Mindful Guitar Practice Health Benefits
Mindful guitar practice stirs many different reactions in many different people. Many times it stirs a negative emotion rather than a positive beneficial one. When it comes to applying it to guitar, one might associate it to books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. No matter where one stands, the science continues to support and verify the benefits of mindfulness practice¹. In our case, we will look at the how it benefits us through using the guitar as the vehicle to apply mindful practice.
Therapy For Stress Reduction
Over the years, many students come to the guitar with the sole intention of using it to relieve stress. Sometimes it succeeds and other times it falls short. Why? I believe it is the lack of mindfulness in playing that causes it to succeed or fail. A basic definition of mindful guitar practice is being aware while practicing the guitar. If a student pursues the instrument in a goal oriented application, then the stress of attaining the goal appears. If a student pursues the instrument with the idea of being aware of the music and technical movements, then the result inevitably falls into a stress relieving activity.
Performance Anxiety Reduction
Everyone performs. Many think performing relates only to an instrument or sport, but everyone performs at something every day of their lives. Giving a presentation, talking on the phone with a client, or even playing a game of chess are examples of performing. Accompanied with this is inevitably some form of stress. We can benefit greatly by using the mindful guitar practice as a tool to develop the skills to deal with anxiety of performance². Mindfulness allows us to focus on the mind on what is truly important while simultaneously taking it away from the elements that cause anxiety in a specific situation. Learning to to this on guitar facilitates the application in other areas of life.
Achieving Flow And Greater Music Creation
One of the challenges of playing an instrument is creating acceptable music. Many times this music finds its acceptability when a player enters the "flow". Flow defined in psychology is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. The definition has many parallels to mindfulness in focus and attention. I believe that through mindful guitar practice, the barrier to flow is diminished. By mindfully approaching practice and performance, the music creation process is deepened and richer to the player and the listener alike³.
Increase Focus and Less Confusion
I tend to use the phrase "confusion and error" many times during lessons. We are constantly trying to avoid these two pitfalls when playing and memorizing music. To alleviate these two we rely on our ability to focus on the present and what lies ahead. This takes a mindful way of practicing to achieve even minimal results. Mindfulness and meditation continue to demonstrate the enhancement of focus and lack of confusion after extended practice has been applied. And what could be better than increasing your overall focus in life while learning to play beautiful music4.
On a side note: For an interesting look at applying this to the guitar, check out Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo. It is a book that I have found very useful at times for re-centering my focus on the guitar. It may help you in your approach as well.
- Grossman P1, Niemann L, Schmidt S, Walach H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res. 2004 Jul; 57(1):35-43.
- Sheri Oyan Mindfulness Meditation: Creative Musical Performance Through Awareness. Louisiana State University
- Ellen Langer, Timothy Russell, and Noah Eisenkraft Orchestral performance and the footprint of mindfulness. Psychology of Music first published on October 15, 2008
- Butzer B1, Ahmed K2, Khalsa SB3. Yoga Enhances Positive Psychological States in Young Adult Musicians. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2016 Jun;41(2):191-202.