Vibration touches every part of the body.
There’s a favorite quote of mine, from Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, who was a medical oncologist, internist, and hematologist: “If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears but through every cell in our bodies.”
Dr. Gaynor introduced sound therapy through Himalayan singing bowls as a complementary healing tool to his patients who were going through treatments for cancer in the 1990s.
Dr. Gaynor was not proposing that if you listen to the sounds of a singing bowl, poof! your cancer is cured. He was suggesting that the process of healing and recovering—of surviving cancer—is traumatic, and sound is a helpful tool to ease the physical and emotional pain that comes with it. He wasn’t just trying to eliminate the cancer, he was also helping his patients access different levels of support through their experience with the disease. It was a revolutionary idea to some. He was looking at the whole patient—mind, body, and spirit—in terms of treating disease.
The effect felt in sound therapy such as Dr. Gaynor’s is that of resonance; every object is in a state of vibration and therefore creates sound. Vibration affects us on psychological, physiological, emotional, and spiritual levels. It can affect every part of our being. As an example, when you stand in front of a speaker with earplugs in, or put your fingers in your ears as an emergency vehicle passes, blaring its siren, you can still feel the sound reverberating through your body.
When people are relaxed as a result of meditation, chanting, listening to music, breathing exercises, or various forms of behavioral therapies, their breathing deepens and slows and their stress hormones decrease, allowing the immune system to function more efficiently, lowering blood pressure and activating the centers of the brain that release natural opiates.
When I conduct a Sound Bath, participants are able to access meditative states through the practice of deep listening (which isn’t a tricky concept—it’s exactly what it sounds like—but one that’s so important I’ve devoted an entire chapter to it, in chapter three of my book). Whether I’m hosting a session with one person or ten thousand, my overall intention is the same, to help you expand an awareness of the present moment and deepen your relationship to sound. That may seem pretty simple, but we’re rarely aware of how we’re listening. That’s where the mindfulness piece comes in.
Instead of a meditative practice that requires you to sit up straight or have a point of focus or recite a complicated mantra or count your breaths, all you have to do during a Sound Bath is listen. When you find your thoughts pulling you out of the present moment, come back to the sound in the room. Sound is ephemeral—this particular sound is only happening right now—and thus an awareness of each sound helps you connect to the present.
When you are fully connected to the present, you are in control of your thoughts and emotions. You aren’t distracted or stressed by anticipation of future events, ruminating on the “what ifs,” or holding on to emotional trauma from the past.
Considering how overstimulating the modern world can be, regularly introducing a calming experience can have a positive effect on your well-being. Each sound experience you seek out will differ depending on the day and the circumstances, your feelings and surroundings—and each new experience will teach you more about yourself. At one session, you might have a more visual experience; at another time, you may lose all sense of time, or experience an emotional catharsis. All of these things can contribute to your personal growth.
When you listen with focus and directed attention during a Sound Bath, that mindfulness starts to stay with you outside the room, permeating different areas of your life. With your newfound heightened level of awareness, you may begin to notice new details in your environment, or a spaciousness around your reaction to a stressful situation.
Listening leads to an understanding, on a deeper level, of thoughts and feelings that come up internally, and of situations and circumstances that arise externally, which lead to stronger connections to yourself or others. And those, in turn, can lead to greater compassion, expression, empathy, and love.
From SOUND BATH by Sara Auster, published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2019 by Sara Auster. All rights reserved.