Two Meditative States that are Best with Music

In partnership withThis is the first article in a series about how to use music to enhance whatever you’re…

This is the first article in a series about how to use music to enhance whatever you’re doing, whenever you’re doing it. See also: Why the Soundtrack to Your Life Matters and 5 Lush Soundtracks to Inspire Your Practice

The stereotypical depiction of meditation is sonically austere: a yogi in a remote cave, Zen monks sitting silently for hours. But for certain types of meditation, music can be an incredibly powerful tool. It all depends on the meditative state you seek. Wanderlust spoke with meditation expert Charlie Knoles about when and how to bring music into your meditation practice:

The Four Meditative Experiences

All the thousands of meditation techniques that exist are connected to four fundamental meditative states:

  1. Present Moment Awareness: This state is common to techniques such as Zen, Vipassana, and mindfulness, where you bring your attention to the present moment. There’s no awareness of past or future, just what is happening now.
  2. Intention-based Meditation: Rather focusing on the present, you bring your attention to a future desired state. This experience is common to hypnosis, creative visualization, prayer, and manifestation.
  3. Energized Body-Mind Meditation: This is the experience of peak performance states, runner’s high, kundalini, vinyasa. You’re body is energized, you’re heart is beating, you’re doing things, but at the same time your mind is completely calm. You are operating at peak capacity in a perfect state of flow.
  4. Transcendence: In this state you go beyond the intellect and ego, losing sense of time and self but gaining sense of universality.

Music is neither here nor there for the states of Present Moment Awareness and Transcendence. At best, it’s not distracting. But for Intention-based Meditation and Energized Body-Mind Meditation, music can be highly effective.

Music for Setting and Manifesting Intentions

When you’re setting an intention in meditation, the goal is to get so clear on what you want that it absolutely has to happen. You need to be very calm, but also very focused. I have found that music is key to accessing these somewhat contradictory states simultaneously.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Turn on music that’s slow, instrumental, and calming. You don’t want to be thinking about what music is trying to say; you just want to go with the feeling. I find it helpful if there’s an underlying drone sound, a sort of hum, which could be an organ or a synth or a harmonium, and then the melody hooks on top of that. You can find this in traditional Indian kirtan, or mellow, downtempo electronic music, or even church music.
  • Get comfortable and sit upright. Let the music establish a grounded state, then introduce whatever intention you have on top of that.
  • Set your intention clearly. That might mean focusing on an expanding a sense of compassion and gratitude, or it could be visualizing how you will achieve a particular goal. Let the music inform the state of your mind: steady and calm, but also active and singularly focused.

Suggested Stations:


Music for Entering a Flow State

Music has incredible ability to push your brain into a flow state—out of whatever pains or aches you are feeling and into a place where your mind is above and beyond it. And yet at the same time your body is operating at peak performance.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Go for repetitive music with a strong rhythm, ideally starting slow and building up faster and faster. You see this commonly with chant and trance-based traditions such as capoeira, voodoo, and EDM, where it starts slow and builds into a driving pulse.
  • Get active and energized. Start moving in rhythm with the music as it builds.
  • Lyrics are fine, but make sure it’s driving and inspiring you to push hard through the physical discomfort and into the blissful state on the other side.

Suggested Stations:


A Final Note: How to Find More Music You Love

Over and over again people say to me, “I can’t find music any more that’s like the music I listened to when I was younger. I can’t find music I love as much anymore.” A lot of the reason you loved that music is because you had amazing experiences when you were listening to it. You were falling in love for the first time, you were going on adventures, you were going to parties and dancing, and that music was the soundtrack.

And so if you’re finding that music isn’t hitting you in the same way, it’s not because the music isn’t as good anymore. You need to go and find some new amazing experiences and have new music playing in the background. Then that music will have powerful emotional resonance because it will be associated with those beautiful memories. This will take you into new places in your life in so many ways. I just can’t recommend doing that enough.

charlieCharlie Knoles is a Meditation teacher and the director of The Veda Center. He was taught Vedic Meditation at age 4 by his father, Maharishi Vyasananda Thom Knoles. Following in his father’s footsteps, Charlie‘s has devoted his life to innovative teaching. Hestudied at the Australian institute of Music, The Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and attained his degree in Biology at Maharishi University of Management, where he helped create their multidisciplinary degree in Sustainable Living, now one of their most popular programs. Charlie has spent the two last decades studying all the the major meditation practices of the world. From his studies he has distilled the major meditation practices to their essence to teach these gems in easily accessible form.

Photo by Max Landerman