Sound has been utilized in various cultures for thousands of years as a tool for healing. Whether through the use of mantras as with the Hindis, the Icaros (medicine melodies) of various Indigenous peoples from Central and South America, or Pythagoras' use of interval and frequency, these various techniques all have the same intention: to move us from a place of imbalance to a place of balance.
How does it work?
Sound baths help to facilitate shifts in our brainwave state by using entrainment. Entrainment synchronizes our fluctuating brainwaves by providing a stable frequency which the brainwave can attune to. By using rhythm and frequency, we can entrain our brainwaves and it then becomes possible to down-shift our normal beta state (normal waking consciousness) to alpha (relaxed consciousness), and even reach theta (meditative state) and delta (sleep; where internal healing can occur).
This same concept is utilized in meditation by regulating the breath, but with sound it's the frequency that is the agent which influences the shift.
What is it like?
A sound therapy treatment is both a passive and participatory experience. The passive aspect is that you become more relaxed by laying down and slowing your breath. By doing this, you prepare yourself to become the receiver of sound. It's in this place of stillness that you participate by becoming more open and aware of each sound that comes in. Sound helps create the pathway to this place of stillness the same as a mantra helps you to arrive at the still point of meditation.
Some of the tools I use are voice, drumming, tuning forks and Himalayan singing bowls. It's important to note that awareness plays a huge role in our own healing. I find that vocal toning is an incredibly powerful practice that gives us the ability to fine-tune our greatest vibrational instrument: our own body. I always encourage clients to incorporate simple, but effective breathing exercises and vocal toning exercises in their daily routine, to help bring a greater sense of balance into their lives.
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How do we define the energetic body?
If we are able to shift our perspective, we can change our relationship to the issue that may be preventing us from experiencing our optimal homeostasis. Sound not only helps with inducing relaxation, but also has a way of moving through areas of blockage. These energetic blockage areas can be located in our physical bodies, our subtle bodies, or both.
The physical body is where we experience localized pain and discomfort. Using tuning forks, especially osteophonic tuning forks (they vibrate at lower frequencies), we can stimulate the release of Nitric Oxide, a free radical molecule that has been proven to positively affect pain transmission and control. Which, in short, means that these frequencies help to create a physiological reaction, while the sound itself helps to influence our auditory system, enabling us to modify our relationship to the pain.
Our "subtle body" is our energetic body. This body is where our life force energy exists, commonly referred to as Qi, Chi or prana. In Chinese medicine, meridian points are used to pinpoint areas that have restricted energetic flow to our physical and subtle bodies. The body is known to have thousands of these meridian lines that are mapped out through the body, in the same way we've mapped out the latitude and longitude of the earth.
The subtle body holds imbalances and traumas that can eventually manifest in our physical bodies, which is why it's important to look at healing and balance not only from a physical perspective, but as a complete holistic experience that includes mind, body and spirit.
Sound has the ability to positively affect our whole being. Eileen McCusick, author of Tuning The Human Biofield, has been exploring the theory that our subtle body acts as memory storage. For example, a tree has rings that extend outward as the tree grows. McCusick suggests that our subtle body expands and stores our life experiences in a similar way. If we apply frequency with tuning forks we can help blocked energy from past experiences move toward the energetic filtration system of each chakra, so that the stuck energy can be recycled back into our life force.
What can sound heal?
Using sound as therapy can provide results for a variety of issues including:
- Sleep disorders
- Stress management
- Pain management
Is our environment a factor?
It's important to consider what kinds of sound we take in from our living environments. Anyone who lives in New York City knows how painful the sound of a subway train screeching to a halt feels and sounds. Loud sounds can elevate our stress levels, create imbalances in our nervous system, lower our immunity and in extreme cases, cause hearing loss.
When we are stressed, our whole relationship to sound changes, and regular everyday sounds can become magnified and contribute to the feedback cycle of the stress, amplifying it even more. By utilizing sound therapy techniques, we can become better listeners and more aware of the sounds we take in.
Many of us already have a pretty good understanding of the benefits of healthy eating, and the same can be true of sound. This is another example where mindfulness practices like chanting and vocal toning, can help us to find a center and feel grounded. In doing so, when we do have those stressful trigger moments, we may be better equipped to appreciate and discern the sounds more as our own unique symphony constantly happening around us, rather than feel overwhelmed by random cacophony.
Our body, mind and spirit always want to be moving in a direction toward balance, yet we often have too much outer stimulus and noise and not enough time to dedicate to ourselves, which can prevent us from achieving a better state of harmony. Sound has a way of helping us get to the source of this inner peace we all desire.
Nate Martinez is a sound therapy practitioner based in New York City. He has a private practice for sound therapy and has been leading sound baths and sound meditations in New York City since 2014. He offers monthly sound baths at Sky Ting Yoga, Brooklyn Yoga Club, and Brooklyn Zen Center. Martinez has also been a professional musician for twenty years, having performed and recorded with Bob Weir, Alexi Murdoch, The National, and the American composer Michael Gordon, amongst many others. He has explored extensively how sound can transform our consciousness and heal us and has studied shamanism, intuitive healing, and earned a sound therapy certification from New York’s Open Center. Martinez is a contributor at MindBodyGreen and has been featured in Well Good, Yahoo Health, and Style.com.