I know what you’re thinking: what can harmonica possibly have to do with mindfulness? The Buddha himself, in the Anapanasmrti Sutra, informed his disciple Rahula that a tight mental focus on the process of breathing was sufficient to “eliminate every notion of worry and sorrow.” Simply being aware of the breath — in breath or out breath, long breath or short breath – was the key to a mindfulness practice.
Today cognitive scientists know that focusing attention onto the breath short-circuits the “fight or flight responses” that give rise to our emotions of anger, and fear. These ancient, hard-wired paths in the brain are useful when fighting off a rival, or fleeing a predator. But for creatures with brains as sophisticated as ours, a mere thought can stimulate a full-fledged fight/anger or flight/fear response (just think of your least favorite politician right now if you want to prove that for yourself).
Reducing the number of fight or flight responses via intensive breath focus doesn’t just reduce stress (since most stress is a function of too many of these ancient and often unskillful responses). It is also the first step in pursuing a mindfulness practice: learning to control anger and fear thoughts. Once we begin to clear the mind of these, we can look around inside our cranium and see what else our mind is full of. And that’s mindfulness.
So why Harmonica Based Mindfulness? Well, what better way to encourage a group of people to pay incredibly close attention to their breath, in perfect harmony, than learning to play a simple blues or rock “HarMantra!™ — as we do in all of my classes! It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s instantly translatable – without harmonica, even – into a powerful and easy to use meditation practice that will help you deal with whatever issues or stresses arise in your life, at work or at home! Plus, you’ll leave the class with a great musical hobby (no matter how “musical” you think you are) that you can practice by yourself, with amateur musician friends, or at the local blues or rock club’s “Open Mike Night!”
On April 24th, 2016 David Harp leads a course in a mindful approach to learning the harmonica. Visit the class page to learn more.