A balmy breeze tickled the lake's surface as I slid the paddle into the water. The canoe glided away from shore. Although a lantern sat by my feet, I hadn't turned it on. In the middle of the lake, I stowed the paddle and lay on my back on the floor of the canoe. The canoe's sides obscured sight of the lake and shore. The star-filled black sky above filled my view. As the canoe drifted, I floated up into the sky among the stars.
When I listen to the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, I think of that night on the lake. The sonata's steady, lulling rhythm reminds me of floating in the canoe among the stars. The simple melody and repetition in the bass plays through my mind, clearing the day's concerns. I relax, remembering.
I have used classical music to relieve stress, calm my mind and body, and help me heal and meditate. When I simply want the sound of familiar music to envelop me, to delight me, I listen to music I know so well I can identify it after only a measure or two. The first time I heard Mozart's Symphony No. 40, I was sitting on the living room floor watching Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts on TV. It was love at the first note for me. Over the years, I've used this well-known music to soothe my mental state and lift my mood. Mozart makes me smile.
At times, my mind has juggled thoughts about several different projects or problems at the same time. This is exhausting physically as well as mentally. I have used music to slow my frantic thinking so I can relax and concentrate on what's important. For me, there is no better music for clearing mental clutter than that of J.S. Bach. His musical world is an orderly one, infused with clear, logical sound, and yet warm and emotional. His compositions for a solo instrument such as violin, piano or cello soothe my mind and open the doors to my imagination so I can solve problems or think through one particular project. I especially love Bach's Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.
Simplicity, transparency, and repetition contribute to music's power to relax. Minimalism has repetition in spades, and also a transparent simplicity that reminds me of the clear air on a sunny autumn day. My favorite minimalist music for relaxing is Harmonielehre by American composer John Adams. He composes tonal music that is full of emotion and color, with reassuring repetition.
Music affects the human body. In the past, I've learned that music can lower my blood pressure, slow my pulse and breathing, and support my body in its healing. Music takes my mind and body into a calm, receptive state for meditation, or for just relaxing. I close my eyes, breathe in the sound and let it fill my body. The day's stresses melt away, my mind clears, and I feel at peace. For me, this is the ideal relaxation technique — simple, pleasurable, and easy.
Cinda Yager writes essays, fiction, and two blogs in Minnesota. She loves classical music and has just published an e-book novel set in the classical music world, Perceval's Secret.