterfalls cascade downward and over the rocks, birds sing, coyotes howl and crickets chirp. As people, we are accustomed to musical sounds, whether they come from a sleepy stream in the forest or they’re channeled through the ear buds plugged into our iPods.
- Modern – In the past, listening to music as a meditation technique would have been outright shunned by many disciplines. The world is a vastly different place than it was when meditation first became popular, and music functions as an excellent starting point for many aspiring meditators, as it brings instant peace and connection.
- Shielding – Music also helps us tune out undesirable aspects of the outside world. It can muffle the sound of passing cars and motorcycles, but it can also act as a shield from more personal distractions. By using music to meditate, you’re able to block out negativity from other humans and your own negative feelings about certain situations.
What Kind of Music?
Traditionally, people use “meditation music” to meditate, even though that seems obvious. Many bands and solo musicians make music for the sole purpose to aid others in meditation, and there are a lot of great records in that vein. I want to emphasize, though, that the world has changed since the advent of meditation music, and that style will not appeal to some people. Let’s look at the criteria and offer a few other options.
- Instrumental – Vocals and lyrics are great. Any music with vocals, however, is not great for meditation because we tend to focus on the lyrics, which stimulates thought and anxiety. It’s also been said that lyrical music stimulates the left side of your brain, which needs to be subdued during a good meditation session.
- Natural – It helps if the music has a natural flow. You can certainly use nature sounds during meditation, but music can have a natural flow as well. This means no transitions from quiet, peaceful passages to loud, frantic passages. A lot of modern instrumental music (post-rock in particular) goes through transitions that are fascinating and invigorating, but ultimately too distracting to be used during meditation. Make sure the song follows a natural flow that won’t jar you with any surprises.
- Calming – As previously mentioned, this needs to be peaceful, relaxing music. It’s fine to enjoy up-tempo, loud or even noisy music when you’re not meditating, but meditation is not the time for thrash metal or house music. Find something you can relax to—music that doesn’t stimulate anything but the urge to clear your mind and melt into the sounds of the song.
How do I meditate with Music?
These are loose instructions, and you should take them with your own individual needs in mind. These are not rules of any kind; they are mere suggestions to help you on your way. You are different from anyone else who has ever meditated using these methods before so, naturally, they will have to be adapted to suit your specific needs.
- Place – Choose a quiet and peaceful place. This can be your garden, your home office, your garage or your basement. It just needs to be a place where you can grab fifteen minutes of alone time without a high chance of distractions. It also needs to be a place where you can sit comfortably in an upright position. You’ll know where this place is in your life.
- Practice – Dedicate 10-15 minutes per day to meditation. It’s usually best to meditate soon after you awaken for the day, but that depends on your own life and rituals. Put on some good headphones or seat yourself in a way that the speakers make outside noise wash away. When you begin, simply push away stray thoughts when they come. They will return and you will gently push them away again. Don’t get frustrated—it takes time and practice.
- Focus – You already know that you’ll need to sweep errant thoughts away while you meditate. Eventually they’ll be gone altogether. Relax and don’t worry about what you should be “getting” from this. Simply concentrate on the music and on your state of being. If you notice changes happening within yourself, focus on those. Focus on how the sound waves hit your ears and how the vibrations feel. Focus on the music. All unwanted thoughts will eventually drift away. Again, this takes practice. There’s no need to get frustrated and there’s no such thing as being “bad at meditation.”
When you end your meditation session, make sure that you don’t immediately return to your stressful life. Take a moment to reflect upon how you feel and what the music did to your state of mind. Take a few moments to gauge your progress. This is also a good time to focus on the positive things in your life, as the ultimate goal of meditation is calmness and happiness. Music is a great way to progress in the art of meditation, and it is especially helpful for those of us with hectic, modern lifestyles.