The Healing Power of Sound Baths:
How Vibrational Therapy Can Benefit Your Mind and Body
Imagine the feeling of profound relaxation you experience when you ease a tired body into a warm bath; a melting of mind and muscles. A sound bath is similar. It is an immersive full body experience of soothing waves of sound. The term ‘bath’ is more than a metaphor. Made up of around 65% water, the body is the perfect conductor for vibrations. While the ears are the primary hearing receptor for sound, every cell in the body experiences it. During a sound bath, these vibrations bring about a gentle but powerful restoration of mind and body.
An ancient wisdom
The use of sound is part of an ancient healing tradition. Aboriginal peoples in Australia have used the didgeridoo (of which there are over 45 different regional names in Australia) as a therapeutic instrument for thousands of years, and Native Amercians have traditionally used drums, flutes and chanting in healing ceremonies. Physicians in Ancient Greece used flutes and lyres in the treatment of patients to support sleep, sooth mental disturbances and ease digestion. Aristotle wrote that flute music could purify the soul.
In contrast, western science only began systematically to study the therapeutic benefits of music relatively recently, in the late 19th century (although early studies in the Parisian Saltpetre hospital found impacts on cardiac, pulse and respiratory rate as early as the 1700s). There is now a body of scientific work that suggests physical and mental benefits from the use of sound.
Modern sound bath practitioners follow this ancestral wisdom, and use a variety of instruments such as gongs, bowls, didgeridoos and voice to produce vibrations at different frequencies.
The use of sound baths can lead to profound relaxation and improvements in overall wellbeing. Evidence has shown a reduction in distress, anxiety, depression and pain. The vibrations of a sound bath helps the body to drop out of the fight-flight sympathetic nervous system - the stress response so chronically common in modern life - and drop into the parasympathetic nervous system - the rest-digest state in which healing occurs.
In this parasympathetic state, heart rate drops, blood pressure drops, breathing slows and the automatic bodily processes, such as digestion and repair, function optimally. The balancing of the body’s nervous system supports the reduction of stress, aids digestion and supports sleep. There is also evidence to show that sound baths can support pain relief: a 2015 study on the impact of regular sound treatment on fibromyalgia showed a reduction in the use of painkillers amongst participants.
Sound Healer and hypnotherapist, Tailia Santo, from SpiritShift in Kent, describes how the baths work on an emotional level:
‘sound impacts the emotions on many levels. Emotions are energy-in-motion and left unprocessed are stored hidden away in the body. Sound subtly seduces those pent up emotions to come to the surface to be felt and released. A sound bath is like a soothing soul cleanse and when facilitated correctly, it is not uncommon to have many tears shed in the healing space. Different emotions also hold different frequencies… we can reset the emotional body’s resonance to a more harmonious frequency”.
Sound baths can support meditation practice too. The sound vibrations help the practitioner to calm and focus the mind. Often the experience will include meditation or prompts for self inquiry.
There are few negative side effects from a sound bath, although participants might feel emotional during, and after, as stuck emotions are released. The impact of the experience is highly individual: some people feel energised while others feel sleepy and slow. As with any therapeutic intervention, participants should talk to the practitioner about medical issues or pregnancy before the experience.
What to expect
While sound healing can be experienced individually, sound baths are usually collective. Sessions will typically involve lying in a comfortable reclined position, often after gentle yoga, breathing or meditation exercises. For the ultimate in sound bath experiences, look for one which you can experience suspended in a hammock.
The sound practitioner will use instruments to create resonant, overlapping vibrations - often walking around the room to alter the intensity and direction of the sound. Sometimes the practitioner will place the instrument on the body to augment the effect of the vibrations.
During the sound bath, the brain will move from a normal alert waking state (beta waves) to a relaxed state (alpha waves), then to a dreamlike state (theta waves), and perhaps even into a restorative state (delta waves). The heart rate and blood pressure will drop and breathing will become deeper. Participants may feel themselves drifting into waking dreams.
At the end of a session (usually around 45 - 60 minutes), the practitioner gently guides participants back into a feeling of awake awareness, before concluding the bath.
If you are feeling out of tune right now, you may want to explore what a sound bath has to offer.