By Patricia Norton
Take a moment and breathe. Be still. Listen.
What sounds surround you as you read these words? Do you feel nourished and inspired by them? Or irritated and depleted? For better or worse, what your body assimilates as audible sound directly affects your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Over time, it affects your physical health, too.
We can learn to harness the power of sound, applying it therapeutically with compassionate intention to encourage relaxation and healing. Sound healing has been practiced in all the world’s cultures, some even consider it a sacred science that dates back to prehistoric times. Indigenous cultures from Africa, Australia, and the Americas have drummed, rattled, and chanted to heal and connect with Spirit. Egyptians have ritually chanted vowel sounds in specific keys to clear and restore balance to the chakra system. Christians have used Gregorian chant as prayer. Buddhists in the Himalayas have recited sacred healing chants and used Himalayan metal bowls and tingshas to summon attention to the present moment, restore the body, and connect to Spirit.While many of these traditions continue today, this ancient art has seemingly vanished in developed western societies. Since the Industrial Revolution, an increasingly technology-laden and fast-paced society has separated us from our deeper needs, communion with nature, and Divine connection. Along the way, our world became a lot noisier. It wasn’t until 1936, when acoustic researchers discovered ultrasound, that the potential for sound to heal resurrected. Now with recent studies repeatedly suggesting that most of our illnesses today are stress-related, therapeutic sound is rapidly gaining in popularity.
Healing sounds send electrochemical impulses to the brain, slowing the body’s respiration and heart rate (Joshua Leeds, The Power of Sound: How to Manage Your Personal Soundscape for a Vital, Productive, and Healthy Life (Healing Arts Press, 2001). Our body releases its natural painkillers, endorphins, and serotonin, and we journey into a state of deep relaxation. With regular practice, we can maintain a state of consciousness that allows us to live from a calmer, more balanced perspective. As sound healing expert Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., explains, “One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes.”
You can harness the healing power of sound in many ways. The most simple, perhaps, is merely listening. Music can bring your body into blissful relaxation or ecstatic joy. A hike through a forest to soak up the sounds of nature can calm the nervous system, as can a stroll along the beach listening to the waves lapping the shore.
You can create your own healing sounds, as well. Try using your own voice, which is said to be the most healing instrument of all. Using a wordless language of vowels, elongated and sounded with intent, vocal toning is a technique that stimulates an ‘internal massage.’ The movement of your breath and diaphragm, and the tones that you produce, help you release and balance, accept or create. Toning isn’t singing; it’s not about having a good voice. It is about expressing emotions.
Singing does have its own healing benefits, however, and they have received some recent attention in the media. Doctors have encouraged Arizona Senator Gabby Giffords to sing old songs attention in the media. Doctors have encouraged Arizona Senator Gabby Giffords to sing old songs as she recovers from the gunshot wounds inflicted during her attempted assassination in January 2011. Because singing balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, it has not only helped her learn how to talk again, but the doctors credit music for helping her to walk!
You can also create healing sounds using instruments. If you’ve learned to play a musical instrument, set aside a little time each day and allow your emotions to play through it. Some instruments, such as hand drums, are particularly well-suited for sound healing. Ancient rhythmic drumbeats are believed to release emotional pain and negative emotions and promote feelings of play and community. Drumming changes our beta brainwaves to alpha, bringing feelings of wellbeing and euphoria.
Singing bowls are another powerful healing instrument. Those made of quartz crystal contain the full spectrum of light, the colors of which are related to the seven chakras (energy centers in the body). The tones from these bowls are therefore believed to heal the listener by bringing pure light through sound back into the human aura. The effect multiplies with the purity of the bowl’s sound and the player’s intention. Other singing bowls, originating in ancient Tibet, are made using seven to twelve metals, depending on what region in the Himalayas they were made. They are hand-hammered with Vedic chanting and are said to reverberate the blessings of these chants. It is believed that when singing bowls are placed on the body, they can clear energetic and emotional ‘blocks’ and promote healing.
Sound healing, as a holistic modality, has a small but growing number of practitioners who have chosen to take up this work, often studying the ancient traditions. In a typical sound healing session, the client lies down and the practitioner guides them through some simple breathing techniques to help initiate deep relaxation. A variety of instruments may then be used to nourish overall energy patterns. Sound healing reduces anxiety and depression, physical pain, and insomnia. It improves overall energy, memory, and health. It can accelerate post-surgical recovery time and enhance a deep sense of peace. Sound therapy also blends wonderfully with other modalities, and clients can benefit from receiving massage, psychotherapy, yoga, acupuncture, or other energy work at the same time.
Whether you receive a professionally tuned session, listen to healing sound, or create it with your own voice, drum, or bowl, sound has the power to heal you. As sound healer Tom Kenyon has said, “Sound vibration speaks to our soul and to our bodies. It bypasses the cognitive mind, and when that happens a door opens and people can go through that door and discover miracles and mysteries in themselves that they never imagined.”
(Article originally published in Healing Arts Press, 2001)
About the Author
Patricia Norton is a certified Sound Therapist. She offers group and individual sound sessions around Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Patricia presents Sound Immersion educational workshops. www.soundimmersion.net
Ecovillage Bhrugu Aranya in Poland conducts Sound & Fire healing circles for groups and individual sessions with crystal bowls, toning and chakra yantrams.
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