When you’re stressed, one way to decompress is to put on your favorite music. For some people who stream aggressive heavy metal. Others prefer to listen to relaxing classical tunes. Both options are valid – after all, what’s loud to you may be soothing to someone else.
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But if you’re looking for a more formal, dedicated way to take advantage of sound, you can try a sound bath.
What is a sound bath?
Basically, a sound bath is an experience where you are immersed in deep sound vibrations. “The idea is that these vibrations have specific tones and frequencies and have the ability to heal your body,” says physician assistant Karen Bond, PA-C.
Specifically, sound baths are rooted in the idea that these particular frequencies correspond to specific energy centers in your body. You may be familiar with this concept if you’ve ever done yoga and heard of balancing your chakras. Additionally, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is guided by the concept of qi (pronounced “chi”), which translates to the energy or power that flows through your body.
“The idea is that whatever is wrong with your body is an imbalance in one of these energy centers,” Bond explains. “The sound bath can reset these centers and get your energy moving in the right direction. Then the corresponding parts of your body can heal.
Bond adds that another idea behind sound baths is that not all sound vibrations are equal. In other words, certain frequencies would benefit specific areas of your body. “For example, if you come in with a digestive problem or a stomach problem,” she says, “the therapist should choose a frequency and tone known to match healing in that area.”
Benefits of sound baths
Scientists have long studied the health benefits of music. For example, a systematic review of research studies from 2014 found that music was a “safe” and “inexpensive” complementary therapy that helped control pain.
But there isn’t much research on the science behind sound baths. A 2020 systematic review of four peer-reviewed studies (including one involving people with metastatic cancer and another with chronic spinal pain) showed possible health benefits after playing or listening to singing bowls . However, the review concluded that more research and evidence-based studies are needed in this area.
Anecdotally, though, Bond says it’s common to feel different after meditating in a sound bath. Things you might encounter include:
- Feel calmer/less stressed.
- Muscles that feel looser.
- A greater feeling of relaxation.
- Pain relief.
- The ability to sleep better.
- Improved mood.
- Better body awareness/being more in tune with your body.
A sound bath should not be considered a substitute for the medical treatments you are undergoing. Instead, it’s best thought of as a complementary or supplemental treatment. “A lot of things there are not in opposition to the treatments we might receive from our doctors,” Bond says. “It helps to remember that there are complementary therapies available, such as a sound bath, meditation, yoga, and tai chi.”
Are there different sounds in a sound bath?
A sound bath practitioner does not necessarily need to be a musician. But Bond says they go through a certification process with formal training to become one, much like a yoga teacher does.
Types of instruments used in sound baths can include:
- A gong.
- Crystal singing bowls.
- Metal bowls.
- Tibetan singing bowls.
- tuning forks.
Bond also says that it is possible to use a digital recording for a sound bath. “However, the best way to do this is in person, as your whole body feels the vibration.”
Side effects of sound baths
Sound baths affect each person differently. “Some people may feel tired after their sound bath, and some people may feel the opposite – they may feel energized,” notes Bond. “It just depends on the person’s individual concerns and the transformation that was brought about during the session.”
Bond advises you to drink plenty of water, eat healthy foods, and get a good night’s sleep before taking a sound bath. “Eat lightly before a sound bath and make sure you’re well hydrated, as a sound bath tends to work better,” she explains.
Bond warns that if you live with a psychiatric disorder, you should first consult your doctor to see if a sound bath is acceptable.
“It’s basically the same rules as for meditation,” she says. “If you have a serious psychiatric disorder like schizophrenia and want to start a meditation practice, talk to your doctor first. In some people, meditation can cause or worsen certain symptoms of these disorders.
What to expect during a sound bath
The duration of sound baths varies, and Bond says there is no optimal length of time to get the most benefit from them. “It’s like meditation,” she notes. “It can also last any length of time, and it is beneficial at any length of time. With the longer sound bath sessions, you can go much further in relaxation. But shorter sessions are also effective .
Bond suggests wearing loose clothing for a sound bath, as comfort is key. “If you tend to get cold, be sure to bring a blanket because you don’t want to be distracted by feeling cold,” she continues. “If you tend to get hot, be sure to wear loose clothing.”
Usually people lie on the floor to take a sound bath, although sitting in a chair is also an option. “The idea is for your body to be in a relaxed state where there’s no physical tension or exertion,” Bond explains. “If you’re lying on a yoga mat, put something under your head or under your knees if you have back problems. Everything you need to have a comfortable position for your body.
At the end of the day, a sound bath can be seen as a way for you to get in touch with your mind and body. Staying in tune with your inner self is usually never a bad thing.