What is a Sound Bath?
Figure 1 – My Sound Bath Set-Up Overview
A Sound Bath is a general term for an experience of relaxation and transformation through sound and vibration. Another name I like to use instead of sound bath is music meditation. The minimal, ambient atmosphere intentionally created by a facilitator is meant to guide people to a deep meditative state where they can relax, let go of stress and expand their consciousness by tuning into sound. And not just by listening, but by absorbing with the whole body and spirit. This can be done with any instrument or type of music for that matter, depending on individual music preference, but there are commonly used instruments to bring about desired energy shifts. One could argue that any type of music or a good rock concert can be soothing and healing to the right person and rightly so. But, what makes the sound bath movement so interesting is the intention to bring people back into a balanced, whole state, by playing specially tuned instruments and frequencies. When people enter a space open to examine the deeper realms of consciousness through vibration in the form of deep ambient, acoustic sound, transformation is believed to occur that is long lasting. In the words of Jonathan Goldman, we most remind ourselves that “intention + frequency = healing.”
Typical Instruments and Configurations
Figure 2 – Another view of my sound bath setup
Sound baths or music meditations are often performed in yoga studios or wellness centers. It’s important to have a large empty space with plenty of mats and blankets (people often bring them) so there is room for everyone to lay down in Shavasana, the preferred pose for participants.
There are a number of typical instruments used in sound bath experiences. Here is a list of some common acoustic instruments:
- Tibetan Bowls
- Crystal Bowls
- Drone type instruments like Shruti, Harmonium and Tamboura
- Voice—mantra, chanting, singing
- Tuning Forks
- Various natural percussion instruments including shakers, rain, rattles, sticks, frame drums, thunder stick
My setup at the moment includes 14 large and small Tibetan singing bowls, crystal bowls, chimes, tuning forks, flutes, handpan, frame drum, shruti box for drones and my voice. I alternate between playing the Tibetan Bowls and the other instruments and sometimes have guest musicians. Often, the space is so peaceful and relaxing people fall asleep and start snoring! It’s a pretty cool experience to be at the helm of people’s rest and rejuvenation time.
Adding Digital Sound
Sound baths can include (or exclusively be) specially tuned digital frequencies like binaural beats or musical tones and pads tuned to A = 432 Hz (Tuning found in nature). Some combine nature sounds on CD with acoustic instruments to help set a particular environment for a guided meditation beforehand. What’s interesting is the flexibility sound practitioners have to provide their own version of the experience. Many people believe, though, that natural sound in the form of acoustic instruments and nature are exponentially more healing than synthesized sounds.
Figure 3 – Gong and Crystal Bowl Sound Bath Set-Up (Jamie Ford, Sound-Bath.com)
Gongs tend to be a popular instrument of choice for sound healers. Practitioners will set up one or a ‘wall of gongs’ for a session. Gongs can be tuned to the frequencies of the planets like the Paiste series (pictured above). Those tend to be used quite often. Gongs are powerful because of the depth of harmonics and overtones the sound of them produce over the large metal surface. Subtle harmonics are believed to be where healing takes place on the subconscious and cellular level. Gongs also have a long and gradual decay time, perfect for reverberant spaces.
Many music festivals and events around the world have gong baths in their healing arts area. One gong experience in particular is arranged in a pyramid shape and a few people can sit inside to receive the sound in close proximity.
The Integratron—The Premier Sound Bath Experience
Figure 4 – The Integratron Dome in Landers, CA
One of the most popular group sound bath experiences in the US is at the Integratron near Joshua Tree in California. I had this unique, powerful experience with a group of folks on a retreat last fall. The Integratron is a two-floor dome shaped structure with perfectly tuned acoustics. Participants enter the second floor via stairs from the ground floor and are greeted by a serene and beautiful wooden space with mats and blankets to lie down on. On one side of the room, a practitioner plays a dozen or so quartz crystal bowls of different shapes, sizes, and tones. The sound vibrations and perfect overtones from the bowls are meant to calm the mind, envelope the body and help people sink into a deep meditative state. The notes of the bowls represent the different energy centers or chakras. As the bowls are played one at the time and in pairs, the intention is to balance all the energy centers of the body via the different frequencies. I felt my entire body vibrating as it absorbed the sound. Some people find crystal bowls a little too piercing, but in the tuned environment, I found them to be much more pleasing. Regardless of your interest in sound healing, this is a very cool experience.
Figure 5 – Inside the Integratron Dome
Figure 6 – Crystal Bowl Set-Up at the Integratron
Group vs. Private Experience
Group sound bath experiences are great community building activity and are much more economical for participants than private sound baths. They create a group resonance, and a safe space for the newcomers and the seasoned goers alike. People can choose to lie down close or far away from the instruments and tailor the experience a bit to their liking. Group Sound Baths provide a chance for people who are uncomfortable in silent meditation groups to try meditation with a sound journey.
Private sound bath sessions are also gaining in popularity and offer the opportunity for people to have a sound session tailored directly to their needs at the moment. There are many ways to do private sound bath sessions. In my own sessions, I surround the body with large Tibetan Bowls, have the client sing or tone with a drone and add other instruments like specifically tuned forks and chimes. Other practitioners offer similar experiences with crystal bowls and gongs.
Vibrating Message Tables
Figure 7 – Vibrating Sound Chair (soundhealingcenter.com)
Vibrating massage tables are another way to experience a sound bath. Specifically tailored music in the form of binaural beats, tuned frequencies for organs and tissues and even just music composed for relaxation can be pumped into the chair sending vibrations into the whole body. The picture below shows a newer design made of memory foam that can be a chair or mat depending on your preference.
Figure 8 – Monochord Sound Table (thesounduniverse.com)
The Monochord is yet another fascinating vibrating table invented by Pythagoras (one of the pioneers of vibrational healing) over 2600 years ago and recreated in various modern styles today. Strings are mounted underneath the table and when played, send a rich mix of overtones and harmonics through the body. Again, the acoustic nature of this instrument gives it more power as a healing tool.
Evolution of the Sound Bath
There are many ways to give and receive sound for well-being. People’s interest in sound healing seems to be growing and a group sound bath experience is an excellent way to introduce people to it. I’ve found many people feel safer experiencing something for the first time in a group before diving into private sessions. It will be interesting to see how this movement evolves in the future.