It is undeniable that music and sound affect the body. Specific harmonic arrangements can cause the body to become energized or induce it to enter a relaxed state. Sound and music are deeply rooted in humanity’s psyche and manifest themselves in a plethora of human activities, including religious activities, celebrations, and entertainment.
Some cultures have even acknowledged the amazing healing capabilities of sound by using them to treat physical ailments. Today, many alternative healing practitioners tap into the same body of knowledge and use sound therapy for the benefit of their patients.
In this post, we describe sound therapy, describe its evolution throughout history, explain how it works, explain how it can benefit your well-being, and describe the different methods of performing sound therapy.
What is Sound Therapy?
Sound therapy is essentially the process of healing the mind and body through music, tones, frequencies, and vibrations. Sound therapy takes into consideration a person’s emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual well-being and improvement.
Sound therapy can be performed in a variety of ways and can be conducted with instruments or through clapping, chanting, or humming, among other methods.
Many people claim to experience feeling rejuvenated after a sound therapy session. When a person seeks healing through sound therapy, their fundamental objective is to focus deeply on the music or sound being generated by the practitioner.
Sound Therapy Throughout History
Sound healing is not limited to only one culture. In fact, sound therapy has existed for thousands of years and has manifested itself in different versions throughout the world.
The Aboriginal Australians known as the Yolngu are believed to be one of the earliest groups to perform sound healing rituals. They play an instrument called the yidaki which they believe can heal various physical ailments including fractured bones and muscle damage.
The ancient Egyptians also valued sound healing. In fact, for thousands of years ritual leaders and priests chanted vowel tones and used instruments such as the sistra.
In ancient Greece, the great mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras is credited as a father of music therapy. He wielded the instrument called the kithara and was able to observe the calming effect of the music he played to the people and animals around him. He discovered that the seven keys in the Greek system of music were capable of triggering various emotions, and that some sounds and instruments could cause chaotic and stressful emotions. He described his discoveries as a form of “musical medicine”.
How Sound Therapy Works
How does sound therapy affect the body? In order to determine the answer to this question, we first need to understand what sound is and how it is received by the body.
Sound is essentially the energy created when an object vibrates. When an object vibrates, it causes the air surrounding the object to vibrate as well. The air’s movement allows it to carry the vibrational energy from the object to different places, including the human body.
The ears are the primary organ that receives sound. The outer ear funnels the sound. The sound is then channeled to the ear canal where it reaches the eardrum, which is a sensitive, tightly-stretched skin. The sound waves cause the eardrums to vibrate and three tiny bones (known as the ossicles) behind the eardrums move. The ossicles’ movement triggers a shift in the cochlea, liquid-filled coiled tubes that are lined with tiny hairs. When these tiny hairs move, they send nerve signals to the brain which translate into sound.
A study by Salamon et al. investigated how music lowers anxiety and stress levels. The researchers determined that the compound nitric oxide is primarily responsible for causing physiological and psychological relaxing effects. Nitric oxide has been identified to assist in developing the auditory system and the flow of blood in the cochlea.
Some studies have also explored how other organs, such as the skin, are able to receive and absorb sound. One study by von Békésy identifies the similarities between hearing and sensing vibrations, as both are stimulated by traveling waves. In addition, a study by Gick and Derrick, although in the context of phonetics, considered having their test subjects listen to audio recordings of syllables. The researchers also let out a puff of air similar to the puff that would be created when the syllables are pronounced. The researchers discovered that the participants’ level of accuracy in identifying the syllables was reduced in an absence of the air puffs.
Principles of Sound Therapy
The principles of sound healing transcend the understanding of the body’s mechanical reception of sound. In fact, the principles of sound therapy are rooted in the goal of transitioning the body’s vibrations to an optimum state. Practitioners believe that a person and his or her body parts and organs are comprised of unique frequencies. Practitioners perform therapeutic applications of sound vibrations with the intention of bringing harmony and balance.
Another key principle of sound healing is that our bodies resonate efficiently with sound waves since the majority of our composition is water. The molecules in water are denser, which allows it to transmit energy faster from one particle to the next.
Entrainment, the practice of tuning the body to a desired frequency, also plays a crucial role in sound healing. Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist, is credited for the discovery of entrainment in the 16th century. In the context of sound healing, entrainment occurs when the sound coming from an external source is used to tune the body back into balance. When a practitioner produces sounds with the intention of healing, he or she ultimately aims to use entrainment to address the patient’s body imbalance by creating a harmonious resonance between the healing sound and the vibration of the patient’s body.
Another essential principle is the intention behind the sound. This is often thought of as the reason why the sound was generated. People usually create sound or music with the intention to entertain or relax. In sound therapy, the practitioner focuses his or her intention on delivering healing energy to the patient. It is believed that the sound waves become imbued with the practitioner's positive intentions. However, should the sound healing practitioner feel negative emotions, such as anger or anxiety, this can also be transmitted to the patient and may therefore adversely affect the healing process.
According to Jonathan Goldman, a leading figure in sound healing, all music has potential therapeutic qualities. Furthermore, factors such as time, place, and the individual’s needs are essential for music to fully display its therapeutic capabilities. This is an important concept to remember since there are many ways sound healing can be manifested and performed.
When a sound healing practitioner conducts a session to treat a patient, it is essential for him or her to determine the type of sound or music that best resonates with their patient. Sound uniquely affects individuals; a particular composition may evoke memories of happiness, excitement, grief or anxiety.
What Sound Therapy Can Do for Your Well-Being
People who have undergone sound therapy sessions have reported being relieved of physical and mental aches and pains. Some of the health improvements that people have claimed to experience include the following:
- Better joint movement;
- Reduced muscle pain and inflammation;
- Disappearance of kidney stones;
- Decreased size of ovarian cyst;
- Better sleep and deeper relaxation;
- Reduced headaches; and
- Enhanced positive outlook in life.
Research has also been conducted to explore the effects of music and sound therapy on a person’s health. Music therapy has been shown to have the potential to affect blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, EEG measurements, body temperature, galvanic skin response, and immune and endocrine processes. In fact, a review by Thaut acknowledges music therapy’s potential to be used in rehabilitation.
One research study considered the influence of music therapy on anger management in forensic psychiatry patients. Fourteen participants randomly divided into two groups underwent a music therapy anger management program and aggression management program respectively. The results of the test showed that those in the music therapy group displayed greater positive coping skills. The researchers suggested that the number of hours patients are exposed to music therapy can hasten the process of adopting positive behaviors.
Ellis also explored the effects of sound therapy on children who have severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties. One study tested the effectiveness of a specialized sound therapy program with a uniquely high frequency. Twenty children from remedial classes were grouped into an experimental and control group. The experimental group listened to the frequency, while the control group listened to classical music without the high frequency. After a 16-week test, results showed that the experimental group showed more significant gains in auditory discrimination, reading ability, reading comprehension and spelling compared to the control group.
Instruments and Methods Used in Sound Therapy
As discussed above, sound therapy can manifest itself in a variety of forms, all of which have the potential to heal. Described below are a number of instruments that can be used to perform sound therapy.
Vocal toning is the process of creating sound with an elongated vowel for an extended period. It creates the strongest healing sound that can be performed without an instrument. It can also help deepen the breath, relax the muscles, and stimulate the body.
In Ayurveda, vocal toning is a powerful way to balance the body’s chakras. Different vowel sounds correspond to different chakra. For example, vocal toning of the sound “uh” (as in “up”) resonates with the root chakra.
Vocal toning is probably the easiest sound healing procedure you can perform since you do not have to use an instrument and it can be done anywhere and anytime. To perform vocal toning, find a place where you will be undisturbed and seat yourself comfortably in a chair with your spine upright. Take a few deep breathes to relax. When you are ready, vocal tone the root chakra. You can then move up to the different chakras, namely the sacral, polar lexus, heart, throat, brow and crown chakra. Visualize the color of the particular chakra as you tone its corresponding vowel sound.
Chanting also uses the voice and involves repeating sacred words, names, and phrases. The goal of chanting is to trigger physical changes in the brain through sound vibrations. Chanting is said to bring about a sense of deep calm and peace.
A form of chanting that began in India is known as Kirtan. It has a religious aspect that is believed to usher in happiness and to cleanse the heart of distractions. Kirtan is performed in a call-and-response style. Those who participate in Kirtan recite ancient chants which are mostly sung in Sanskrit.
Both vocal toning and chanting can be done individually or in a group.
Also known as Tibetan singing bowls and Himalayan singing bowls, these are inverted bells made principally from copper, bronze, or quartz crystal. They are played by circling and striking the bowl’s rim with the accompanying mallet.
Playing the singing bowl can create unique rhythmic patterns and vibrational sound harmonics similar to the frequency of “aum” or “om,” the sacred mantra in Hinduism and Buddhism.
The gong is an instrument that has been used in sound healing for thousands of years. It is a percussion instrument usually made from brass or bronze. There are different sizes of gongs, each size emitting a unique sound. The gong is played by hitting its center with a mallet. Other techniques of playing the gong include priming it by stroking and letting it vibrate, and spinning it to make warping sounds.
Gong baths are meditative and relaxing sessions where a patient lays down while a sound healer plays a set of gongs that surround the patient. The patient allows the sound, volume, and vibrations from the gong to be absorbed by his or her body. Most of those who have undergone gong baths have reported feeling more energized, less stressed, and more peaceful.
Shakers and Rattles
As noted above, the ancient Egyptians used a shaker-like instrument called the sistra. Shamans and healers have used shakers and rattles to connect with spiritual entities to aid them in treating a patient. These instruments are believed to fragment dense energy and cleanse the body of negativity.
A tuning fork is often used to correct the tones of musical instruments. The prongs of the fork are struck to create a specific pitch, to which the musician matches the tone of his or her instrument. Tuning forks have also been used in sound therapy, such as where a practitioner makes it vibrate and then places it in near the patient’s ailing area. Tuning forks can also be placed near the chakra locations to stimulate energetic healing.
Sound is a powerful force that affects the mind, body and soul. People of various cultures have identified and harnessed sound’s capability to bring about healing and balance. Sound therapy has evolved over the centuries and has recently been further refined to complement traditional medical treatment.
Sound healing can be a great complement to improving your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Of course, it is essential that you not subscribe to sound healing as a complete alternative to the treatment of your medical conditions. Always consult your doctor and seek medical attention for any health issues you may be experiencing.