Soothing sounds from crystal singing bowls to sacred drums take Josephine Fairley on a journey of holistic healing
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 My default-mode control freakery has been replaced by a trust that the universe (through which I was so recently catapulted) will take care of things.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.