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Can Sound Heal the Body?

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

A road sign saying "Lockdown" to illustrate the impact of covid restrictions on anxiety, mental health and wellbeing

At the end of April 2020 the first Covid lockdown was in full swing in the UK - the government had extended the measures for weeks beyond their initial estimations and we were all adjusting to this new life of uncertainty with on sense of when (or even if) life would get back to normal. The world was awash with fear and anxiety - no-one knew where this was going to take us or how long it would go on for. We were all instructed to hunker down at home to hide ourselves away from this devastating virus in the hope that we might be lucky and avoid it. Collectively our stress levels rose exponentially across the globe - even people who would never have previously identified with experiencing anxiety were now starting to feel it bite.

A person working remotely to illustrate the lifestyle changes resulting from covid restrictions that impacted mental health and wellbeing

In my own little corner of the universe, I was adjusting to a very new way of working - delivering all of my therapy sessions on-line. This brought many opportunities for learning and the development of new skills, but it was still a challenge nonetheless! I was aware more than ever of the importance of investing in self-care and so my curiosity was piqued one day when a Facebook post by ‘Sounds Like Healing’ popped up on my screen. They were inviting people to join them for a mantra session each morning on-line and I thought that this could be a helpful way to set myself up ready for a day of work.

I often describe myself as a terminally early person and, as I was still getting to grips with using Zoom, I logged on early to check it was working...unexpectedly finding myself facing Emily and Jane...I think they were as surprised as I was, but they were incredibly welcoming and I really appreciated having that time to chat and get to know them before everyone else arrived. I loved that first morning’s session so much that I came back the next day, and the next, and the next...I was soon a regular, attending when I could. As I had hoped, the morning mantra practice really helped me settle and ground myself ready for the day ahead.

A person holding a signing bowl to illustrate mindful and meditation practices

The use of sound for healing has been known for thousands of years with many traditional cultures incorporating rhythmic drumming and music into their practices. Often a deep trance-like state is achieved through the use of instruments such as singing bowls, chimes, drums and voice. More recently, the scientific community has turned its attention to these practices as part of a wider interest in understanding things such as meditation, hypnosis and sleep.

A sweatshirt from Stanford University to illustrate research being done there into the human musical experience on mental health and wellbeing

The Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University explores understanding of the human musical experience and they report that the research suggests that music and sound can predictably alter mental states, and perhaps even in a way which can be healing; for example a study in 2015 found that sound therapy can be used as an effective method for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A picture of a brain to illustrate the impact of music on mental health and wellbeing

But how is it working? Well, the research seems to suggest that brain waves can begin to resonate in time with music or sounds having a strong rhythm - slower beats evoking brain waves associated with meditative-like states and faster beats stimulating brain waves associated with alertness and concentration. A significant number of our modern day illnesses can be linked back to the stresses of modern life and, according to the British Academy of Sound Therapy, approaches that promote stress reduction and relaxation can be an effective way of preventing or even treating illness.

Recently I was very excited to meet Emily and Jane in person when I attended one of their sound baths. I had participated in several on-line sound baths with them and found those to be incredibly relaxing and restorative experiences, so I was very excited to have the opportunity of attending one in person and wondered how the experience would differ being there in person rather than attending virtually.

A study in 2016 explored the difference between experiencing sound therapy in person compared to via recording and found that, whilst both were beneficial, the live experience seemed to be more emotionally moving and immersive due to being in the presence of the instruments and being able to feel the vibrations travelling through the body.

A picture of sound bath instruments to illustrate mindful and meditation practices

Emily and Jane are very calm and nurturing souls, and despite the fact that they were not working in their own space they had created a beautifully welcoming and safe environment - I felt a real sense of peace as soon as I walked into the room. It really is difficult to put into words what the experience of the sound bath is like as it feels like nothing can do it justice other than to actually experience it - it is such a visceral thing and is very much a full body experience rather than something to be academically articulated.

A picture of a gong used in a sound bath to promote mental health and wellbeing

Lying there with my eyes closed in that safe, calming environment, I was immersed into a world where hearing, smell and touch became the dominant senses. I was grounded in the moment and lost all sense of time a At the end of the session I felt a deep sense of relaxation and wellbeing.

Unfortunately, insomnia is a frequent unwelcome visitor for me so I was interested to see whether my sleep that night would be any different.

These are screenshots from my sleep tracker. The first is a typical night...the second is the night of the sound bath - needless to say that I felt much more refreshed than usual on the following morning.

Emily & Jane are based in Lostwithiel in Cornwall where they have a beautiful studio for workshops, sound baths and individual treatments; but they also frequently return to their roots in Kent and offer sound baths whilst they are visiting. They have both undertaken training with the Sound Healing Academy and Jane tells me that currently it's a very interesting time for them as, in addition to their established practice, they are now working in partnership with the NHS and Social Prescribing team in Cornwall. It is wonderful to hear that holistic approaches are being brought to the NHS and recognised as beneficial because, as Jane points out, the research suggests that sound can positively impact us at a physical, emotional and mental level.

If you get the opportunity to try a practice with Emily and Jane then I would highly recommend it! You can find out more about them and what they offer on their website or their Facebook page.

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