Stress, anxiety, exhaustion and even pain are unfortunately a part of everyday life for so many of us. We are all dealing with our own issues of emotional and mental distress and physical discomfort that can prevent us from living fulfilling and happy lives. And while some people turn to traditional western medications and treatments to deal with their pains and ailments, there are other options for those of us who are looking for a more homeopathic practice or natural healing methods.
Enter sound healing.
Sound healing has been around for centuries and has been used by various cultures around the world to promote wellness, health, pain prevention and more. Sound therapy in its many forms has been shown to provide healing in both the traditional sense (you had pain and now you don’t, or you were having trouble sleeping and now you sleep like a baby), and also in a more general sense (a newfound sense of wholeness and balance). Put simply, regardless of what doesn’t feel right or what your intention is, sound healing can help a person feel better.
Sound therapy is a holistic experience that aims to improve your entire state of being — mind, body and spirit. It can help restore balance, help improve energy flow and clear up internal blockages that can cause pain and a variety of health issues from sleep disorders to anxiety to depression and even physical pain. And for those cynics out there, who never really understand what sound healing is or why it’s worth a try, trust us when we say that it works, it’s real, and it is worth every peaceful moment to experience the incredible benefits it provides.
So the real question isn’t “what does sound healing help?” but rather “what doesn’t sound healing help?” And perhaps the more pressing query: what are you waiting for?
More often than not, the reason a person hasn’t tried sound healing, or is hesitant to embrace all that sound healing has to offer, is a lack of information. We often shy away from what we don’t understand or what we know nothing about. So let’s start with that. Consider this your sound healing 101 — from the origins of sound healing to the basics of how it works, what instruments and tools are used, how it feels and the potential benefits, we’re here to offer everything you need to know about sound healing.
What is Sound Healing?
Sound healing or sound therapy is exactly what it sounds like: a therapeutic practice using sound to improve your physical and emotional state and promote health and wellness to your whole being. Sound healing involves some sort of treatment session with a trained sound healing practitioner or an energy healer who uses various forms of sound (music, singing, vibrations, sounds from instruments and more) to promote healing, relaxation, connection and balance.
When you think of holistic health practices you might think of meditation, yoga and acupuncture. These natural practices and forms of medicinal treatment have been around far longer than any western medicine, and have been practiced in cultures around the world. And similarly, sound healing therapy is a type of healing that has been around for thousands of years. It was practiced in ancient civilizations in Eastern cultures such as 12th century Tibet as well as in ancient Greece, South America, indigenous cultures of Australia and more. The ancient practice of using sounds, music, vibrations and different acoustics to alter one’s physical and spiritual state of being is not new to the world — it’s just new to western civilization.
Sound healing can be performed in a one-on-one setting, or it can be performed in a group setting called a sound bath. More on that below, but think of this group session as a yoga class using sound and vibrations rather than poses or flow movements to trigger a release or a state of relaxation and healing. Sometimes sound healing is combined with forms of guided meditation and sometimes it is combined with hands-on work or spiritual guidance. But what remains consistent is that sound / music / vibrations / pulsing beats are all used to change a person’s emotional and physical state.
How (and Why) Does Sound Healing Work?
We know what you’re thinking — how can sound possibly heal me in any real, lasting way? It’s just sound, right? WRONG. Sound has a power far beyond what many of us realize when we simply listen to the radio or blast a favorite tune in the car. When it is used effectively to work with your brain waves and your body’s internal vibration sound, music and vibration can influence our wellness to restore balance, to help cells operate at their maximum capacity, and bring your mind, body and spirit into a unified space of balance. Sound healers, sometimes called “sounders,” argue that the vibrations used for sound healing can relax brain-wave patterns, in turn lowering one’s heart rate, reducing stress and even helping with chronic conditions such as pain or PTSD.
And the reason that sound healing works is much more scientific than you might realize.
According to Jonathan Goldman, director of the Sound Healers Association, author and one of the leading experts in the field of sound healing, sound healing is a form of holistic medicine mixed with energy medicine.
Scientists and healers are all in agreement that everything in the universe, from the atoms and cells that make up our bodies to the planets in distant galaxies, are in a state of vibration. Everything is in a constant state of motion, and that movement causes vibrations both within our bodies and all around us, creating sounds at any given moment. When all of those vibrations and sounds work in harmony, we are in good health. It is when something falls out of rhythm that we begin to feel off or ill. In order to restore wellness we don’t necessarily need allopathic medication to correct the problem. Perhaps what we really need is to expose the body to the correct resonant frequency to help bring our vibration back to a normal, healthy rhythm. When all of our vibrations align, our bodies and our general sense of wellness and health will also re-align.
The science behind sound healing really has to do with your brain waves and how your brain activity responds to various sounds and vibrations.
Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, who has been researching neuro-acoustics and the therapeutic application of sound for more than 20 years, explains that sound healing is really a precise application of sound to “modulate brainwave patterns, affect sympathetic-parasympathetic balance, and synchronize the activity of the right and left brain hemispheres.” It’s about using measurable sounds to entrain beneficial physiologic responses. He explains that your body already has the ability to heal, and by using sound healing therapy all you’re really doing is picking the lock on those neurophysiologic processes that already exist internally.
In other words, sonic entrainment is “using sound to cause the brain to synchronize and change different levels of brain wave activity,” Goldman explains. Essentially, you are entraining one’s internal rhythms to match the resonant frequency of the external rhythm or frequency (for example the sound created by the crystal bowls or other sound instruments and tools). By changing one’s brainwave formation you are able to reach an optimal place for deep meditation and healing.
Sound Healing Therapy Feels Different for Everyone
Just as a person’s intentions will differ when they go into sound healing, their experience and the way they feel during and after that healing session will also vary. Some days you wake up feeling sluggish or tired, some days you are energetic and some days you are stressed. All of those elements impact how you feel during a sound healing session. What you come in with greatly affects what you walk out with. Some people experience a state of intense calm and relaxation. Some experience a deep release of energy or stress. Some feel at ease, rested and peaceful. Others feel a sense of lightness and clarity.
Imagine the very best elements of meditation — that’s what you’ll experience with sound healing. Sound is able to carry you to a passive state where you are able to be both present and also lose a sense of time. And unlike meditation, which can come with the pressure to quiet your mind and stop your thoughts from flowing, or unlike yoga, which can come with pressure to perform or “do it right,” with sound healing the sound does the work for you, as long as you are open to it.
While many who undergo a sound healing session will experience instant healing and feel a change right away, others may need to (or want to) incorporate this kind of transformational work into their regular healthy living practice. If you experience chronic pain or chronic anxiety, you might not be healed once and for all after a single session, but rather need to constantly work at your self-healing in your everyday life in addition to sound therapy from time to time. It’s important to focus on using your own vibration to achieve balance and harmony and to remember, while we might not all be trained sound healing practitioners, we’re all healers in our own way.
Who Can Benefit from Sound Healing and What Does that Healing Look Like?
Let’s keep this simple… Literally anyone, with any ailments, issues or goals can benefit from sound healing. Whether you try it once or it becomes a part of your regular practice, anyone can and will benefit from sound healing therapy.
According to LA-based energy healer and sound therapy expert Michelle Perez of Sonora Sound Medicine, sound healing is for everyone, but what you get out of it will depend heavily on your intentions going into the experience. While everyone has different needs, the healing power of sound can help anyone. And Perez really knows what she is talking about.
She has a background in music — before finding her passion and her calling as a healer she was a multi-instrumentalist musician, so sound is 2nd nature to her and always has been. She uses a variety of types of sound to really connect to the energy field of the body using everything from crystal bowls to drumming, Native American flute, her own voice and more. She creates a sonic journey using all of these tools at her disposal, including a collection of sound bowls, each made from different minerals, metals and gemstone crystals, that are each used to tap into different areas of our mental state and physical wellness.
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It’s been a long week. I saw 12 clients, packed up a house, purged the materials I no longer needed, and took care of Luna solo while Ari was in New York. Stopping and taking care of myself is so important for me to keep my energetic vitality alive. There is nothing like the vibration of the crystal bowls to balance me back into harmony. I love you all!
While crystal bowls are the foundation of her one-on-one sessions, she also uses her voice, what she calls her most powerful instrument, by singing healing songs throughout her sessions. All of the tools at her disposal are used differently for each unique client and each session, so that she can cater to that person’s needs and offer the benefits and ultimate healing that they seek. From her Instagram page it’s clear she customizes her sounds and her treatment to suit each individuals’ needs, and the benefits of that devotion to heal are endless.
Sound healing has been shown to help improve health and reduce the risk of disease. Illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, addiction, and mental health issues have all been linked to stress and tension; sound healing can improve your overall state of being and has been shown to significantly reduce tension, anger, fatigue and relieve depressed mood, thereby reducing the risk of developing serious health issues later in life. According to a study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, Tibetan singing bowl meditation was shown to greatly reduce tension, anxiety, and depression among participants, and everyone who experienced the sound healing reported an increased sense of spiritual well-being after their session.
Sound healing has also been shown to help cancer patients by boosting immune systems and promote healing. According to Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, former director of medical oncology and integrative medicine at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York, introducing the resonance of singing cowls to cancer patients as a regular regime resulted in higher performing immune systems that began to mimic healing. Through his studies Dr. Gaynor concluded “just 20 minutes Sound Therapy was enough to produce healing effects of the biochemical makeup of the human body, such as Immunoglobulins and Interleukin.”
What is important to remember with sound healing is that the level of effectiveness and the type of healing you will experience really depends on how you define healing and the intentions you set when you go into your sound therapy session. Will sound sessions fix broken bones? Of course not. But does sound have the power to heal you on an emotional level? Absolutely. Sound therapy can help restore balance. And the biggest benefit is that it can provide a sense of wholeness, according to Perez.
What Tools and Instruments are Used for Sound Healing?
Just like any other wellness practice, from physical exercise to meditation to dietary habits and more, there are a lot of different versions and forms of sound healing depending on a person’s individual needs and intentions. If you are dealing with chronic pain then your goal for a session will be very different from someone who is trying to combat anxiety or improve sleep habits. And similarly, some people work better in one-on-one healing sessions, while others need to practice their healing at home or in group environments. Thankfully there are many different types of sound healing therapies, from the types of instruments that are used to the personalized interaction with a healer to the types of vibrations utilized.
Singing Bowl Therapy
Singing bowls — crystal bowls made from various minerals, metals and gemstones that are then used as instruments to produce sound — are used to produce a vibrational sound or resonance that can have a physical benefit to the listener. These bowls create a sound that is beautiful to listen to and varies in frequency and note based on the type of bowl used. Each bowl has a unique purpose, whether to help ground the listener, help them open their heart or reduce stress etc. The resonance can be an immune booster, stress reducer, pain reliever and can lower blood pressure.
Tuning Fork Sound Therapy
Similarly to the way acupuncture uses tiny needles to target specific pressure points and meridians in the body, tuning forks are applied to specific areas of the body to help release tension or improve energy flow and promote balance. The calibrated metal tuning forks use sound frequencies for point stimulation instead of using needles as you do with acupuncture. The sound frequency is able to create a vibration that you literally feel in your body, helping to bring your entire being into a state of harmonious balance and calm.
While most sound therapies do not rely on rhythm or beats of music, some types of sound healing do such as binaural beats, a therapy in which subtle, surreal beats are played within relaxing music in order to pulsate deep inside the brain. This method of sound therapy stimulates the brain to fall into a specific state using pulsing sound, ultimately allowing your brain waves to align to the frequency of the beat and become more balanced and aligned.
Sound Baths Vs. Sound Healing
It’s important to distinguish between sound healing and sound baths, because while they share many properties and healing potential, they are not the same thing. A sound healing session is often performed in a one-on-one setting with an energy healer who caters her treatment to your own needs and intentions. A sound bath is similar to how a yoga class works, with the session taking place in a group setting and a room full of participants feeding off each others’ energy and using the shared space to experience healing through sound.
Sound baths may use a variety of meditation techniques as well as sound instruments and tools, and they always occur in a shared space where you are essentially being bathed in sound, hence the name. It’s as if the sound waves surround you and consume you, ultimately leading to a more balanced, aware, lighter but more conscious state of being. Sound healing with an energy healer may have similar effects and tools, but it can also involve hands-on healing and it’s more about connecting through sound than it is about reaching a meditative state.
Why We Need Sound Healing Now, More than Ever
It’s no secret that we are currently facing a crisis with opioid overdoses, addictions to prescription pain medication and accidental deaths at an all-time high. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 130 people die every day in the United States from opioid-related drug overdoses, and as of 2017 more than 11 million people have misused prescription opioids. Those terrifying numbers will only continue to grow until we can find a way to combat this national public health crisis, and the consequences will be devastating. Our best hope for effectively finding a solution to this health crisis is to help people access safe, non-addictive strategies to manage pain and improve overall health. And while new, innovative treatments and medications are certainly important in some cases, natural, holistic approaches to health and pain are more crucial than ever.
We need to learn more about these forms of treatment, many of which have been around for centuries, and we need to fully embrace all of the potential benefits they offer to our physical, mental and emotional health. Sound healing has incredible potential to help people heal, to reduce pain, reduce the risk of illness, minimize the effects of disease, reduce anxiety and depression and just help people feel good. We need more healthy, safe, effective and natural ways to promote wellness and we all should consider incorporating sound healing into our lives.