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Zen and the art of healing

Zen and the art of healing

Jessie was excited to finally have her children home for the holidays. Her son Jeremey, a sophomore at NYU, had just arrived and her daughter Amy, a med student at Temple University in Philadelphia, had gotten home the night before. As Jessie was cooking in the kitchen, excited to start the holiday celebrations, she overheard her children talking. And what they were saying was anything but merry.
Her kids were commiserating about how they dreaded being home because mom was always so stressed out and on edge. They compared war stories about Christmas’s past and confided that they would have preferred staying at school.

Hearing this made Jessie’s heart sink.

Could her anxieties have pushed her children away? She worried that her stress-filled brain might have had other negative impacts on her family as well. Jessie was always the mom spinning multiple plates in the air. She ran her own small business, attended PTA meetings, helped her kids with their homework, entertained her husband’s colleagues, worked out every day, and did it all with a smile. Jessie truly believed the mask was working and that no one else sensed the boiling cauldron of stress that mounted inside of her every day, affecting her mood, producing migraines, and keeping her up at night.  But now she knew the facade was no longer working–or maybe it never did.
It was then that she confided in Martha, a friend who practiced mindfull meditation and asked her if she had some advice.

The answers she gave her were simple: music and meditation.

Jessie wondered how such simple things could actually change her life. Martha explained how listening to music while practicing meditation can positively affect life by reducing stress, improving sleep, and increasing balance.

Benefits of listening to Zen music 

Reduces stress hormones. Studies have found that listening to zen and other relaxing music reduces the body’s levels of cortisol, a hormone that contributes to feelings of stress and anxiety. In high-stress situations like medical procedures, for example, music helps to keep patients calm. And in everyday life, listening to zen and other relaxing music can have many health benefits, improve mood, and lead to a life with more balance and peace.

Improves sleep patterns. Lullabies aren’t just for babies. In fact, a recent study found that adults who listened to calm music for 45 minutes at bedtime reported having a better night’s rest and improved sleep quality.

Contrary to popular belief, a longer night’s sleep doesn’t necessarily mean a better night’s sleep. There are several factors that contribute to the quality of sleep. One primary factor is how well a person's brain waves slow down after the first 90 minutes of falling asleep. This stage of the sleep cycle is called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Adding calming music to your nightly routine can help facilitate this stage of sleep, resulting in an improved night’s rest.
The cycle of listening to calming music before bed leads to better sleep, which leads to lower stress, which leads to better sleep habits.

Stimulates Feelings of Happiness. Listening to relaxing music can trigger “good mood” hormones in your body that translate to feelings of happiness. Music triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that promotes feelings of well-being, joy, and excitement.

Studies  show that adding a few new tracks to your playlist, expanding it to include new music, instead of the same-old-same old can produce even larger amounts of dopamine production, resulting in stronger feelings of happiness and joy. If your current library includes a lot of upbeat music, such as dance and hip-hop for workouts, for example, adding zen music to your playlist can reap positive rewards in your overall well-being and mood.

Therapeutic effects on the brain. Listening to zen music at night can alter brain wave speed, producing brain activity that has a therapeutic effect on the mind and body.

Slow rhythmic music like new-age and zen alters brain activity in a way that induces a trance-like state which encourages relaxation.
Music’s ability to alter brainwave speed can also help ease symptoms of migraines, PMS, depression and behavioral issues including attention deficit disorder.
For older people, the benefits of listening to music have even more extraordinary benefits including decreased pain and bolstered memory. 


How Relaxing Music for Meditation Makes You Healthier and Happier

Meditation is also a popular stress management strategy, bringing short-term benefits like a calm mind and body, and building resilience toward stress over the long term. Combining music with meditation can deepen the positive effects of both, and bring you even greater results.
Listening to music during meditation brings out positive emotions, helping you calm your physiology without even knowing it. It alleviates stress, lifts your mood, slows your breathing, and helps you to become centered.
For beginners to meditation, music meditation can feel simpler and more instantly relaxing than other forms of practice. It's a stress relief technique anyone can use with regular practice to help you find inner peace and better manage whatever conflicts or stress surround you.

Clearing up myths

There is a lot of controversy surrounding mixing music with meditation. We wanted to clear up a few myths before proceeding.
Myth #1. You can’t meditate while listening to music.
Some believe   it’s not even possible to meditate while listening to music. Those who fall into this category may have only been exposed to certain methods, such as mantra practice. While it is true that this approach does not lend itself to practicing with music, mindfulness meditation can be applied by listening to music.
Myth #2. You can only meditate with certain kinds of music. 
Many people believe relaxation is the only goal of meditation. In fact, calming the mind is an essential facet of the meditative path; but just as essential is the cultivation of insight.
Mindfulness meditation practice is designed to promote insight.  With mindfulness, you’re not looking to achieve any particular state such as relaxation. Instead, you’re working meditatively with whatever comes up. So, if you're listening to music as your practice, you're discovering what’s happening inside you while you listen to that music. You’re exploring your relationship to the music, as a path of self-discovery.
There are many studies that show that music listening is most healing when you actually enjoy the music you’re listening to. So, if you like 60’s music, rock on!
Myth #3. You can only achieve deeper meditative states with spiritual music.
There is a myth that meditating with anything other than chanting, new age, sacred music, or binaural beats makes your meditative state less productive has been disproven. The idea is to listen to whatever music encourages and supports you in the moment and aids you in maintaining your own meditation practice. Only you should be the judge of that.
Mindfulness is not dependent on any set rules or conditions. So, go ahead and find music that supports the process for you. 
Now that we got that out of the way… 

Music has many wonderful benefits for stress management and overall health. It can help you calm your physiology without making a conscious effort, and that can alleviate stress from your mind. Music can also lift your mood, slow your breathing, and create other stress-inducing changes.
Meditation is also one of the most popular stress management strategies. It brings short-term benefits like a calm mind and body and builds resilience toward stress over time.  

Studies have shown that both practices, on their own have beneficial effects on your mind, body and emotions, but combining the two can reap intensely positive benefits including protecting the heart, promoting better sleep, boosting immunity, easing anxiety and lowering  the risk of depression.  

Benefits of combining music and meditation

Protects your heart. People who practice guided medication with music are less likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes. According to Harvard Medical School research, guided meditation with music helps reduce cardiovascular risks  by  decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline and cortisol.
Improves sleep. After six weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation,  studies have shown that mindfulness meditation with zen music helps  improve sleep by  evoking the body’s relaxation response at night. Try some of these Spotify tracks to help improve your sleep.
Relieves pain. Research shows that patients who listened to music before, during and after surgery have less anxiety and need less pain relief after surgery.
Boosts immunity. Music listeners have higher numbers of natural killer cells, a type of immune cell that attacks bacteria, infected cells and cancerous cells and have higher levels of Immunoglobulin A (IgA), a type of antibody in the digestive tract and lungs that helps to prevent infections.
Sharpens Mind and memory. Studies have shown that older adults with some signs of cognitive decline showed significant improvements in memory and cognitive performance after three months of simple meditation or music listening practice.
Lifts spirits. Listening to music improves your mood by releasing dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical that is involved when people experience pleasure and reward.  Mindfulness meditation with music may help improve mood and lower the risk of developing major depression in people with mild depression.
Eases anxiety. Mindfulness meditation with music helps to reduce anxiety at a neural level. Brain imaging in study participants showed that meditation-related anxiety relief was activated by brain areas involved with executive function and control of worrying. 

How long does it take to meditate with music?
While 20 minutes is a good minimum time for practicing music meditation, even just listening to one song, if that helps you enter a mindful state, can help to reduce stress, boost your mood, and revamp your energy.

Sample tracks to get you started that may be used in your guided meditation and throughout the day  to improve mental health, relax, and practice mindfulness for natural stress relief.

A happy ending

That summer, after Jessie began practicing mindfulness meditation every day and incorporating zen music into her life, her kids were home again. They immediately saw a change in her and were actually looking forward to spending time with their mom again.
Sometimes making small changes in your life can reap the greatest benefits. Jessie and her family are living proof that zen music and meditation can add balance, relieve stress, and improve your life.

About the author
Eileen Honey Strauss is an American  journalist and freelance lifestyle copywriter, specializing in the beauty, fashion, food, and design industries. A graduate of Arizona State University, with a BS in Broadcasting,  she has been a professional writer for over 20 years.  Today, she writes for a variety of platforms, brands, and businesses across the internet.
A mom of two children, Eileen lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her dog Ziggy always by her side. She’s happy to share samples of her previous work in her portfolio blog.

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