Sound healing is a simple, non-invasive process that uses sound, music and specialist instruments played in therapeutic ways to relax and de-stress the body and mind, and it’s becoming just as popular as yoga and meditation around the world.
Like both these practices, sound healing is nothing new – it was practised by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, allegedly as a tool to ease mental agitation, and it’s explored in the Vedic scriptures of India too.
The idea of sound healing is why it is so supremely satisfying to listen to harmonious music, have a sing along with friends or play an instrument. Sound has been used by military bands to boost morale in troops, by schools to bring children together in one happy mass, and by fitness instructors to encourage people to move more effectively and have the energy to keep going. How we respond to sound has a massive effect on many aspects of our lives.
So why is that? Every living thing in the universe, including our bodies, has its own vibratory rate. When something is out of kilter, using sound to create sympathetic vibrations and resonance can help bring things back into harmony. This is especially true of our bodies, which because they are made-up of 70 % water, make very good conductors of sound, which travels at great speed (a whopping 3350 mph) in water.
This reharmonising works because of a concept called entrainment, discovered in 1665 by a Dutch scientist called Christian Huygens. Huygens invented the pendulum clock, and this is where his concept started – after leaving two pendulum clocks hanging together on the same wall for several hours, they eventually synchronised, swinging at the same speed. Huygens found that when entrainment occurs, small amounts of energy are transferred between the two sources. Since it takes less energy to pulse in co-operation, the source with the less powerful vibration locks into the one with the most powerful vibration.
Entrainment can be experienced by singing in a group. If you are singing next to someone with a strong voice, it is easy to sing your part. If the person with the strong voice is singing a different part to you, however, it becomes much harder to sing your part in tune.
There’s been plenty of research into how sound waves are able to relax us, some of it pseudoscience. For a thorough and engaging account of sound healing rooted in fact, read therapist Sarah Stephenson’s account from the College of Sound Healing here. As Sarah says: ‘The process of resonance and entrainment is at work during a Sound Healing treatment – if a person is out of balance (physically, mentally or emotionally), they will lock into the healing sound that is created’. Add to the sound effect of harmonics and rhythm, and you have a wonderful healing art.
In today’s world, sound healing can be experienced as a formal session of sound therapy with a trained therapist, but one of the most direct ways to experience it when you’re travelling is to book into a Gong Bath, either alone or in a group. This is supremely relaxing treatment, where you quite literally bathe in sound, is increasingly on offer in mainstream gyms as well as at hotels and spas. You lie on a mat while the teacher gently creates a harmonising mini orchestra out of gongs, crystal bowls and tuning forks. You relax your body, close your eyes, and allow the sound waves to wash over and through you. It’s a shortcut to a calm mind, and especially good for those who find more formal mediation difficult. If you’re exhausted, you’ll find yourself nodding off supremely easily as the body relaxes and allows you to get the deep rest you so clearly need.
Chanting a mantra repeatedly, be it a sound such as Om or a more specific word or phrase, has also been proven to calm the mind and decrease stress levels for the same reasons. You’ll find Sanskrit or Buddhist chanting sessions on some yoga and meditation retreats supremely relaxing, while chanting is also used as a concentration aid for meditation by some teachers, monks and nuns. If you want to move more, take a qigong class and experience the six healing sounds of Chinese medicine – these are specific tones that clear out blocks and excesses, release negative emotions, and purge toxic qi (or energy) from each organ, and which work in exactly the same way.
For something more energetic, join a drumming session, for the repetition of drumbeats has the same effect, and is why many indigenous tribes and ancient practices use drumming as part of their rituals. Shamans, for example, use drums mainly for brainwave entrainment. By drumming at a specific frequency (usually around 7hz per second, which is the frequency of the theta brainwave), the shaman can entrain his own brainwave into a deep meditative and relaxed state in order to access his or her intuition. In our times, this same effect is achieved through the use of binaural beats, which is music tuned to generate specific brainwaves in the listener.
For a relaxing solo activity while you travel, listed to tracks based on 432 Hz, the sound resonance that offers a more harmonic and pleasant sound than our standard 440 Hz pitch. Laurent Suara, therapist and creator of Acoustic Bioresonance based in Bali tells us that changing the master pitch to 432Hz and also using a different musical scale that mirrors the harmonics that are naturally found in sound, the universe, nature and the human body will make a difference in harmony.
Sarah Stephenson’s piece talks about such harmonics here. Such music is mathematically consistent with the universe, and has been clinically proven to decrease the listener’s stress levels, boost their resilience and restore biological, physical and mental vitality. There’s tons of such music around, from Bob Marley’s songs to pieces of music by some of history’s greatest musicians such as Mozart and Verdi.