Tools to Heal - Part Two: The Power of Music
In Part One of this Tools to Heal post series I mentioned how growing up I instinctively looked for things that would help me cope with trauma, fear and other mental and emotional challenges. I believe in this case music came to me. It came in the form of a small keyboard and a recorder, and in the albums my brother lent me.
Soon I discovered two things about music: The first one is that few things in life give me more pleasure. And the second one, that it’s an incredibly powerful tool to reduce stress and negative thoughts, process emotions and, ultimately, recover a sense of joyful hope.
If you’re reading this, chances are you also enjoy music and the magic it brings with it. Perhaps you’re the kind of person who needs to play sad songs when you feel sad. Perhaps you play an instrument and feel pulled towards it when you’re having a difficult time. Perhaps you’ve noticed how a particular song lifts your mood instantly. Perhaps something awakens within you as you listen to the sound of primal drums.
Music has the power to make us feel everything will be okay.
I have recently been hit by personal loss. This has been the last blow after a period of time marked by uncertainty, disappointment and stopping dead in my tracks when the future I envisioned crumbled before my eyes. I’ve found myself irritable, pessimistic, feeling defeated by an invisible enemy. But then I went to an outdoor piano concert.
That night marked a before and after. Sitting under the night sky, surrounded by candles and the sounds of a black piano, feeling the expansive energy of the artist stroking the keys and touching us all with his music… I came home. I came home to the familiar embrace of sound, the same one that has welcomed me every time I’ve felt defeated, the same one that has always made me keep going.
And then I felt it: Whatever happens, whatever life throws at me, I will be okay.
I think of artists and musicians as messengers. They come to us in times of need, channeling the kind of energy we are starved for, co-creating with this vast, complex universe to nourish us. That night I heard what I needed to hear and felt what I needed to feel. That night I remembered everything is temporary, and there’s a strange comfort in that: This too shall pass.
(Check this piece I wrote for Elephant Journal about the connection between music, art and spirituality).
I believe music is medicine for the soul, and we need it as much as we need sunlight, water and food. Those of us who are particularly more sensitive benefit from it immensely, as it activates the brain’s reward system, filling us with all kinds of pleasurable feelings. But even if you’re not highly sensitive, you can benefit from its healing powers.
Here are some ways you can use music to ground yourself and heal:
Put on a pair of headphones, lie down in a quiet place, play your favourite music and let it run through you, actively listening to each sound without doing anything else. Focus on the way the singer modulates their voice, the force of the drums or that sound effect in the background. Notice the moments in the songs that feel the most intense and pleasurable to you. Savour them.
Start your day with music that makes you feel good. Listen to it as you get ready for the day or on your way to class or work. I walk to work and my mp3 player is my faithful companion. Bonus: It blocks out all the traffic noise. Just pay attention where you’re going!
When you need to process a difficult emotion, choose music that matches it. If you haven’t allowed yourself to feel sad, make some time to play sad songs and let the feeling surface. If you tend to repress your anger, choose an angry song and give yourself permission to feel that emotion. Don’t stay in that place for too long, though. Thirty minutes suffice.
You can combine the previous exercise with another healing activity like making art or writing stream-of-consciousness style. I will talk about these two tools in future posts.
Live Music Energy
If you have the chance, go see live music and observe how the music connects you, the rest of the audience and the musician or musicians, creating a shared atmosphere that silently supports you. Whatever you’re going through, remember: you are not alone.
I also recommend attending a sound healing session with a trained practitioner. Sound healers use their voice and other instruments to help balance the energy fields around the body. You might be as skeptical as I was the first time I tried this but it is really powerful.
Expressing Emotions Through Music
If you play an instrument, turn to it whenever you feel stressed (unless playing it causes you more stress) and really let yourself get carried away. No need to be perfect, no need to play a certain style or a certain song. You don’t even have to play it well. Just transform your emotions into sounds and get them out of your system.
Balancing Your Energy
Last but not least, sing! I don’t care if you don’t know how to sing or if you feel weird about it. I spent half my childhood locked up in my room singing along to songs as a way to process my feelings and move the stuck energy in my body and as soon as I stopped doing it, anxiety kicked in. Do it for your health. Gift it to yourself.
You can also do mantra chanting to balance your chakras or energy centres. This is a yogic type of meditation based on sound repetitions. I find this type of sound meditation more effective than other types because it’s easy to focus on just making one sound. You can find more information here and here.
Music has been soothing and healing us since the beginning of times. And not just us, but also other species:
When I was a kid I used to sing to my dogs when they were in distress until they calmed down and fell asleep. Even just humming has a soothing effect. So, let sound heal you. Let it remind you it’s going to be okay, because we can’t escape pain in life but we have the tools we need to move all that pain out of our system.