Monday, November 12, 2007

Nuts and Bolts: How Music Works for Relaxation

Most people intuitively understand that music can play a powerful role in helping set the mood or reflecting our current state of feeling. Understanding some of the ways music accomplishes this will enable us to use music as a tool. Music as a tool to facilitate relaxation is effective for several definable reasons. I would like to outline some of these basic properties and functions of music as it is used to aid in relaxation.

In our fast-paced world finding time for relaxing has become a major priority. Sometimes we only have a small window of opportunity to try and wind down or take a short break. Music can help by facilitating induction to relaxation. Just as our attention is immediately turned towards finding the flag when we hear the National Anthem being played, selected music can shift our attention of focus away from the hustle and bustle and towards the purpose of relaxing. As our focus changes to listen to the music, the rhythm of the music begins to establish parameters for our breathing. Breathing is a major component for any relaxation protocol and one of the first things that we can control in trying to begin relaxing. Music may also begin to effect changes in the autonomic body systems including heart rate and blood pressure. Over time and practice, selected music can become a cue for relaxation, a conditioned stimulus that sets the mind and body onto a course for relaxation.

Once the direction has been established in inducing relaxation, music has an important role in maintaining the setting for relaxation to continue. The music holds the focus of attention and may mask unwanted environmental sounds. Appropriate music selections will assist in slowing breathing and taking deep breaths. The rhythm and constant underlying pulse of sedative music selections are mental guidelines for breathing and progressively relaxing each part of the body. Heart rate and other indicators should remain steady and at a reduced count, especially as repeated practice with the same or similar music has established a conditioned response. The music, especially a well chosen melody, may also lead to positive emotional associations and allow for feelings of self-worth and affirmations.

Music to help in relaxation is best used when combined with other relaxation methods and protocols. As previously outlined, music is a good cue for relaxation and framework for maintaining a relaxed state for a defined period of time. Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, circular breathing, imagery or biofeedback are extremely effective when used in conjunction with music. Experiment with different tempos, rhythms and melodies to gain the full advantage of using music to help structure the relaxation experience. An ascending and then descending melodic scale may lend itself to deep breathing, for example. Some melodies and instrumental arrangements can help set the stage for painting a mental picture of a beautiful nature scene where worries and stress can melt away.

Practice makes perfect!

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