Some people meditate best in silence, but I, for one, am not among them. In a space without sound, my monkey mind jumps from topic to topic, recalling what I had for lunch, plotting out all the items on my to-do list, and flipping through the radio stations of non-stop chatter in my head. If I’m going to get into a true meditative state, I need something to help me focus and allow my nervous system to chill the heck out. For me, that something is music.

I’m not alone in needing some tunes to settle my mind. As a vehicle for meditation, music has been proven to exhibit powerful effects on our bodies and brains. Peaceful sounds reduce the body’s stress response and can even lower blood pressure. Choosing the right lineup of songs is key for bringing about these soothing effects during meditation, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. Especially if you’re new to the practice, how do you compile a spot-on playlist? Here’s are our tips for putting together the perfect mindful jam.

A woman wearing headphones meditates in a grassy field

1. Set some goals. Different kinds of meditation call for different kinds of mood-setting. Sometimes you want to meditate for energy and vitality. Other times a trip floating weightlessly through space fits the bill. So to start off, it’s helpful to nail down what you’re after in your particular practice — even if it’s multiple things. If you use a music service like Spotify, iTunes, or Pandora, try creating individual playlists for the various forms of meditation you’d like to practice. “Meditation for Energy,” “Meditation for Relaxation,” or “Meditation for Healing” are a few list titles that can help organize your tunes — and your thoughts.

2. Give it time. Give some thought to how long you realistically meditate, and build your mix accordingly. Unless you’re a serious guru, a meditation playlist doesn’t have to be hours long, and having even a few songs selected can be a motivator to get a flagging practice off the ground. Perhaps all you need is a 20-minute cycle of songs to shuffle through during your everyday downtime. While it’s true that over time listening to the same half-dozen melodies on repeat can get monotonous, it’s best to start small, knowing you can always add to your list as time goes by.

A woman closes her eyes to listen to music on a pier in front of a lake

3. Track down tracks. Once you’ve figured out what kinds of meditation you’re going for and how long the list should be, it’s time to fill out your feel-good roster. What specific songs do you want soothing your mind and focusing your thoughts? And where exactly do you find them? To start, think of songs you already know help you unwind or energize, depending on your goal. If you’ve got a few in mind, drag and drop them into a playlist to get things rolling. Then, if you’re using a music service that links you to larger databases, take advantage of the option to click a song to “see more like this” or “go to song radio.” to find a slew of new material similar to your known preferences. Alternatively, check out premade ambient or meditative playlists for inspo or a quick-start option. If you’re a true newbie with no go-to tunes, or if you don’t subscribe to a music service, no worries: As usual, the internet saves the day. Try searching YouTube for meditative music, or Google free ambient radio stations, then make a playlist from what you find. It also never hurts to keep your ears open for songs that speak to you as you go about your day. Keep a log of songs that catch your ear, and add them to your list when you get the chance.

4. Think outside the ambient box. Believe it or not, music for meditation doesn’t have to reverberate with Tibetan gongs and chants of “om.” In fact, it doesn’t have to sound like anything in particular, as long as it sounds good to you. Research shows that the soothing effects of songs have more to do with the way we feel about them than with their content. One study showed that when people listened to music they loved, it stimulated the part of the brain associated with focused thought, empathy, and self-awareness — far more so than when subjects felt “meh” about what they heard. So if Guns N’ Roses blisses you out or Mozart ramps you up, don’t hesitate to add them to your rotation. In the end, only you can perfect your personal meditation playlist.

What music helps you meditate? Tweet us about it @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)