Meditation is an effective way to relieve stress and achieve inner harmony. There are several styles of meditation; some include sitting silently and reflecting, while others incorporate movement or focus on the five senses. These styles can be guided or unguided. Guided meditation refers to sessions led by a teacher or practitioner, and unguided involves silent meditation, often in isolation. Among the popular emerging kinds of guided meditation is sound baths.
An Immersive Group-Meditative Practice
A sound bath is a meditative practice that occurs in a group setting and led by sound therapists who utilize sound-producing instruments or tools to create an immersive and calming experience. Many sound therapists use traditional crystal or gemstone bowls, chimes, and gongs to create sound vibrations and others incorporate didgeridoos, although they aren’t as common.
The goal of a sound bath session is to shift one’s focus away from their thoughts via repetitive notes at various frequencies, and incorporating singing bowls made from crystals or gems is thought by practitioners to aid in the restorative process. California crystal therapist Susan Paul uses bowls made of black tourmaline crystal, which is believed to absorb negative energy and project positive energy. The frequencies produced by these bowls and instruments create a calming effect and can alleviate symptoms of pain, stress, and anxiety in some cases.
Sound baths range in price from around $30 to $65 for group sessions and can be held in various settings. Sound therapist and meditation teacher Sara Auster has held sessions in hotel ballrooms, and jazz musician Adrian DiMatteo led one in a New York neighborhood in 2019 for Instagram leaders as part of its corporate bonding efforts. Moreover, musicians Sigur Ros and Erykah Badu are proponents of the practice.
Regardless of the setting, sessions typically involve large open spaces in which participants are prompted to position themselves comfortably while lying on a yoga matt or sitting on a cushion. Pillows can also be used. Some instructors ask individuals to lay down in yoga poses such as savasana, which involves lying flat on one’s back.
While all instructors or sound therapists work toward the goal of helping participants reach a meditative state, the process isn’t always the same and each person’s experience is unique. This is especially true under different instructors. Some incorporate their own combination of instruments and sounds, while others alter lighting to create different environments. Auster often conducts sound bath sessions on a rooftop at her sound bath center, Scent and Sound, in Brooklyn, New York.
Easier than Traditional Meditation
One of the most appealing aspects of a sound bath is that it is generally easier than other meditation forms that necessitate discipline. For instance, silent meditation can be difficult for beginners because clearing the mind of one’s own thoughts, repressed fears, and internal contradictions can be challenging. In contrast, a sound bath only requires the participant to show up, find a comfortable position, and listen to the sound waves.
“For those who find the idea of meditation daunting, sound baths are a great way to experience the benefits,” states sound bath practitioner and yoga teacher Puranshant Kaur. “They are accessible and inclusive for all. As the practitioner plays the instruments, [participants] will become submerged in sound and begin to feel the frequencies and vibrations washing over [them].”
Historical Uses of Sound Healing
While sound bath sessions are a contemporary practice, the idea of using sound to heal is an ancient tradition that has been utilized by different cultures in prayer or religious ceremonies. In De Anima, Aristotle wrote about how flute music can have purifying effects on the soul, while the ancient Greeks implemented sound vibration to assist with digestion, induce sleep, and treat mental-health issues. Other examples include Tibetans’ use of singing bowls in meditation and aboriginal tribes in Australia playing the didgeridoo to remedy illnesses.
In the 19th century, study results emerged that provided evidence of sound’s ability to support the parasympathetic nervous system and lower blood pressure, among other health benefits. More recently, music has been applied as a form of therapy for people with dementia and schizophrenia.
Use in Modern Medical Settings
Sound baths have become popular enough in recent years to the draw the attention of health facilities. For example, Auster has led sessions for a Harlem Hospital outpatient psychiatric-rehabilitation program, and DiMatteo has participated with the Music That Heals program, through which he offered sound baths at NYU Langone and Coney Island Hospital, among other health centers. The Canadian nonprofit Music Can Heal has also hosted sessions at Toronto General Hospital. Moreover, California sound-healing practitioner Diane Mandle has also provided sound-healing services in an oncology unit at San Diego’s Sharp Memorial Hospital and the Vista Detention Center.