Sooth­ing sounds from crys­tal singing bowls to sa­cred drums take Josephine Fair­ley on a jour­ney of holis­tic heal­ing

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents -

How sound ther­apy can open the door to emo­tional har­mony

I’ve al­ways loved the sound of a gong – mostly be­cause my mother used one to sum­mon us to meal­times from the fur­ther reaches of our house.

But the re­sponse to the sound which is puls­ing through my en­tire body, as I lie on a cosy sheep-skin rug in the airy, all-white front-room of a Vic­to­rian ter­raced house in Hack­ney, isn’t trig­ger­ing Pavlo­vian hunger pangs. The deep, vi­bra­tional waves from the gong feel as though they are swish­ing through me, re­ar­rang­ing my stressed-out atoms – in har­mony with a series of singing bowls tuned to dif­fer­ent heal­ing fre­quen­cies, a shruti (In­dian squeeze­box) and a rain­stick.

Eyes closed, it isn’t pos­si­ble to see which in­stru­ments are be­ing played, but af­ter a minute or two, my brain stops even try­ing to fig­ure it out. Over the next hour, my cyn­i­cism about the power of mere noise to de-stress and to heal is ban­ished as I’m taken on an ex­tra­or­di­nary vi­bra­tional jour­ney.

For some time, as the sound pulses, soars and re­cedes, I get the sen­sa­tion I’m float­ing in space, re­liv­ing a scene from Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Next, I’m in In­dia – lis­ten­ing to sa­cred mu­sic up a Hi­malayan moun­tain. Lastly, I’m trans­ported to a Belizean for­est, rain­drops pat­ter­ing onto a cor­ru­gated roof. For a fairly long phase, it’s all ac­com­pa­nied by un­ex­plained, un­ex­pected, strong pain in my jaw.

And then it’s over. The rum­ble of the Un­der­ground tells me: I’m back in Lon­don, at the Se­cret Yoga Club. But un­usu­ally, I feel com­pletely grounded, with a sense of sur­ren­der to­wards the knotty fam­ily is­sue that had been gnaw­ing away at me for days. My de­fault-mode con­trol freak­ery has been re­placed by a trust that the uni­verse (through which I was so re­cently cat­a­pulted) will take care of things. And it is a huge re­lief. As is the loos­en­ing of my jaw – which is ac­com­pa­nied by a re­al­i­sa­tion that I need to do more to re­lease the ten­sion I hold there.

Ev­ery­one’s ex­pe­ri­ence of sound ther­apy, of course, is dif­fer­ent. (And so is al­most ev­ery ses­sion, var­i­ously in­volv­ing gongs, flutes and Hi­malayan brass or crys­tal singing bowls.) But among those seek­ing to slow down in a too-fast world, to re­duce stress lev­els, there is a grow­ing buzz around it.

‘We’re in­creas­ingly be­ing asked to do cor­po­rate ses­sions,’ con­firms Gabrielle Hales, the founder of Se­cret Yoga Club, which reg­u­larly in­cor­po­rates sound medicine into yoga ses­sions, work­shops and over­seas re­treats. Otto Had­dad, a for­mer IT spe­cial­ist, has or­ches­trated more than 800 group ses­sions for his go-get­ting clien­tele of bankers, CEOs, ‘and any­one else who feels anx­ious or pres­sured liv­ing in to­day’s world,’ as he puts it. (And is there any­one, not cur­rently liv­ing in a cave, who doesn’t tick that box?) The best­selling au­thor and poster girl for clean liv­ing Jas­mine Hem­s­ley also runs reg­u­lar pop-up crys­tal-sound-bath events. Mean­while, those too busy to at­tend a class can bet­ter their vi­bra­tions from home: Crys­tal Singing Bowls’ waves are tuned to dif­fer­ent heal­ing fre­quen­cies, and have the added ben­e­fit of be­ing ex­tremely dec­o­ra­tive.

Sound ther­apy is noth­ing new, though: Ti­betan, Chi­nese and In­dian cul­tures all draw on sim­i­lar tech­niques to cre­ate bal­ance and har­mony in the mind and body, and al­most ev­ery an­cient so­ci­ety turned to drums, for in­stance, to heal. ‘Their ef­fec­tive­ness re­ally isn’t sur­pris­ing,’ says Had­dad. ‘Drums recre­ate the very first, sooth­ing sound we ever ex­pe­ri­ence – our mother’s heart­beat in the womb.’ Denise Le­ices­ter, the cre­ator of Ila and Ilapothe­cary skin and body­care, re­cently launched Soul Medicine, a series of pow­er­ful, down­load­able sound-medicine tracks. ‘The sen­sa­tion of sound is one of our pri­mal senses, and the last we ex­pe­ri­ence when we die,’ she says. Ben­e­fits are also re­ported by those who have no sense of hear­ing. ‘Ba­si­cally,’ ob­serves Had­dad, ‘the whole body is an ear – and can sense the heal­ing vi­bra­tions.’

Par­tic­i­pants in sound-medicine ses­sions re­port im­proved sleep, bet­ter con­cen­tra­tion and in­creased cre­ativ­ity and short-term mem­ory. And these sub­jec­tive as­sess­ments ap­pear to be sup­ported by sci­ence: Dr Zu­lia Frost, who was re­cruited by Le­ices­ter to do be­fore­and-af­ter analy­ses of in­di­vid­u­als who’d lis­tened to her Soul Medicine tracks, mea­sured im­proved white-blood-cell cir­cu­la­tion, lead­ing to bet­ter oxy­gena­tion, and en­hanced func­tion­ing of spe­cific or­gans – no­tably the liver and gall blad­der. Which is mu­sic to our ears.

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