Can You Meditate with Music?
If you search on YouTube or Spotify, you’ll find hundreds of music meditation playlists. Every meditation app has meditation music. Some music feels so soothing that it seems as if we’ve meditated while listening.
Vedic Meditation is taught without music for a specific reason, however. In this post, we’ll cover what meditation with music does to the brain and why Vedic Meditation isn’t taught with accompanying music.
Can you meditate with music?
Music has its own effects on the brain which are different from what Vedic Meditation provides. The better question, then, is should you meditate with music based on the outcome you’re looking for from your meditation practice? You can listen to music with your Vedic Meditation, but you won’t get the same results.
The outcome of Vedic Meditation is to deeply rest the body and release embedded stress memories. The way the mantra works to effortlessly bring the mind beyond thought and into pure being in Vedic Meditation allows for 5x deeper rest than sleep.
Aside from the physiological benefits of rest and stress release, Vedic Meditation allows the mind to experience the field of pure being. Transcending the mind and dipping into universal consciousness creates benefits that music cannot offer– the uniting of individuality with universal consciousness is a unique experience that requires deep rest and total transcendence of thought.
So, if your goal with your meditation practice is to feel more pleasant, to drift off to sleep, or lower your heart rate and calm down, then meditation with music could work well for you. If it’s to transcend thought, release years of accumulated stress memories, interact with the field of pure being, or rest more deeply than sleep, then meditation with music will not get you to your goal.
How music affects the brain
Many studies have shown that the rhythms in music change the physiology and affect the brain. Some specialized kinds of music can even entrain the brainwaves to match the rhythm of the music. Most music elicits either a level of distraction, an emotion like happiness or sadness, or calls up memories associated with a concert, a person, a film, a culture, or an experience one had while listening to the song.
One of the results of listening to music is that it draws the thoughts to focus on the lyrics or the sounds instead of focusing on stressors or thinking about problems. When you take your mind off a stressful thought, often the body will follow by downregulating your fight or flight response. There are all kinds of activities that can change your mental state or physical state in a moment, and listening to music is one of them.
Sound baths or sound healing
You might wonder whether sound baths or sound healing can have a deeply restorative effect beyond the pleasant feelings brought up by the music. Some speculate that the frequencies of certain notes can ‘tune the body’ into certain feelings or states as if the vibration of the sounds can change the vibration of your cells or neurons.
While this may or may not be true, the frequency of the music or sounds cannot permanently alter your state. After the music is over and you return to your daily demands, you’ll still have the same physical vehicle carrying the same stored stress from all the years you’ve been alive.
Though sound baths may create a heightened state or a peak experience (especially when paired with breathwork or fasting or other kinds of physical change), the sounds in themselves cannot cumulatively transform your body’s stress responses in the same way that Vedic Meditation can.
Distracting the mind with music
The nature of music in making us feel a certain way is part of what makes it so enjoyable. We often associate certain memories with music. Just like you learned the ABCs song to memorize the alphabet, music has a unique power to create memories.
You may be able to remember lyrics from a song you haven’t heard in years or call up the face of someone you’ve never met because you saw them sing the song ages ago. Just as the body creates stress memories to attempt to protect you from situations where you’ve felt stress before, the body also creates positive memories to draw you toward experiences that have made you feel good in the past.
The result of this power of music to call up memories and draw our attention means that it is often distracting. Rather than allow our thoughts to effortlessly come and go, if we listen to music our minds are drawn to the music. We then have all kinds of thoughts about the song, whether we’ve heard it before or not.
We cannot as easily float the mantra in and out of our awareness when listening to music because the mind will be drawn to the music rather than the mantra.
The innocent nature of the Bija mantra
Each Bija mantra is a meaningless sound designed to charm the mind toward transcendence. There is no agenda, we’re not trying to ‘not think.’ We’re not trying to think about the mantra or to concentrate on anything. We call the mantra innocent because there is no agenda.
Rather, we are innocently allowing our minds to float in and out of thoughts, sometimes to the mantra, sometimes to thoughts and the mantra at the same time.
This lack of concentration and allowing our minds to be charmed by the mantra creates the conditions for the deep rest we see in Vedic Meditation. It also creates the conditions to quieten the thoughts effortlessly until we have no thoughts at all and are experiencing pure being.
Personal preferences vs effortlessness
When we select the song or playlist we want to listen to while we meditate, we’ve introduced an element of personal preference into our meditation session. This means that rather than allowing our thoughts to arise and our stress to release naturally, we’ve already set an agenda for meditation. We want to feel a certain way, so we choose music.
The unique thing about Vedic Meditation is that we don’t get to judge what was a bad meditation or a good meditation. So long as we’re effortlessly allowing our mantra and our thoughts to come and go, it’s a good meditation.
Even if there are lots of noisy thoughts, racing thoughts, or discomfort, we’re releasing stress and we allow that experience. When we choose music prior to this effortless and allowing session in our day, we’ve put an agenda on the experience. We don’t get to practice effortlessness and allowing.
The body’s wisdom to organize health and restoration
One other distinction about choosing music to go with our meditation is that we’ve limited the experience of the meditation to what the music can provide. The Vedic Worldview holds that our bodies have all the wisdom to self-heal, just as nature self-regulates growth, nourishment, and expansion in its plants and ecosystems.
It is stress that causes deterioration or unhealthiness, and we cannot access a place of unstressing so long as our minds are focusing, concentrating, or distracted. When we use only the bija mantra and allow whatever sounds happen to be outside of us, we turn inward and begin the process of unstressing and deep, effortless rest.
We trust our bodies to guide the perfect experience of stress release and deep rest and allow the deep rest to support our body’s’ natural healing. When music alters or controls the experience of meditation, our bodies are not able to guide our experience effortlessly.
Vedic Meditation rest vs regular rest or relaxation
When we say ‘deep rest,’ we don’t mean the kind of rest that comes with sleep or with relaxing on the beach.
Relaxation has all kinds of forms and different people have different preferences when they want to ‘chill’ or relax. For some people it’s a kind of mindless stimulation, like a puzzle or a video game. It can be entertainment, like reading a book or watching TV. Some people find socializing relaxing and some people find drinking relaxing.
Relaxing doesn’t mean permanently releasing stress from the body– it usually means either distracting the mind from stressful thoughts or down-regulating the nervous system from a heightened state.
Though going into a float tank or doing a workout may change your mental, emotional, and physical state in the moment, your body won’t be able to access that deep level of rest that bypasses the mind and allows stress memories to leave the body permanently. That’s not to say that Vedic Meditation should replace the things you do to relax– those activities are some of the pleasures of living.
Your meditation practice ensures that you’re evolving and expanding your consciousness while you go about working, relaxing, sleeping, and all the other things you do to survive and thrive.
Meditation and the senses
Studies have shown that meditation can heighten creativity, and many Vedic Meditators report that they do feel more creative. Not only that, but all of their senses are more heightened and stimulating to their creativity and mood as if they are able to take in more sensory information with a consistent meditation practice. This means that if you stick to your twice daily meditations with your mantra (without music), your experience of music may heighten.
You may find that you enjoy music more, or you’re more attentive to the texture of different styles. You may find that music can more easily affect your mood, or you can feel it in your body more easily. When we release stress from the body, our brain is freed up to process our sensory inputs and generally be ‘more present.’ Our heart is more open and less burdened by stress, so we feel things more easily and deeply.
Every Vedic Meditator experiences the benefits of their practice in different ways and at different times. If you’re someone who loves music, then keeping your practice the way that you were taught by your qualified Vedic Meditation instructor opens up the possibility for you to enjoy and appreciate music even more.
Can you meditate with headphones?
Meditating with headphones that are playing sounds is possible, and it is not Vedic Meditation. In some cases, noise canceling headphones are useful when they are used like earplugs to meditate in a loud or busy place. We want to develop the ability to allow sounds in our meditation like we allow thoughts— unless the kinds of sounds around us are distracting.
White noise sounds like those of an office, a park, a neighborhood street, an airplane, or people talking far away don’t have to detract from our meditation. Sounds like those of a close conversation, music or a concert nearby, alarms, ads or media nearby, or people trying to get your attention to indicate an area or time that isn’t appropriate for your 20-minute meditation session.
While we don’t want to rely on total silence to do our meditation, we also don’t want to set ourselves up for being distracted and missing our opportunity to transcend thought and experience being. Headphones can work on occasion, and it’s best to intentionally move to a place of quiet or white noise when we meditate.
How to meditate with music
The solution for those who love meditating with music is to enjoy a music meditation after your Vedic Meditation sitting. You’ll feel more sensory heightened and can enjoy it as a pleasurable or calming activity.
To receive your own mantra and begin to experience these benefits, sign up for an intro talk here. You’ll hear about the Learn to Meditate course and can ask any questions you have about Vedic Meditation.