Uniting Mind, Body, and Spirit with Music

November 2, 2014, 11:07 AM · As a concert violinist and violin teacher, to me, one of the most fascinating elements of the musical experience is the unification of mind, body, and spirit, that results from learning and performing our instruments. I would like to take my realization a step further and put forth the hypothesis that, in fact, music can be a tool for achieving this highly desirable state.

Before we get into the science of this unification, let's talk about why it should be attained. Many practitioners of prayer, meditation, and even t'ai chi tap into a deep kind of energy that means different things to different people. What all practitioners agree upon, is that uniting mind, body, and spirit is a desirable activity. Some wish to do it out of an internal desire to find balance in their lives while others believe that they are commanded by a Higher Authority to do so.

It is worth noting that the experiences that I will share with you may or may not be the same as yours. While I cannot speak in depth about t'ai chi, I can speak about Jewish prayer and meditation and, for me, both exercises are one in the same.

So what do I find useful about Jewish prayer and meditation? A little background about Jewish prayer, first. Jewish prayer often involves two objects called tefillin.

In the traditional Jewish teaching, men are required to put on tefillin every day except for the Sabbath and holy days. Women are certainly allowed to do the same, but they are not obligated. Tefillin, also translated by the Greeks as Phylacteries, are two separate small wooden boxes that contain parchments inside upon which are written some of the most important prayers to Judaism. These boxes cannot be opened unless one cuts them open. The boxes also have leather straps that hang off of them and one box is worn just above the front hairline and the other is worn on the arm of the "weaker" hand with the box facing the heart. The implication is that when you pray to the Almighty, you are harnessing your mind and body to serve G-d.

Interestingly, the "head tefillin" is worn over the "mind's eye" - an important part of many Eastern meditative rituals.

Roy Masters, a trained hypnotist-turned-anti-hypnotist teaches such an exercise which he infuses with Judeo-Christian principles. While I cannot speak of his knowledge about Jewish tefillin practice, I do believe that his exercise, which involves "looking at your eyelids with your eyes closed" and "feeling your fingers tingle in your right hand" sounds a lot like it is trying to achieve the same purpose of uniting mind and body, as one finds with the unification of the head tefillin and the arm tefillin.

I am not trained in t'ai-chi but I believe that this unification of mind and body is also crucial to its practice.

The third element, which I call "the spirit", is what binds everything together. In religious parlance, the Jews call it the neshama, and the Christians call it the holy spirit - part of their holy trinity. Atheists and agnostics can also benefit from this "third element" by referring to it as "our common humanity".

So now that I have thoroughly changed topics to religion and matters of the spirit, let's get back to music. In fact, this is exactly where playing a musical instrument comes into our discussion.

When one learns the violin or any other instrument, in order to produce beautiful music, one must unite mind, body, and spirit. After all King David in Psalm 98 wrote "Sing praises unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp and the voice of melody."

This singing "with the harp and the voice of melody" is a reflection of uniting mind, body, and spirit for a greater cause. Some call this cause "the service of G-d". Others call it "making the world a better place through attaining and sharing harmony". Whatever your religious (or lack of) persuasion, this unification of mind, body, and spirit, is a daily activity that ultimately can be used to serve a higher purpose. Just as the religious man or woman prays every day or just as the practitioner of meditation meditates every day, we musicians, too, have the ability to hone our craft for a greater purpose. When we practice daily (or almost daily), we unite our minds and bodies. The spirit lies in the music that we choose to play or are inclined to play at any given moment.

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians, LLC
Greater Boston and New England


November 4, 2014 at 01:04 AM · Thank you - this is a really beautiful and well written article. As a Christian, I personally consider my music to be deeply tied to my spirituality, but I also realize I teach people from a variety of faith backgrounds and beliefs - and your language that balances both particularity and universality is really helpful in helping me verbalize to a student what it means to really spiritually connecting, and emotionally "in tune" with what we are playing through our instruments.

November 4, 2014 at 08:22 PM · As an atheist, I'd call that spirit part emotion (as the reply above termed it within his own context of being a Christian while teaching many others).

When we hear really proficient playing that isn't interesting we say it is devoid of emotion. We get the mind part (learning what to do) and the body part (getting good at moving your parts); it is the feeling that matters most, isn't it? That's what makes us want to listen to the music.

At the risk of anthropomorphizing, some animals seem to show an affinity to music. Are they tapping into the same emotive elements that we have in our brains? (I reject the concept of a metaphysical spirit but from an Ontological standpoint this distinction is unimportant to the practice and enjoyment of music:-)

November 5, 2014 at 01:42 PM · Thank you for sharing this with us.

I'm non-Jewish myself; but I do recognize the very Judaic roots of the Christian faith, thanks to the early influence of my parents and teachers and mentors. King David definitely strikes a chord with me. Can't help noticing all the times he refers in the Psalms to his sorrows and anguish and troubles, and how God brought him through his ordeals. My own sorrows and testing times have been quite different from David's, but I can say wholeheartedly that my experiences confirm what this "man after God's own heart" said about the Lord's love and faithfulness and mercy.

I, too, give the Lord thanks many times through music, whether or not I have an audience. I thank Him many times for the ability to play -- and the doors He opened for me to learn this instrument, the violin, in my growing-up years -- plus the avenues for sharing the music. When I get done with a practicing or playing session, then I feel that I've really experienced the mind-body-spirit connection. There's a quietly contented, happy feeling at the very core of me that slowly radiates out from there. Words really can't do it justice -- that's about the best I can do to describe it at the moment.

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