It's no secret that many of us need help de-stressing and unwinding. Music therapy, both formal/therapist-guided and informal/self-guided, is a great way to accomplish that goal, and indeed, is a time-honored tradition, with meditative music being an important part of many cultures and religious belief systems. There are plenty of heavily-produced CDs specifically for meditation, but I find myself relaxing best to authentic music of other cultures. Have a listen to some of these CDs and see if they do the same for you.
R. Carlos Nakai is probably the best-known Native American flute player in the world. His playing brings out subtle, mellow tones of the flute and displays a real warmth. Though he often plays with other musicians or ensembles, this album simply features Nakai on flute, and the music is resonantly peaceful.
The Gyuto Monks, a tantric order who were founded in Tibet in the 15th Century and who are now relocated in India, perform a style of ritual chanting that involves overtone singing (where a singer emits two or more notes at the same time, similar to Tuvan Throat Singing). The sound is otherworldly, and quite foreign to Western ears, but the purposeful meditativeness of the four long tracks that make up this CD is borderless.
Most traditional Irish music is, while wonderful, generally too fast-paced for meditative purposes (though if it works for you, go for it), and a great deal of the New Age music that's called "Celtic" is a bit over-the-top and corny (which I don't personally find very relaxing). This album (and all of Carol Thompson's work that I've heard) is the perfect happy medium. The songs she chooses are authentic Irish tunes, either traditional or penned by the legendary Irish bard and harpist Turlough O'Carolan, but she plays them in a slowed-down, purposeful way, with the clean touch of a classical performer but a passionate Irish spirit.
Krishna Das is a well-known performer of kirtan, an Indian style of meditation that involves call-and-response chanting of ancient mantras in order to achieve inner stillness. Sit still and chant along or use this CD as music for yoga or another smooth-flowing exercise routine; either way, you'll surely find some relaxation here.
Perhaps a bit of guided imagery is your ticket to relaxation? Picture yourself on a sandy Hawaiian beach, listening to the sound of the waves, and feeling the warmth of the sunshine combined with a soft island breeze. Does it get more relaxing than that? Help yourself along with this quiet, beautiful album from slack-key guitar master Keola Beamer -- it'll surely bring your mind straight to the islands.
This CD of Gregorian Chants, recorded by Benedictine Monks from a thousand-year-old order in Burgos, Spain, was a surprise hit when it was released in the mid-1990s. The dark, beautiful plainchants of the monks are appealing to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike as a path to spiritual contemplation.
Omar Faruk Tekbilek is a Turkish multi-instrumentalist (specializing in flute) of Egyptian Arabic descent, and makes subtle use of his extensive knowledge of cross-cultural Arabic music in his classically-influenced modern compositions. Tekbilek's website states that "like Omar Faruk himself, his music symbolizes diversity-in-unity." It's a nice concept to meditate on, if you're looking for one!
David Hudson is an Australian Aboriginal musician who is one of the world's leading masters of the didgeridoo, an instrument with tremendous cultural significance. It's hard to find authentic recordings, but Hudson is the real deal, and this CD is a particularly excellent example of the instrument's eerie elegance and calming potential.
U.S.-based and British-born musician Stan Richardson is one of the world's leading exponents of the Japanese Zen Buddhist shakuhachi flute tradition, another traditional form of musical meditation. This bamboo flute has a sweet sound, and one that most definitely has the elusive power to calm, and this album, with its soothing repetitive sounds, is an outstanding example of the genre.