New Breakthroughs In Sound That Heals

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monique_mead.jpgWhat’s new about sound? Plenty. Recently we’ve heard of two sound therapy leaders that bring music and other vibrations out of the background and into an exciting leading role. It’s now all about the sound!

After a visit to Rancho La Puerta fitness resort and spa in Baja California, violinist Monique Mead—a Professor of Music Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mello University—was inspired to create a project called Tranquillo Music Spa.” She says:

I was so inspired by my visit that I took up the idea of wellness and music as a project in one of the music entrepreneurship courses I teach at Carnegie Mellon School of Music. We received University seed funding to purchase some incredibly comfortable Yogibo beanbags where spa guests could relax with eye pillows, aromatherapy and hot stones as they listened to relaxing live classical music.  We took this concept to a cancer center, a private school, and to our own CMU campus before finals week. In each case, the guests raved about the unique, multi-sensory experience, especially with the LIVE music aspect.  One of the graduates is now turning this successful project into a business called Tranquillo Music Spa.” 

Across the “pond” in England, the British Academy of Sound Therapy has centered its practice and studies on the “transformative power of sound and music,” as popularized by authors Daniel Levitin and Oliver Sacks.

BAST founder Lyz Cooper, author and practitioner in holistic health, has created a training center for therapists interested in learning techniques in “voice-bath” relaxation, therapeutic voice work, voice-scapes, group sound therapy and more.

As soon as you feel ‘off balance’ then do something,” she writes in her blog. “Don’t waste time, do something as soon as possible without delay. When you are depressed or anxious the temptation is to go into your shell, but before this happens just make small changes each day. For example, five minutes of therapeutic sound in a day will help reduce anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate. Ten minutes helps release muscle tension and improve mood state. Twenty minutes of singing boosts your immune system."

The rediscovery of sound’s benefits inspires us to go back to the beginnings: 

When we sit by a mountain stream on a sunny day, water-smooth granite warming our crossed legs, we unfailingly notice that all our senses are firing, virtually tingling—and our hearing especially. Ancient DNA-level instincts are coming to the surface as the sound of rushing water tells us we are safe in the presence of a plentiful life-giving element. We feel awash in a natural form of sound therapy, without knowing it or specifically trying to achieve it.

Authors Laura Schiff and Hollis Kline write in Psychology Today:

Flowing water's soothing sounds have long been associated with meditation, a well-known relaxation method. Michael Wenger, dean of Buddhist studies at the San Francisco Zen Center, tells us that, ‘Moving water is 'white noise,' in which you can hear many things. Each individual may hear a different song in the water. Just listening to the sound—not tying it to anything, just letting sound wash over you—is a way of letting go of your ideas and directly experiencing things as they are." This notion is exemplified in Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, one of the most important works of 20th-century Buddhist fiction. In it, the title character, while meditating upon the sound of a river and its ‘many-voiced song,’ has a life-changing experience, whereupon he ceases to fight against his destiny and thus achieves enlightenment.”

In the last few decades, spa music—replete with harps, flutes, bells, rushing water—has become a pleasant replication of this satisfying, relaxing experience: a feature of nearly every indoor therapy room, and a soothing addition to any treatment. Thousands of CDs are now on the market. Tapping or rubbing the edges of Tibetan brass bowls or crystal-glass bowls with a padded mallet has also become popular, invoking deep, resonant tones that open the doors to meditation and relaxation.

Also relatively recent, “Sound therapy” or “infant sleep machines” (ISMs) promise a more soothing, deeper sleep uninterrupted by unexpected noises. We find it hard to call these “therapeutic” when sleep itself does the healing. A machine that masks other noises might also be harmful “noise”—a 2014 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicated that sleep sound machines can damage hearing, especially that of a baby. (Infant Sleep Machines and Hazardous Sound Pressure Levels, Hugh, Wolter et al.)

PHOTO: Tranquillo Music Spa, based in Pittsburgh, PA (top), Monique Meade, Violinis, Founder and Director of the Center for Arts Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University. (above)

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