Sound healing: The word is emotive.
Its etymology comes from the Greek “Art of the Muses,” the goddesses who embodied and inspired art, literature, and knowledge of mankind.
Music was never invented or discovered, but something innate in us all. It comes as no surprise then, that for centuries, sound healing has been used as a therapy to cure many ailments.
We use music for entertainment, expression, celebration, ceremony, leisure, and communication. Whether we are musically inclined or not, it is the one thing that truly connects humans from all cultures, creeds, and corners of the earth.
We play music at our weddings to celebrate love, and at funerals to say goodbye. We listen when we are bored, and dance to it when we want to have fun. And we sing praises and worship our deities with it.
But most importantly, we use music for healing.
A History of Sound Healing
Healing with sound dates back as far as ancient Greece.
Apollo was the god of music and medicine. Aesculapius cured mental disorders with songs. The philosophers Plato and Aristotle claimed that music affected the soul and the emotions. Hippocrates played music for his patients, too.
In Ancient Egypt, music therapy was a staple in temples.
In biblical times, instruments were used to vanquish evil spirits from human souls.
Native American culture uses song and dance to heal the sick.
Instances of sound healing therapy are limitless.
Fast forward a few centuries to the 1940s, when the United States military incorporated music into their programmes for the recuperation of army personnel during World War II. This is often described as the official dawn of music therapy.
Today it is used in all aspects of medicine and spiritual growth. While it is still considered an alternative to modern medicine, scores of evidence suggest that it is effective — and necessary — to our emotional and psychological health.
Yet, it remains misunderstood.
Some people assume that those who partake in sound healing therapy are crackpots who seek magical solutions to medical problems. However, music therapy, or sound healing, has a basis in both neurology and psychology.
What Is Sound Healing?
Sound healing is the process in which a practitioner uses music — including the emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, social, mental, and superficial — to improve the health of their patient.
Sound healing therapy improves many facets of the patient’s life, including emotional and social development, cognitive and motor functioning, and psychological and psychiatric health.
Healing with sound happens in a number of ways. Patients listen or sing along, improvise musical acts, meditate, chant, and play musical instruments. Some practitioners subject the patient to specifically crafted sounds to induce positive brainwaves.
Can Sound Waves Heal You?
Almost everything we experience in the universe is simply our perception of waves.
When sound waves reach our ears, they are converted into electrical signals that travel up the auditory nerve into the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound. Once sound waves reach our brains, they trigger responses in our bodies.
This process alters our emotions, releases hormones, and triggers certain impulses.
Although research on how music changes our brains is lacking, there is evidence to suggest that musicians have different brains than those who are not musically inclined.
Research has shown that the brains of musicians are more symmetrical. And that the parts of the brain responsible for motor and cognitive functioning, coordination, and reasoning, are significantly larger. And thanks to an enlarged corpus callosum, the two hemispheres of the brain have better communication.
In neurological studies, it has been proven that listening to music makes us more productive and creative. It can relieve stress and improves our moods.
This is because listening to music floods our brains with dopamine. It also releases oxytocin, a natural painkiller, and hormone that allows us to bond with others. In fact, oxytocin is most commonly found in mothers during labor.
Music also helps language development and improves communication.
It’s even been shown to increase our IQs, so it’s safe to say that music makes us smarter. It improves our memory too, warding off brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Music is powerful. It can change our brains, and so it changes our bodies.
What Are the Benefits of Sound Healing?
When listening to upbeat or cheery music, or when listening to deep, melancholy songs, our emotions flare and we can better process our feelings. The difference is that we only care to listen to sad songs when we are feeling sad because (and here’s the kicker) we know it makes us feel better.
A 2006 study done by the Journal of Advanced Nursing discovered that those who listen to music feel less pain and experiences less anxiety than those who don’t.
Since sounds come at different frequencies and we too emit our own waves, healing with sound happens by matching frequencies to those that are conducive to healing and relaxation.
A study in the 1970s proposed that when one tone is played to one ear, and a different tone is played to the other, the two hemispheres of the brain connect and create a third (internal) tone called a binaural beat.
Binaural beats synchronize the brain, providing clarity, alertness, and greater concentration. It’s solid evidence that our brains and bodies respond to sound in both a cognitive and physical way.
So, let’s say you have a headache. A sound can be played that will override the pain brainwaves.
Or, let’s say you’re in a bad mood after a poor night’s sleep. Playing a relaxing song might lift your spirits and help you forget you’re aggravated.
Sounds and songs also elicit memories retrieval, and this can be used to help patients who are traumatized or depressed.
There are a number of methods, instruments, and techniques for using sound therapy. But at its foundation is the premise of entrainment.
Effects of sound healing
Entrainment is a method of synchronizing our brainwaves by producing a stable, solid frequency that our brains adjust to and then match.
Healing with sound can improve or cure many ailments including:
- Learning disabilities
- Anxiety disorder
It can also bring about:
- Clarity and balance
- Improved memory and concentration
- Improved sleep
- A stronger immune system
- Improved creativity
- Heightened awareness, both of the self and the environment
Types of Sound Healing Therapy
However, they each share the same common ground in which sounds are the basis of healing and development.
There are various and numerous types of music therapy out there. Some are more scientific, while others are more spiritual.
This method of music therapy involves not only sound but guided imagery. It is most commonly used to assist patients who struggle with physiological and psychological problems.
Music is used alongside pictures, which the patient is made to focus on before discussing the issues they might have in that moment.
Also known as Dalcroze Eurythmics, this is a technique used to teach music to students as a form of therapy. It focuses on rhythm and expression as part of learning and development.
It increases awareness, and therefore significantly improves motor and cognitive functions.
Of course, we can’t leave out good old meditation.
Let’s not forget that the voice is an instrument and that if you are using your voice in your meditations, you are practicing DIY sound therapy healing.
Meditation has many health, neurological, and psychological benefits. Chanting as you meditate, or saying certain mantras or prayers, improves sleep, lowers blood pressure, improves our mood, breathing and circulation, calms the mind, and reduces stress.
The same applies to guided meditations, in which you meditate according to voiced instruction.
If you are looking for a perfect guided meditation, Vishen Lakhiani leads an outstanding one in this video below:
Neurologic music therapy
Neurologic Music Therapy is based on neuroscience and proposes that the enjoyment and creation of music has a positive influence on the brain. It uses music as a tool that alters the brain to invoke changes in the patient. This benefits both the mood and cognitive and motor functions.
The Nordoff-Robbins technique is mostly aimed at children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, learning difficulties, mental and psychological disorders, or emotional traumas.
This method functions under the assumption that every single one of us can find meaning (and therefore healing) in music, and teaches patients to create music as a form of therapy.
Root frequency entrainment
Root Frequency Entrainment is a practice that comes with the belief that our souls have certain frequencies at which they function at full capacity, but that the noise and chaos of the world interfere with these frequencies, making us sick and throwing our moods out of balance. To restore that balance, we must vibrate at our original frequencies — something that is easily achieved with sound healing.
Singing bowl therapy
Dating back as far as the 12th century, singing bowls have been used throughout Asia for meditation, ritual, and ceremonial purposes. The sound produced by these metallic bowls is quite similar to a gong or a bell.
Used in sound healing therapy, singing bowls are believed to calm and repair the mind as well as reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve breathing and circulation, alleviate aches and pains, strengthen the immune system, and improve the mood of the patient.
Tuning fork therapy
Just as with musical instruments, tuning fork sound healing therapy puts our body-soul dynamic back in sync using calibrated tuning forks that are applied to specific points on the body. Picture this as being similar to acupuncture without the pins.
These forks will apply specific vibrations to certain areas of the body, which is said to release tension and open blocked energy. This type of healing with sound brings emotional balance and pain relief.
VAT applies sound directly to the body. The patient is laid down on a special bed. Speakers are strategically placed around the bed so that sounds and vibrations will penetrate the patient on a deep cellular level. Vibroacoustic therapy assists patients recovering from injuries, cancer, and even strokes.
Instruments Used In Sound Healing
Of course for sound healing, certain tools will be required. Some of these instruments are easily found or learned. For others, they might require professionals or special circumstances.
Here are the most powerful instruments used for sound healing:
The most basic musical instrument you can use is your voice. You can use your voice to relax, heal, or focus, by humming, chanting, singing, and even praying (or affirming) what you need.
There are various tricks to learn when approaching healing with your voice, from the fascinating Tibetan throat singing to speaking a simple mantra every morning. It is entirely up to you.
Although many fascinating instruments exist and have been designed to inspire healing in us, never forget that you, yourself, are an instrument and that you carry the power to heal with you everywhere that you go.
Didgeridoos originated in Australia as an indigenous and spiritual instrument 1,500 years ago. Its original purposes were ceremonial.
The didgeridoo is used in meditation and healing to unblock stagnant energy.
In 2005, the British Medical Journal discovered that playing the didgeridoo reduced both snoring and sleep apnea, by strengthening the muscles of the upper airway. It also improves the symptoms of asthma.
Originating from West Africa, the djembe is a wooden drum dressed in rope and goat hide. Typically it used to alter consciousness by inducing trances. It calms the spirit and reduces stress. This is a common drum in drumming circles and meditation practice.
The gong alleviates physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. And the earliest record of the gong’s existence dates back to 4.000 B.C..
Gongs are an important instrument in sound healing. They’re used in meditation, yoga, and chakra balancing.
It’s almost as though this instrument were a cross between a harp, a drum, and a keyboard. With its absolutely enchanting sound, many claim that it is the best sound to listen to calm the mind, relax, and meditate. As it is very calming, it reduces stress and anxiety.
This a very ethereal instrument and helps resolve emotional turmoil. It is also atmospheric and is therefore perfect for concentration. It has its origins in medieval Europe.
The youngest of the sound healing instruments is the Hang, created by two Swedish innovators only seventeen years ago. The hang serves the same function as the steel pan, only harmonic and far more resonant.
Since this is quite similar to the singing bowl, it has the same healing purposes. It increases concentration and meditative focus, but also heals on cellular level with its deep vibrations. It is a very melodic instrument and learning to play it can be therapeutic as well.
Another instrument that originates in Africa, the Kalimba goes thousands of years back. It’s made of wood and has metal keys. It’s also called a thumb piano.
This instrument is reminiscent of music boxes and lullabies. It is very simple to learn how to play.
In Zimbabwe, the kalimba is used to calm the mind and heal mental illness.
Rumored to be an invention of Pythagoras, the Monochord is an ancient musical instrument that has stood the test of time in both entertainment and spirituality. The vibrations of this string instrument re-energize the body and the mind.
This particular instrument is also perfect for meditation or yoga.
Native American flute
The Native American flute is a favorite in music therapy. Not only does it emit a soothing sound, but it also reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and alleviates anxiety and depression.
Rain sticks were first created by the Aztecs as a spiritual rendition of the shakers we made as children.
They’re traditionally made of dried out cactus filled with small stones or seeds. When moved or shaken, it produces the sound of falling rain.
Rain sticks relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. They also promote serenity and relaxation.
As mentioned above, singing bowls are so popular in healing with sound that they have an entire method dedicated just to them.
Singing bowl therapy is one of — if not the — most popular sound healing methods because of its effective and various aspects of healing. From lowered blood pressure to relief from anxiety to the opening of the pineal gland, singing bowls can do it all.
Tuning forks are, as the name suggests, tools designed to tune other instruments.
But the tuning fork itself is also a harmonic instrument. As mentioned above, tuning forks can be used in sound healing therapy in a fashion reminiscent of acupuncture.
After all, your body is an instrument, too. Tuning forks balance our energies and center us.
Wind chimes are perhaps the most magical of all the sound therapy tools.
And while they might be simple garden ornaments or decorations to most of us, but they actually date back to ancient India, China, and even Rome.
Wind chimes are popular in Feng Shui because they maximize the flow of life force. Since they require wind to make music, they also carry elemental power.
As with most, they center, balance, and promote relaxation. They also invoke feelings of joy and contentment.
March to Your Own Beat
Sound healing requires more research to be fully understood. What is fact, though, is that those who try it are in support of it and that no one can argue with the power of music.
Whether you are looking for an alternative method of healing to coincide with traditional medicine, or are simply looking for a new way to relax, recuperate, and rejuvenate your mind, sound healing has so many possibilities that you are guaranteed to find something that suits you (even if it is only recreational).
Sound therapy is even more effective when used in conjunction with meditation. If you are looking to delve into different waters, perhaps it will be worth it to invest in (and learn how to play) one or more of the instruments listed above.
All music can be used for sound healing therapy. You don’t have to pay large sums of money to harness the power of sounds and music. Next time you need a “pick me up,” a boost, or even a vent, put your favorite playlist on. You will notice the change in your mood instantly.