The benefits of sound therapy (and how to try it at home)
Sound has been used by indigenous cultures throughout the world since time immemorial to bring about healing. There are many different ways to create sounds that can bring healing and harmony, both in group sound baths or individual sessions.
Experiencing therapeutic sound can bring about immense changes on every level of being – physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual. Therapeutic sound tools create natural waves of clear, pure sound that both feed and strengthen the being as a whole, working through sympathetic resonance to go where they are needed.
Therapeutic sound techniques incorporate a multitude of tools and instruments as well as the voice. Tuning forks, Himalayan singing bowls, crystal bowls, gongs, drums, rattles, shakers, and bells are some of the instruments which may be used in a sound therapy session. The voice is used in combination with other instruments or on its own, incorporating various ancient mantras, vowel sounds, and chanting. These instruments can be played both on and off the body and are relatively easy to learn to play. Specific frequencies are used to target areas of the body where health problems may exist.
A wide variety of ‘sound sessions’ are available to attend these days, which may offer the experience of just one main sound instrument or a variety of instruments.
Your experience will vary widely according to the knowledge and expertise of the person offering the session. It’s important that if you are considering attending a sound therapy session, you are aware of what is being offered. Not everyone is fully trained to play these sacred powerful instruments in a sensitive and nourishing way, so not every advertised ‘gong bath’ or ‘sound healing session’ will be therapeutic.
Sound therapy sessions, especially if in a group setting, are usually around an hour in length. Instruments used will either be a general mixture or with a focus mainly on one instrument.
Main instruments used in Sound therapy
Where either a single large gong or a mixture of gongs may be played continuously for most of the session. These gongs will be made of metal and may range in size from very small and light to very big and heavy, each with its own unique sounds and vibrations. They are played with a variety of soft and hard beaters and rubber-ended wands (known as flumis) which can create amazing whale-like and other unusual sounds.
Himalayan Singing bowls
Also referred to as Tibetan bowls, sound bowls or music bowls. These are made from combinations of different types and quantities of metals. Some bowls produce the sound of only one note, whilst others have multiple sounds. These are played on their own or in combination with other bowls to produce a wide variety of sound experiences. They are very easy to listen to.
Made from 99.9% pure quartz crystal and manufactured to create different frequencies and sound combinations as they are played. These especially require very careful playing as some people find the intensity of the pure notes quite penetrating and hard to listen to.
Some are infused with crystals and known as alchemy bowls, producing more delicate sounds than the standard crystal bowls. These are much kinder to the ears! They are played in similar ways to metal bowls.
Mainly frame drums of different sizes are likely to be used, but there is a whole range of drums from varying cultures worldwide which may make up a drumming session. Various beaters and techniques are used to create soft, louder and more continuous sounds. Drums are especially powerful in entraining the brain into a more relaxed hypnotic state, enabling participants to drift off into a ‘sleep’ state of mind.
Come in a very wide range of sizes and vibrations. They are generally played close to the ears or directly placed on the body. They are very good for pain relief. Tuning forks work best in individual sessions, as they are small instruments with a sound that does not penetrate very far into a room.
And lastly, the voice, which is used in a very different way for healing as compared with singing and performance. The voice is projected towards or into the body to create healing vibrations. The voice is also used for chanting and toning in a variety of ways.
Additionally, many percussion-type instruments may be used, to support the main instruments e.g. rainsticks, rattles, shakers, bells, chimes, and string instruments, such as a monolina, harp, and guitar.
The benefits of sound therapy and vibrational healing
Sound healing is a therapy which uses various vibrations to relax the mind and body. The overall effect of these harmonic vibrations is to lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and slow and deepen breathing thus promoting healing and well-being. It is effective in improving a vast number of different health problems, ranging from anxiety and depression to chronic pain and beyond. It is a non-invasive treatment without the side effects which are often experienced when taking chemical medications.
The ancient sages, masters and enlightened communities, for thousands of years, have known and understood the significance and importance of sound as a sacred instrument of immense power and potential for not only enabling healing and harmony but also spiritual development.
The rhythmic sounds of musical instruments have always played a vital role in every culture, an inescapable part of life, of celebrations, funerals, and feast days. 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.
We resonate with rhythms and tones which make us feel good, and the pure, clear vibrations and harmonies of sound therapy instruments and our voices have the unique capacity to restore our natural resonance when we are experiencing any form of ‘dis-ease’ and bring us back into harmonic balance. Sound calms the mind, releasing emotional pressure and helping us to develop new and more beneficial ways of managing our lives and the challenges and traumas we experience.
Scientific research has identified that every atom, molecule, cell, gland and organ of our bodies absorbs and emits sound at its own unique frequency. It is theorised that disease occurs when the unique frequency is altered due to internal or external influences, i.e. genetic, chemical, emotional, physical or mental.
Changes have been found to take place in the autonomic, immune, and endocrine systems through the use of sound or vibration. The vibratory rate of the magnetic field of the earth corresponds with the brainwave state in which we are most relaxed, calm and open to creativity. There is much scientific research currently taking place to identify the individual frequency of each aspect of the body in order to reproduce in some form these frequencies for the purpose of restoring the correct or inherent original frequency.
The power of sound enables our brainwaves to shift into slower states and stop the continual ‘mind chatter’ that can be hard to quieten. As we experience the many different sounds and vibrations that travel through our mainly ‘liquid’ bodies, old behaviour patterns, deep-seated tensions and anxieties, emotional blockages are able to be released. This, in turn, will bring about a quieter mind, a more balanced feeling in our bodies, a great sense of wellness and contentment, more energy and creativity, and more ability and clear thinking to focus on what is important in our lives.
How to try sound healing at home
Regular commitment to allow yourself personal time for your own healing will bring enormous advantages, even if you only learn simple techniques to understand how to bring about relaxation and change your mindset.
There are many ways that sound healing can be used at home to bring about healing in a person’s life. The easiest and most cost-effective is to use your own voice. The voice is more powerful than any manufactured instrument and is with us all the time.
Simple ways to use the voice include:
- Humming in a variety of ways – on an even tone, moving up and down the scale, soft, loud, creating a tune. Close your eyes as you hum and feel the vibrations in your body. Direct the ‘hum’ to any part of you that you feel needs attention/healing.
- Toning/chanting elongated vowel sounds – a(aye), e(eee), I(aye), o(oh), u (ooo) – in similar ways to above.
- Making nature sounds – whistling, blowing, whooshing.
- Soothing lullaby-type sounds – aaaah, ummmm, haaaaa.
If you have had some instruction on how to play various instruments, then you could purchase your own and use them yourself at home. Tuning forks and Himalayan bowls are very good for calming. Drums can be both calming and invigorating depending on how they are played. There are various videos available on YouTube, but seek out a reputable sound healing organisation or practitioner to learn how to play instruments to the best advantage.
At home vs A retreat or workshop
Whilst using sound healing at home yourself can be very beneficial (if you know what you are doing) you will get so much more from attending a retreat or a workshop, where qualified sound practitioners provide individual or group therapy.
Here you will be encouraged to relax, and use breathing exercises, to prepare yourself to receive the sound healing in many different ways, from a whole variety of instruments played using many different techniques. Each retreat will probably have a particular theme or level of training, will vary from a single to multiple days, and will have a different cost basis. You will be able to experience so much more as you are guided to become more aware of just how powerful sound can be to bring about healing and change in your life.
Every sound healing session you attend will be different, as will the results. It is so much easier to just lay back and allow the sounds and vibrations to wash over you, rather than having to stay fully awake in order to play instruments for yourself. You will also be able to experience a multitude of different instruments and techniques, rather than just the few you are able to use at home. This can make your experience very exciting and fulfilling, bring transformation and new awareness into your life, and take you away from the ever-increasing demands of daily life.
Sound healing is suitable for everyone, and as more conventional methods of healing come under increasing pressure, many people are looking for alternative ways to destress, unwind and bring relief to pain and discomfort. Attending a retreat or workshop also gives you the chance to meet up with other like-minded people, often in beautiful natural spaces, away from the cares and worries of ‘normal’ life, giving you a true holistic energy boost as you experience the wonders of sound.
Maggie Langton is a Sound therapist at Sunsetbay Retreats. Sunsetbay Retreats hosts well-being retreats throughout the year in the charming seaside town of Tywyn, Wales, a little gem surrounded by beaches, waterfalls, lakes and mountains, all within walking distance. For more information, visit sunsetbayretreats.com or @sunsetbayretreats.