If submerging our body in a warm bathtub of water can make our joints and muscles feel better, is there something that could trigger the same kind of relief in our minds? People around the world believe that a sound bath does just that.
What is a Sound Bath?
A sound bath, sometimes called sound therapy, is when a person is bathed in soothing sounds from an instrument, chant, or vibrational tone for the purpose of relaxation, meditation, or pain relief. The person typically lays flat on their back or in a sitting position while a sound practitioner creates the therapeutic sounds with their voice (Om chanting), tuning forks, Tibetan singing bowls, gongs, or chimes. The sounds are not intended to create a rhythmic melody like a song often does — instead, they are a carefully crafted use of an instrument or voice with notable resonance and overtones. A sound bath aims to allow vibrations from these chosen instruments to wash over the body, surrounding it in specific wavelengths to help bring the mind and body into a meditative and relaxed state where the mind can let go.
Although sound baths may sound like the latest new-age trend, these practices have been around for thousands of years in different cultures worldwide. The most notable are the Tibetan singing bowls (also known as standing or resting bells) used in Buddhist religious practices to accompany periods of meditation. They originated in China, with bowls dating back to the Shang dynasty (16th–11th centuries B.C.). Suspended gongs originated in the western regions of China and are used for similar purposes. The Ancient Greeks utilized flutes and lyres to treat digestion and mental health, and Australian Aboriginal tribes played the didgeridoo to heal the sick.
Is There Any Science to Back This Up?
Soundwaves used for medical purposes are not new. After all, we use ultrasound to see inside the body and project ultrasonic shockwaves at kidney stones to break them apart (lithotripsy). Multiple studies have been performed on sound baths and how they affect both mental and physical health.
One 2016 study (1) of 62 adults gauged their feelings before a sound bath and again after a meditation session that included a sound bath. Researchers found that tension, anxiety, and negative moods decreased significantly after the therapy. Participants were also asked whether they were in pain and to rank their pain on a scale from 1 to 5. Before a sound bath, the participants tended to rate their pain higher before the session than they did afterward.
A 2018 study (2) of 60 participants asked half to listen to the music of Tibetan singing bowls before scheduled surgery and gave the other half headphones with no sounds at all. The analysis found that heart rate and other vitals indicating temporary anxiety improved in those given the headphones that played the singing bowls. Interestingly, the effects were most notable among people who’d never tried sound therapy or singing bowls before.
A 2020 research review (3) analyzed four studies and found significant improvements in distressed mood, tension, anger, and confusion from participants after a sound bath with Tibetan singing bowls. However, the review concluded that more research is needed to definitively say sound baths have these effects on most people.
Is it Safe?
Medical professionals seem to agree that except for someone who’s suffered a concussion, sound baths are great for most people interested in giving them a try. They are not meant to replace conventional medical treatment but rather to provide a supplemental form of therapy. Sound baths may also be a great introduction to meditation for skeptics or sufferers of ADHD because it doesn't require much discipline or patience to participate.
Where Can I Get a Sound Bath?
There are brick and mortar establishments scattered throughout the United States (and the world) that offer sound baths daily or weekly, frequently found in yoga studios with a designated sound practitioner leading the guided session. At the same time, participants lay or sit on yoga mats. Other studios offer a more intense experience, where you lay wrapped in hammocks suspended from the ceiling rafters while gongs are hit at various intensities and intervals. Professional sessions range from 15 to 60 minutes, with prices averaging $20 to $75 on average, varying in length and intensity. However, self-guided sound baths are also possible by purchasing singing bowls, tuning forks, chimes, or even simply using your voice to bring you into a more relaxed state. Of course, beginners can always start simple with a pair of headphones and a Tibetan singing bowl album or binaural beats on Spotify.