arts & music health

The Way Back (or: Sound Therapy in 6 Easy Steps)

by JoAnna — May 4, 2016

Sound Therapy Requirements: one bowl, one mallet, a hand that holds and a wrist that turns. This is sound therapy in its simplest form.

sound therapy, wellness, meditation bowl

Photo from Wellness on Fire:

Operating tips:

Cup the palm of one hand slightly and let the bowl rest softly therein. Don’t grasp the underside of the bowl because, like with so many other things in life, if you try to hold on your bowl won’t sing. Take the mallet in your other hand, soft/smooth end pointing down. Shake your wrist to loosen up the joint. Take a couple of breaths: in, out, in. Ready yourself for the first strike.

Step 1: Think of something or, better yet, think of nothing. Think about not thinking and leave it at that. At the tail end of a breath use the soft end of the mallet to strike the side of the bowl. Let the vibration resonate. This is the first step in finding your way back.

Step 2: Before the ring dissipates rest the soft edge of the mallet gently against the bowl’s outer edge and move your wrist around and around. Become familiar with the articulation of your bowl–its inflection, timbre, and the way it makes you feel. Play around with the volume; it’s ok if this turns into something of a game. As long as you understand that what you are doing is relevant. Yours is a moving meditation.

Step 3: Let the action become muscle memory and the bowl’s mumblings, a mantra. Ride the metallic hum that skates along the edge of the copper surface. Let pull you, drag you, to the furthest edges of each mechanical wave.

Step 4: Listen as the ring lifts, disperses, and then maxes out at the furthest edge of its frequency to become an echo. The place where the sound reaches for silence is where we are headed. To get back we must follow the vibration as it strives to return to the source.

Step 5: Repeat steps 2 thru 4 again and again and again.

Step 6Bear witness until you find your wavelength or until you tire–which ever comes first.

Buddha sitting, so very peacefully, between three singing bowls.

Buddha sitting, so very peacefully, between three singing bowls.

Fiddling around with singing bowls has become a part of my ritual as of late. These standing bells, as they’re also known, are used a fair bit in the Buddhist and yogic traditions, and are found across the Himalayan region, from India all the way to China. Usually made from a copper/tin alloy these bowls sing when struck, emitting harmonics that vibrate in specific patterns and guide one into a meditative state. Inanimate chants that whisper messages to us in a language comprised of long vowels like Om, Aum, Ahhhhmmmmmm.

Tonal Joys of Sound Therapy

Interestingly enough, both scientists and new ageists agree that there are mind-body-soul benefits to ringing such a bell. Sound therapy can help boost one’s overall wellbeing since the sound frequencies impact the sympathetic nervous system to the point where the relaxation reflex is engaged, thereby causing respiratory, brain and heart rates to slow down, down, down. The sound can also disrupt our pain reflexes and invoke a deep sense of wellness. In short: singing bowls are at the centre of an auditory experience that can help promote healing from the outside in.

It’s one of the roads you can take should you yearn to return to the source.

Tibetan singing bowls. Photo from website A Touch From the Hearth:

Tibetan singing bowls. Photo from website A Touch From the Hearth:

Four years ago I spent some time in India and although I picked up many things while there, an unflappable yoga practice and six kilos worth of singing bowls were the only two that stuck. More than prayer flags or incense, more than the half a kilo of jaggery I smuggled through customs, the singing bowls were what, quite literally, spoke to me the most. The metaphysics behind the bowls aside, I was drawn to their aesthetic quality: every bowl is slightly different though they may look nearly identical. These slight differences, flaws even, means there’s a bowl suited to every individual. Each receptacle has its own personality. A unique voice. A calling card.

sound therapy

These unique voices are what make the bowls special. There’s a pitch for each one of the chakras. There’s also one for the days when all seems right in the world, and one for when the despair and sorrow attempts to burrow into the soft marrow of your bones. There’s a tone for encouragement and a tone for healing. There’s a sound for deep relaxation and one for when you need the wind to apply pressure to the small of your back. I’m quite certain there’s a specific pitch for every conceivable emotion we, as humans, are able to feel, and it seems that the bowls can be as fickle as we are since they will speak to you differently, depending on the day and your mood.

More Tones of Sound Therapy

But what ties everything together in sound therapy/meditation is the repetitiveness of the act, the consistent and mundane nature of applying just enough pressure with the mallet so the bell keeps ringing. Round and round we go if we want our bowl to keep singing; as we shut off the ‘monkey mind and let our bodies take over. These are the critical elements in order to stay with the action until the movement and sound become the only things. We have to keep our wrists spinning even though we would rather put the mallet down and look for distractions (because listening to some random reverberation whilst thinking about nothing seems awfully boring). Think of the singing bowl as a short cut, a pathway, an item that does the heavy lifting. It makes the task of engaging with ourselves a much easier thing to do.

Ahm. Aum. Ohmmmmmm. Yes, this is one of the methods you will use to find your way back: losing yourself, dancing even, along the edge of a metallic hum in the one pitch you needed to hear.

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