Gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, drums, chanting and crystals have been used in healing rituals for thousands of years, bathing the recipients in rhythmic vibrations to produce a trance-like effect. Today’s chakra-waving millennials are as likely to book a sound bathing session (aka gong bath) as a yoga class. With celebs like Russell Brand and Gwyneth Paltrow extolling their deep relaxation and healing powers, we decided to get it on and bang a gong - or rather lie down and let someone else do it for us.
What do I wear to a sound bath?
Not a swimsuit: despite the name, a sound bath is water free. You should wear loose, comfortable clothing and - as you will be lying still for an hour in a sleep-like trance – something warm. Stylish yoga casuals, cashmere pashminas or sweat pants and baggy T: it’s up to you. There won’t be any online outfit sharing as your devices will be switched off and placed far, far away so as not to pollute your healing sound waves.
What happens in a sound bath experience?
You can have a shared sound bath with a group (remember -- it is not an actual bath) or book one-to-one sessions. Beforehand, you can tell your session leader what anxieties or troubles you have so they can adapt the treatment to benefit you most.
Rooms are usually dark, perhaps candle-lit, with scattered yoga mats, cushions, pillows and blankets, all placed far enough apart so you have plenty of space. Some compare it to a fun slumber party. There may be large gongs in the room -- don’t worry, these will not be loudly rung causing you to run out of the room in alarm. There may also be singing bowls, tuning forks, bells, chimes, shruti boxes, shells and crystals laid out, all with deep vibrational qualities to create your immersive sonic experience.
You will lie on a yoga mat with a pillow and blanket, and maybe an eye pillow, too. Your healing practitioner will then get you relaxed, perhaps with a brief guided breathing meditation practice. Once you are pleasantly chilled, they will generate sound vibrations, gently at first to get you used to it. You will bathe in the vibrations for around forty-five minutes, simply listening and tuning in, awash in sound and rhythm. At the end, your practitioner will softly rouse you, slowly bringing you back to shore. At the end, you will have a period of quiet time to help you re-orient yourself.
How will it make me feel?
After your sound bath, you should feel ridiculously calm and angst-free. Some have described feeling so meltingly relaxed they have been unable to move or even speak for a few moments afterwards. You may also feel emotional as deeper feelings rise to the surface thought, too. Your sound therapist will be on hand to talk you through how you feel and give you any advice you need. People report being lulled in to peaceful state and more focused for at least 24 hours afterwards. You may want to take it easy for a few moments to collect yourself; then drink plenty of water.
What are the therapeutic effects and benefits?
A sound bath can be a fast way to achieve a deep meditative state, cutting through the mental chatter, inhibiting stress responses and using frequency to calm our internal rhythm rather than breath. The sound provides focus for your mind and body, a bit like those soothing rain-sound apps to help you sleep, while also blocking out any random distracting sounds, such as car horns, voices outside the room or, in the case of sound baths, the snoring of people next to you.
There has been some fascinating research into the effects of sound meditation on the brain, particularly binaural beats in the treatment of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. Binaural beats are when two different sounds are played in each ear which the brain integrates. A process known as ‘entrainment’ synchronises our brainwaves and provides a stable frequency that produces a hypnotic, trance-like rhythm. Our brainwaves gear-down from normal beta functioning (13-30Hertz) to calmer alpha (8-13Hertz), meditative theta (5-7Hertz) and the delta deep sleep state (0.5-4).
A 2005 study demonstrated that music can be used successfully to relieve patient anxiety before operations, while others have linked rhythmic sonic vibrations to lowered heart rate and blood pressure.
Holistic therapists believe the vibrations can unblock your chakras/energy fields (the seven centres where life energy – Qi - flows through our bodies), promoting healing and releasing tension. They also say that crystals have unique vibrational frequencies that synchronise the body in several ways, hence the popularity of crystal sound baths, using crystal singing bowls.
The Spa Spies’ favourite sound treatments
Supreme Spy enjoyed a sound bath at a yoga retreat at Chilston Park Hotel, a Handpicked Hotel in Laham, Kent. She said after she felt “as light and bubbly as a glass of wine”.
Sybaritic Spy had a holistic treatment at the Six Senses Spa at the Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland. It began with a vibrating Tibetan singing bowl which was placed on her back so the vibrations travelled along her spine.
The Sound Bath (60 minutes, £80) is a facial, massage and ear candle treatment, fully clothed, to the tune of a soundscape using tuning forks and church bells at Lush Spa: Bath, London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Liverpool, Leeds, Poole
Sound Awakening hold regular sound bath workshops and retreats in Stoke Newington, London and The Cotswolds
Sunshine Hub in Shepherd’s Bush, London also run Gongbaths and 1-1 sound healing sessions from £12 per hour