Journey through Sound: Music as Meditation

In lockdown, many of the ways we would usually relax and unwind are shut off to us. Simple things we previously took for granted, like going to a yoga class or meeting friends, are not possible. Yet in our restricted lives, there’s some solace to be taken in the fact that we can still immerse ourselves in music.

Whether it’s for a mood-boost, anger release or simply something to accompany us on lonely days, we all turn to music in our own ways. In a time where many of us may be relying on music to regulate our feelings more than usual, it feels poignant to delve further into why and how music can have such a profound impact on our mood and well-being.

Nemone Metaxas has combined her roles as Radio 6 DJ and integrative psychotherapist to investigate the link between music and our minds in three-part radio series, ‘Journeys In Sound’. With insights from psychologists and neuroscientists she looks at how fundamental music is to our well-being, and how we can use it more than ever right now.

Nemone begins the first show by talking about the healing powers of music. 

“Music provides a balm in intolerable situations. Sound can connect with us on an unconscious level, bypassing our thinking brain and plugging directly into our felt sense”

This is something which will ring true for a lot of us over the past twelve months. Music can soothe us and help us to form a sanctuary for ourselves when we’re struggling. Listening to music is closely linked to and can be used as a form of meditation. 

The complexity of music means it can affect us in many different ways. It demands areas of our focus which we can purposefully use to distract ourselves, to take our minds away from unwanted thoughts, to momentarily escape from the reality we’re living in.

Nemone encourages listeners to try this as she ends each ‘Journeys In Sound’ episode with a short meditation to a slow-tempo, ambient song. 

“During this time of increased stress and uncertainty, you may find that pausing and breathing is useful, to bring an awareness and greater understanding of what’s happening for us”

Nemone handpicks ‘relaxing’ songs for the end-of-show meditation. While the slow-tempo, ambient sounds she plays may be a go-to choice for many to relax, they may not help everyone to unwind. Meditating to music is no different to any other form of meditation and what works for some may not work for others. The whole concept of relaxation is as personal and intimate as the music choices which can accompany it.

Earlier in the show Dr Victoria Williamson explains how music affects and activates certain feelings in us:

“The very core area of activation, the deep memories and the deep emotions, relies so heavily on all the music you’ve ever heard in your lifetime and all the associations you’ve laid down. That’s never going to be the same from one person to the next”

The way we react to music is entirely down to personal experiences, and the music which helps us to clear our minds will always be connected to our own musical listening and memories.

Listening to the show made me reflect on how I’ve inadvertently been using music as a form of meditation for years. Every time I feel anxious or nervous, I listen to alt-J’s An Awesome Wave (2013). Something about it which is hard to pinpoint helps me to regulate and reduce my stress levels. It is a calming record, but it’s more than just that.

It’s also tied in to Williamson’s point about personal experience, memory and associations. Each time I listen, it takes me back to previous times where I’ve been anxious, and I remember how I got through those times. These memories are tied into the music and their sonic-borne resurrection acts as a reminder to myself that I will be okay. 

From listening to it so many times, I know every intricacy of every song – every note, every pause, every beat, every breath. Its familiarity is something I find comforting. The circumstances under which I listen to it change, but the music never does.

‘Journeys in Sound’ is a timely reminder of the influence that music can have on our mood and well-being. Our isolation can be used as a time in which to detach, reflect and recuperate when we take a moment to focus on our favourite music.

Meditating to music can be a powerful way to keep your emotions calm and stable when the world around you is full of uncertainty.

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