Sound Therapy and the healing properties of sound

Research is increasingly opening up new possibilities of using sound as a healing mechanism for the human body and mind.  Sound therapy is continuing to grow in the UK, using instruments such as gongs, tuning forks, the human voice and singing bowls, it has also been used to help treat patients with terminal illness, alongside their medical treatment. Similarly in the US, this therapy is growing as more research is unfolding.

Sound has been used as a healing modality for thousands of years. Although current practices and theories do vary, and there are differences between sound healing and sound therapy (will be discussed in another article), sound can alter the mind and thus the body, bringing calmness, relaxation, mental focus and clarity and sometimes aid with certain ailments. Sound healing works on an emotional, energetic field (or spiritual) level and can address certain issues and challenges. One way to look at sound healing is discussed by Jonathan Goldman as he puts emphasis on the healing intention, which is important. In his book Healing Sounds – The Power of Harmonics, he discusses his formula of “frequency plus intention equals healing”. Basically, if we find the right sound frequency with the right intention, healing will occur.

Finding the right frequency is something that current sound therapy practices employ. Some have assigned notes from our western musical scale to specific chakras, something that I personally do not practice as I do query the use of adopting our current western scale for an ancient sounding device. However, within the right context, these methods do have their benefits.

As contemporary sound practice has evolved from some of these theories and extensive research, it should also be noted that current sound therapy and sound healing practices do vary from practitioner.

We now have scientific evidence of the healing properties of sound however, singing bowls seem to be slightly more complex as they are very temperamental with varying degrees of acoustics, resonance, pitch, timbre, harmonies, decay and amplitude. Antique singing bowls possess some interesting acoustic properties and multiple harmonics. They are also said to possess healing properties as researched by Dirk Gillabel in his article “Singing Bowls, A guide to healing through sound: Altered Brain waves” (2001).

If we look at the concepts of brain waves and sound waves, we can categorize brain waves into four groups, Alpha, Beta, Delta and Theta, he explains that Alpha waves (7 to 12 Hz) arise when the eyes are closed and the mind is in a relaxed state. Beta waves (13-30 Hertz) reflect a state of alertness. Theta waves (4-7 Hertz) are responsible for a state of drowsiness and dreaming. Delta waves (0-4Hertz) are related to deep sleep, when the body and mind is most relaxed.

According to Gillabel research, sound waves that correspond to the four kinds of brain waves can be heard when playing a bowl, which does help to explain one aspect of the positive effects from this sound.

Further reading:

There are some very useful articles which discuss sound therapy and sound healing from the College of Sound Healing, BAST and also a very interesting article “Pondering the realm of healing with sound” by Frank Perry. These articles have been extremely useful in gaining a good understanding of this area.

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About Singing Bowls

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Himalayan singing bowls, also known as Tibetan singing bowls, are usually found in various regions across the Himalayas and northern India. It is thought that they made their way into Tibet along with the Buddhist monks, as Buddhism made it’s way from India. However, they were used by the pre  Buddhist Bon tribe of Tibet, primarily used for rituals and ceremonies, later leading it’s way into Buddhist temples. As we know, contemporary western uses of singing bowls have made its way into alternative holistic therapies, such as sound therapy.

Antique bowls consist of multiple harmonics and are hand beaten from a combination of seven metals (although some mention twelve) including meteorite, gold, silver, iron, copper, lead and mercury. Later, bowls generally consisted of five metals removing gold and silver.

A good description of the instrument can be found in “Ocean of Sound” (Toop D. 2004), originally taken from Sound Stories, a collection of written soundscapes by published by sound artist Phill Dadson.

“I’m struck by an unusual sound I can’t place. Cascading pitches of watery,

metallic voices, sort of bird – like: sometimes clear sometimes blurred: close yet distant: golden but earthy: echoing and resonating throughout the temple…” 1

1D Toop, Ocean of Sound, Serpents Tail, London 1995, p.83


An unusual sound indeed. Many describe this “etheral” sound as it sings, like a violin, but with resonant tones which are most enchanting. Its piercing tones can activate some of those chakra points as well as rebalance the mind. The sonic allure of these singing bowls are hypnotic as its unpredictable elements of rich multiple harmonic tones, rich vibrations which reverberate into space, into silence…into the unknown, yet brings us back into the present!
Further practice of delving deeper into observation of the sound has led to a further deepening of oneself, looking inwardly, leaving the ego as well as accepting it. It is an ongoing process of reflection both inwardly and outwardly. As I have developed my practice, the singing bowl has been my ultimate teacher – myself!

The Secret Garden

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“Reflection Under the Oak Tree”

– A sound piece located around the ancient oak tree in the Minchendon gardens, reflecting on a sonic journey from outside and within the garden walls

The work is a calumniation of working towards creating a sound map of Southgate Green, London. The original intention of this work is to be a site specific piece, held on the exact location of the gardens. It is intended to give the listener a sonic snapshot from one perspective of traveling to and from the area, from inside and outside the garden walls, whilst drawing attention to the ”Secret Garden”, as referred to by local children (Minchendon Gardens). Observing the way we use this space as a sanctuary away from the busy life outside the garden walls, it is also intended that the listener absorbs the surroundings of the Secret Garden, walking around, exploring the different angles of the garden which lead to the viewpoint of the tree, or sitting down under the shade of the ancient oak tree, whilst listening to the soundscape piece.

This great ancient oak, said to be the second largest oak tree in England, approximately 800 years old, is so central to the garden, that it gives a good perspective on the ambient sounds surrounding it. The fascination with the tree was to capture the deep vibrations, and subtle sound, which on occasion can be experienced. Based from memory I can describe it as a very low to mid frequency, subtle, less audible sound, which I could feel from placing  the palms of my hands on the oak. This is a personal experience and a deep listening experience. However, the idea of recreating this effect from memory was appealing, wanting to evoke a sense of transformation of oneself within a space. If I were to talk about the healing aspects of art, perhaps this is one example of recreating an experience of self, transformation. The oak is definitely amazing, as it stands tall, a survivor of the ancient forest of Middlesex, amidst the modernization of the landscape, it represents a time and place forgotten.

Bells

As my main point of interest lies within the acoustic properties of singing bowls, and deriving from the family of bells,  I thought I’d write about the psychoacoustics, the meaning of bells within our sonic landscape.

Prior to working with singing bowls I noticed that my field recordings included bells. Within my soundscape composition work, these sounds of church bells featured as the soundmark of the environment, becoming the figure of the piece. It is always a familiar sound forming an important characteristic of the local landscape. If we look at the semantics of church bells, it is community. Its functionality is in alerting attention without being disruptive as the high frequency sound resonates. It gives the perception of a’ welcoming’ with the added function of informing us of the time on the hour. Symbolically church bells have always been linked with Christianity. Although, I recently attended a church service and was quite disappointed to hear an electronic door bell sound, rather then the soothing resonance of a real metallic bell. This change really threw me off guard as I realised the importance of the resonance of these sound waves transmitting through the acoustics of the space, in this case a modernised church building.

If I go back to my original point of the semantics of the church bell within the sonic landscape, the bells have slowly lost their original meaning as evident in my field recordings, the rise of air pollution and traffic noise in London play a part.

“As the ambient noise of the modern city rises, the acoustic outreach of the
church bell recedes. Drowned by merciless traffic, bells still possess a certain
stammering grandeur… “  – Schafer, 1977

Sounding at Camlet Moat

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Tucked away in Trent Park, Cockfosters in London, lies Camlet Moat. Yes the name is a bit of a give away, it is believed by some that Camlet Moat originates from the King Arthur legendary Camelot. Never the less, this place is really a hidden gem and so I could not help but to take some field recordings and play a singing bowl within this spot. As part of my masters studies, I was looking at the temperamental nature of the singing bowls within differing acoustic environments. The one unfortunate nature of the recording was the faint traffic noise in the background as it lies close to busy main road, something we can’t avoid much in London. However, once within the moat, the faint traffic noise begins to fade as the feeling of stillness is experienced. It was this eerie sensation of time standing still, as though I’d been transported far away from any sense of familiarity that I could not resist to play my singing bowl. This pure sound emerged spreading across the moat, the rest became a memorable experience… (audio clip coming soon)