Do you ever find yourself running through all the things you have to do in your mind, wondering how on earth you are ever going to find time to get them done? Do you ever feel pressured trying to achieve what often seem like impossibly high standards (either your own or those of others)? Do you have days when you simply don’t feel motivated to do anything, either because you lack the energy required or you simply feel that nothing you do is meaningful?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions then congratulations: you are probably no stranger to feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.
And you are not alone.
According to the recent survey carried out by Record Union, 73% of music makers have experienced negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and depression in relation to music creation.
If you are one of these 73, I feel you. I’ve been there too, and it sucks. These kinds of issues can at best just get you down. At worst, they can be truly debilitating and have a severe negative effect on the quality of life.
Luckily, mental health issues are something that have been destigmatized in recent years. Someone who lacks motivation due to depression is less likely to be seen as “lazy”, for example. And society has more patience and understanding for people who suffer from anxiety. Real efforts are being made within organizations to combat stress among co-workers.
We are getting better at understanding mental illness and its effects on those who suffer it.
And, we are getting better at understanding what tools are available to us to help reduce these conditions.
More and more studies are showing how effective mindfulness-based practices can be at reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Hundreds of universities are publishing research on the topic. There are even dedicated research centers at the University of Oxford and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Now, your honest answer please. If somebody says the word “Meditation” or “Mindfulness” to you, are you suddenly struck by an intense desire to run very far away from that person as fast as you can?
Yes, I know. Meditation is hard! And boring! And it can be surprisingly difficult to motivate yourself to do even a quick, 7-minute practice, whether it’s because you’re feeling down and every cell of your body screams NO when you even think about it, or whether your schedule is simply so busy you have no idea how you’ll fit in it.
Well, I have some good news for you, and some bad news.
OK, bad news first. If you want to de-stress and feel calmer and happier in your everyday life, you are going to have to slow down sometimes and get in touch with your inner world. There is no magic pill. We have to do the work.
The good news? As a music maker, your greatest talent could also be your greatest tool for doing that work in a way that is enjoyable for you!
I am a classically trained singer and sound therapist, and this article is about how to use your passion in your favor and develop a mindfulness routine for yourself that is based around sound.
Mindfulness, in fact, is simply to be with yourself and notice, without judgment, what arises in your mind and body.
It allows us to become more aware of our thoughts, of our emotions and those of others. Also, it helps us to get to know ourselves better, and helps us regulate uncontrolled reactions to external circumstances such as losing our temper or becoming excessively anxious. It even reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that is heavily involved in the switching on of the body’s stress response.
And the wonderful thing is that we can achieve very similar effects to those of meditation, simply by using sound!
Have you ever been dancing or doing a form of sport and felt yourself get completely into a state of “flow”, get completely out of the mind and “into the body”?
Getting our awareness out of the mind and into the body is an essential component of mindfulness because it is so much about being present. Learning to be self-aware from moment to moment is a big part of what helps us regulate our emotions and reactions in everyday life, thus reducing conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.
And so, a big part of mindfulness is about getting ourselves into the body in a conscious way.
It’s why many mindfulness practices involve focusing on the breath and how it moves through the body, or doing a body scan to notice how different parts of the body feel.
However, a lot of people find such practices boring and/or difficult to focus on when they already feel stressed or anxious.
In my practice, I have found that sound, and in this case, specifically, the sound of the voice can be a wonderful tool. A lot of people report that using sound can be a much easier and more sustainable way to bring awareness into the body.
For some reason, the body responds so well to sound vibrations (ever been at a concert and felt the bass in your chest? Yeah, baby ;)) that for many of us, time goes much faster and we get out of the mind and into the body much more easily than with conventional meditation or mindfulness practices.
Feeling curious? Give it a try with this short practice!
All done? Congratulations! You have just completed a mindfulness practice! Even the busiest bees should have time to incorporate this short practice at some point during their day. Doing so daily can have a noticeable effect on stress and anxiety levels.
Does the term “altered state of consciousness” give you images of hippies and hallucinogens? Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest you start munching on magic mushrooms and dance naked around campfires.
An altered state of consciousness is just any psychological state that differs from normal waking consciousness. At higher brainwave frequencies (beta or gamma), the brain is alert and ready for action. But the brain also needs to be able to go into lower frequencies (such as alpha and theta) in order to repair cells, recover from stress, restore nervous system function, and for memory recall, among other things.
It has been observed that during meditation or hypnosis, people go into an altered state of consciousness (usually alpha or theta frequencies).
According to Dietrich’s hierarchy of consciousness, this could be part of the reason why we notice such an improvement in ourselves and our lives when we incorporate a mindfulness routine. We practice not only reacting to external stimuli and being caught up inside our emotional experience but also observing those reactions and those emotions, giving us a kind of higher level of awareness.
Our ability to be self-aware is precisely what distinguishes us from other life forms. Going into an altered state of consciousness gets us out of the “ordinary mind” and into another mode that can be much more successful at dealing with or healing from our problems. As Christa Smith, Psy.D. writes in an article for Psychology Today:
“Healing requires getting into non-ordinary modes of mind, such as mindfulness. These alternate modes are beyond words. Whatever transpires in these states of mind does so in a different language than that of thought. Maybe that’s why non-ordinary states can be so transformative, because they offer something that thinking never will.”
It is thought that through a process called auditory driving, sound vibrations can pull the brain into a lower brainwave frequency, effecting the same kind of altered state of consciousness as somebody who is meditating.
In a passive sound therapy session, an individual simply lies on a couch and is subjected to sounds played at low frequencies. Long notes without melody or rhythm are played in order to bring the brain into an altered state of consciousness.
And when people take part in a sound therapy treatment, we observe the same signs of altered states of consciousness that we do in experienced meditators or people under hypnosis (e.g. seeing complex imagery while eyes are closed, having a different perception of time and space, audio-visual synaesthesia, among others).
My clients report going into a deep state of relaxation during their session, and feeling lighter and more relaxed afterwards. Some report that being in such states can even bring on “Aha” moments about issues that they had seen no way out of before.
Most find that using sound is much more accessible than meditation, since it requires only lying down and listening to the sounds, rather than perfecting a meditation technique.
Listening to a recording is nothing like the real thing, but if you listen with good headphones you may experience an altered state of consciousness similar to hypnosis or meditation during the track.
One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to engage in regular mindfulness practice.
As a sound practitioner, I hear reports every day of people who find that harnessing the power of sound makes it easier for them to get out of the mind and into the body, and to get into a more meditative state of consciousness, both of which are the key elements to mindfulness.
I hope that you, as a musician, will give these tools a try as a way of using your passion in your favor and achieving a calmer, more grounded and more present you.
Kim Gajraj graduated from Oxford University in 2013 (French and Spanish), has a MSc in International Development and is a classically-trained singer (ABRSM grade 8). Kim has felt the transformative power of tools that help us be more present and self-aware in everyday life and has since dedicated herself to sharing these tools with others. She has completed training in trauma release, breathwork and the wheel of consent and is on the Therapeutic Sound Association (TSA) Register. She has also trained in tantric and emotional release practices.
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