If taking better care of yourself is on your list of resolutions for the new year, or perhaps self-care is an overarching goal that you’re finally paying attention to, then you should take note of these two words: Sound. Baths.
Yes, sound baths. Which, truth be told, don’t actually occur in a bath or anywhere near a tub. But they are therapeutic sessions during which you are comfortable, and you are literally bathed in sound and vibrations to induce a state of meditation, relaxation, a deep sense of wellness, and a spiritual awakening. This form of self-care can help with a wide range of physical ailments as well as mental and emotional issues, from pain prevention to stress and anxiety reduction and everything in between. It can provide a newfound sense of balance and wholeness. It can improve sleep habits. It can provide healing from injury or emotional trauma. It can help improve heart health and protect you from illness. Bottom line: Sound baths can make you feel really, really good.
The Truth About Sound Baths — What Are They?
So, what exactly is a sound bath, and how can sound therapy really help us to achieve a healthier and more balanced mental and physical state?
Sound therapy is a holistic experience that aims to improve your entire state of being — mind, body, and spirit. It does so by using sounds and vibrations at different frequencies and used in succession (whether by instruments, vocals, tones, vibrations, crystal bowls, and more) to elicit a physical reaction and invite a restorative state. Imagine how you feel when you hear a loud alarm sound or a powerful horn blow in close proximity to you. You don’t just hear it, you also feel it. That loud, harsh noise makes you feel on edge or anxious. Well, sound baths work in a similar, but opposite way. They use sounds and vibrations to create a sense of peace and clarity. The sounds almost engulf you until it’s not just in your ears but it encompasses your entire being — you start to feel the sounds throughout your body, impacting way more than just your ears.
Sound healing can help to improve energy flow and clear up internal blockages that can cause pain and a variety of health issues from sleep disorders to depression and even conditions that put you at risk of larger illnesses such as heart disease.
There are several elements of a sound bath that are crucial in creating a transformative experience: First, it takes place in a safe space conducive for deep relaxation and self-exploration. Second, it uses sound healing to encourage inner awakening and meditation, often without the participant even realizing they are in a meditative state. This transformation occurs without verbal coaching or speaking, and without deliberate movement (which is unique to sound healing and distinguishes it from yoga or meditation). It is experienced solely using sound. Talk about the magic of music.
According to New York-based sound practitioner Samer Ghadry, each participant will have a unique reaction to their sound bath, and beyond that every session may elicit a different response based on how you approach your healing and how you feel in that moment. Participants “might expect any number of reactions at any point, depending on their relationship to sound, depending on the practitioner, and depending on the instruments and how they are played,” he explained to BeLatina via email.
Sound baths are a chance to let the “human body relax, unwind, and use a variety of sound vibrations as a sort of broad stroke recalibration protocol within a sound bath,” he explains. Every instrument creates a different kind of sound, but the differences go beyond what you hear and extend into how they make you feel. Ghadry explains that generally speaking gongs are expansive, while Himalayan bowls can be calming and flutes are often soothing. The practitioner’s job is to use all of the tools at his or her disposal while reading the vibe of a room and using intuition to connect with the people participating.
What Does a Sound Bath Really Feel Like?
More often than not, if someone is hesitant to try sound healing it’s not because a sound bath isn’t for them, but because they don’t know what to expect from the experience and they have (false) preconceived notions that guide their behavior. Don’t worry, if this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We’ve rolled our eyes more than once at the suggestion of sound healing. Shame on us. Because while we might not be alone in those sentiments, we’re also missing out on something special. Sound baths can provide similar benefits to meditation and yoga, but they happen in a more passive (yet still therapeutic) process where you are physically, emotionally, and mentally influenced by the sounds and vibrations around you.
Sound baths are different in that “you are not asked to ‘do’ anything. You just lie down and listen, or another way of seeing it is to simply let the sounds wash over and through you. You don’t have to do anything, except try not to disturb the room, because some people are literally having visions, dreams, dealing with emotions, or who knows what, so it’s important to respect the space,” says Ghadry.
Think of it as meditation for people who don’t like meditation (read: are intimidated by meditation), or who are too stuck in their heads to actually meditate. It’s perfect for people who struggle to unplug and turn off their thoughts when they are left to their own devices, so they need a little gentle nudge and a supporting community to get them there. Ghadry refers to this phenomenon as entrainment or learning to be more like the things around you. He explains that during a sound bath “your brain is letting go of what it normally does and starting to become more gong-like. Meaning you are using the sounds as your new and most present reality-guide.” Only when you are able to distract your mind from what usually occupies that space are you able to make room for other elements of your being to take over. The instruments and vibrations you are exposed to in a sound bath collaborate with your personal story and goals, and the result is a new sense of understanding and an undeniable sense of calm.
It’s like a spiritual journey for people who don’t do meditation, or who want to be gradually taken to a place of healing and quieting of the mind. And it’s perfect for beginners all the way up to people with tons of experience.
“The experience of a sound bath or sound meditation can be helpful for anyone who wants to access a moment of relaxation or gain the benefits of meditation,” explains Sara Auster, a sound therapist and meditation teacher in New York City, in Everyday Health. It’s a way “to explore what a meditative state is and how it feels. For this reason, it can be beneficial for both beginners of meditation and experienced meditators as well.”
Does Sound Healing Really Work?
So, the million-dollar question — does sound healing really work to improve mental and physical well-being? The consensus among experts and enthusiasts alike is a resounding HELL YES.
Exactly how it works is slightly less clear. Ghadry explains that “during relaxation, stress levels can reduce and the body’s nervous system can function better. Nitric oxide production in the body increases, allowing for pain reduction,” just to name a few physical benefits. In addition, sound baths use instruments that are not just heard but also felt in the body, which can give your brain a break. Those sounds and vibrations can bring attention back to your physical sensations throughout the body, rather than focusing so strongly on your thoughts and ultimately soothing your mind.
According to David Baguley, a professor of hearing sciences at the University of Nottingham, the fact that there is a deficiency in terms of scientific proof on the benefits of sound baths does not mean there is an absence of benefit. He notes that sound therapy is not just distracting noises — “we know that sound has a massive influence on how the brain is organized,” he explains to the New York Times. And it seems that sound baths offer similar positive effects to those of listening to calming music and meditation.
And it can also be argued that while the actual physical benefits are meaningful, and the emotional benefits are also legit, there’s another piece to the wellness puzzle; sound baths are a form of community and a chance to come together and create an environment focused on self-care and self-love. Sound baths are about “people coming together to release and let go, but in the company of others around them,” explains Auster. “If meditation is taking the stairs, a sound bath is taking the elevator.”
Bottom line: if you haven’t tried a sound bath, put aside any preconceived judgements, and give it a try. Let the sounds soothe you, and then thank us later.