Sound therapy and healing

After experiencing a sound bath for the first time in 2017, I knew this was something I wanted to learn more about. With my friend and mentor Masha Bennett, I took a deeper dive into experiencing and playing gongs. From there I trained as a Sound Therapist with the British Academy of sound Therapy, Sheila Whittaker and the Sound Healing Academy. I now give regular group sound baths in Chamonix, using a combination of Himalayan bowls, gongs, crystal bowls and various percussion. I also provide private sound sessions and drum journeys.

Sound therapy has been around since the beginning of recorded history—the oldest surviving scriptural texts tell us so—and science may finally be catching up with sound-healing practices used by ancient civilizations. Mandara Cromwell, of the international sound therapy association, points out that most creation stories started with the introduction of sound, including Vedic texts and the Christian Bible.

 

Aboriginal peoples in Australia may be the first culture known to heal with sound. Their ‘yidaki’ (modern name, didgeridoo) is believed to have been used as a healing tool for at least 40,000 years. 

Ancient Egyptians, were reported to have used vowel sound chants in healing, as they believed vowels were sacred. Their priestesses also used musical instruments and presided over healing chapels, according to Token Rock. The Greeks utilized similar healing chants and a variety of musical instruments in their sanatoriums.

Tibetan singing bowls first appeared in the areas surrounding the Himalayan Mountains. They are considered a symbol of “the unknowable,” and their vibrations have been described as the “sound of the universe manifesting.” The bowls date back to the lifetime of Shakyamuni Buddha (560-480 B.C.), but the exact details of their origins are cloaked in mystery. Traditionally, monks, nuns, and lay Buddhists have used the bowls in rituals, prayers, and meditation. The bowls are often rung by themselves, or can be combined with sacred mantras or chants - they have a warm sound and can be very grounding.

Gongs likely originated in the Bronze Age in what is now Tibet. Archaeologists have unearthed ancient gongs in present-day China, Indonesia, Burma, and the Annam region of Vietnam. The actual word "gong" is Indonesian, and gongs are common in the gamelan ensembles on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali. They create a powerful sound, and are a fundamental part of my sound baths. They tend to cut through a busy mind and become all encompassing. These instruments can also take us on a deep inner journey and bring up strong emotions and challenging feelings. 

Crystal singing bowls were originally a by product from the computer industry, quartz can be heated to high temperatures so quartz 'crucibles' were use to grow computer chips and other components within them. Crystal Singing bowls first came into being as healing tools in 1990. They have a very pure tone, and can create a spacious ethereal experience. I use crystal bowls towards the end of my sound sessions to help people connect to their positive emotions.

Image by Julio Lopez

Why sound?

There is increasing evidence that sound therapy (also known as sound healing) provides a measurable positive impact for participants. A 2019 CNN article spoke to the growing trend: "Sound and vibration kind of act like a butterfly net capturing all of that mind chatter that we're constantly bombarded with throughout the day. Over the last few years, an increasing number of people have turned to the ancient technique to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. The sounds and vibrations guide listeners into a state of deep rest known as the 'relaxation response.' 'That's a counter to the body's fight or flight response,' explained research psychologist Tamara Goldsby from the University of California, San Diego. Goldsby said when bodies are in fight or flight, blood pressure goes up, heart rate goes up, and healing stops. 'In the relaxation response, the body just chills, and that seems to happen as a regular kind of situation in the sound baths,' explained Goldsby. In a clinical study, Goldsby examined the effects of sound meditation on mood, anxiety, physical pain and spiritual well-being. Participants reported significant reductions in tension, anger, fatigue and depressed mood.

The aim of my sound baths is to help your mind and body to shift into a deeper state of consciousness. This may be to help generate a more relaxed state, to help your mind and body to recover from stress, let go of tension; or it may be to take a deeper inner journey where you experiment with the importance of letting go into the experience as powerful sounds bring up difficult emotions and physical sensations in your body. Either way, you will have the opportunity to let go into a more fulfilling experience of life. This process may be deeply therapeutic, helping you to let go of inner struggles that may be holding you back or keeping you stuck.

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What to expect in a sound bath...

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The combination of sounds and the way I play the instruments is designed to move you into a deeper brain state. When we are fully awake and present our brain is in the Beta state – this means there is a regulating frequency of brain waves moving through the whole brain with a frequency of around 20 Hz. When we fall asleep, our state of consciousness moves from Beta to Theta (around 7 Hz) and then deep sleep Delta (around 3 Hz). During the session, your mind is likely is to move to a state between awake and asleep known as Alpha state.

 

During a sound bath, you may find that you feel deeply at peace, but you may also have an emotional repose and possibly uncomfortable physical feelings or thoughts. If you notice this happening, try acknowledging these feelings and thoughts as just that, “these are just my thoughts and feelings in this moment”. You can also notice tension in your body, as it arises, and relax around it, for example by imagining that your breathing is going deeply into these areas. The aim is to accept the experience just as it is, thoughts, physical feelings and emotions. Allow yourself to be transported inwardly with the sounds. This allows our mind to switch off, and for your mind and body to rest deeply. It is a very beneficial state to rest and recover, and participants often say it has been quite enjoyable!

Drum journeys

Drum journeys are a more primal and probably more ancient kind of sound therapy. They involve one or more drums and potentially other percussive instruments (such as shakers) and different rhythms. The experience for the participant can be very varied, and it is often the intention of the participant that makes all the difference. The aim is an altered state of consciousness, just like the sound baths, but with a more primal approach. The experience can be deeply healing, and this approach calls strongly to some people, and is easier to take into the great outdoors.

Drum Journey
Image by Stéfano Girardelli