The Healing Power of Sound
I will never forget my first session—climbing the treehouse steps in the jungle post twilight, flickering candles everywhere, mats, pillows, and blankets neatly arranged on the floor in a sweeping proscenium arc. In the middle lay an assortment of bowls constructed of different sizes and materials, chimes, gongs, and many other unidentifiable instruments. There were maybe 30 of us lying on our backs with our heads nearest to the sound healer, ready for an hour and a half session built entirely on trust. It was wild! I had never experienced anything like it, utterly sensory; you are not simply hearing the music but are immersed in it, feeling and living every vibration. At some point during the 90 minutes, it had started to storm; rain lightly cascading down, lightning flashing gently in the distance. Add to that the soon to erupt volcano tremors shaking the floor (Mount Agung, 2017), and I was hooked, placed in a mediative free-flowing state so spiritual I barely was able to make my way back to my room later, where I fell into a deep and restful sleep.
My sound healing journey began in Bali while studying at The Yoga Barn: a stunning sanctuary located in the jungles of Ubud. Seeing that they offered numerous sound workshops a week, my curiosity was peaked, and I eagerly signed up for each of them, wondering what exactly I was getting myself into.
The successive sessions I attended were each a bit different, one time featuring angelic vocals alongside a strumming guitar, the next the sonorific playing of a massive gong. All of them brought me to a repeated place of deep meditative thought. Sometimes, the feelings of overwhelm and anxiety would pass as if a storm in the night, and I would simply find acceptance and overcome it naturally. Other times there were tears and, on a few occasions, righteous anger at a nearby neighbor for daring to fall asleep and snore. Regardless of the circumstances, each experience was transcendent.
Some History and Science
Throughout history, cultures around the world believed in the healing powers of sound. The Ancient Egyptians, Aborigines, Tibetan monks, Native American shamans, and Vedic masters used sound by utilizing chants, mantras, songs, or musical instruments as a means to create harmony between the body and mind. In her book Sound Medicine, Kulreet Chaudhary, MD, writes that these groups “understood instinctively what scientists were later able to prove: that there is a direct relationship between environmental sound and our physiological health.”
Scientifically, it has been proven that sound has the power to affect our heart rate, breathing, brain waves and can even alter proteins and change cellar function. Studies have shown that nature sounds can increase attention capacity and shift the nervous system into the rest-digest state, resulting in slower breathing, a decreased heart rate, the nervous system releasing oxytocin, and the stress hormone cortisol decreases. Additionally, Dr. Chaudhary had pointed out that the amygdala (known for fear and anger) is triggered during unpleasant sounds. At the same time, more pleasant types of music increase dopamine secretion as well as bring about a heightened sense of motivation and concentration.
Using Sound as Meditation
While the exact science of sound healing can definitely be nuanced, for me, the restorative experience happens primarily on a psychological level. When I had returned from Bali, I immediately sought out sound healings in the city. Thankfully I didn’t have to search too hard and learned about the meditation studio MNDFL. Having locations in both Manhattan and Williamsburg, the studio offered weekly sound healing experiences referred to as Sound Baths. Essentially they were like the sessions back in Bali, only this time in a pristine NYC studio with fancy eye pillows and an assortment of organic teas to enjoy afterward. Attending whenever it would fit into my schedule, I would lay in the tiny but cozy room in Greenwich Village for an hour at a time and get lost in the world of sound. (Unfortunately, MNDFL has since shut down its physical doors, focusing purely on online meditation services.) The best part about the experience was having the dedicated time to show up for myself and allow my mind to wander freely in contemplation or rest in atmospheric bliss.
Sound Practitioner Nate Martinez writes about the sound bath experience on his website, identifying that through frequency and entrainment of sound, it’s possible to down-shift our normal beta state (waking consciousness) to alpha (relaxed consciousness), with the majority of people able to reach theta (meditative state) and even delta (where internal healing can occur). He believes that sound is an important tool to influence and shift our consciousness and physiology. He writes, “by utilizing sound therapy with deep listening practices we can create an ideal entry point for a meditative experience and practice, particularly for anyone who has struggled to embrace more traditional forms of meditation.”
I also love the insight Emmy award-winning composer Richard Wolf gives in his book, In Tune, writing, “if you can listen deeply, you not only listen to music with a refined cognitive awareness, but you feel the music with your body and soul. It is a holistic experience that can engage your whole being.”
With all that being said, making sound healing a part of my mindfulness routine has profoundly affected my life. It’s as if I have a neat little secret tucked up my sleeve for whenever I find myself needing improved focus, time for introspection, or a reset when I’m overwhelmed with stress.
I would love to share some ways to bring this practice into your day-to-day life. If it’s possible to attend a sound healing in person, I highly recommend experiencing one, but if you’re more into an at-home exploration, please utilize the following resources:
Insight Timer- Free and has an abundant library of sound meditations.
Spotify- Not necessarily a meditation app however, if you already pay for this service you have access to amazing playlists such as:
Not to mention a plethora of other Sound Healing albums, playlists, and artists!
(Follow RITUAL OASIS on Spotify for featured sound healing and chill vibe playlists!)
Another great way to get (free) access to sound healings is through Youtube: simply type in Sound Healing or Sound Bath and literally thousands of offerings will come up for you.
Another practitioner I encourage you to check out is Natalie Valle. She currently offers a 7-day free Sound Meditation Series!
If you find yourself desiring a more in-depth sound healing journey, I highly recommend membership programs with these amazing souls:
Find free sessions on her IG live!
$18 a month for live + on-demand access to new and exclusive sound baths (from 2 to 60 minutes), meditations, weekly sound baths and community events with Sara, innovative tools to support a daily meditation practice, and a community space to connect and share the joys of listening.
Follow him here for A Daily Dose of Calm
Offers On-Demand Access+Subscriptions (Audio available in One week, One month, or Three month increments.) New transmission is uploaded every Monday. (Video Available via one day or one week purchase, or access complete collection for 30 days access.)