Meditate on This: Music Can Help Us Heal

Music can comfort and soothe us or it can stimulate us to action. It is literally the soundtrack of our lives, accompanying us as we drive to work, energizing us through a workout, empowering us after a break-up or setting the tone for concentration as we study. Music can drive us to creativity or create community with a universal message. Beyond the emotional pleasure that a song can bring us, music has numerous health benefits.

We can’t separate our body from our mind and our soul. “Music touches all three aspects,” Music Health Coach Lori Cunningham said in an interview. “When we use music with intention to help, we can be more productive, and it can help us relax.”

How Music Helps Us De-Stress

Relaxation is crucial for the high-stress society in which we live. Prolonged stress, with its harmful effects on the body, is the number one reason why people go to the doctors. Cunningham said, “If we select music that helps us slow down the body, we can lower our stress.”

Music has been shown to reduce the amount of cortisol, our stress hormone, which in excess can impair the immune system. With 10 minutes shy of an hour of listening to uplifting dance music, British scientists found that subjects experienced increased the levels of antibodies, which fight off harmful substances that enter the body. Adding to the evidence for improved immunity, Cunningham can also attest to clients with autoimmune diseases feeling less pain while meditating to music.

Music Boosts Heart Health

In addition to lowering our stress and boosting immunity, music can slow the pulse rate, improve the regularity of the heartbeat and lower blood pressure. A study published in 2006 in Circulation, the journal of American Heart Association, measured the effect of rhythm, syncopation and speed of different tracks of music on respiration and cardiovascular function. Regardless of style of music, tempo was the sole factor that had a physiological affect on the body. Slower music caused a drop in heart rate and slowed the breath, while more up-tempo music increased the heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Researchers also found that two minutes of silence between the music tracks had an even greater impact on reducing heart rate and blood pressure.

“Silence between music had the most profound relaxing effect. In fact, it acted as though it were music with a zero frequency,” said cardiologist Luciano Bernardi, MD in Circulation.

He likened the physiological effects to transcendental meditation. “First, you have to concentrate hard, giving your attention to something. Then, when you release the attention, you become very relaxed,” he said. “Music may be able to achieve the same effect.”

The Powerful Combo of Music and Meditation

Brenardi suggests that switching between fast tempo and slow tempo music may be used as a substitute for meditation to help manage cardiovascular disease. However, Cunningham believes that the combination of meditation and listening to music brings additional calming benefits.

“When we meditate, we can tap into that inner peace, like an eye of the storm. Focus in the moment, instead of stressing over past,”Cunningham said. “I try to encourage listening to music while you meditate because it helps your body and emotions get into the calm, centered space more quickly.”

Listening to slow tempo music can help to clear the mind from distracting thoughts, as well as relax the muscles. Studies show that these effects may be the reasons why youth with sleeping disorders who listen to classical music prior to bed experienced improved quality of sleep.

Cunningham teaches her clients how to quiet the mind in a comfortable situation. “Some like to meditate sitting down, and others like to while they are walking,” she said. Clients are asked to focus on their breathing, meditating on a thought or situation.

“I encourage them to meditate at least five minutes a day so they don’t feel overwhelmed,” she said. “Most people love it want to do it for more than 5 minutes.”

Music, Mood and Memory

Just as music can relax us, it can also dramatically improve our mood. Not only does playing happy, up-tempo music set the tone lifting our spirits, music actually stimulates the release of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone, which Cunningham says can make us feel a natural high. A major release of dopamine can give us tingles of pleasure when listening to a really emotionally powerful song.

Music can also give us emotional release. “One of my clients said listening to music made her cry — in a good way. It gave her emotional release,” said Cunningham.

Another surprising benefit of listening to music is that it can help people to recover memories, even if they have brain damage or dementia. Performing music is also a form of brain fitness, improving mental sharpness and clarity.

“People are feeling that release, gaining more clarity over the issues of their life and feeling happier,” said Cunningham, who also performs and records her own music.

Describing music as the universal language for the world, she believes in the importance of setting an intention when you consciously listen to music. “You already use it, you already love it, so find out what it can do for you,” Cunningham said. “If you can use something that powerful, which you already identify with, to help the body heal, it’s not as hard or overwhelming.”

She feels music engages the body, mind and soul all at the same time. “Just eating a piece of broccoli doesn’t do that,” she quips.

Readers, how does music makes you feel? Which kind music either helps you better relax and which helps pump you up?



  1. says

    It was an honor to be interviewed by you and to be featured on this article. You did a great job at introducing this powerful tool for healing. I’m definitely going to be sharing this with my followers. Thank you again!

    • says

      Thank YOU so much for sharing with me what you do, Lori. It was a real pleasure to speak with you and learn about the important (and fun) work you do. I truly appreciate your time and support!

  2. Cynthia Black says

    What an interesting read. I work in very stressful position. The stress is overwhelming at times . As a social worker, I am always looking for ways to relax. It is not easy being pushed to the point of mental exhaustion every day. One thing I do know is that I NEED to find a way to continue to do my job effectively but also take care of myself. I find that listening to classical music on my way home, which is my alone time, helps me to unwind and let go of the day. It doesn’t solve the cause of my stress but helps me to re-energize and try again another day.

    • says

      Cindy, I can’t imagine how tough your job must be. Stress puts such a weight on our bodies, minds and souls. Self care is so crucial to doing jobs we love that take a lot out of us. That’s wonderful you found classical music helps you unwind. Something I forgot to mention was the compounded benefit of music and movement…maybe creating more movement you love in your day will help you de-stress even further? xx

  3. says

    Wonderful write-up, Renee! I won’t pretend to know anything about Vedic chanting or classical Indian music, however I’ve meditated with this CD and highly recommend it to anyone interested in meditating with music:

    “Yogini Bhava unfolds the passion and sweet bliss of devotion through an invocation of Vedic Bija mantras and shlokas for Devi, the Mother Goddess’s divine grace to flow into our lives. The Tantrika evolves her consciousness through unraveling the deep symbolism of life, searching the limitless, timeless totality of the Divine Self.”

    Very powerful, especially when paired with psychedelics.

  4. says

    One of my friends wrote a powerful scifi story on the ability of music as a catalyst for sorrow. We take it for granted, but what if we didn’t have it? It is an expression of joy, and a catharsis. Why does music calm a baby? Or why does a toddler figure out how to “dance” to it on their own with no other impetus? Now, as I go through chemo, I can attest to its calming impact and ability to wile away time under difficult circumstances.

    • says

      It is our language–of culture, identity, time, place…It can calm, console, motivate, inspire or spark reflection. I am very glad you find solace in the gifts of sound during such a challenging time in your life. xx

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