I am often approached by musicians who are interested in learning more about how mindfulness can benefit their work. I’ve written extensively about the subject in blogs, articles, and other mediums, but have never put the basics down in any comprehensive and accessible manner. For those interested, here is the “handout” I’ve always promised. I hope it serves as a useful introduction to this wonderful practice.
What is mindfulness?
A dispositional trait or state characterized by a present-moment, non-judgmental attitude towards experience. The trait can be cultivated through practices designed to refine attentional, emotional, and interpersonal self-regulation. Motivations and goals for practice are often derived from secular and religious ethical frameworks that emphasize personal and interpersonal wellbeing.
How do I practice?
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, however, most practices include three basic processes. These include, (1) regulating your attention such that it is focused deliberately on experiences occurring in the present moment, (2) adopting an attitude of curiosity and non-attachment to everything that arises in your attentional field, and (3) reorienting your attention back to your desired object of focus when you get distracted.
What are the benefits of practice?
Research increasingly suggests that individuals who engage in long-term and consistent mindfulness practice experience improved cognition, less stress, heightened creativity, increased wellbeing, and improved interpersonal relationships.
How long should I practice?
Even minimal practice, as short as 15 minute sessions, can produce noticeable and measurable changes in some individuals. However, benefits from this type of abbreviated practice do not last long and do not usually lead to stabilized benefits. The best way to practice is to find a group or teacher and commit to a consistent schedule. However, if this is not possible, even a little bit of practice can result in short-term benefits.
How can I incorporate mindfulness into my work as a musician?
As a musician, practicing mindfulness before practicing, performing, composing, improvising, and even teaching can yield great cognitive, emotional, creative, and interpersonal benefits. However, many people give up on practicing too soon because like any skill, cultivating and applying mindfulness takes time and consistent practice.
For musicians, I often recommend three ways to practice. One involves engaging in a formal sitting or moving (ex. Yoga or Tai-Chi) exercise 10-15 minutes before a musical activity, such that there is the possibility of a carry over effect from the state developed during practice to the activity itself. Another involves the incorporation of mindfulness principles into warm-ups or similar musical activities. For example, using breathing or the actual sounds of a warm-up (pitch, timbre, rhythm, etc.) as a focus of attention, you can practice mindfulness by deliberately focusing on a chosen sound or sensation, maintaining a curious or neutral disposition to everything that arises during your attempts to focus, and gently reengaging with your focus when you become distracted. Finally, I recommend that musicians find a meditative modality that works for them outside of musical contexts. These can involve formal meditation practices like yoga and tai-chi, centering prayer, or anything else they feel comfortable with. Even running and exercising can become a means for mindfulness when approached creatively.
Can you recommend a basic practice?
Use the practice below as a starting point. Once you learn the principles, you can apply these processes to anything – making music, washing dishes, etc. The ultimate goal is to transfer the benefits derived from a mindful state to different aspects of your life. Many individuals find this reorientation to experience to be both liberating and invigorating, reconnecting them to something fundamental about their humanness that they feel is integral to their wellbeing and experience of life.
A basic practice …
Some links and resources
Here is a link to a twenty minute guided mindful body scan from the Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. This is very helpful for those who find it hard to structure their practice independently, or who need some help getting started. I use it as part of my Teaching and Wellness class to get students started with their mindfulness practice.
A nice introduction to mindfulness practice in a 60 Minute Session with Anderson Cooper. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t like Anderson Cooper?
A great book to get you started. Jon-Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living.
The initial stages of MBWP are focused on developing physiological regulation and embodied grounding as a means of aiding meditative practice and artistic expression. Working with our breath and bodies helps to calm our nervous system, facilitating our ability to anchor our awareness in the present moment.
During the middle stages of the curriculum, concentration and awareness are cultivated through mindful and deliberate exploration of our senses, emotions, and patterns of thought, leading to greater clarity, stability, and equanimity.
As we non-judgmentally examine our habitual ways of feeling, thinking, and acting, we gain insight into how our perceptions color reality, giving us the opportunity to let go of unfruitful ways of experiencing and responding to ourselves and others. We then work on reframing our experiences such that they are aligned with our personal values.
During the final stages of MBWP training, after reducing our reactivity through mindful awareness, we develop the capacity to act intentionally in the world, using our experiences, aspirations, values, and ethics as a compass for wise and compassionate action.