Think music is just for heart-pumping workouts? Think again. Mary Hoang, founder and head psychologist at The Indigo Project, and Rich Lucano, creative director at The Indigo Project, fill us in on how music can even enhance mindfulness…

WHAT EFFECTS CAN MUSIC HAVE ON OUR MINDS?

HOANG: “It’s no secret that music makes you feel good, but science is now explaining why – studies have shown that music can help with the management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding. It can reduce blood flow to the amygdala (which processes emotions and is known as the fear centre of the brain), lower the production of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), and increase our dopamine levels. Pleasing music has also been found to increase production of oxytocin – known as the ‘cuddle’ hormone – which enhances bonding. We spend about a third of our lives listening to music (a percentage that’s rising), and 50 percent of that time music is emotionally affecting us, whether we realise it or not. It pays to be conscious of what you’re letting into your ears and your mind.”

WE’RE OFTEN TOLD TO MEDITATE IN SILENCE BUT CAN MUSIC BE A MEDITATION AID?

HOANG: “Mindfulness is all about connecting with the senses and the present moment, while meditation is the activity that helps us develop this skill. Purposefully and deliberately listening to music can provide us with an anchor to the present moment, which aids meditation. At The indigo project’s monthly music event Listen Up, we use sound as a vehicle for mindfulness by turning off the lights, laying down and consciously listening to a record in full. With or without sound, meditation is an experience of yourself; we find that music enhances that connection for people by making them much more aware of their emotions.”

HOW CAN WE USE MUSIC TO ENHANCE MINDFULNESS?

LUCANO: “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention on purpose. In this sense, we can practise being mindful by giving our undivided attention to a song or an album. When was the last time you listened to music, without doing anything else? (Try it for 15 minutes and see how you feel). Music can help us form a sort of meditative cocoon, in particular for people working in noisy/busy areas. Even in the most chaotic environment, with a good pair of headphones, you can be transported to a calmer, more focussed state despite your surroundings. Separate to mindfulness, music has the ability to empower, heal and help you reflect. We can all use music therapeutically by becoming more aware of how different genres help us through different situations. Think of playlists as your medicine, you’re the doctor. It’s worth spending a Sunday afternoon curating your lists. Whether it’s ‘6am Workout Jams’ or ‘In The Zone Work Tunes’ – nobody has the ability to shape your mood through music as much as you do.”

WHAT KIND OF MUSIC IS BEST FOR THIS?

LUCANO: “The research points to ‘pleasing’ music as having huge positive effects on our overall wellbeing. What is considered pleasing is completely up to you. (Some people find death metal relaxing…). At our Listen Up events, we are drawn to music that offers people a deeper emotional experience such as the works of Max Richter, Nils Frahm, Sigur Ros and Explosions in The Sky. These artists create emotive, expansive music that draws your awareness to your internal experience, while offering you the space.  We find that music with standard pop structures can become a little predictable. Lyrics often make the mind wander as our brains can’t help but try to figure things out: what is the singer talking about? What’s that metaphor? That reminds me of this memory or that memory. It’s great to be engrossed in a track like that, but if our goal is to be in the present moment it can often take us away from it. We also find that the music needs to comfort you a little. If it’s too angular or dissonant, you’re not going to enjoy sitting with it.”

CAN YOU POINT US TO A GOOD MINDFULNESS PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY?

“We both tailor our own playlists but if you’re looking for a place to start, try Max Richter’s ‘Sleep’. Other albums we love are ‘Spaces’ by Nils Frahm and ‘The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place’ by Explosions In The Sky.”