Sound therapy is a sensory approach to aid wellbeing and emotional health. Also known as sound healing, sessions generally involve the use of specific sounds and specialist instruments, played at certain vibrations and frequencies to invoke a therapeutic response.
It is thought that because the human body is about 60% water, the sounds vibrate through it and sessions are often combined with breathwork, self-reflection techniques and meditation.
Unlike music therapy, where practitioners are registered with the Health And Care Professions Council, sound therapy is purely holistic. It is designed to help balance emotions and quieten a busy mind. Certain frequencies are also claimed to help release beta-endorphins that block the sensation of pain.
Google Trends data reveals a recent growth in popularity, with searches for ‘sound therapy’ peaking in December, while searches for ‘sound baths’ spiked last month.
So what’s all the fuss about? ‘Sound therapy is the use of specialist instruments played in specific ways, not only to promote relaxation but also to address a range of different conditions,’ says Lyz Cooper, founder and principal of The British Academy Of Sound Therapy (BAST; britishacademyofsoundtherapy.com).
‘It can also include self-reflection techniques to help a person to make sense of, and/or process anything they would like to work on – physical or emotional pain, previous trauma, anxiety or general health and wellbeing.
‘Typically, sessions use the voice (toning and overtoning: singing more than one note at once), mantra (the chanting of Sanskrit words), monochord (a stringed drone instrument), drums, percussion, chimes, gong, Himalayan and crystal singing bowls and tuning forks.’
Jasmin Harsono is a multi-sensory wellness and sound practitioner who fuses ancient practices such as Reiki, meditation, somatic movement and shamanism in her sound therapy sessions. ‘If a client is experiencing racing thoughts, or feeling anxious or nervous, I use grounding sounds, to help them feel connected to their physical body. I tend to use the natural and rooting sounds of the drum, my voice and the base chakra notes from crystal sound bowls.’
Therapy sessions range from sound baths, which are group relaxation sessions, to one-to-one sessions tailored to suit individual needs. ‘Participants will lie down and are taken on a therapeutic journey,’ says Lyz.
‘Instruments are selected that blend well together and in the BAST method we use specific instruments and techniques in a specific order to maximise an altered state of consciousness and also for different therapeutic outcomes.
‘The practitioner will play in a more stimulating way if they want to give a more energising session and may choose to play the gong in a more energising way, for example.
‘In a relaxing session, they may choose the gentle sounds of Himalayan bowls followed by crystal bowls, which can be sublimely relaxing.
‘Musicality is important, as putting a therapeutic sound session together that incorporates ebb and flow, light and shade, really helps to move mind, body and emotions. Continuous sound supports the client and at the end there is silence to enable the sounds to be integrated and the client to reflect on how they felt.’
Sound therapy has now gone mainstream, with David Lloyd Clubs launching Binaural Beats – a type of soundwave therapy to treat anxiety, insomnia and fatigue – and SPIRIT Sound Meditation classes, which use healing instruments such as Tibetan Singing Bowls and the Native American Flute.
‘Sound therapy has been used for centuries across different cultures to improve emotional and physical health,’ says Steph Holland, creative director at David Lloyd Clubs (davidlloyd.co.uk).
‘It is understood that low-frequency sounds are linked to relaxing the brain, while higher frequencies encourage focus, and it is a powerful tool to change the brain’s state and boost mood.’ As well as relaxation and improved focus and energy, health benefits are thought to include improved sleep, less chronic pain, lower blood pressure, lower cortisol and a lower risk of heart disease.
But is there any science to back it up? Benefits of sound therapy aren’t widely published in medical journals but a study in the Journal Of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed sound meditation can help reduce tension, anger, fatigue, anxiety and depression, while a University of Toronto clinical study showed low-frequency sound stimulation improved sleep and decreased pain in fibromyalgia sufferers.
BAST has also been conducting in-house studies since its inception in 2000, revealing that certain instruments seem to affect people in different ways.
Lyz explains: ‘Combining instruments in a specific way can influence brainwave frequencies, enabling a person to enter an altered state of consciousness, similar to very deep relaxation or meditation. In this state many different therapeutic processes occur, such as reduced pain and muscle tension, increased mood and feelings of peace and tranquillity.
‘There’s also reduced blood pressure, heart rate and stress, plus your ability to deal with life pressures is improved as well as your resilience. The immune system may also be boosted.’
Sometimes, however, clients find the sounds irritating or even painful. Lyz says there may be times when there is resistance to the sound, so it’s vital to speak to your practitioner after the session.
‘A skilled sound practitioner will be able to help you to discover more about what the resistance was about. For example, if you felt as though the sound of the gong was confrontational and overbearing, is there something in your life that this is reminding you of, like your boss or a friend? The instruments can help you to gain insight into anything that may be in the way of flow in your life.’
Benefits are thought to include better sleep, less chronic pain and lower blood pressure
Want to give it a go?
Vicki-Marie Cossar has some ideas about where to try out sound therapy for yourself…
Electronic Music Meditation
Spiritual mentor and meditation guide, Belinda Matwali (belindamatwali.com) spent more than ten years studying meditation in India and says that her electronic music meditation sessions are aimed at those who want to slow down from everyday life.
‘I have always been fascinated by sound,’ she says. ‘I studied sound therapy and sacred sound and started experimenting with electronic music in my sessions. I include things like synthesisers and drum machines, alongside isochronic tones and healing frequencies. Some of the tracks I make myself, or with my husband, who is a DJ.
‘Every class is different, but generally consists of four parts, which take people on a journey. We start out with cathartic shaking or movement to hypnotic techno or electro music, then breathing or kriyas (yoga breath control techniques and exercises) to house music.
‘The tempo then moves to ambient as the practice shifts into more gentle pranayama, followed by laying down for guided meditation with functional music that has isochronic tones to enhance theta brainwaves.
‘All the techniques are designed to facilitate a really deep relaxation and to quiet the mind.’
Belinda will be hosting exclusive monthly classes at Akasha Holistic Wellbeing at Hotel Café Royal, London, from this Friday. The price of £125 includes a 45-minute sound session and 90 minutes access to the pool and spa facilities.
See more at Hotel Café Royal
Sound Bath Meditation
Healing practitioner Harriet Emily (harrietemily.com) recently launched a sound therapy space in Harrods, London, and is known for weaving ethereal soundscapes with guided meditation in her sound journey.
‘In a typical sound bath, the instruments used tend to be gongs and crystal singing bowls, but I like to work with a lot of different instruments and often incorporate a rav vast (similar to a steel drum), a shamanic drum, lots of different types of chimes (bar, wind, crystal) and flutes (wooden and crystal), says Harriet, above.
‘I have over 60 singing bowls and about 30 Himalayan bowls and 12 gongs, which can all promote very different feelings in people and help them reconnect with themselves.
‘I have also found that people tend to go deeper into their journey with sound when they are led by meditation, so, at the beginning of a session I start with breathing exercises and visualisation. I also like to work with oils and might even use plants like a ceremonial cacao, or tea to stimulate more of the senses.
‘A sound bath aims to bring you back into a deeper state of awareness with both your body and mind. I rarely use “Om” or chanting as I like to keep my sessions open to different belief systems.
‘The basis of my work is to show people how to relax. For me, sound can be so many different things and it all comes down to how you hear it. You can have a beautiful song but if you play it really loudly, then it can take away the pleasure.
‘I ensure that everything in my sound bath sessions is built up gradually and every sound overlaps. People leave feeling both calm and uplifted.’
One-to-one sound therapy sessions with Harriet at Harrods cost £160 for 75mins. Call Harrods Wellness Clinic on 020 7225 5678
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