When I was seven years old my family went to live on a Hindu Ashram on the Indonesian Island of Bali. Despite the geckos that scuttled across our ceiling and having to walk to an outhouse, it was an idyllic setting with coconut trees swaying in the breeze and white plumeria flowers scattered along the path that led to our one-room hut overlooking the Indian Ocean. My memories are blurry at best but one thing I do recall is hearing the soothing sound of the Balinese chanting “Om” in the early morning hours.
An article in BaliSpirit.com, depicts the Balinese belief in the Om sound:
The vibration produced by chanting Om in the physical universe corresponds to the original vibration that first arose at the time of creation. The sound of Om is also called Pranava, meaning that it sustains life and runs through Prana or breath. Om also represents the four states of the Supreme Being.”
Such oratory rituals to restore the spiritual balance within are nothing new to the people of Bali, but similar practices referred to as “Sound Bathing” have recently begun making sound waves (pun intended) here in the Western world. In fact, while such practices used to be found only in the most New Age retreats, sound bathing has recently made its way into the eardrums of the mainstream, popping up in yoga studios, spas, and private practices across the country.
A recent article in Well+Good explains,
…many yogis and meditators find sound baths to be a natural complement to their other spiritual practices, but that sound can also be a more accessible way for those who aren’t as involved in new-agey experiences to disconnect and look within.”
So what might one expect to find during a typical sound bathing session? While practices certainly vary depending on the place and practitioner, the basic idea remains the same. You are asked to make yourself comfortable, usually by laying down on a floor plush with blankets and pillows. You are then instructed to close your eyes and relax, allowing the sound to wash over you as the practitioner begins to play a variety of instruments.
Throughout a typical 60-minute session, vibrations from quartz crystal singing bowls and gongs to didgeridoos wash over you, syncing—in a way—your body’s functions such as breathing and heart rate in harmony with the sound waves.
As one so-called “Sounder” Guy Douglas, who has been dubbed “the gong guy,” explained in a recent article in The New York Times...
Basically, what I do is have a sun gong and an earth gong in the room,' he explained... The earth gong is vibrating at 432 hertz, and the sun gong is 439 hertz, and I have everyone face their head towards the sun gong and their feet at the earth [gong].'”
Sound is meant to envelope bathers so they feel as if they are inside the vibrations themselves. Afterwards, some experience an incredible sense of relaxation while others describe a new sense of energy and rejuvenation. Many also claim to sleep much better in the days following a sound bath.
Practitioners of sound bathing claim the vibrations have the potential to relax brain wave-patterns, which in turn can lead to lowering the heart rate as well as reducing pain, stress and anxiety.
Although sound therapy is a field that needs much more study, past research has shown just how powerful and healing it can be.
An article in Natural Awakenings explains…
In the early 1980s, French composer and bioenergeticist Fabien Maman, along with Helene Grimal, a biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, explored the impact of sound waves on healthy and uterine cancer cells. The human voice produced the most dramatic results—exploding cancer cells and energizing healthy ones. The sound waves of a gong being played for 21 minutes also caused the cancer cells to disintegrate or ultimately explode.”
Another study looked at the physical and mental effects of music, finding that it had profound benefits in the way of reducing stress and improving the immune system.
If nothing else, however, the new trend of sound bathing appears to be a form of assisted meditation, allowing participants to tune into themselves and the vibrations of the world around them in order to shed the chaos and clutter of daily life, if only for an hour or so.
Image via Awakening the Divine Self
Sound Baths Move from the Metaphysical to the Mainstream via The New York Times
What is the meaning of Om in Bali? via BaliSpirit.com
Major Health Benefits of Music revealed via Mcgill
New York Cities Sonic Bath Boom via Well+Good
The Science, Mystery and Magic of Gong Baths via Natural Awakenings