What is sound therapy and how can it help?

As I write this, I’m listening to ‘Dreamcatcher’, composed by Robert Foster – a piece of music from the Calm app’s music section. There’s a landscape of sound created by instruments I couldn’t name. What I can name, however, is how I feel when I listen to it – calm, in control, and focused.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been enjoying an array of ‘relaxation’ music. Whether I’m writing at my desk or reading before bed, it’s fast becoming the soundtrack to my days.

While I’ve always known music has a profound effect on us, it wasn’t until I delved deeper into the science behind sound therapy that I understood how sound waves affect brainwaves, and how we can utilise this relationship.

It helps for us to first understand the main types of brainwaves:

  • Beta waves are associated with being alert. When we’re concentrating and analysing, we’re likely to be in a beta-dominant state.
  • Alpha brainwave patterns are slower and longer in frequency. When we’re in an alpha-dominated state we’re awake, but relaxed.
  • Theta brainwaves take the relaxation deeper and include lighter stages of sleep.
  • Finally, delta waves are very slow, low-frequency, and are dominant when we’re in deep sleep.

Scientists have found that when we’re exposed to sound waves, our brain waves can be affected. This is a process called entrainment.

“This is when our brainwave activity naturally aligns with the sound’s rhythm, inducing a state of deep relaxation,” counsellor and sound therapy practitioner Deborah Holder tells me.

So, by listening to low-frequency sound waves we can encourage our brainwaves to slow, too. Another important factor is the presence of binaural beats. This is when you hear two tones, one in each ear, that have slightly different frequencies. When this happens our brain processes a third beat at the difference of the frequencies. If this difference is below 30Hz, it’s believed to reduce anxiety, encourage sleep, and even help manage pain.

We are all drawn to different frequencies, so follow your intuition.

While the science and understanding of this is relatively new and ongoing, sound therapy has been in place for centuries.

What is sound therapy?

Deborah explains that sound therapy uses specially selected instruments with a high vibrational frequency and long resonance, such as singing bowls, gongs, and vocal toning in the form of chanting, humming and singing.

“When exposed to these healing frequencies, the sound resonates within the mind and physical body, naturally releasing any emotional blocks, and expanding consciousness. It reduces brainwave activity and lowers heart rate, activating the body to self-heal and rejuvenate.”

Described as an energy medicine, sound therapy has this effect on us because the cells in our body are sensitive to vibrations. If you’ve ever experienced a gong bath, you’ll no doubt know how this wall of sound feels physically and mentally.

What can sound therapy support us with?

Deborah explains that sound therapy can help with anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, and assist in the management of conditions such as fibromyalgia.

Research on how sound therapy helps is vast, and our knowledge continues to grow. Last year, musician Masvidal released an album called Mythical Human Vessel, and says the tones used are ‘isochronic’ – a groundbreaking type of sound therapy that is believed to increase serotonin and alleviate depression.

Researchers in this area have noted, however, that not everyone will necessarily respond in the same way, and more research is needed to fully understand the effect of sound on the brain.

If you decide to try sound therapy for yourself, you’ll be taken through a short assessment so your treatment can be personalised.

“You will be screened for any risk factors, such as tinnitus, pregnancy, metal implants, and whether you have a pacemaker or suffer with epilepsy. It’s very important that sound therapy is used correctly with any of the above conditions,” Deborah explains.

Following the assessment you’ll be asked to make yourself comfortable, relax, and simply enjoy the sounds washing over you.

How to utilise sound therapy at home

To open your ears to the world of sound therapy at home, try listening to sound-healing meditations. You can find these online, on YouTube, or through apps – the Third Ear meditation app is a great one to start with.

If you already have a meditation practice, you could experiment with adding an instrument like a singing bowl, which Deborah tells us is great for grounding energy. Or, Deborah also recommends vocal toning as a great way to lift your vibration.

When exposed to these healing frequencies, the sound resonates within the mind and physical body, naturally releasing any emotional blocks and expanding consciousness.

“Vocal toning uses seven tones based on vowels that are connected to the chakras – the energy centres in the physical body. Each tone resonates with a specific chakra. For example, ‘ee’ connects to the crown chakra at the top of the head, and ‘ah’ connects to the heart chakra.”

However you choose to use sound in your wellbeing practice, the most important thing is to follow what feels good to you. As Deborah says, “We are all drawn to different frequencies, so follow your intuition when choosing a sound healing instrument.”

Get listening, get healing, and welcome in those good vibrations.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (June 2020). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app.

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Therapy Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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