Sound as medicine

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singing bowls
"I use a singing bowls during my yoga classes." Photo by Steven Russell.

Out and healthy

There’s no question that sounds can change us. Sounds inspire us. A sound can motivate us into action. We respond to the sound of another’s voice, especially if we have a close bond to that person. Some sounds annoy us. Some sounds, especially musical ones, can influence how we perceive a situation. Think of the music during a scene in a movie or television show.

Alfred Tomatis worked with sound And found that his work was especially effective for patients with autism

But can sounds heal us? There are many who are convinced that they do.

One can find evidence of the use of sound in healing rituals, ceremonies, procedures, and daily use throughout time. In 1839, Prussian scientist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered binaural beats. These happen when two different sounds of different frequencies enter each ear, and the brain perceives a third frequency, or beat. In 1973, biophysicist Gerald Oster published in Scientific American, that these binaural beats could have far-reaching diagnostic implications for many aspects of health. This research is certainly worthy of more investigation. One can find recordings that produce these beats that can be used in meditation, sleep inducement, and relaxation.

In the later 20th century, French otolaryngologist and inventor Alfred Tomatis worked with sound to develop motor, emotional, and cognitive skills. He found that his work was especially effective for patients with autism. He also worked with singers. The research helped restore parts of their voices that had diminished because they couldn’t hear it.

In 2005, The New York Times published an article by columnist and author Stephanie Rosenbloom that explored the idea of sound therapy. She tells of “vibrational medicine” that uses tuning forks, gongs, singing bowls, and other instruments that not only have a relaxing effect but could also have a healing effect on the listener. These could be used in yoga classes, meditation sessions, or simply by bathing someone in sound only for its healing effects.

In 2002, oncologist Mitchell L. Gaynor wrote of his use of healing sound in his book, The Healing Power of Sound. He stresses that these vibrational techniques can be used by anyone, alone, and with no outside help. He cites studies that show music can lower blood pressure, help people heal after heart attacks, and reduce stress

With this inspiration, we can experiment with the effects of sound ourselves. There are meditation channels and streaming services such as Amazon Music and Apple Music, among others, that provide endless relaxing music for meditation. This could be an easy way to get started in the process of focusing attention and being still for a few minutes a day. There are many yoga teachers who use recorded and live music in classes and meditation sessions. It would be interesting to fully research the difference in effects between recorded and live music, and even just sound that is made live, by a person in the room rather than recorded.

I often use singing bowls during my yoga classes. I use them at the beginning and ending of class to help people relax and focus. I have several bowls, each with different qualities of sound and pitches. I find that they have different effects on the class. Some immediately get everyone’s attention. Others seem to make the class so relaxed that they are unwilling to get off the floor after class is over. There are recordings available of singing bowls, but I especially like using them myself in the room with people.

As with many areas of health research, there’s a lot out there to read, and a lot of people making a lot of claims. But sound isn’t new. And at low decibel levels, we can safely experiment with music and singing bowls on our own.