The musical equivalent of meditation

Songs with these characteristics ease anxiety.

Researchers asked 149 healthy participants to listen to yoga music (with a slow tempo, few lyrics, and relatively consistent sounds), pop songs, or nothing at all on three separate nights before going to sleep. Yoga music lowered their anxiety levels and steadied their heart rates, pop songs had the opposite effect on both, and silence increased anxiety, according to the findings.
“The musical elements of a song like its rhythm, melody, and instrumentation all have the ability to quiet or stimulate your fight-or-flight system,” explains Dena Register, Ph.D., board-certified music therapist and associate professor of music therapy at West Virginia University in Morgantown who was not involved in the study.

Brain waves mirror the waveforms of the music that’s playing. Fast, upbeat genres like techno and pop speed them up, which can exacerbate anxiety if you’re already in that state. Meanwhile, people tend to fill silence with their spiraling thoughts. But yoga music calms you down in a similar way that meditation does, Register explains.
Listen to music with minimal lyrics and a consistent rhythm during your bedtime routine (or throughout the day) to ease anxiety.

Register suggests those that have a cadence of 60 beats per minute, the lower end of a healthy resting heart rate. It may take a few songs to calm your nervous system at first, but over time, your body will recognize the prompt and relax within the first few notes of the first song, she says.