Many people define their happy place as a mental site of safety, balance, and peace where self-discovery and healing can take place. We are each on individual journeys to discover the route that leads to these havens within ourselves and no two paths look quite the same, but occasionally we share the vehicles we use to get there. These vehicles are meditation techniques that have been passed down, adapted, revisited, and explored throughout the centuries. One of these techniques is sound therapy.
What is Sound Therapy?
Sound therapy has roots in a number of ancient cultures. Throughout Asia, Tibetan singing bowls were used as a tool for facilitating prayer and meditation for thousands of years before they were incorporated in today’s quest for relaxation. From the medicine melodies of the Indigenous peoples of Central and South America to the Hindi use of mantras, sound has long been recognized as a mechanism for shifting our states of consciousness in the pursuit of our transcendent “happy places.”
According to sound therapy practitioner Nate Martinez of New York City, sound provides a “stable frequency which the brainwave can attune to,” a practice called “entrainment” that allows us to mindfully shift from our beta state (waking consciousness), to alpha (relaxation), theta (meditation), and delta (sleep).
It’s within the theta and delta states that healing can occur and sound therapy is often used as a supplementary treatment for issues such as:
- anxiety and depression
- chronic pain
- sleep disorders
In fact, author of The Healing Power of Sound and a former professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, Mitchell Gaynor was an avid proponent of the use of sound therapy alongside conventional medicine. According to his studies, patients who participated in relaxation techniques had lower stress hormones, stronger immune systems, and a better ability to cope with their conditions.
Sound Therapy through Sound Baths
During a sound bath, participants generally lie on the floor in a spa-like room equipped with gongs, tuning forks, and/or singing bowls. The practitioner uses these instruments to create a “bath” of vibration and sound to wash over his or her patients and assist in their connection to a meditative state.
Sound Therapy through Music
In a study conducted by the British Academy of Sound Therapy, researchers composed certain musical tracks in coordination with a local band to discover the “ideal ambiance” for relaxation and contemplation. Participants were tasked with completing puzzles in a limited timeframe and connected to sensors that measured brain activity, heart rate, etc. While listening to the researchers’ original compositions, participants experienced 65% less anxiety and 35% less physiological indicators of stress (heart and breathing rate and blood pressure), than their counterparts.
Sound Therapy as a Treatment for Stress
It’s a well-known truth that chronic stress is an enemy to all of your health goals, and when you treat stress, you’re alleviating factors that may lead to more serious conditions later on. Shockingly, you may also be protecting the literal size of your brain, as Yale researchers discovered that chronic stress represses the body’s ability to form the synaptic connections between neurons, potentially leading to a loss of brain mass in the prefrontal cortex.
One-off instances of stress (or the fight or flight response) are a natural occurrence that have historically aided in our survival as a species, but these days the fight or flight response can become overstimulated with the ongoing demands of everyday life: relationship strife, pressure at work, money troubles, and more. Don’t face these demands alone. Treat the stress they cause with whatever form of sound therapy works best for you.