Immersing yourself in the meditative noise of sound waves could be the key to a happier, healthier you – but what actually is a sound bath and how does it work? Heidi Scrimgeour explains…
If you’ve never heard of a sound bath, you’re not alone. When I mentioned on Facebook that I was writing this article, one friend commented, “Sound baths? I remember sonic showers in Star Trek... but sonic baths? Do you have to wear ear-plugs?”
Once I’d stopped laughing, I explained that sound baths have nothing to do with water but everything to do with sound.
A sound bath is a relaxation technique and meditative experience whereby participants ‘bathe’ in the sound waves produced by the human voice as well as instruments such as chimes, gongs, drums and singing bowls.
“Sound baths are becoming more popular and many people find them to be extremely beneficial for their overall health and well-being,” says Puranshant Kaur, a yoga teacher and sound bath practitioner based in Westport, County Mayo in Ireland.
The exact origins of sound baths aren’t known but it’s a holistic practice that dates back to ancient times, according to Kaur: “Sound Therapy has been used for thousands of years in many different cultures all with the same intention; to move us from a place of imbalance to balance."
You might even have had a sound bath without realising it. Have you ever found yourself in a yoga class listening to soothing traditional music whilst in savasana (corpse pose)? Yep? Sound bath of sorts.
Fans of sound baths say they have a profoundly calming effect as the vibrations wash over you. Some go so far as to say they can help reduce pain and relieve stress and anxiety. True sound bath aficionados say a sound bath can balance your chakras, but I’m getting out of my depth here.
“Sound baths create the space and conditions for healing to occur on many levels,” explains Kaur. “The sound stimulates our circulation and immune system, cleanses our energy meridians, and helps to release emotions stored in our body like anger, stress and trauma. Sound also balances both hemispheres of our brain, promoting deep relaxation.”
The use of sound in treating the physical body might sound ‘out there’ but doctors have been using ultrasound scans since the 1950s to produce images of the inside of the body, using sound waves with frequencies above what is audible to human ears. Ultrasound therapy is also used by some physiotherapists and chiropractors to improve circulation and tissue healing, although evidence of its benefits is limited.
In January 2015, researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust announced that they were testing whether ultrasound therapy could relieve pain in patients whose cancers had spread to the bone. The technique, known as high-intensity focused ultrasound, ‘concentrates energy on a target in the body to thermally destroy tissue’. According to Conor McKeever, science communications officer at ICR, “It’s already showing promise in relieving pain in patients with secondary tumours in the bone and recurrent gynaecological cancers – and could one day be used as a cancer-destroying treatment that also makes treatments like immunotherapy and radiotherapy more effective.”
But back to sound baths. I’m told part of their appeal lies in the fact that you don’t need any technical know-how or clever kit to participate. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know your singing bowl from your tuning fork or your lotus from your downward dog. All you have to do is show up, lie down (or sit, if you prefer) and let the sound waves do their therapeutic thing. A sound bath is an experience you feel within your body, not just listen to with your ears.
“For those who find the idea of meditation daunting, sound baths are a great way to experience the benefits,” adds Kaur. “They are accessible and inclusive for all. As the practitioner plays the instruments, you will become submerged in sound and begin to feel the frequencies and vibrations washing over you.”
Sound therapy has its sceptics. Thus far, I’ve yet to experience a sound bath, so for me the jury’s out on whether they’re the wellness wonder that so many people say they are. Sound bath videos on YouTube are pretty amazing to listen to when you can’t sleep, though. Just saying.
Tempted? There’s no danger in trying a sound bath and, who knows, it could turn out to be just what the doctor ordered.