Meditation Music, Health & Mental State
How can the meditation music further enhance our meditative states? Since the 1950s, we’ve known that listening to music can affect feelings, moods and other mental states.
Recent studies have even shown changes in blood pressure, respiration and metabolism, as well as physiological effects on neurochemical and cortical functions.
In 1934, an American general George Owen Squire founded Muzak, a corporation that marketed music to increase worker efficiency. By the 1950s, Muzak moved on to marketing background music to increase sales in supermarkets, restaurants and other business places.
Everywhere we go — the dentist office, bank, supermarket, restaurant, or mall — we hear the ubiquitous background music piped over speakers.
It is because music has such a heavy psychological and physiological impact over us to which Muzak and other such companies owe their existence.
Moreover, in recent years, an increased volume of research in the effects of listening to music have confirmed what our bodies already tell us, including the following:
- Loud music with a fast tempo can arouse us, while slow relaxing music can calm us down. Data from numerous studies report these effects:
- An American study of the effects of music tempo and volume level on exercise revealed that listening to fast, loud music induced optimal exercising.
- Another British study on the effects of slow and fast-rhythm classical music showed that faster music resulted in enhanced exercise output.
- Another study in Italy found that music could have cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory effects on musicians and non-musicians.Music with fast rhythms created an arousal effect, whereas, slow relaxing music or meditation music had a relaxing effect — especially evident during momentary pauses of silence.
- Music can affect or intensify feelings, moods and emotions.
- Filmmakers took great advantage of this by using subharmonics to instill fear in viewers, music with a fast tempo to arouse the audience, and loud volume to accompany action.
- The findings of a study in Switzerland showed a more cognitive response to viewing emotional pictures, but when combined with musical stimuli, evoked strong emotional feelings and experiences.In other words, music can enhance the feeling of affective pictures.
- fMRIs reveal that listening to music can activate two areas in the brain: the amygdala responsible for inducing fear such as in fight-or-flight responses, and the ventral striatum, responsible for feelings of pleasure or addiction.Listening to unpleasant music, such as scary music, will activate the amygdala, whereas listening to pleasant music will activate the ventral striatum.
- Muzak sells functional music as opposed to musical entertainment. It claims that its music is scientifically engineered sound that is part and parcel of an aesthetically pleasing background.Hence, its musical arrangements feature soothing, repetitive pieces with a steady tempo and an absence of emotional passion or “catchiness” — all designed for the purpose of creating pleasurable sound that fades into the background.
- Listening to music can have an analgesic effect on reducing pain, as reported in dental and nursing journals. Studies also proved consistently that patients who listened to relaxation music suffered less postoperative pain.
- In Sweden, 75 patients undergoing hernia surgery participated in a study that suggested intraoperative music could decrease postoperative pain and that listening to postoperative music helped reduce stress, anxiety, pain and morphine use.
- 165 patients participated in another study in Hong Kong which found that listening to relaxation music helped decrease the amount of sedative medication required for colonoscopy.
- In United States, yet another study found that listening to music resulted in neurochemical changes in the opiates and cytokines in the blood plasma, resulting in lower blood pressure in the listeners.This would also explain why listening to music could create an analgesic effect in reducing pain.
- Most of these studies used relaxing New Age, Baroque or meditation music.On the other hand, studies that allowed subjects to listen to music of their own personal preference showed a reduced analgesic effect when the selected music was not of these categories.
- Musical rhythms can entrain respiration and resulting cardiovascular functions.
- A study of 20 musically trained and untrained subjects found that musical rhythm can entrain respiration.In other words, a certain musical rhythm would cause the listener to breathe towards the beat frequency.Also increasing signal-to-noise ratio, such as tapping to the beat, would further reinforce the effect.
- Listening to music facilitates concentration
- A British study of 57 college students showed that listening to music, especially of the instrumental kind, could facilitate concentration.
Applying Findings to Meditation
& Music Selections
So how do these findings apply to our selection of music during meditation? Our meditation music should include the following considerations:
- To help us concentrate, we should listen to instrumental music.
- Since music can entrain physiological and cardiovascular functions, we should select soothing relaxing music that contains rhythms between 50 and 70 beats per minute, coming closest to the beat of a resting heart.
- Research from Muzak suggests that desired cognitive and physiological functions respond best with a silent break between musical pieces: they space their music so that the listener has fifteen minutes of music and fifteen minutes of silence.So ideally, we should balance our meditation music with equal amounts of silence.
Meditation music should not be rousing or stimulating, but soothing and relaxing. It should not grab our attention, but like Muzak, fade into the background.That means ambient, environmental music will also serve our purposes well.
Is the Mozart Effect For Real?
Can Listening to Mozart Really Boost IQ?
In 1993, three scientists published their findings that listening to a Mozart piano sonata increased the spatial IQ scores of a group of college students by 8 to 9 points.
The effect was only temporary, lasting no more than ten or fifteen minutes.
Neither did the authors claim that the effects would be limited to Mozart’s compositions, but only that it would require complex rather than repetitive music to benefit spatial intelligence.
Media hype soon spawned a whole new music industry selling on the idea — what was to become known as the Mozart Effect — that passive listening to Baroque pieces would enhance all sorts of cognitive abilities and make students smarter.
Though the scientific community is still debating on the degree of effect on physiological and psychological functions, most agree that music does have a strong impact on the brain.
The Mozart Effect is more a result of sensationalized news spread by the public media; nevertheless, as we have seen there is scientific evidence that music can have both beneficial and harmful effects on our states of mind and health.
However, not all music are created equal.
The Mozart Effect only works with music that carries a beat of 50-70 bpm (beats per minute), modeling the beat of your own heartbeat.
Sounds that synchronize with your heartbeat or natural biorhythms create the least amount of stress on your body.
Thus, environmental/ambient music, certain types of classical music, drumming and relaxing new age music make ideal meditation music that will both relax us and enhance concentration. These are music that literally calms the mind and soothes the spirit.
Here are my personal favorites:
- selections from Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Strauss
- Pachelbel Canon
- Bach, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
- selections from Dan Gibson and Hennie Bekker
- Collections from Yanni, Kitaro, Michael Jones, Bandari, Mike Rowland, Daniel Berthiaume and Enya
- William Ellwood, Renaissance, selections from Steven Halpern and Medwyn Goodall
Other Selections: collections from Philip Keveren and George Davidson, Canadian Soundscapes, Narada, and Reflections of Nature
Drumming, Chants and Mantras:
- Tibetan chants and African drumming
- Robert Gass, Om Namaha Shivaya
Notice that these types of music are primarily nonvocal or instrumental.
Music with lyrics should be unintelligible or repetitive in nature, because you don’t want music with words that may deter your concentration or create needless distractions.
Experiment and create your own collection of meditation music. Learn to listen and enjoy this kind of music even when you’re not meditating but just working on a particular task or study that requires your concentration. To further increase your concentration and deepen your meditation you can also try adding technological innovations that will enhance your meditative state.
Putting yourself into an alpha brainwave pattern through meditation music will enhance concentration, mental clarity and health.
Studies have also shown that listening to this type of music over time will reduce stress and increase cognitive intelligence.
But just remember to take the same precautions as you would any tool that affects mental behavior:
Some of this meditation music can be too soothing and relaxing that it will lull you into an altered trance-like state of consciousness when you should be paying more attention to your external environment. Pay especial attention when driving a vehicle or operating potentially hazardous machinery. And please, read the Disclaimer below.
- Please read Disclaimer
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