“We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.”
I have treasured memories of attending sound baths and sound journeys in wonderful locations south of Cape Town. Usually, sound baths are attended as a group in wonderful sunlit yoga studios, or domed locations to maximize acoustics. Private sessions are also available.
One of my favorite venues, thanks to visiting world music producer, multi-instrumentalist, and sound medicine man, Kailash Kokopelli, was a long-disused underground water reservoir, in a mountainside overlooking scenic False Bay. We gathered in the afternoon sunshine and enthusiastically made our way through the fynbos paradise to the concealed opening in the earth. One by one, cautiously positioning ourselves on the five-meter vertical steel ladder, we descended with our yoga mats, blankets, cushions, and water bottles, into the cavern below.
Welcomed by Kailash, and the fragrance of sage smudging and uplifting palo santo, our eyes embraced the swaying light from tealight candles placed at the foot of the countless pillars, gently revealing a now wondrous vast temple-like space. We made ourselves comfortable, seated or lying under our blankets, and came to stillness in the voluminous grotto. Hours later after exquisite sound immersion ended, with illuminated eyes reflecting our overflowing hearts and well-being, we exited the earthen womb into the moonshine, to head homewards.
What exactly is a sound bath and how does it work?
“Music as a manifestation of energy, is a force that interacts with the physical world, for music influences our thoughts, our emotions, our dense physical bodies, and the electromagnetic field that surrounds us.”
A sound bath experience can take a variety of formats depending on the sound therapy practitioner or healer. It often forms part of a sound healing workshop. This may include a brief welcome and introduction, and a short guided meditation, perhaps followed by songs of devotion, chants, and overtone singing for those who wish to participate, while those who don’t relax and let the sublime song wash over them. A few moments of feeling into each of the senses and mindful breathing allows us to check-in and arrive in our bodies, leaving our fracturing mental busyness and demands of the day behind, before the actual sound bath commences.
“Listen to the sound of the waves within you.”
Sitting or lying comfortably, usually with eyes closed, the silence is palpable. The first sounds begin, starting softly, gently, and slowly, building up to faster rhythms and louder sounds mid sound bath, then descending towards the end, gradually easing us out of our sound meditation. Stretching, and in silence returning to seated positions, forming a sharing circle. One by one, those wishing to share or thank the musicians and group do so, and then the gathering is closed.
Diverse instruments with specific sound frequencies are intentionally used in sound baths. These may include Native American wooden prayer flutes, didgeridoos, hang or hand pan, crystal singing bowls, Tibetan singing bowls, rainsticks, classical instruments, rattles and shakers, wind and animal sounding instruments such as the wooden frog noisemaker, chimes, bells, drums, gongs, singing and chanting.
After a sound bath, people report feeling profoundly relaxed which has a myriad of health benefits. In-person sound massages the neurons and cells of the whole body—the extent of sound bath benefits are yet to be fully understood. Exploring virtual sound baths is another option.
The invisible thread and health benefits of sound baths
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
Healing through music or sound, using a variety of energy or vibrational frequencies, is an ancient practice dating back to the early Greeks and Egyptians.
“Music is the medicine of the soul.”
Musical instruments create different sounds and vibrational frequencies, measured in Hertz (Hz), the current standard being 440Hz or 440 vibrations per second, although this wasn’t always the case. Data suggests that music tuned to 432 Hz may have certain health benefits, with some sound therapists choosing their instruments accordingly.
Compared to 440 Hz, 432 Hz tuned music has been associated with a decrease in heart rate, and a slight decrease in blood pressure and respiratory rates, with people being more focused and generally more content.
Sounds used in healing are not always what we might consider in music. A variety of resonant sounds or even discordant noisy buzzing may be used. Theories suggest that illness or diseased cells are a result of changed frequencies, in discordant vibrations from the rest of the body. Sound healing attempts to help cells operate in harmony again.
“Sound is a uniquely potent form of energy medicine that entrains us to the vibrations of our own essence and that of the Universe. Sound is also the simplest, most direct route I know to achieve the sense of profound calm that allows us to move into that peaceful inner place, that I call our essence.”
—Dr Mitchell Gaynor
Sound frequencies and vibrations benefit us physiologically and psycho-spiritually and are one of how we can:
- realign our emotions, restore our nervous system and enhance well-being
- reduce stress and anxiety and bring the body back into harmony
- minimize how quickly our bodies degenerate (due to stress)
- live a better quality of life through reduced stress and its associated illnesses
- support the body’s immune system and healing through deep relaxation
quieten our minds, recalibrate in presence, gain new perspectives, find more balance and a sense of calm and well-being.
“The medicine of the future will be music and sound.”
I like to think of in-person sound bathing as receiving sound massages. Even if thoughts or dreamlike videos of the mind arise, or I briefly drop into sleep, the sounds continue to wash over and benefit my being.
“Music is the basis of the whole creation. In reality the whole of creation is music, and what we call music is simply a miniature of the original music, which is creation itself, expressed in tone and rhythm.”
—Hazrat Inayat Khan
Tips for proper integration after a sound bath
After a sound bath meditation, it’s helpful to spend time in a quiet and restful setting before you ease back into normal busy noisy life! Drink spring water or a freshly squeezed juice. Consider going for a gentle walk, and journaling. Reflect on anything that may have come up for you in the sound bath—anything challenging, any visions or light bulb moments? Any sound that was particularly provocative or soothing? Note them for further reflection and action.
A sound bath is unlikely to make you sick. Generally, you’ll feel peaceful, well-rested, inspired, and refreshed. Deep listening and acute presence heighten the sensory experience, so you may feel tender. Depending on what stimulation is normal in your day-to-day, an hour or two in sounds with a group of people can be stimulating.
Silent tears too have streamed down my cheeks, my heart stirred by the sincerity of exquisite heartful voices and transcendent sounds. Why the tears I later wondered? Were they from a place of utter depletion and exhaustion, the nectar sweet sounds the first rains on my parched soul? Did my priorities need re-looking? Or were the tears from a place of deep gratitude and love for the awe-inspiring creativity, beauty, and diversity of life…?