Music & Mindfulness
For the past few years, I have been running the Music and Mindfulness Group at Music Therapy Services of Simcoe County, with Tiffany Gardhouse from TG Wellness. For those of you out there who are curious about these groups, I thought I would share some insight into the concepts behind Music Therapy and Mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an approach to everyday life. It is used to help manage stress, improve mood, and increase one’s overall positive mental health and well-being. There are many links between modern-day mindfulness and Eastern spiritual philosophies. This includes such ideas as emptying the mind of negative thoughts and being truly present in the moment. Some practices that currently utilize mindfulness include therapy, meditation, yoga, and other relaxation or stress-management exercises. Below are some of the main overarching ideas behind mindfulness:
Noticing the Here and Now
Definition: Sometimes we move so fast that we don’t even notice our environment or how we’re feeling. Being present is about observing your surroundings and being aware of your body. One way to become more present is focusing on your breathing. Another involves progressive muscle relaxation (gradually tensing and relaxing all of your body parts individually). A third idea is bringing awareness to your five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste).
How Is This Used in Music Therapy? It can be difficult to express how you’re feeling in words. Choosing a song or instrument that resonates with you in this very moment can bring awareness to your current feelings.
Additionally, you might also try to bring awareness to your surroundings. Try listening as carefully as possible to an instrument with your eyes closed. Ask yourself: what material does it sound like? Is it quiet or loud? Is the instrument high-pitched or low-pitched?
Calming music, such as familiar songs in a playlist that a music therapist can help you put together, can also sometimes better guide you through breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
Definition: Positive affirmations are used to counteract negative self-talk. Many people get into the habit of doing this so often that it becomes second nature. On the other hand, if we speak about our positive qualities on a regular basis, the ideas be reinforced and as a result will eventually stick in your brain.
How Is This Used in Music Therapy? One way to use positive affirmations in music is by creating a “mantra” or repeated positive phrase (for example: I Am Strong, I Am Smart, I Love Myself), and then the music therapist can put this mantra into a song that you can repeat to yourself.
Definition: Gratitude means finding appreciation for all the little things that might go unnoticed in your everyday life. This can help you to stop focusing on the negative and as a result enjoy all that you have to be thankful for. Although it’s okay to feel sad from time to time, gratitude will improve your outlook on life.
How Is This Used in Music Therapy? Sometimes we can write songs together about what you are grateful for, and therefore put things into perspective. Another strategy is listening to songs about gratitude. Some ideas include “Thank You” by Dido and “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. While listening to the lyrics try to relate them to your own life.
Definition: A “growth mindset” refers to the belief that you can change your circumstances, continue learning and growing, and overcome obstacles or challenges that you are currently facing. This is different from a “fixed mindset”, which tells you that you are stuck in your current situation, that others probably have it better than you, or that you just weren’t meant to do certain things so you may as well not even try.
How Is This Used in Music Therapy? It’s common for people to be hesitant about music therapy. For example, many will state that they just “aren’t musical” or “don’t have any talent”. However, music therapy isn’t about being the “best” or becoming an “expert”, and focuses more on simply expressing yourself and realizing your own potential. By using singing, instrument playing, and songwriting as tools of creative self-expression without any judgement or criticizing, you can learn to embrace the skills that you do have and surpass your own expectations.
There are many ways to utilize mindfulness in our everyday lives. Music therapy can add variety to your mindfulness practice. Music therapists can assist a client with processing or expressing their feelings in a creative manner and with getting enjoyment from pleasing songs and instruments.
By Kimi Suzuki, MTA