What is this new (or new old) trend of sound healing?
I must admit I've had a journey with the word ‘healing’ and found myself squirming at being introduced as a ‘sound healer’. In a quick result, low effort world, there are connotations of being fixed, by someone more powerful than us. There are seemingly mixed messages out there: that we can cure ourselves of anything we wish with the power of intention…versus we must accept the consequences of our karma, with grace.
Are they opposing perspectives, I don't think do. Healing in fact means a move towards wholeness, which means not cutting out, or off, the painful stuff…but listening, understanding, intending, accepting, integrating. All wrapped up in a big shift about how we see ourselves.
If we think about the great healing mantra ‘maha mritunjaya’…on one level the mantra is used to send healing and transcend fear, but on the deepest level it is about the illusion that we are limited to our body mind. ‘Mritoyr mokshiya mamritat’ (remove the fear of death and bring me liberation).
We could say that's the healing that we we all on the planet to receive. At the same time, are we (do we need to be) always seeing things from that universal perspective! If everyday stress is building towards crisis, half an hour of deep relaxation in the gong space might be all the healing we need to make a decision the next day about some small life changes. That's certainly been some of the feedback I've received.
At the end of the day, sound is for everyone, there is no need to believe in or understand some theory, simply to experience, on whatever level you need right now. And this is the key – you are the healer! The person offering treatment surrenders their ego wishes about the outcome and simply uses the tools of sound to allow you to access your innate healing potential. No one is giving you a magical cure or taking anything away from you; the sound is your guide, the person offering the treatment is its helping hands (or vocal chords).
There is no guaranteed result or fixed time frame with sound healing. Like any holistic therapy, often the road is long and requires a lot of self searching and honesty as we uncover the roots of ill health or imbalance. Things may even appear worse as we move towards a resolution. Sound may not be the only tool we use, or it may be used in combination. We may need to find the right connection with a practitioner we feel truly comfortable with.
It's probably a generalisation nowadays to say that modern medicine focuses only on treating the symptoms and quick term relief, but it does seem to separate treatment of physical and mental health issues. Which cannot help us move towards wholeness. Whereas yogic teachings or acupuncture, all forms of healing, would insist that the mind and body are simply interrelated extensions of one another.
Unique and same
I will often draw upon the wisdom of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian philosophy of wellbeing. Ok we are all the same ‘essence’, but we are also unique expressions of that sameness. And accepting that some things are just the way we were built, or knowing where and when we are likely to go off balance, can be extremely valuable tools. It also helps understand how you might receive the sound, which will be different to me or the last client.
How does it work?
Ancient cultures, mystics and scientists are all agreeing that the universe is comprised of vibration. And, as the universe in miniature, so are we. Every thought, body part, cell. If we spend time in nature, watching, listening we may experience a sense of harmony or natural calm, things seeming just as they should be. In some environments we might experience the opposite, that our surroundings feel tense or out of balance. Well our inner environments are also like this, our bodies absorbing vibration from our surroundings, our thoughts patterns, other people's stuff.
So sound healing draws attention to where we may be out of harmony, where we may be blocked or blocking the natural flow of energy. Awareness is always the first step on that journey. That might be through the sensations of the sound itself; the talking process beforehand; the intention setting that always accompanies a session...or it may be revelation in the silence after the sound, the non-sound bit in a way!
What are the benefits?
The Vedas imparted the wisdom of the Ayurvedic doshas, while the Upanishadic seers had us worked out thousands of years ago in terms of the koshas. Five inter related layers of being from the layer formed of food to the subtlest layer of bliss. It can be really insightful to observe ourselves in this inter-related way when embarking on any healing path. Sound transcends all the layers, and at some times our experience may be grounded more in the physical, on other occasions the sound accessing more the mental level for example. Here are a few of the benefits I've observed for each kosha…
There is a huge amount of research out there on specific frequencies, which when matched with the exact frequency or an organ or body part can rebalance or even destroy unhealthy cells (I suggest reading the works of Fabien Maman if you are interested in this). Working with the gong we are not usually choosing specific frequencies but spontaneously making a vast range of overtones and even many sounds outwits the range of our hearing. But which are felt and generally seem to be the right ones you need. You can think of the gong as om, the primordial vibration, splitting into the limitless sounds which make up the universe.
On a more tangible level, I had a really interesting experience with the Earth gong; having strained something in my hip I was having trouble with my yoga practise. I played the gong for half an hour or so and on finishing fell into a deep state of calm where something said to me: lay back exactly as you are. So I sunk back onto the floor and as if an osteo had cracked my hip and spine, I felt it realigning. This was really great proof to me that in a deeply relaxed state we know how to heal ourselves, and here it was on a very physical level. I thank the gong and the accident for that lesson!
In working with sound on a daily basis I noticed myself feeling generally well and high energy, a bit like the effects of doing a lot of pranayama. Even in energy draining environments. The yogic view is that the body is a machine without the prana to make it tic. Our pranic layer creates our energetic immunity which in turn impacts over physical health over time. Can working with sound regularly have a preventative effect? The breath is the carrier of this prana so you'll often find breathwork paired with sound in a session.
Most of us are familiar with the idea of the chakras and the meridians. Various systems have mapped different frequencies to each of the major chakras. And anecdotally, sensitive students have described to me being able to guide chi or prana through specific channels, or to feel some opening in a specific centre, which resonates with what's happening for them in life. But going back to the idea of wholeness, we need to remember that we are constantly flowing in and out of balance with all the energies around us, so we are not looking to ‘make’ the heart chakra open but to create a balanced flow through the energy systems.
Anyone who aspires to meditate but struggles with thoughts, discipline or physical posture may like to try sound. And as a meditator you may just find it taking you to a deeper level, a state of oneness or samadhi.
The mind is coloured by whatever it focuses on, be that a mantra or a belief that I am not enough. We cannot just switch them off at will, even if we know that our thoughts or emotions are impacting our health, in fact if we try to block them we simply create resistance and a sense of failure.
Yet with sound we can follow its rhythms, we can go where it's frequencies suggest and before we know it we are experiencing those wished for moments of quiet, focus, emptiness, peace. A word of caution, it's not always this way, sometimes sound can bring up the stuff that we buried and is running the show, outside our awareness. This is the healing process, and you can know that you are in a safe space to allow this natural churning and releasing. There is huge scope for using sound to ease stress related issues, which are omnipresent in our age and culture.
In the session I will always ask you to set an intention or ask a question. This is as essential as the sounds produced in guiding your unique healing exploration. Like casting a net which gathers your own answers, from within. The silence after a sound healing can often be the most powerful part, silence; alive with potential and potential insight. Or simply a rare chance to be truly still and listen.
Sound, whether drumming, voice, gong or whatever, has the power to shift our consciousness very quickly and to take us on a journey to unexplored states or places. That could be an out of body experience, a flash of the future or significant remembrance from the past. Just as powerful is the sense of being completely present, aware, calm; the bliss of needing nothing outside ourselves, even if that is for a fleeting few seconds.
The important part of this work with sound is not always, or only what we experience in the session, physically, emotionally or whatever…but how we integrate it, what we learn, how we take it forward (or backward we could say), towards a sense of wholeness and harmony.