Musician, author, educator, and music industry consultant Bobby Borg talks to Allen Weiss, co-chair of Mindful USC, author of Mindfulness Essentials, and a senior teacher of mindfulness meditation at InsightLA about meditation for musicians. Excerpted from the video, “Meditation for Musicians,” this post will help you better appreciate the benefits meditation can bring to your life and music practice.
Bobby Borg: I’ve got Allen Weiss with me today and we’re going to break down this discussion about meditation for musicians into three parts:
- Why people meditate
- How meditation works, and
- How mediation helps
Many musicians are subjected to stress — it could be fear of failure, self-doubt, stage fright, and so much more, and while many people turn to medication, there are other ways to manage stress, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Allen, I want to talk to you about why people meditate. In your book you tell a great personal story where you were undergoing a lot of anxiety and you tried a number of different things to help, but nothing quite helped like meditation. With all the work you’re doing today, can you explain a little bit about why people meditate?
Allen Weiss: People come to meditation for a variety of reasons. They want to reduce anxiety, they want to deal with their crazy thinking. Now that I’ve been teaching for a long time, I see that some people really come because they want to live their life in a more balanced way, and at InsightLA, which is a Buddhist Center as well as a mindfulness center, people come because they want to live their life in a more internal, spiritual way. Here at Mindful USC, it’s more instrumental — people want to reduce anxiety. Students who come to the university come in with anxiety and fear of failure and all these other sorts of things.
Bobby Borg: Sometimes, I think there’s still a stigma around meditation, you know, people think you’re pulling out your crystals and communing with spirits or something. But, I also think that’s changing.
Allen Weiss: I think that’s changing. I always tell people what I’m trying to do is to relax their mind. People don’t get all weird about relaxing their body, so if you see somebody meditating, what they’re doing is relaxing their mind.
Bobby Borg: I came to your classes, and I’ve got to get back into it!
Allen Weiss: It’s a practice. It’s like any practice. I always say it’s just like learning guitar for the first time. You know, your fingers are killing you and you think, “Oh my god, I can’t do this!” But if you keep practicing and practicing, things get easier. You have to practice before you start seeing the benefits.
Bobby Borg: Let’s go on to how meditation works. In your book, you didn’t use these exact words, but it’s almost like meditation reprograms the brain.
Allen Weiss: Sure. If you look at your own self, if you look at your own personal reactivity — one of the ways I explain this when I’m teaching, I ask people, “Do you ever want to be anxious? Do you ever say, ‘it would be a great thing to be anxious right now?'” The reality is, anxiousness and these emotions just arise. You have no control over them. When you close your eyes and try to follow the breath, you’ll see your attention wanders away. This is because our nervous system was optimized for 150,000 years ago. People were basically programmed to be on the lookout for predators — otherwise, they’d be getting eaten by saber-toothed tigers — so nobody passed along genes to have a calm mind because it wasn’t beneficial. What mindfulness does is balance that by focusing the attention on just being with whatever is happening and doing it with a relaxed mind. I think of it as a balance.
Bobby Borg: So what would you say to people who think, “You’ve got to have an edge in the music business. You’ve got to be ruthless. You’ve got to be tough. I don’t want to be calm and relaxed.”
Allen Weiss: Well, how tough can you be when you’re anxious? How tough and focused — with an edge — when all you’re doing is having doubt? I teach a lot at the children’s hospital, the doctors and caregivers there have to be on — you want to see people who are on the edge and working? But that doesn’t mean they have to spend the rest of their day being totally anxious and not being able to reduce some of the stress that they’ve built up.
Bobby Borg: In your book, you talk about how meditation can lower blood pressure, it can improve your sleep, it can even help with weight loss. There are quite a lot of benefits to meditating.
Allen Weiss: There’s been a lot of research on this lately. Back when I started doing this in 2005, there were very few research articles, but go to the American Mindfulness Research Association and you’ll find there were 700 papers published last year alone that address the relationship between mindfulness and, say, not smoking anymore or helping people deal with pain.
But, going back to what I said before, the reason why all this is happening is because people are just reacting. It’s the reactions that people have that keep them going around and around with stress. When you just relax and notice things, things take care of themselves. That’s the first thing you learn with mindfulness. Our minds are almost programmed to go the wrong way.
I used to live in the Midwest, and there we say, when you get in a car and you’re on an icy road and you start to skid, don’t turn away from the skid, you have to turn into it. It’s counter-intuitive and people mess it up and they go slipping off the road. You have to train yourself to turn the wheel into the skid to slow it down. It’s the same way with mindfulness — you have to train yourself to notice things, acknowledge things. You think going the opposite direction is going to help when, in fact, it makes you skid off the road.
There’s lots more… watch the entire conversation!
Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician (Second Edition), Business Basics For Musicians (Second Edition), and The Five Star Music Makeover (published by Hal Leonard Books). Get these books at any fine online store in both physical or digital format. Learn more at www.bobbyborg.com.
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