How to Use Music in Your Mindfulness Practice

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By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West, guest contributor 

When I was a student in the Professional Coaching Course some years ago, I found myself sobbing deeply one morning as my classmates and I listened to “Father and Son” by Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens. 

I couldn’t explain why this was happening… only that something about the combination of voice, melody, and words touched my soul in a particular way. The song found a spot in me that needed release. 

A decade later I can recognize that the song brought forth for me a deep reckoning with some crucial moments in my young life. My tears were those of grief at not having been seen, and all I had to let go of—including moving thousands of miles from home—to honor the truth I saw in myself. There was also the profoundly moving realization that my actions weren’t out of whimsy, but rather a deep, sustained knowing with which I’d since lost touch. (There was lots else even underneath that—feelings and understanding that words can’t touch.)

What the song did—especially within the context of the supportive and opening environment of the PCC—was to elicit a confluence of all of these realizations and emotions to arrive in a single moment and break me open in a particular way. Every time I’ve listened to it since I get to revisit that place, letting it open more and more.

Of course, I didn’t see any of that at the time. I only heard the song and wondered at my tears. 

How we use music in coaching

We usually play songs in our programs at New Ventures West. Students are invited to simply sit and listen to the song—not to use the time for a break, not have it playing in the background as you attend to other things, not analyze the lyrics, not even dance (though don’t resist it if your body wants to move!)… simply let the music in. Let it wash over you, affect you. 

Why? Music—and poetry, which appears in our work and classes just as often—has the power to bypass our logical brains, which mindful practitioners know can easily grab hold of any information and begin manipulating it to extract meaning. It can open our hearts, evoke memories, inspire possibilities. It wends its way into our nervous system in ways that can fire us up, break us down, soothe us. Maybe it confounds us, raises questions, and has us be curious in new ways. One song will affect 20 people in 20 different ways. 

As skilled as we may be in speaking, listening, attuning, and holding space, it is often the case that a song or poem can have an impact that a person cannot. Poetry, music, and other works of art have the power to tap into something deeper, more universal than any one person can deliver. Maybe a song is the route to a client finally hearing what we’ve been trying to get across for months. Maybe it breaks their heart, or makes them laugh, or evokes a memory, or otherwise softens them just enough that they are suddenly receptive to a new possibility.

It feels almost too obvious - silly, even - to be talking about the power of music to other human beings who are alive in the world today. It is something that is woven through almost everyone’s experience in some way. We’re all moved by it all the time. So what makes it a specific tool for mindful leadership? 

It is our mindful engagement with it. Sitting with a song is different than listening in the car, while doing dishes, or dancing at a wedding. When we simply sit, simply listen, we are amplifying our receptivity and inviting the music to have its way with us. 

An exercise for mindful engagement with song

Start by doing this yourself.

1. Think of a song that always seems to move or affect you in a particular way.

2. Play it for yourself without doing anything else.

3. Tune into what is happening in the different parts of you. What is coming to mind? What is happening in your heart? What are the sensations in your body?

4. You may play it a few times and sense into different places with each playing. Feel how it is quite literally transforming you. 

Bringing music into our work with others

As practitioners, we can begin to curate a collection of songs that have particular resonance for us. We can get curious about the particular way we’re impacted. Then, when an opening arises, we can play the song for someone or someones who may be in a similar spot. We can play them for clients, play them at meetings, play them for our family, and invite whoever it is to sit, listen, be affected. When deployed mindfully, you never know what a piece of music might open up for another person.

Here’s Yusuf / Cat for you. What is your own experience of this song? Please comment below or share how you use music in your work.

Experience how music, poetry and more are used in Integral Coaching in Foundations of Coaching, our virtual introductory workshop. Use the coupon code MINDFULLEADER for $100 off courses in April, May or June.

Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.

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