In Sync with Sound Therapy
Ancient cultures knew that sound and music could profoundly affect our spirits, minds, and bodies. For thousands of years, chanting, drumming, and other forms of sound-making have been an integral part of our most important human rituals, including those involving our quest to connect with the sacred. Think about the Gregorian chants of the early Church, Tibetan Gyoto monks chanting the Heart Sutra, and shamans around the globe using drums, rattles, and bells to carry their spirits to other worlds.
Science tells us that sound and music affect the limbic system-that part of the brain that governs emotional response-and it would be difficult to find someone with intact hearing who has not experienced the effect that sound and music can have on mood. Abrasive sounds, such as those often encountered in urban or industrial environments, can make us feel stressed, chaotic, and bored, whereas the sound of the surf, wind through a canyon, or even the muffled rhythm of a cat's purr can bring on a peaceful, meditative mood. Similarly, there are some musical melodies that make us feel joyful or energized while others bring on melancholy and the blues.
In addition to its influence on mood, music also has measurable effects on the more rational parts of the brain. The Music Intelligence Neural Development (MIND) Institute in Irving, CA, has conducted experiments that demonstrate that exposure to music produces significant improvements in spatial-temporal reasoning in both children and college students, as well as in individuals suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. They have proposed that music be used to improve the learning of math and science, subjects that draw heavily on spatial-temporal reasoning. And, it has been found that physically, sound and music can cause changes in blood pressure, pulse, circulation, metabolism, muscle reaction time, brain-wave patterns, and hormone levels. Music has been shown to increase serotonin and growth hormone levels as well as decrease stress hormones. Brain waves are altered, as well: Some sounds and music change brain states from beta (waking) to alpha (meditative).
How Sound HealsIn the early 1800s, Ernst Chladni-considered the father of acoustics-demonstrated the effects of sound vibration on matter. Chladni believed that sound could move matter and designed a simple experiment to prove his theory. He placed sand on a plate affixed to a pedestal and then bowed the circumference of the plate with a violin bow. The sand arranged itself into geometric patterns that changed as the sound changed. Later, Hans Jenny, a Swiss doctor, continued exploring the same phenomenon. Jenny placed a variety of materials-such as water and sand-on vibrating metal plates. Many of the shapes that appeared in the materials as a result of the vibration resembled geometric shapes found in nature. Jenny published a book, Cymatics: The Structure and Dynamics of Waves and Vibrations, which established the study of "cymatics," (from the Greek word kyma, meaning "wave"). Cymatics studies how waves (vibrations) create and influence patterns, shapes, and moving processes.
The underlying premise of all sound therapies is essentially based on the same principal as cymatics, which asserts that sound-or vibration-can influence form and function. Everything in the universe vibrates-every galaxy, star, planet, molecule, atom, and every living thing built of these atoms, including our bodies. When our bodies are vibrating at their normal frequency, we feel in sync and healthy. But when a part of the body vibrates at an abnormal frequency, we feel out of sync. When we're out of sync, we experience discomfort and pain or suffer disease. Sound therapists believe that sound can be used to get us back into our normal, healthy frequencies, which return us to a state of balance.
Sound TherapiesAlthough the use of sound in healing goes far back in human history, sound therapy is a relatively new alternative healing modality with a wide range of techniques. Sound therapists vary in how they use sound in healing, with approaches utilizing everything from chanting and drumming to crystal bowls and tuning forks. Many sound healers combine various techniques and bring a personal, intuitive approach to their work, even if they are working within an established system.
Jonathan Goldman, founder of the Sound Healers Association, has been healing with sound as well as teaching others to heal with sound for more than twenty years. He has trained both lay people and professionals in the use of sound for healing and has found that many massage therapists use sound as an adjunct to their bodywork. Although he has worked with all the "toys and tools," from bells, bowls, and tuning forks to conch shells and vibro-acoustic furniture, Goldman works first and foremost with the voice. He primarily uses a technique called "over-toning" in which the practitioner projects his or her voice onto the body of the client. A feedback loop is created between the ear and voice of the practitioner and the body or energy field of the client. Based on what the practitioner learns from the feedback loop, he or she then projects the appropriate sounds back onto the client in order to re-balance and heal. Accord-ing to Goldman, "The use of sound for healing is an extraordinary field. I believe that sound is the most effective and most gentle means of creating transformation or change in a person."
Another approach to sound as a healing modality is through the use of instruments. John Wilcox is a sound healing practitioner in North Carolina who uses free-form "root" sounds from indigenous instruments from around the world. During his treatments-which he calls "Primal Sound Release"-sounds reverberate through the client's muscular and cellular body, helping him or her to access and re-pattern stress and trauma. "Research is showing that the body has a natural rhythm, and illness may arise when one area of the body gets out of sync," Wilcox explains. "Vibrational therapies bring that part back into harmony. In Primal Sound Release, because people often get into a meditative frame of mind, they receive the additional benefit of gaining insight into the emotional roots of the problem. So healing can occur at many levels, not just the physical."
Like Wilcox, many sound therapy practitioners use indigenous and sacred instruments in their work. At the Dorit Baxter Day Spa in Manhattan, massage therapist Chloe Maglietta has incorporated Tibetan singing bowls into her bodywork practice. Yaffe Rabe, manager of the spa, says that they were open to the idea because they are a holistic spa with an emphasis on healing the body and soul at the same time. "The use of sound to soothe the soul originates in ancient rituals from all over the world," Rabe explains. "We were receptive to Chloe's sound work because the body and soul are connected, and we cannot properly heal one without healing the other."
Biosonic Repatterning, a comprehensive form of sound therapy, is the discovery of Dr. John Beaulieu, a naturopathic physician with a doctorate in counseling and training in classical music. BioSonic means "life sound," and Beaulieu's concept derives from the idea that all life is vibration, or sound energy. In this view, the body/mind is a vibrational entity that consists of, and can be influenced by, sound vibrations. To effect positive transformations in clients' bodies and minds, BioSonic Repatterning uses several methods to attempt to transcend dissonance and restore systemic resonance.
The first technique involves being still and listening to discover the areas needing work. This listening also guides the practitioner to the particular healing modality needed. The BioSonic practitioner uses tuning forks, voice energetics, toning, mantras, chanting, and music listening and improvisation. Second, the practitioner seeks to realign the body posture into what Beaulieu refers to as the "five-star geometric pattern." In this pattern, the correct positioning of the head, shoulders, and hips leads to an increase of energy. This realignment is performed though the use of bodywork followed by use of tuning forks tuned to the notes C and G, a "perfect fifth." Finally, BioSonic Repatterning seeks to explore consciousness through the use of "new music," which is not "new-age" music but rather derived from 20th century ideas, such as those of composer John Cage, in which listeners expand their awareness to consider all sounds as music.
When asked why use sound as a healing modality and which specific sound therapy would be well-suited to the spa environment, Dr. Beaulieu says: "I use sound because it works. And I use it because the principles of sound healing-i.e., rhythm, pulse, waves, cycles, etc.-are at the foundation of our most advanced science. As far as spas are concerned, I believe that work with tuning forks would be great."
As a tool for sound healing, the tuning forks can either be applied to the body in what's generally known as "sono-puncture," an energy-based, non-invasive treatment that is similar to acupuncture, or they can be struck and placed near (but not touching) the client's head to calm the client's nervous system. Acutonics-a system of sono-puncture-uses calibrated tuning forks that are applied to specific acupuncture and acupressure points to access the body's meridian energy system. The tuning forks represent a natural harmonic series based on the orbital properties of the earth, moon, sun, and planets. Practitioners of Acutonics believe that the resonance and vibration of the tuning forks connect with and support the body's natural frequencies. The tuning forks are activated and then placed on specific points on the body or held near the ears. The sound waves of the forks vibrate and travel deeply into the body along energy pathways, affecting physiology and reaching places not easily accessed by traditional medicine.
Dr. Beaulieu's sister, Nancy Boni, works at the spa at Beaver Creek Colorado and often incorporates sound into her bodywork. The spa, however, doesn't advertise sound as an element of the treatment, because it is incorporated on an
as-needed basis, when both the client and the therapist feel it would be beneficial. Boni says that she knows of other therapists who also use sound as an adjunct to bodywork but do not necessarily advertise it.
This theme of "behind-the-scenes sound" is one that re-occurred throughout the research for this article. Sound is slowly slipping into spa menus, often without spa directors realizing it. Spa consultant Jolene Anderson, who is also the host of the radio show "The Bridge to a Healthier Tomorrow," reminds us, "The spa of the future will incorporate emerging technologies and new healing modalities, such as sound," and that the visionary spa leader is one who is ahead of the crowd, finds out what's going on, and if it feels right for the spa, boldly goes where few spas have gone before and puts it on their menu.
Spa SoundsThe acoustic aspects of an environment can have a strong impact on our moods and perception. Beyond the physical effects that certain kinds of sounds can have on us, sounds can also evoke emotions and associations. The spa, as a healing environment, needs to carefully consider its choice of music, whether it's played in waiting areas or in treatment rooms. In general, music influenced by, as well as created with, the sounds of nature tend to have a relaxing and even healing effect on listeners. Water and wind sounds, in particular, can be profoundly healing. The sound of water can be described as a "sound archetype," a symbolic sound that tends to elicit similar psychological responses throughout history and across cultures. Whether rain, streams, fountains, rivers, or the sea, water sounds elicit images and sensations of renewal, cleansing, and rejuvenation. Besides playing recordings of water or musical compositions that include the sound of water, spas can also bring water itself into its soundscape by including sound-producing architectural elements, such as walls of water, fountains, reflecting pools, and water wheels.
Wind-another sound archetype-evokes images and emotions related to breath, breathing, and spirit. The spirit of the wind can be brought into a spa through aeolian harps, chimes, and recordings that combine the sound of the actual wind with wind instruments, such as the native flute and Peruvian pan pipes.
Finally, the sound of life itself is an important aspect of any healing sound environment. Birdsong is very similar in its frequency to human music and has been celebrated since ancient times. The soul-nourishing songs of birds-said by science to exist to ensure the reproduction of the species-could be described as a sound archetype that elicits sensations of the spirit of life. Similarly, the hauntingly beautiful song of whales, the poignant howling of wolves, even the croaking of frogs can also be a part of a sound environment that celebrates life.