Sunday, January 10, 2016

Music: A Soothing Balm For Stress

June 23, 2015

What roles does music play in your life?

I always love music. In Hong Kong, I tried to audition for my high school choir, which was very esteemed. I was so nervous I could not sing. I stopped singing for many years.

In September 2001, I joined the CCCMIW (i.e. Chinese Christian Church Music Institute for Worship) choir in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our conductor Dr. Richard Lin is a servant of the Lord by example and exhortation. I still remembered Dr. Lin's words such as "We are offering worship, not performance. Song leading is not preaching. And our purpose of praise and worship is to lead people to the throne of God."

In the next few years, I also participated in CCCMIW summer camps to improve my singing and learn how to lead singspiration and to select hymns and praise songs that match the sermons. He taught us worship as a heart issue. "Worship is to magnify the Lord. The hearts of song leaders and choir members need to be moved first before they can bring others to receive, enjoy, and feel the presence of our Lord."

Dr. Richard Lin went to be with the Lord on May 21, 2015. In my Chinese Article, you can read more about my experience learning from Dr. Lin, and how our son and I got to sing Messiah in Mandarin with Dr. Lin's choir in the summer of 2003.

Music still plays a very important role in my life. When visiting our son's family recently, I observed my granddaughter's violin lessons. Then I was tasked by her Mommy to help her practice every morning using a fun system. The little girl loved it when I accompanied her at the piano!

I still love to sing and now I can play many hymns and worship songs. Almost every week I play the piano or keyboard so that someone (e.g. my mother-in-law or a small group) can sing. When I am stressed, I listen to music, especially songs such as "God will make a way" by Don Moen.

Most people have experienced the relaxing effect of music—from the soft strains of a flute playing in the background during a massage, to tuning out the world with your headphones during a grueling commute on public transit.

With hectic schedules, busy families, financial pressures and life's many complications, stress can permeate every aspect of daily living. Whether you're experiencing more persistent stress or just looking to enjoy the many health benefits of increased relaxation, music can play an important role. It has the power to engage the body, mind and spirit and carry you into a more relaxed state.

The Mind

Listening to music may evoke memories, images or scenes. This is how music soundtracks help "tell" the story of a movie. We can all intentionally create soundtracks for our lives, and music therapist Jennifer Buchanan guides us in doing just that in her book, Tune In: Use Music Intentionally to Curb Stress, Boost Morale and Restore Health.

Buchanan says that by choosing to listen to music that you associate with calming memories, images or scenes, you can distract yourself from the negative thoughts that are worrying you. Music can also help engage your creative, problem-solving mind so that you can come up with constructive solutions for the worrisome situation.

The Body

Purposefully chosen music can also evoke the physical sensations of actually being in those relaxing scenarios. Whether you're lying down and listening to a slow-paced symphony, or letting loose on the dance floor to a loud, thumping beat, music can give you a physical release from stress.

The Spirit

Attending a concert, creating live music with a group of people, or even singing along with the radio can help us to feel connected to a world outside ourselves, and sometimes to a deeper spiritual presence. Indeed, music has a major role in most of the world's religions.

Although the use of music as a healing modality dates back to the writings of Aristotle, music therapy was first identified as a profession following WWI and WWII when it was used with veterans who had a variety of issues, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). In her book Tune In, Jennifer Buchanan shares the story of her first meeting with a music therapy client with PTSD.

Before they met, he had closed himself off from the world and spent most of his time in his room. When he first met Jennifer and listened as she sang familiar songs (just one of the many ways that music therapists use music to enhance the health and well-being of their clients), the experience brought a spark of life back into his eyes.

Soon, he was expressing that aliveness in other ways, by expanding his activities and more closely interacting with the people around him.

When it comes to relieving stress, Buchanan says that it's not the speed of music that is the key—for some people, it is fast music that is relaxing—but finding your own personalized music prescription for stress. She suggests that you first identify which style, speed, instrument or voice seems to soothe you.

Choose a piece of music that has those qualities, and then spend 20 minutes immersing yourself in the relaxing power of music with this exercise:

1. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down near the speakers, or wear a comfortable pair of earphones.

2. Turn on the music, ensuring that the volume is high enough to capture your attention yet low enough to not hurt your eardrums.

3. Take a few minutes to observe your breathing, shifting your mind from the external to the internal.

4. Turn your focus entirely to the music and hold it there. Follow the melody, or pay attention to the pauses in the music. If you find yourself drifting away, gently bring yourself back to the sound.

Repeat often for a long-lasting effect.

Research suggests that your mood will improve and your stress will be greatly reduced by this intentional music listening.

Music is my favorite but there are other healthy ways to soothe yourself from stress.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:15-17)
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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