Sound therapy is a body-mind system which uses vibrational tones and frequencies to aid healing and support well-being. We take a closer look at sound therapy, including what instruments are used and what can be expected from a session.
What is sound therapy?
Sound therapy is a non-invasive and gentle therapy which is thought to help the body heal itself. It uses specific instruments and music to create sounds, tones and vibrations at different frequencies. This helps balance and heal the body, mind and spirit.
It’s a type of complementary therapy, meaning it's typically used alongside conventional medical treatment to support health concerns. However, you may want to attend sound therapy sessions as part of a well-being routine, if you’re looking to simply relax and have some time to yourself.
Sound therapy is commonly referred to as sound healing, but there is a slight difference between the two. Sound healing is a self-healing system which focuses purely on relaxation. This is normally done in a group setting. Sound therapy, on the other hand, is usually done on a one-to-one basis and encourages self-reflection.
Sound therapy vs music therapy
Sound therapy is used as a form of meditation to help the individual relax and clear any energy blockages from the body. It’s also thought to help heal the body from pain.
Music therapy is a therapeutic approach that involves playing or listening to music to evoke emotions. It’s designed to help individuals process how they’re feeling. Music therapy can help foster self-awareness, regain self-esteem and improve communication.
How does sound therapy work?
Sound therapy uses different sound frequencies generated by instruments to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the opposite of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. Instead, it slows down your breathing, heart rate and brainwaves so you feel more calm and relaxed. Essentially, the brain syncs up with the gentle sound frequencies, helping it move away from focus, stress or concentration states to complete relaxation.
Sound has been interwoven into humanity’s psyche as a means to heal, understand and transform the body, mind, heart and spiritual bodies. It touches us and influences our emotions like no other source of input or expression.
What are binaural beats?
A binaural beat is an illusion created by the brain. Our right and left ears each receive tones at a slightly different frequency. When you hear two different tones at the same time, but the brain interprets them as one, this is called a ‘binaural beat’. The tones align with your brain to produce a beat with a different frequency. By creating a 'third tone', our brainwave activity can be altered, leaving us feeling more relaxed, focused or sleepy.
What instruments are used in sound therapy?
There are a number of instruments used in sound therapy, each producing a different sound and vibration. Below are some of the most common tools. Do speak with your practitioner if you’re keen to explore other methods.
Tibetan singing bowls
Tibetan or Himalayan singing bowls are made using a combination of metals. They come in various sizes and some may produce multiple tones whilst others produce a singular sound. They create a deeply relaxing sound that is thought to help aid meditation.
Crystal singing bowls
Singing bowls can also be made from crystals – namely, seven crystals to represent the seven chakras in the body. These produce a very soothing, gentle sound which helps you relax.
Gongs have been used for thousands of years, dating back to Egyptian, Roman and ancient Greek times. A gong bath involves a practitioner hitting a gong (a disc-shaped instrument) with a mallet. This creates a deep sound which washes over the participant. This is thought to help clear out negative energy from the mind and body.
Turning forks are steel two-pronged forks that produce a pure, fixed sound. Day-to-day, they are usually used to tune musical instruments, but they are also used in sound healing. Turning forks produce a vibrational frequency that increases the flow of energy through the body. They are usually placed by the ears, or on specific parts of the body where there is a blockage. When placed on the body, vibrations stimulate the area. They work similarly to acupuncture but use sound frequencies rather than needles.
Sometimes, the human voice will be used as an instrument. This might be in the form of chanting or humming. Research by the European Respiratory Journal suggests that humming through the nose produces nitric oxide, which can support the immune system and ease nasal congestion.
History of sound therapy
Sound therapy has been used since ancient times. Ancient Egyptians believed that sound has the ability to treat illness. It is rooted in yoga. In the Indian practice of nada yoga, for example, sound vibrations are used to calm the mind and release stress.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, is known as ‘the father of music’ (as well as his accreditation in mathematics). He explored how harmonic frequencies could help heal. This was furthered in the 1800s when Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered the effect that binaural beats had on the brain. Later, in the 1950s, British Osteopath Sir Peter Guy Manners researched over 600 frequencies and was able to coordinate them with parts of the body. This is still used today in Western medicine – a lithotripter machine uses sound waves to break up kidney stones and gallstones.
Benefits of sound therapy
Sound therapy has been thought to improve mental, physical and emotional health. Some of the reported benefits of sound therapy include:
- reduced stress
- lessened anxiety
- lowered blood pressure
- better pain management
- improved sleep
- immune system support
- improved focus and concentration
- more energy
The British Academy of Sound Therapy notes that, on average, sound therapy is 64% more relaxing than other methods.
What to expect in a sound therapy session
Sound therapy or sound healing sessions can be undertaken one-on-one, in a group, in person or online. You may be in the comfort of your own home or a studio or community space.
You’ll usually begin by discussing what you want to achieve from your sound therapy session and outline any health concerns you may have. You’ll then get comfortable, usually by laying down on a yoga mat, though you can also be sitting. Your practitioner will begin playing various instruments around your body. This is known as a sound bath as you ‘bathe’ in the sounds.
By drawing your attention to the tones, you’ll begin to immerse yourself into a meditative state of deep relaxation. As you relax into the sounds, your body begins to move back into vibrational alignment, restoring harmony and rebalancing the chakras. During this process, you’ll remain lying calm and still, usually with your eyes closed – you might even fall asleep.
After a session, most people report feeling grounded, centred and more present and in tune with their bodies. The vibrations and frequencies will continue to heal your body even beyond your treatment.
How to prepare for a sound therapy session
There is nothing, in particular, you need to do to prepare for sound healing but try to enter into a calm state so that you can be as relaxed as possible before, during and after your treatment. It’s recommended to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and avoid eating a heavy meal beforehand. Sound and vibrations travel much better through water, so try to stay well hydrated.
For maximum comfort, feel free to bring something to keep you warm, like a blanket. You may also wish to bring something to place underneath you, like a pillow, for extra support as you’ll be lying down for a long period of time. Your practitioner will likely provide you with everything you need, but if you’re unsure what to bring, it’s always best to get in touch with them beforehand.
How long does a sound bath last?
Generally, a sound bath will last between 45 minutes and an hour, although it can last up to an hour and a half. Depending on the size of the group, there may be extra time needed for settling in and discussion.
Who should not try sound therapy?
Although sound baths are a gentle, non-invasive form of complementary therapy, there are some instances where they may not be recommended. For some people, sound therapy can bring up deep-rooted emotions, which can be overwhelming, particularly if they’ve experienced trauma. Additionally, because sound causes powerful vibrations throughout the body, it’s not advisable to attend if you’ve recently consumed alcohol or drugs.
Sound baths may also not be suitable for people who have epilepsy or are sensitive to sound. They should also be avoided within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. We’d always advise disclosing any health information to a practitioner beforehand and contacting your GP to ensure a sound bath is safe for you.
Finding a professional
If you’d like to give sound therapy a try, you can find a professional near you or online on Therapy Directory. Our therapists are verified, meaning they have the relevant qualifications and experience.
You can also search our events to find a sound bath near you.
If you’re unsure whether sound therapy is right for you, why not give it a go for yourself first? Find out more about how to try sound therapy at home on Happiful.