The beneficial effects of music

Modern life is fast-paced and can often feel aggressively demanding. With the constant expectation that we should fill every day with activity, we often forget to take time out for ourselves and reset. Something as simple as listening to music can provide us with that much-needed boost to get our work finished and see us through to the end of the day in a calm and dynamic way. Almost everyone has experienced the beneficial effects of music in one way or another; it can help us to relax and unwind even during stressful times, can improve our levels of motivation and focus, and can uplift our emotions and improve our relationships, helping us to connect more deeply and with more individuals.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

For many, the mental and emotional effects of music are obviously the most noticeable. It can directly increase our happiness in so many ways. At Massachusetts General Hospital, for instance, attendants noticed that patients confined to bed who listened to music for 30 minutes had a lower heart rate and blood pressure than those who hadn’t listened to music. The reason behind this
is that music reduces our cortisol levels. This is more commonly known as the stress hormone and is partly responsible for feelings of tension and emotional distress, as well as lowered immune response. Therefore, the calming
effect of sound gives us the perfect excuse to sit back and switch off in a world where we are always on the move and subject to
external stimulation. There are various various types of music that we can listen to in order to relax, but many find that classical and sacred music are the most effective. Their slow tempo and conservation in variation creates an enveloping experience that allows us to forget the world, in a peaceful space of our own. They can also help us to identify, express, and accept our emotions. Indeed, classical and sacred music can help us to become aware of the feelings associated with our stress and can help us to master that stress instead of being overwhelmed by it.

Boost Memory and Restore Focus

Music also has the ability to enhance our minds and bodies, helping us to improve our memory and increasing the results we get from exercise. This has been demonstrated in the well-known Mozart Effect Study, which has suggested that listening to Mozart’s compositions may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain mental tasks. The ideal type of music that keeps our brain engaged is ambient music, which engages the brain at a lower, subconscious level. Examples include sacred music, waterfall sounds, and whale songs. The second element above—improving the results from exercise—is a good example of the multiple simultaneous benefits of music. Enjoyable music increases our motivation, encourages us to exercise harder, and reduces levels of boredom during repetitive tasks such as free-weight exercise or hypnotic tasks such as long-distance running. At the same time, enjoyable music increases our tolerance of pain, helping us to exercise harder and for longer. After exercise, music helps our bodies to recover by increasing the overall availability of oxygen.

Why Sacred Music?

Forget for a moment that we tend to associate sacred music with religion, especially the Christian faith. Enjoy the sound
quality of the music from whichever tradition it originates. In meditation, for example, we use a mantra for its sound quality and the effect that sound quality has on us, not necessarily for the meaning of the mantra. It’s the same with sacred music, which can benefit us irrespective of the religion it comes from. To quote from the website of Sacred Music Radio: Recent research by the Schulich School of Music, University in Montreal, Québec, indicates that people’s response to music “transcends different cultures as it emotionally affects diverse cultures in the same way.”

The Process

Reading about the potential benefits of certain types of music is akin to checking with a map prior to setting out on a journey
to an unfamiliar destination. The next step is listening to music that really appeals to us and helps us relax. Some varieties of classical music work well, and certainly most sacred music meets the requirements.

A Plan of Action

  • Find music that you find relaxing by listening to several types of music.
  • Decide on a time every day to listen to perhaps 20 minutes of the music without being disturbed.
  • Listen to the music while sitting on a comfortable chair with good back support.
    Be aware of your breathing, let it settle.
  • Notice you have thoughts; you can hear the music, and just focus on the awareness of the breath.
  • Don’t try and push away thoughts; they are part of this relaxation process.
  • Relaxation is the key to dealing with stress and regular listening to music can enable us to meet the challenges of our lives with strength and vigor.

Published May 2016 in Transportation Magazine.

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