Skip to main content


Music and wellbeing

09 Apr 2020

Dr Ben Koen demonstrates the Three Breath Meditation

During times of high stress and worry, music can act as a refuge and bring calm and peace to people. Dr Ben Koen, a medical ethnomusicologist from the Department of Music, has been exploring the role of music in healing and wellbeing. Over the past 20 years he has travelled the world and visited different cultures and communities to see how they use music and healing in interesting and effective ways. 


Ben also teaches people how to harness the potential power of music and meditation in their own lives. He says this is possible because "music is a vehicle of meaning and it connects with us in deep and holistic ways—in our body, mind, spirit, emotions, and relationships."


Traditional beliefs


In the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, a remote and stunning part of the globe, Ben spent time with communities who used music to heal, finding that their ritual practices could even reduce blood pressure.


"There's a whole world of beliefs, musical instruments and genres of music that are used specifically for healing. For example, in Tajikistan, their ritual practice is connected to their belief in this energy called Baraka, and their prayer and meditation ritual process engages with that. Similarly, in traditional Lakota Native American culture, there's a particular belief that relates to an energy that is similar to chi, and music is part of that too," he says.


Meditative practices


In terms of tips and exercises that people can integrate into their daily lives, Ben recommends Three Breath Meditation. Music can be a good accompaniment to this practice, and music itself can be a kind of meditation which enables us to relax and recharge.


"Three Breath Meditation is a brief meditation that you can use every morning and evening. Every night before we fall asleep, there's a little window where no conscious thought exists, and it helps you to let go of the past and future, and bring you into the present moment and a state of being," he says. "You can also put some music on, and unfamiliar tunes can be useful as you can assign your own meaning to the music. In addition, you can tap back into it during your day either by remembering the meaning you assigned to that music during your meditation or the music itself."


Healthy mind, healthy body


Ben also says that people need to try and put their worries to one side and have no fear, as such feelings can affect our immune system and wellbeing. Another trick he recommends is forcing ourselves to smile, as when you smile, your brain immediately believes you're happy and it starts to release the biochemical messengers associated with happiness. 


"It's important to really understand how our emotional state impacts our immune system. One of the realities with this virus and so many others is that it affects everyone differently. At the end of the day, it comes down to your state of being, so the more you can boost your immune system, the better you will be," he adds.