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How Certain Sounds Can Help You Deal With All That Holiday Stress

Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen, the co-author of "The Spirit Almanac," and the author of "Return to Nature" (Spring 2022).
Woman Resting on the Couch Listening to Music

If you kept an inventory of every sound you heard in the month of December, it would be longer than Santa's Nice List. We're constantly surrounded by sound, and the holidays are obviously no exception: Carolers, feel-good movies, the crackling of flames, the voices of family, airport announcements, car honks, and boots meeting snow make this season's soundtrack a rich and textured one. Some of its tracks are comforting and nostalgic, others stressful.

According to sound therapist and meditation teacher Sara Auster, we can steady our reaction to all of this outside noise by maintaining an inner world that is calm and quiet. "Being able to access a moment of stillness internally when everything is chaotic and swirling around outside of you—or, if we're really honest, inside of you—is almost a kind of a superpower," she tells mbg. Ironically enough, the way to do this is to invite even more sound into your life in the form of sound baths.

How do I take a sound bath, and how is it different from just listening to music?

As a quick refresher, "sound bath" or "sound meditation" describes the mindful practice of listening to sound that facilitates relaxation and repair in the body. The frequency of commonly used instruments in sound baths (think tuning forks, gongs, chimes, etc.) have been shown to help guide the brain into a more subdued and receptive theta state.

In addition to calming us down, Auster says sound baths help us become more attuned and understanding listeners. "Sound and listening go hand in hand," she explains. "The whole experience becomes about the sound itself but also how we're relating to the sounds."

Group sound baths have been rising in popularity for years, but you can also do the practice from home. And what better opportunity to get started than during the clang and clatter of the holidays? Taking a digital sound bath is as simple as sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and pressing play on a sound bath recording. (There are plenty of them online, and Auster was nice enough to share one of her own at the bottom of this post.) You'll want to make sure that you can hear the nuances of the recording, so using headphones or a high-quality speaker is recommended—but your phone works in a pinch. Listen for as long as your schedule allows throughout this busy season.

"What I would recommend is just trying to access as many of these moments of pause as you can," says Auster. "You might think it's insignificant for just a few minutes, but it's really not."

Unlike with a guided meditation or breathwork, there really aren't many specific directives for this practice. Simply give the sounds your undivided attention. If you do find yourself getting distracted by certain noises outside the recording, though, Auster recommends tuning into those further: "How you react and relate to sound says a lot about you as a person," she says. "If you find a particular sound to be triggering or annoying, then I think it's a very interesting thing to investigate. Why is that happening? There's a lot of information there."

With consistency and time, you might start to fall into a state that musician Pauline Oliveros dubbed "deep listening"—where you allow all the sounds around you to come into your consciousness without labeling them good or bad.

"When you begin to resist, the body hardens, the mind hardens," says Auster. Any time you find yourself tensing up this season, consider calling on sound to come back to a place of softening and receptivity.

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