Here's The Science Behind Why Sound Healing Is Taking Over Wellness In 2022
Take a look around. What you perceive to be empty space around you is actually teeming with sound waves and vibrations. If only we could see it: the smooth, rhythmic wavelengths of music. The rough, jagged lines of random and unorganized noise. But sound is invisible, meaning we can only experience how it feels (think nails on a chalkboard or "your song" playing at the grocery store). From that vantage point, we already know that sound is powerful. But in 2022, the impact that sound has on well-being will make itself heard through what is known as psychoacoustics.
Psychoacoustics: The science of sound.
From a scientific perspective, sound is explained by two components: physical and psychological. The physics1 of sound describes the pressure changes that occur with the vibration of an object, which are then perceived by the outer and middle ear physiology. The psychology1 of sound is how we interpret each sound in the brain, which doesn't only provide information about our environment but elicits emotions and feelings. This component is better known as psychoacoustics1, and as this field rapidly expands, innovations in the auditory wellness space are sounding back.
According to Ilene S. Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., founder of the Center for Healing Neurology: Psychoacoustics is an exciting field that we are still learning a lot about. There is a connection between sound and health and sound and healing." The mechanics of hearing are somewhat straightforward, "but what we hear and how we hear it and how we perceive sound is more complex," she said. "Our bodies take in our surroundings. Our health is interconnected with our senses—one of which is hearing. The ability for air to conduct sound as well as bone to conduct sound shows the various means of entrance of our acoustic surroundings. I think the conduction of sound into the brain and throughout our body holds some great promise." So what happens to our well-being when we start playing with our senses?
The new era of sound healing.
The power of psychoacoustics has even rippled into Silicon Valley, where capital firms known for their success with wellness startups are backing companies bringing artificial intelligence onto the psychoacoustic scene in creative and transformative ways. Sound will no longer be something that consumers just passively listen to but something their own metrics can influence. In November of this year, startup Endel showed the world what A.I.-powered sound can do when they teamed up with artist Grimes to create the "A.I. Lullaby," an adaptive sleep soundscape. And wait, define soundscape? A soundscape is simply the combination of multiple sounds to create a specific auditory environment.
Powered by artificial intelligence, the "A.I. Lullaby" factors in location, weather, and natural light exposure to create a personalized soundscape that helps children and adults fall asleep.
Aside from the "A.I. Lullaby," Endel is available as an app that (with permission) can incorporate even more personalized data to create one-of-a-kind soundscapes for sleep, focus, study, recovery, or relaxation. Through an Apple Watch, Endel's soundscapes will factor in weather, movement, heart rate, circadian rhythm, and ultradian rhythm. It is not unrealistic to imagine a near future where these soundscapes become critical in helping us access the well-being benefits of meditation or sharpening the mind for creative work.
Similar to Endel, the app Brain.fm is using technology to create "functional music"—algorithmic music designed to prompt a specific mental state like focus or sleep while reducing distraction. Their music, also created by artificial intelligence, works to coordinate neurons in the direction of a desired mood state. This innovation is a response to the newest theories in neuroscience, which explain the connections between music and well-being, like dynamic attending theory2, an understanding of how oscillations in music affect oscillations in our brain. Brain.fm music is proved to create brain oscillations that enable attention for better work productivity and increase the delta waves associated with deeper sleep...meaning that more targeted wellness might be just a play button away.
A modern approach to ancient sound healing.
Riding the wave of A.I., we foresee auditory culture expanding through the wellness world akin to a No. 1 hit. But as science takes sound into new places, it simultaneously breathes new life (and research) into the sound healing practices utilized by cultures across the globe for centuries. Technology may be paving a new way forward, but we also anticipate the wellness world will feel more trusting than ever to walk paths of the past—especially because of the pandemic.
Susy Schieffelin, a professional sound healer and founder of The Copper Vessel, told mbg that she has seen sound healing grow more mainstream than ever. "There has been a great increase in popularity and demand for sound baths since the pandemic," Schieffelin described. "It created time and space for people to shift their focus to wellness and self-care practices. People became curious about healthy ways to spend their time and began in-home workouts, meditation practices, and explored new modalities such as sound baths." In a sound bath, participants lie comfortably on the floor, while the practitioner plays instruments that yield different vibratory qualities, "bathing" them with sound.
But it's not just the well-being scene lending an ear toward sound baths. "Throughout the pandemic, many companies made great efforts to bring wellness to their employees," Schieffelin said. "I have led hundreds of virtual sound baths for companies such as Google, Dove, Alo Yoga, and Nordstrom since the pandemic began." Perhaps that has something to do with the research, which now connects singing bowls to "significantly less tension, anger, fatigue, and depressed mood3." Or the simple fact that singing bowls (originating in the Tibetan mountains around 500 BCE) and gongs (dated back to sixth-century China) are, and always have been, an auditory delight.
Naturally, not all of us have regular access to the vibratory bliss of a sound bath. But many "sound musicians," like Jackie Cantwell of The Big Quiet mass meditations, are making their debut on Spotify. According to Schieffelin, even well-known artists and celebrities such as Jhene Aiko, SZA, Kendall Jenner, Adele, and Leann Rimes are incorporating singing bowls into their music or are sharing their personal experiences with them. And the effect on well-being seems undeniable: "Many people leave a sound bath feeling that their anxious, fearful thoughts have quieted and been replaced with a deep sense of calm and a stronger connection to their true self." No wonder sound baths are on the queue for 2022.
The source of sound.
All sound healing techniques—whether they're coming from A.I. or B.C.-times—require a source. While sometimes that source may be the majesty of an earth gong, this is 2022 we're moving into, so most of us are probably looking to a speaker to experience the power of sound. And because we all have an ear for quality, we need (and our well-being deserves) a device that picks up on all the fine details.
As much as sound is a science, it's also an art form. And Sonos technology speaks to both. Driven by software and inspired to make higher-quality audio easier, Sonos speakers define the future of listening, which is why all the artificial-intelligence-powered soundscapes and digitized ancient sound healing techniques will be heard loud and clear through Sonos speakers next year.
Sound is everywhere. Sound is powerful. But most importantly, it's captivating. (Just think about how easy it is to get a song stuck in your head.) And that's why, with a growing awareness of its many benefits on mental and emotional health, we see the science of sound sending its invisible waves through the world of well-being next year. Just remember, you heard it here first.
This is just one of the trends mbg is predicting for 2022. Check out our full list of the latest health & wellness trends.
Devon Barrow is a Branded Content Editor at mindbodygreen. She received her degree from the University of Colorado. When she's away from her desk, Devon is teaching yoga, writing poetry, meditating, and traveling the world. She's based in Boulder, Colorado.
Devon's first book, Earth Women, is coming soon. To learn more, join the mailing list, and receive updates, head to www.devonbarrowwriting.com.