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Self Care

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A balance between movement and stillness means you’re in harmony with yourself, psychologist John M. Ortiz suggests. Composer Claude Debussy famously claimed that “music is the space between the notes.” Music moves; music is still. In this frantic world, do you take enough time and space for yourself?

Do you breathe? Do you daydream? Do you dance or move? Do you lie in the grass to watch the clouds? If we follow music’s example, we can learn to breathe, to be quiet, to feel excitement or passion, to rest, and to dream.

Music and Drama Visualization Exercises

Remember: if you’re working with a music therapist, these exercises may not be for you. Always consult your professional therapist for advice.

& It’s important to centre and let go of tension and internal noise. Drown out the critics and clear your mind for the better.

Let Go and Clear Your Mind

Before beginning any exercise, practice, or performance, it’s important to centre and let go of tension and internal noise/critics.

In a hush tone

At soft volume, play music that inspires or motivates, but that is also calming or relaxing.

Just breathe

Close your eyes and try this Pranyama alternate nostril breathing exercise.

Begin your journey

Once you’ve finished the breathing exercise, tell yourself that you’re about to begin a journey where there are no “shoulds” or judgements.

Let your imagination roam free

Imagine moving to your special or happy place. Use your senses to explore this space and be open to colours, shapes, textures, imagery, scents, tastes, sounds. Allow yourself to surrender to the music and the good feelings of your safe space.

Stay in the your headspace

You may be still or you may sway along with the experience, the vibrations, the music, but try to stay in this space for a full piece or song.

Bring yourself back to the now

As the music ends, gently allow yourself to return to now. Take a few moments to reflect: jot down ideas, doodle, draw, or record your thoughts.

Now you’re ready

At this point, you may feel sufficiently centred to begin your own musical practice, composition, or creative activity.

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

Love Yourself
Step 01

At soft volume, play instrumental music that’s up-tempo or lively.

Step 02

Find a comfortable place to sit or recline and begin to deep belly breathe.

Step 03

As you begin to relax, allow your mind to let go of negative self-talk and thoughts. If an “I should/shouldn’t” or similar judgement enters your thoughts, gently mind-sweep it away.

Step 04

Imagine yourself in a difficult or uncomfortable situation (e.g. a job interview, giving a school presentation, writing an exam) and envision yourself going successfully through each stage of the whole process—beginning, middle, and end. See yourself make it through triumphantly!

Step 05

If your inner critic shows up in your thoughts, gently mind-sweep it away. If it returns, sweep again, without becoming frustrated or giving up.

Step 06

Find a positive mantra to repeat to yourself as you listen to your musical selection: “I am capable of…”; “I am good at…”; “What I like best about myself is…” and finish off with another upbeat song with affirming lyrics.

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

Help, I’m Alive
Step 01

Try a breathing exercise.

Step 02

Put your earbuds in, step out into the world and go for a substantial walk. Alter your pace to match your playlist – get your heartbeat pumping, slow down, speed up.

Step 03

As your breathing rate increases, start a thinking mantra (e.g. “let go,” “stress gone”; “peace in/stress out”). As your rate decreases, repeat a version of “peace in/stress out.”

Step 04

While you move and listen, allow your mind to let go of negative self-talk and thoughts. Practice patience and kindness with yourself. Is the thing you’re stressing about truly worth the trouble and effort? Life is short – let go of bad stress. Try to channel the energy into your walking and moving.

Step 05

Repeat as necessary. Forgive yourself if it doesn’t go well on certain days. Keep trying. Keep walking. Keep listening to your affirming playlist.

Step 06

Or, if you’d like to work out your stress through percussion, drum out your stress or shadow drum for stress release!

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

You Outta Know How Mad That Makes Me
Step 01

If you’re angry and are hoping to calm down, try one of the breathing/relaxation exercises.

Step 02

Pick out some “angry” music and make a playlist. Put your earbuds in or, if you’re alone, crank up the tunes and dance or exercise your anger out. Or sing along. Or act out the confrontation you’d like to have at the moment. Ending up breathless is ok. Feel your anger release as you move in sync with the music.

Step 03

Allow your breathing rate to decrease, and think or speak aloud a mantra (e.g. “let go”; “peace in/anger out”).

Step 04

Or, if you’d like to work out your anger through percussion, drum out your anger or shadow drum for anger/stress release!

Step 05

Compose an angry song (like Alanis Morissette did!) and release your anger through your words, voice, and instrument.

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

Golden Slumbers
Step 01

Improve your sleep routine: stay away from screens an hour before bed, using that time to wind down with something relaxing instead. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, too.

Step 02

Make a playlist of white noise or soothing musical selections that you would not usually listen to other times of the day. This is your bedtime list – play it at low volume only at bedtime; play it only in your bedroom. Dim your lights and turn your technology OFF. Your brain will gradually come to associate this list with sleeping and prepping for sleep.

Step 03

Try deep belly breathing or one of the breathing/relaxation exercises.

Step 04

Think and repeat a mantra (e.g. “time to sleep”; “the day is over”; “my only responsibility is to relax and sleep”; “even if I don’t fall asleep, I will relax and rest”). If your mind wanders or begins negative self-talk either about you or your inability to get to sleep, gently bring your thoughts back to your mantra.

Step 05

Continue to breathe and allow your body to “hitch a ride” with the music you’re listening to.

Step 06

If after 20 minutes or so, you still can’t sleep, tell yourself you have the option to get up and attend to some pressing task, but that you can also stop at any time and return to bed.

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

Get Your Butt in Gear
Step 01

To start: ask yourself if a given task is doable within your timeframe. Are you being realistic? Can you break your workload into manageable chunks with a realistic timeline for completion? Do you have a reasonable checklist to help you manage time and tasks?

Step 02

If you’ve procrastinated, ask yourself why. Are you afraid of success? Are you a perfectionist? Are you tired or feeling sick? Be honest with yourself. Can you seek an extension for your assignment? Or is it time to leap in and take the plunge?

Step 03

Make a playlist of music that will help you set a good rhythm for getting stuff done and shutting out psychological noise. Make sure you choose pieces that won’t distract you (songs with lyrics are not usually recommended for homework like essay composition). Upbeat music may be appropriate for cleaning your room; slower-paced instrumental music may be best for work requiring brainpower and focus.

Step 04

As you compile your time management/anti-procrastination playlists, choose pieces you don’t always listen to. Be adventurous and musically curious.

Step 05

As you begin your work—physical or mental—visualize the end goal. Estimate where you might end on your playlist as you finish your task(s). Use the musical selections as a series of goal posts to mark your stages of completion.

Step 06

Have a “ta-da” piece to skip to at the end!

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You, Baby
Step 01

At soft volume, play instrumental music, 20-30 minutes in length, with soothing or calming qualities.

Step 02

Find a comfortable place to sit or recline and begin to deep belly breathe.

Step 03

As you begin to relax, identify the place you’re feeling pain – even if it’s emotional pain, you may feel it in a certain place in your body.

Step 04

Imagine breathing the music all around you, and then entering you deeper and deeper until the pinpoint of the pain. Imagine the sounds/vibrations surrounding the pain and breaking it apart into thousands of tiny parts.

Step 05

Continue to imagine the particles of pain being breathed out of your body or carried away by the stream of music you are listening to.

Step 06

As pain subsides, continue to breathe deeply. Allow yourself to continue to relax, while remembering to let go of negative thoughts, worries, images. Invite the music to work through your body.

Step 07

Repeat as necessary.

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

Crying and Crying
Step 01

Poet Thomas Lynch said, “"We get no choice. If we love, we grieve." Most of us will be lucky to love another. Most of us will grieve in our lives: the loss of a pet, a grandparent, our parents, a job, a chance, a romantic partner, our health. Music can help us through the darkest tunnel of our grief and loss and back into the light.

Step 02

Choose some music that reminds you of or has a special connection to the person or thing you’ve lost. B) Also choose music or make a playlist of soothing songs or pieces that have positive associations for you.

Step 03

As you listen to the music with special connection, allow yourself to experience grief and feelings tied to your loss.

Step 04

The music may activate your need to cry, to rant or holler, to talk to someone you love and trust, to write, paint, or play/compose your own music. Follow these impulses. Allow the strongest emotions to move through you.

Step 05

Once you’ve experienced being sad or angry or frustrated (or all of that and more), switch over to the more positive playlist.

Step 06

As you listen, the music may motivate you to express yourself creatively or talk further with your trusted confidante. Acknowledge your loss; discuss your fears. Take all the time you need.

Step 07

Repeat the entire process, as needed. Join a support or therapy group, if you wish.

Step 08

Make a commitment to honour the person/pet/thing you’ve lost or to work on improving your life to seek out new opportunities, to not neglect the things and people most important to you.

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

Just the Way You Are
Step 01

Arrange a time to meet with someone close to you. Play a piece or several pieces of music that have meaning for the two of you. Listen together in silence. After the piece(s) have finished playing, start the conversation by talking about the music and the lyrics. You may wish to set some guidelines for continuing to talk or moving through the relationship issues by agreeing to: actively listen, be empathetic, use “I feel” statements rather than “you do” or “you make me” statements. Try not to bring up past disagreements. Ask for clarification. Continue the conversation with soft and soothing music as your background.

Step 02

If a conflict begins, take a break. Go for a walk. Take a time-out. Try again later.

Step 03

Keep practicing. Duets take more practice than solos.

Step 04

If necessary, seek an outside counsellor to help you through.

Step 05

Make each other a playlist that communicates your feelings and expresses your affection.

Suggestions for musical accompaniment:

30 Musical Affirmations… but really, make your own list
  • Happy

    Pharrell Williams

  • I Got Better Things to Do Than Remember You

    Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

  • Respect

    Aretha Franklin

  • What a Wonderful World

    Louis Armstrong

  • I Feel Good

    James Brown

  • Good Feeling

    Flo Rida

  • I Gotta Feeling

    Black Eyed Peas

  • Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)

    Jackie Wilson

  • Walking on Sunshine

    Katrina and the Waves

  • Good Life

    Rachel Platten or OneRepublic

  • Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)

    Andy Grammer

  • Don’t Worry, Be Happy

    Bobby McFerrin

  • Don’t Stop Believin’


  • Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)

    Kelly Clarkson

  • La Vida Loca

    Ricky Martin

  • Uptown Funk

    Bruno Mars

  • Say Hey, I Love You

    Michael Franti

  • The Champion

    Carrie Underwood

  • I Make My Own Sunshine

    Alyssa Bonagura

  • Three Little Birds

    Bob Marley

  • Have It All

    Jason Mraz

  • Joy

    King and Country

  • Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

    Jess Glynn

  • I’m Still Standing

    Elton John

  • Here Comes the Sun

    The Beatles

  • You’re My Best Friend


  • This Girl is On Fire

    Alicia Keys

  • I Will Survive

    Gloria Gaynor

  • The Greatest Love

    Whitney Houston