With all the daily stressors life throws our way, true relaxation can be hard to come by. While you can’t put a price on peace of mind, most of us aren’t made of money. We have to be choosy when assessing what it will cost us to truly unwind. With that said, if there’s some way to achieve a deeper state of calm with lasting benefits, why not give it a try?
This was my thinking when I signed up for my first sound bath. I’ve done yoga for years and explored all sorts of meditative practices. But this sensory experience was… different. In some ways, it was exactly what I needed, but not in ways I could have predicted. Quieting my mind has never been my forte, so meditation isn’t always easy. Sound baths require little of their participants. Your main job is to relax and put your practice into someone else’s musically inclined hands.
So if you’re curious but still skeptical, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s talk about what a sound bath is, its potential benefits, and what it’s really like.
Sound Healing Goes Back a Very Long Way
Music is good for the soul. There’s no doubt about that. And it’s not all that surprising that sound therapy has been used in spiritual healing and medicinal ways for a very long time. No matter how trendy they might be today, using rhythmic vibrations and ambient instrumentation has been used for their therapeutic properties for thousands of years.
For instance, Tibetan bowls and gongs have long been used as a means to ease mental blockages and alleviate stress, anxiety, and sluggishness. The ancient Greeks insisted sound vibration aided in everything from healthy digestion to treating mental disturbances and insomnia. Many moons later, scientific research would suggest they might’ve been onto something.
Near the end of the 19th century, researchers finally began studying the profound and curious relationship between sound and healing. They found that didn’t just make people feel better, it also could do things like lower blood pressure and positively impact the parasympathetic nervous system.
Trusted ancient remedies aside, you shouldn’t use meditation to replace any medication you need. Consider a sound bath a mega dose of deep calm that could have overall health benefits.
So What Is a Sound Bath?
Sound baths are forms of meditation designed to guide you into a deep state of relaxation. And no, there’s no water involved. Led by instructors or sound therapists (who sing, chant, and play various instruments,) you are “bathed” in sound. And while each class may work a little differently, all instructors say it’s key to be as cozy as possible.
Some people sit up, but most lay on their back or side. Whatever is comfortable for you is key. As with all forms of meditation, being patient with yourself and the process is important. Of course, quieting the mind is sometimes easier said than done. But that’s kind of the point.
Sound baths are for slowing down, breathing deep, and allowing yourself to fully relax. “Meditation is excellent for managing stress and improving your overall well-being. While it sounds easy enough, if you’ve ever actually tried to meditate, you know it can be very difficult. It’s hard enough to quiet the distractions in your physical environment, let alone the distractions in your own brain,” per Allure.
During a sound bath, repetitive notes are played at different frequencies using crystal bowls, gemstone bowls, cymbals, gongs, etc. The immediate goal of a sound bath is to bring your focus to the present moment, letting every part of your body and mind release tension.
What to Expect
Naturally, the mind will wander. Sound baths are designed to help you return to the present moment and find peace within. But you won’t have to do any heavy lifting. The ambient sounds and swelling vibrations are meant to work their magic while you just purposefully chill. Some people fall asleep.
At the start of a sound bath, you will be invited to sit or lay on a yoga mat. You can use a pillow under your head and a bolster under your knees, you can lay on your back or side, you can use a blanket, and you can arrive in your pajamas if you wish. That much is entirely up to you, and usually, all of those things will be offered by the studio.
Classes typically last for 60 to 90 minutes. Those who swear by sound baths say the true key is to be “as cozy as humanly possible.” So if you become uncomfortable, it’s best to reposition. They’re done inside and outside, privately and in group settings. Sound therapists often encourage giving both a try, as you may garner different benefits from both experiences.
Unlike other forms of meditation, very little is required from you. Your main job is to find a comfortable position and pay attention to any sensations you notice while keeping intrusive thoughts out of it. To get the most out of your sound bath, allow every sensation to pass through you without trying to control or prevent it.
Many people describe tingly sensations, waves of emotion, and released tension they didn’t know was there. “Some people report feeling like they are floating out of their bodies. This is referred to as the theta brainwave state, a deep dream-like state—the delta brainwave state, which is said to be a place of deep healing,” per Byrdie.
And if your thoughts won’t leave you be, instructors and spiritual healers say to refocus your attention by looking at your mind’s eye (with your eyes closed). In other words, let your eyes roll back in your head while focusing on the space between your eyes.
There Might Be More Benefits Than Meet The Ears
Connecting with all of our senses can bring us to a place of both calm and alertness. Various studies have also shown that healing sounds can easily shift us from our cluttered head space into a calmer one, which may help to regulate stress hormones, bringing down anxiety levels.
As noted by Healthline, “one 2016 study of 62 adults gauged their feelings before a sound bath, and again after a meditation session that included a sound bath. The researchers found that tension, anxiety, and negative moods decreased significantly after the therapy.”
After 60 to 90 minutes of being immersed in a sound bath, people frequently report having a positive shift in their overall mood, sometimes noting a boost in their energy for the next few days.
People also say they feel more in tune with their surroundings and senses afterward. Studies show that entering and staying in a deep state of relaxation can potentially improve symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, and chronic pain and have a positive impact on the nervous system, among other things.
According to Medical News Today, some people found that their blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate improved as well. Still, more research needs to be done before anything definitive can be said about these potential sound bath benefits.
What Are The Drawbacks, if Any?
Generally speaking, there aren’t many drawbacks to sound baths. Still, that doesn’t mean this sensory-heavy meditative practice is right for everyone. If you’re sensitive to sound, the whole experience could be a bit too overwhelming.
Research also shows that sound baths can release lactic acid into the muscles. While this is a pretty cool benefit, the sound therapy-induced process can lead to soreness the next day. But for some, it’s totally worth it.
Currently, many athletes are relying on sound baths to support their muscles and overall well-being. “When our frequencies are working correctly, our body systems are in harmony, giving us access to the maximum amount of energy, a better immune system, and quicker recovery,” per Triathlete.
Be Prepared For What Could Happen Next
Everyone’s experience will be slightly different, and some will undoubtedly get more out of it than others. No matter what your sound bath entails, be ready for a surprise or two when it’s over. Many people have said they felt “lighter” and extremely relaxed. Some have even said they experienced a “natural high,” especially after their first time.
With this in mind, come back down to earth before you drive a car after a sound bath. Drink some water, shake your muscles awake, stretch a little, and make sure you’re fully alert before you go home. And if you have a health condition that makes you unsure about taking a sound bath, check with your doctor beforehand.
I Tried a Sound Bath Recently. Here’s What Happened.
At first, I didn’t know what to expect. I was told to lie down and “get cozy.” But that was not so simple. When the vibrations began, my right eye started twitching. For a while, I forced my eyes to stay closed in an effort to “relax.” That only made the twitching much worse.
Distracted by what felt like an inability to relax, I decided to let my body do the talking – twitching and all. I soon realized how infrequently I actually “rest my eyes” just for the sake of resting them, which is likely why I struggled so much to do so. Suddenly, I understood what I was there to do. And yes, I googled “eye twitching during sound bath” when I got home.
“Twitching can occur during meditation as the body is allowed to relax, which releases energy from stored-up stress and tension. In meditation, we learn to accept this type of sensation completely, while investigating it. If it is too intense, observe your breath for a little while,” per CanYouZen.
When I “accepted all sensations completely,” I gradually achieved mind and body stillness. My mind still periodically wandered, but I could quiet it almost effortlessly, with the help of having sound and shifting sensations to focus on.
The most mind-blowing part was that, about halfway through, I was getting what I can only describe as a brain massage. The swelling vibrations didn’t sound like they were just in the room. It felt like the intensifying sounds were coming from the inside of my head and staying there.
With my eyes closed, waves of sound passed back and forth between my ears while I saw dazzling colors and patterns. Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy the feeling of my entire head vibrating, but it was… interesting. I let the sound bath wash over me and rode all of its waves as instructed. I don’t know if my “chakras opened up” or not, like some claim to experience. Nor were my muscles sore the next day either, so who knows if I actually released lactic acid into them?
Sadly, I never became quite as relaxed as the sound bath pros, who were softly snoring for 90 minutes. But I’ll get there. Like all forms of meditation, you must commit to the practice to get the most out of it. Only next time, I’m bringing a sleep mask. And I recommend you give it a try too.