By Hannah Maria
Sound bath meditation is a powerful practice. It can release tension, dissolve stress, anger & fatigue, and lift a depressed mood. Conditions amongst which have been linked to an increased incidence of serious disease, making the healing power of sound worth exploring.
Like all meditation technologies, it works by inducing a physiological deep-relaxation response in the body. Specifically, by lowering the blood pressure and activating the parasympathetic nervous system — our rest and digest system — to counter the sympathetic nervous system, our body’s fight or flight response system active when we feel stressed, angry, or anxious.
But unlike other meditation technologies, all you have to do is lie down and listen. There is no learning curve or required practice.
Tibetan Singing Bowls
Tibetan singing bowls are metal bowls originally used by Tibetan monks for spiritual ceremonies and in meditation practice. They are essentially a type of bell which vibrate to produce a deep, low-frequency, high-intensity sound. The vibrations are induced by tapping or striking the bowls with a mallet.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine analysed the impact of a 60 minute Tibetan singing bowl meditation on 62 people. Each participant had at least two bowls near his or her head.
The researchers found significant differences in all the well-being markers they surveyed before and after the meditation, with the biggest changes found in tension and fatigue (note the numbers are averages for the group):
- Tension — dropped from 1.26 to 0.14
- Anger — dropped from 0.85 to 0.05
- Confusion — dropped from 1.10 to 0.30
- Fatigue — dropped from 1.65 to 0.42
- Vigor — dropped from 1.97 to 1.48
- Anxiety — dropped from 1.11 to 0.44
- Depression — dropped from 0.62 to 0.42
- Faith — increased from 3.18 to 3.46
- Spirituality — increased from 2.85 to 3.64
- Physical pain — dropped from 1.79 to 0.94
They also found the effects on tension, anxiety, and depressed mood were larger for participants who had never experienced a singing bowl meditation before.
In addition, participants aged 40 to 59 years demonstrated the largest reduction in physical pain and tension.
Gongs are much larger bells which subsequently produce a louder sound and different frequency variations than singing bowls.
But the sound vibrations induce the same physiological response.
How and why sound baths work
This is not completely understood, but what has been hypothesised comes down to neuroscience and physics: the theories attempting to explain how sound healing works involve the impact of sound waves on the brain.
Altering your brain state
The scientific term for this is brainwave entrainment, a technology studied in the book ‘Super Brain’, co-authored by Deepak Chopra MD and the Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Rudi Tanzi.
Entrainment happens when the frequency of an external sound, vibration, or light wave — known as a periodic stimulus — synchronises with a frequency naturally produced in your brain. This synchronisation induces your brain it a specific state, such as a trance, enhanced focus, relaxation, meditation, or sleep.
When the external sound is a low frequency — like those produced by singing bowls and gong baths — the ‘frequency following’ response induces you into a deeply relaxed and meditative state. This is when your brain is literally operating at a slower pace, specifically, around 0.5 to 4 Hz (cycles per second), compared to our normal, busy brain frequency of 13 to 30 cycles per second.
The alteration of your brain state is effortless and can be instantaneous.
Entrainment can also happen when you’re listening to music. And the same frequency following response occurs in people with epilepsy when a light flashes at the same frequency as their seizure frequency.
This comprehensive review of the psychological effects of brainwave entrainment concludes there is evidence to suggest it is an effective therapeutic tool.
For keen readers, there is more to the science. Binaural beats also come into play, which describes the impact of hearing two difference frequencies in each ear. You can read more on that here.
Sound Meditation classes
Saturdays 19:00 with Amanda Denton
Sundays 20:00 with Athena Ko, ‘The Gong Girl’
Search ‘Gong’ on our home page.