In the home environment, environmental ambient music is self-selected and regulated. In our home, we have a number of Musical Instruments that are expressly used for environmental listening. My partner prefers a CD with the sounds of rain, wind chimes and Tibetan bells. She often uses this soundscape while she paints. The selection of music for this purpose is important. Her favorite painting CD has no progression–no beginning, middle, or end. There are no interesting developments, themes, or dramatic sonic punctuations. It is devoid of rhythm, melody and harmony. It effectively “freezes” (or perhaps the word is “frees” ) time in a perpetual present moment, and helps to create–for her–an environment that is particularly congenial to her art practice. In my own case, I use a variety of soundscapes as an environmental backdrop to my t’ai chi practice. There is typically a bit more sense of rhythm and flow to the sonic tapestries I will select for this purpose (this seems to facilitate the flow of the movement), but I avoid anything with too much musical interest for t’ai chi, as I wish to keep my focus on my breath and movement.

Music for Meditation

Some people use ambient music for meditation, and this deserves its own discussion. Many people who first begin to meditate are dismayed to discover how much mental chatter or “noise” is generated by the “monkey mind” that is the default waking state of human consciousness. Attempts to quell the endless stream of thought prove not only fruitless, but even counterproductive, since they add an additional layer of mental activity. For some people, quiet, relaxing music soothes an overactive mind, at the same time calming the body and inviting spaciousness without requiring any special technique. Admittedly, much of what is commercially sold as “relaxation” music is vapid and saccharin; it certainly doesn’t help me relax. For a more discerning listener, artistic value needs to be a criterion for “relaxation” music. I’m probably over-opinionated about this, but to me, there is a distinct difference between “mindful” and “mindless” music. While department store kiosks featuring harp and seashore sounds may appeal to the masses, I rarely discover much substance to these sonic bonbons; there are much better choices to foster an atmosphere conducive to a relaxed and supple mind.

Brainwave Entrainment

When seeking out music for meditation, consider tempos of 60 bpm or slower, since one’s heart rate tends to naturally entrain to the fundamental tempo, and a low resting pulse is desirable to enter meditative states. Also consider music which uses binaural beats. These are usually created with difference tones in the left and right channels, and can gradually and subtly guide the brain to relax into the lower frequency brainwaves, from ordinary waking consciousness (beta waves: 14-40 Hz), down to relaxed or even trance states (alpha waves: 7.5 – 14 Hz). At brainwaves below 7 Hz, you are just sleeping. Binaural beats are based on the idea of brain entrainment, the tendency of the brain to sync up with a reference frequency. Binaural programs can also induce sleep, and there is ambient music designed for this very purpose.

 

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