About a year ago, I cried tears of joy. A friend and mindfulness meditation instructor shared the dramatic results brought about by a six-month music-based mindfulness program that he offered at the King Street Youth Center in Burlington, Vermont. The center's focus is high-risk youth and offers after-school activities. Teal Scott invited the kids, ages 12-18, to join his group for two evenings per week. He told them that he would download their favorite music and serve snacks.
The staff at the center warned Teal that many well-intended programs had failed due to lack of interest among the youth, but encouraged him to try anyway. He expressed confidence that he could help the kids improve their lives through focusing techniques that involved listening to music. Teal felt that the techniques could even help kids who had experienced great trauma and that music could overcome barriers by uniting kids that were brought up in Burlington with those brought up in refugee camps and warzones. Teal tried out the program and immediate success soon brought in a $12,000 donation. Several teens have transformed their lives and many use the techniques regulary (www.youtube.com/soryuforall).
I was deeply touched, fascinated and overjoyed. After learning about the success of the same program with college students at Portland State University, I decided to try the techniques myself. Every day I mindfully listened to my favorite music, using the focusing methods of the "Mind the Music" program. Practicing the methods brought about immediate results. I experienced profound states of concentration, a deeper sense of peacefulness, greater appreciation for music and a new way of dealing with stressful situations in my life. These beneficial results led me to further investigate the research on the benefits of music on both physical and emotional health.
I discovered that research supports the positive effects of music on cardiovasular health. A study was performed at the University of Maryland, and was presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, November 11th, 2008. Researchers found that when participants listened to music they liked, their blood vessels dilated by about 25%, improving blood flow. When they listened to music that provoked anxiety and was perceived as stressful, their blood vessels narrowed producing an unhealthy response that demonstrated the potential for reduced blood flow. Research had already demonstrated that positive emotions were good for vascular health, and the question for these scientists was whether or not the positive emotions evoked by music could have similar results. The study confirmed this to be true.
For those with diabetes, cardiovasular disease is the leading cause of serious complications. People with diabetes are two-four times more likely to develop cardivascular disease due to certain risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity and poorly controlled blood sugar. Learning the results of the University of Maryland study, I easily envisioned music as a wonderful adjunct to a holistic approach to self care for diabetes.
Other studies have demonstrated measurable effects of music on the body including the lowering of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rates. Music increases oxygen levels in the blood and has been reported to significantly lower pain intensity in surgery patients, reducing their need for morphine. In a Japanese study, stress hormones (cortisol) dropped by 50% for surgical patients who listened to soothing music just prior to anesthesia. Music has also been shown to help depressed individuals lower medication doses and achieve greater results in psychotherapy when it became part of their therapeutic treatment.
What I like about the "Mind the Music" program, is that an individual can reap the health benefits of listening to music and at the same time learn practical skills for dealing with life stresses while enjoying life more fully. Since mindfulness is evidence-based and shown to have positive effects on both physical and emotional well being, the effects of mindful listening are multiplied.
Here is a simple and effective "Mind the Music" technique: Put on your favorite music, preferably an instrumental, so you are less likely to be distracted by words. As you listen, focus only on the sound of the instruments. If thoughts or feelings arise, gently bring your focus back to the music. Allow your thoughts and feelings to be in the background without trying to hold on to them or push them away. Give yourself completely to listening, only.
By listening to music in this way, you can develop a powerful life skill. The emotional well-being comes from allowing thoughts and feelings to just be, without getting hooked by them. Learning to focus on sound also helps in dealing with emotions because it induces deep relaxation, giving you the ability to handle the unpleasantness of stressful situations. At the same time you develop a greater appreciation for the music because you practice "really listening." When "really listening" translates into being "really present" for your life, each moment becomes utterly fulfilling.
Published On: February 26, 2010