I’ve always been a fan of good music while exercising, as it can rev up a workout and fuel one’s motivation and duration. It’s also a great relaxer and mood elevator, but I didn’t understand the power of sound therapy until I tried it myself. Bathing the brain and body in sound waves is a cool experience — it can help reduce stress, create a deep sense of well-being and enhance mindfulness. At our Wednesday night restorative yoga class, one of the yoga instructors plays guitar and sings while we hold deep stretch poses for long periods of time. During this experience, rather than just listening to the music, I found myself feeling like the music had entered into my being. And in particular, during shavasana, his voice and notes cleared my thoughts, emptying my brain, so I could truly enter a deeper state of relaxation.
This experience was taken 10 times further when I did a sound meditation at a spa last spring. One evening, in a second-story glass-encased studio surrounded by trees, we settled onto yoga mats and covered ourselves in blankets. A woman played live music, using her voice as an instrument to accompany flutes, chimes, dulcimers and more. My mind slipped into non-thinking and stillness during this hour-long meditation and sound therapy session. The waves and vibrations traveled up and down my body. When it ended, I found myself in an utter state of calm.
Sound can shift our brain waves by providing a stable frequency for the brain waves to attune to. This is called entrainment, which is a method of synchronizing our brainwaves, which fluctuate, by producing a stable, solid frequency that our brains adjust to and then match. Entrainment helps our brain’s beta state (normal waking mode) move into alpha (slower, relaxed consciousness) or even theta — a meditative state. Like a mantra or deep rhythmic breathing, sound can carry you into stillness and the lovely sense of calm that you experience during mediation. Sound can alter our mood by altering our brainwaves. It can also flood our brains with dopamine. Sound therapists believe these sessions can create a holistic balance within the body and soul.
Chanting, sound and music all have been used by the Aboriginals, Native American and ancient Egyptians to heal people. Singing and music unites us and uplifts the soul. Instruments like gongs, Tibetan singing bowls and tuning forks induce a meditative state.
That night at the spa, I experienced sound as a natural tranquilizer, first hand. After our session, as I floated out of the studio, I was greeted by a chorus of frogs whose music followed me back to my room where I slept a deep, deep sleep. It was a profound experience that I carry with me. I can still remember the feeling of those waves of sounds sweeping up and down my body. If you get the chance to try sound bathing, I think you’ll be surprised by how good it feels to be immersed in vibration of sound. It’s another path to wellness and mindfulness where time feels suspended. And a chance to go deep inside and find that place of calm.
Journalist Ann Wycoff has written about wellness, fitness, longevity, travel, spas, food and wine for the past 20 years for magazines like Shape, Fitness, Spa, Outside, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Redbook, Modern Luxury, San Diego Magazine, Redbook, Marin Magazine and more. She lives in Encinitas, California.