The Mind of A Musician - The Benefits of Meditation

The benefits of meditation have been well documented over the years. Here I discuss how meditation can benefit musicians and offer advice on beginning your own practice.

Have you ever considered what makes the difference between an amazing performance and a disaster? Obviously practice and a familiarity with the repertoire is of great importance, but what happens on those occasions when nerves get the better of you or your focus is not there? You know that incredible performance is in you somewhere but you just can’t seem to bring it out. At some point we’ve all experienced the cold fear of nerves; the unsteady hand; the sudden forgetting of a passage.

When these moments of lack of control occur it can be extremely frustrating, and this anger and frustration can often lead to further problems. We know it cannot be our body that is causing these problems, since at any other time we would be able to perform the music without hindrance. Therefore it must be our mind that is to blame. The mind can be a powerful ally at times, but it can also be our greatest enemy. How can we hope to gain mastery over this beast within?

Mind Over Matter

One such tool for taming the mind is meditation. The practice of meditation has slowly gained popularity in the west, with people from all walks of life meditating on a daily basis. Known benefits include a deep relaxation; increased energy and focus; a decrease in restless thinking; peace of mind and heightened awareness.

Meditation has been popular among celebrity musicians ever since the late sixties when The Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Since then countless other rock stars have turned to meditation over the years. John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has commented in a number of interviews how the practice of Vipassana meditation helps his creativity and focus when playing guitar or writing music. His fellow bandmate Flea is also an active meditator. Other notable musicians who are known to meditate include Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Sting.

Musical Benefits

Meditation is a way of training our mind to live in the now. It allows us to not get caught up in anxieties and distractions of past and future moments. We remain focused on exactly what we are doing at this precise moment, aware of every single muscle in the body and how it is operating. It allows us to spot tensions and release them before they cause problems.

As a musician this is of great benefit. Concerns about the audience reaction or that difficult passage that is coming up can be eradicated. Muscles can remain relaxed and under control rather than tensing up. Ultimately the audience will perceive a musician who is totally absorbed with the music they are playing and so will be drawn into the performance, mesmerised by it.

Mindfulness In Practice

There are a plethora of different styles of meditation, but to gain the most benefit daily practice is essential. Many people have tried meditation at some point and subsequently given up. This is usually because the method of meditation they have chosen is not suited to their personality or circumstances. Any practice that requires us to limit ourselves or censor our thoughts is likely to be mentally harmful and confusing. Meditation should be a method for augmenting our lives not diminishing them. It should also be something we want to do.

In order to maintain regular practice try to bring meditation into your daily routine, maybe incorporating it as part of your instrumental practice routine. Try to meditate somewhere you know you won’t be disturbed. Choose a location that makes you feel relaxed. Once you have chosen your desired location and time, always try to meditate at this time and place each day. To begin with it is best to meditate for a short time – five or ten minutes. As you practice more you can increase the amount of time you meditate when you feel it is appropriate to do so. Do not worry about how long you spend meditating. The time is not important and worries and concerns about this will only detract from the experience.

Find yourself a comfortable position to sit in, cross-legged or on a chair is best. Begin by closing your eyes and breathing normally, through your nose if possible. The object of this meditation is to observe the breath. Try to remain relaxed and don’t try to breathe in any special way. Just in and out. As you continue, your breathing may naturally begin to slow down. Whilst breathing in try to focus on the feeling of the air passing gently over your nostrils and the same as you breathe out again. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and diaphragm as each breath finds its way down into your lungs and then out. You may also notice other sensations in your body. This is fine. Simply observe these sensations taking place and then return your focus to your breathing once more.

If you are new to meditation you will probably find your head is suddenly filled with thousands of stray thoughts. This is perfectly normal. These thoughts have been there all the time; you just didn’t notice them before. Don’t worry about getting caught up in these thoughts, but once you have noticed you are no longer focused on your breathing simply return your attention to the breath. With practice your mind will become more focused and your attention will wonder less and less. Once you feel you have meditated for long enough, stop. Calmly open your eyes and sit still for a moment.

Like anything worthwhile the results of meditation will not appear immediately. Continued daily practice is essential. However, as musicians the notion of long-term practice is not something we are unfamiliar with. As time goes by you should notice a change as a calmer, more relaxed, yet focused, person emerges - both on and off stage.