Start a New Practice and Maximize Music’s Potential for Your Mental Health

Well, here we are – at home without our regular access to the outside world and the people in it.  Things have changed and we are all adapting.  Maybe this is going well for you some days, but maybe other days feel harder.  You are not alone.  Health experts are anticipating that many people will experience new or familiar challenges with their mental health during and after this period of social distancing. While many things are out of our hands, there are things you can do to optimize your mental wellness and better prepare yourself to cope better with the changing circumstances of daily life.

Practicing mindfulness can be a very efficient way to clear space in our minds, leaving room for reflection, rest, and connection with ourselves.  In these ways, we are better prepared to cope and support the people who may be relying on us.  Practicing mindfulness can be an important part of caring for your mental health.  I think of it sort of as respite for your active brain. Taking breaks is important, especially if the load you are carrying feels like a lot.  Don’t wait for a crisis. It can be harder to repair. If you care for your mental health regularly, the load is easier to carry.

In today’s post, I’m going to offer simple steps for how to use music to establish a useful mindfulness practice using tools you already have in your home.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness refers to the moment-to-moment awareness of your experience without any judgement or assessment.  It is a state of mind and can be activated by paying attention to your actions and the sensations associated with them.  For instance, consider the daily task of brushing your teeth.  You may brush your teeth and consider your meal plan for the week, or you may ponder when salons will open again and you can get your hair cut.  Mindfulness in an exercise like this might mean drawing your awareness to the smell of the tooth paste as you apply it to your brush or focusing on the feeling of your feet firmly planted on the ground.  This approach will help slow the mind and draw your attention to the one thing you are doing in the here and now – brushing your teeth.  Listening to music with intention can bring these benefits as well!

By taking time to listen to music with an intentional ear, you may notice improved respiratory rate, a more relaxed heart rate, clearer thoughts, physical relaxation, and maybe even improved mood.  These are also noted benefits of practicing mindfulness. Because intentional music listening uses so much of our brains, it can also act as a sort of motivator, activating parts of the brain and increasing electrical signals between parts of the brain. Stress, anxiety, and fear can do the opposite to our brains.  So, let’s get listening!

*** Please remember, this will take practice.  You may notice the first couple of times you sit down to listen with intention, you feel the urge to do something else while you listen – knit, read, fold laundry.  Avoid this.  The idea is that the only thing you do is listen.  After a couple of listening sessions, you will find this gets easier.  Practice makes perfect – be kind and be patient, and if you find you need support, reach out.  You can call the Cummings Centre Help Line at 514-734-1411 or click on this link for a list of resources

  1. Listening Space

First of all, find your listening space.  Do you have a favourite chair?  Maybe you prefer to listen while you lay down, or seated with a view out the window?  Find a comfortable place and set it so you can stay there for as long as you intend.  5 minutes?  10 minutes?  20 minutes?  Make a cup of tea or prepare a glass of water.  Let this be your time.

Before selecting your music, be sure you have a good way to hear the music you want to play.  Where possible, make sure you are providing yourself with the highest quality listening experience you can.  If you have a good stereo, listen there.  Perhaps you prefer your headphones or your computer.  Just make sure you are accessing the best sound experience your home offers.  Be sure to keep the music at a safe volume so that you do not strain to hear it and so that you can still speak at a normal volume if you need to.

  1. Music?

Now the music.  What’s important here is that you choose something enjoyable for you.  Music is not prescriptive, so don’t assume this listening experience has to be light, airy, and full of harps – unless that’s what you like!  Choose something you like.  Rock, jazz, klezmer, classical?  Today that may be The Ramones and tomorrow that may be Bach.  Doris Day?  Benny Goodman?  Diana Ross? Joni Mitchell? Choose some music and decide on what time you have to give to this activity.  It could be one song or the whole album.  Start with something manageable so that you can successfully participate in the listening experience.

Now that you have your listening space, listening device(s), and some music, you’re ready to start.

  1. Listen

Turn off your phone, close a door if you need to, and let yourself hear the music.  There are no tricks, just be sure you are using your ears.  The music can do the rest.  Aim to focus on what your ears are hearing as opposed to the thoughts you are thinking or the sights you are seeing.  Allow yourself to take some slow breaths and focus on the control you have over the pacing of your breath.   If at any point, you feel pangs of anxiety (rapid breathing, twisty stomach, racing thoughts, dizziness) turn off the music and let yourself come back to your breath until the symptoms pass.  Music can stir things up before we are ready for them, so pay attention to your body as you listen.

Finally, use the questions below to help you select music that you can use for your listening time.  You don’t need to answer all of them, but use the relevant ones to guide you. Happy Listening!

  1. What musicians or bands do you find yourself coming back to again, and again?
  2. Do you want music to match your current mood or music to contrast it?
  3. What do you hope to take away from this listening experience? Do you want to feel energized? relaxed? Consider your outcome when selecting your music.
  4. Would you prefer music with or without words?
  5. What music has brought you joy or invited positive experiences in your past?

The Cummings Centre’s mission is to empower and enhance the quality of life of adults age 50 and over by providing dynamic and innovative programs, social services, and volunteer opportunities in a vibrant, respectful, inclusive and compassionate environment. Building on its Jewish heritage, Cummings embraces people from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

As the hub of Montreal’s 50+ community, the Centre touches the lives of 10,000 people on an annual basis. In addition to its main campus at 5700 Westbury Avenue in Montreal, programs are offered at several off-site locations including the West Island, Cote Saint-Luc, St.LaurentWestmountChomedey and Florida.

For more information, please contact us by phone at 514-343-3510, online at or in person at 5700 Westbury Avenue.