As we have had recent posts on Pandit Jasraj, Tagore, Kircher, it may be worth making a point regarding the importance of music in dealing with anxiety, stress, meditation, and spirituality. They are all connected as an anxious and stressed out mind cannot meditate. Meditation requires that anxiety and stress be addressed first.
Making appropriate choices is significant. Just as we make choices about what we eat, what we drink, what we feed the mind is equally important. Of all the seeds that fall on the fertile strata of the mind, what we choose to cultivate and grow and what we choose to not cultivate requires a heightened objective awareness of the mind (neutral spectator, mindfulness, witness, sakshi bhav) and its content. It also requires a sense of discrimination of desirable and undesirable qualities known as vivek.
Often religious services begin with music. A traditional yoga class may begin with chants or kirtans. For beginning meditators, soft background music may be very important. The type of music played is critical. For those who find it difficult to exert control over their breath, music may play a big role.
Our breath tends to synchronizes to the rhythm and notes of the music. For young children (as well as adults), rhythmic singing harmonizes the breath and there may be group synchronization that engenders the feeling of oneness. For religious and spiritual settings, music is also the transition of turning the mind and the senses from the external environment to the environment within. It is a form of pratyahara, sense withdrawal, the fifth stage in the eight stages of yoga. It is the stage before dharana, or focus/concentration. Dharana is the stage where the mind moves away from distractions. Meditation cannot happen without this stage.
With music it happens without effort—simply by listening, singing, mentally going over a melody. We have all experienced that some music will energize, some will slow one down, some will make the body want to move and dance, etc. In class, as soon as the Buddhist peace chants are heard, the mood alters, the bodies become quiet instantly. The breath becomes deeper, slower, quieter, more rhythmic, and the heart beat slows down as well. The mind and body have become conditioned to become quiet in response to this music.
Music that slows the breath and quietens the mind is an important first step in a religious setting, meditation, or a yoga practice. A quiet and receptive mind and body will absorb the sermon better. The meditation will be easier as the mind will be less resistant to focus. Yoga asanas will flow better. Students will find that learning may be enhanced, memory and retention may be improved. Some people we know hear classical music on ear phones at work to cut out distractions, relax the mind, and improve focus and concentration. Work becomes a form of meditation and it does not exhaust the mind.
In medical settings, the anxious patient may start relaxing.
For most people, the choice of music will alter the breath, the mood, and the state of mind. Conscious use of appropriate music may be one effective tool in addressing anxiety, stress, and having a more effective meditation practice. Music can become a valid spiritual practice leading to spontaneous meditation.