He's 85 years young and, to celebrate his birthday, this global celebrity has just launched his first album—introducing Inner World, the new record by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
This 11-track recording consisting of mantras and short teachings overlaid on a background of lilting flute, twinkling ivories and shimmering guitar riffs is not only exactly what needs to be the album of summer 2020 (soothing selections have titles including “Compassion” and “Healing”) but also exactly on-trend: Meditation music is getting big play on Spotify and YouTube. But what exactly is meditation music, and why should we listen to it? We spoke to some practitioners and looked at the science behind the chill beat.
1. What Is Meditation Music?
Trick question! Strictly speaking, there is no one type of meditation music. Since it is basically any music used to enhance the practice and/or effects of meditation, this term is as wide-ranging as the practice of meditation itself. However, more often than not, when someone is playing music to accompany meditation, it’s going to sound relaxing, which according to Music in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Encyclopedia, means it will have a slow, consistent tempo in double or triple time, a predictable melodic line and harmonic progressions with string instruments and lots of repetition. You know, like what we call New Age music. It’s no accident that this is the kind of music you hear in so many massage rooms—just hearing the looping flow of the music is hypnotic and you feel those tight neck muscles relax.
2. Why Listen to Meditation Music?
Music is a powerful tool to provoke response—there’s even a scientific branch of inquiry called psychoacoustics which investigates how sound is perceived and its influence on human psychology and biology. (For example, music is used in cancer treatment.) And this powerful tool is handy when teachers are trying to assist students in enhanced states of consciousness. According to Tal Rabinowitz, founder of Los Angeles-based The Den Meditation, “Music frequencies are vibrations; vibrations being energy. We are made of energy as is everything around us. So, when using music, especially music tuned to a healing frequency, it often can help bring you into a deeper state of meditation.” The type of music depends on individual taste, Rabinowitz says. Though she recommends crystal bowls or other instruments that remind you of nature or that come from nature to help bring you to a more neutral point. “Mantra [words or sounds repeated to focus attention] also carry healing vibrations.” Rabinowitz also recommends listening to music tuned to 432 Hz, which is a widely held (but scientifically unproven) belief that this frequency reflects the natural vibrations of celestial bodies.
3. When Should I Listen to Meditation Music?
It’s great in a yoga or meditation studio, but can also bring a moment of zen to your car, according to Charlotte James, co-founder of The Sabina Project. “Meditation doesn't have to be sitting in lotus position in a quiet room with a babbling brook looping in the background,” she says. “It's important to find moments throughout your day to be mindful and grounded. If your day is extra chaotic, or your mood is on the COVID rollercoaster, consider ditching the high-tempo stuff and listen to something like lo-fi beats with no lyrics or some hang drum music.” Rabinowitz sleeps with mantras playing, believing it attunes her subconscious as she sleeps.
4. Who Are Some Meditation Music Artists I Should Check Out?
The Den Meditation has a Spotify playlist with musical selections from teachers and students. Rabinowitz also suggests checking out composer Rolfe Kent for great healing frequencies that that pair well with meditation. For mantras, Snatam Kaur or Deva Premal are go-tos. On YouTube, Yellow Brick Cinema has live streams of Tibetan music as well as music to improve focus and get to sleep.
5. How Should I Go About Making My Own Meditation Music Playlist?
James says that creating a playlist for meditation or [spiritual] “journey work” should be like preparing a playlist for a hike or a party. “You want to ease in, possibly add a bit of energy and end on a high note,” she says. “My current favorite playlist starts with lots of resonance, eases into some Indian chanting, then into instrumental trance music and finishes with some light funk.”