A song can make you feel sad, happy and effect the intensity of a gym session, but can sound alone have a healing effect on the body and mind?
Around 72% of Brits feel stressed at some point during a typical week, according to the most recent AXA Stress Index conducted before Covid-19 — which saw stress and anxiety levels increase across the country.
As research continues to reveal the links between long-term stress and physical health, it’s little wonder that mindfulness has become part of our everyday vernacular — and within this movement, a new trend in meditation has been on the rise: sound bathing.
What is a sound bath?
Sound bathing is a form of therapy going back thousands of years, the claim being that sound frequencies can balance the body’s energy. By allowing yourself to fall into a state of relaxation, your body triggers a repair mode, similar to sleep, that allows the endocrine system to restore hormone and chemical balance — which stress can throw out of whack. It can also help with stress, fatigue and symptoms of depression, according to one study.
There’s different ways to have a sound bath, including group sessions and one-on-one treatments. I tried out both to see how they differ and how much they could help me to relax.
Group sound bath sessions
As I walk into Re:Mind studio in London’s Victoria ahead of my group gong therapy, I’m feeling sceptical. I survey the people waiting and find they’re all in their late 20s and early 30s. None of them are dressed as if they’ve arrived from a high-stress corporate job, as I’d been expecting — although maybe those people are still working at 6.30pm on a Thursday.
We head into the studio and settle down on little bedding areas arranged across the floor. The leader of the gong bath, Stephanie Reynolds, then gently says a few words. She explains that every sound bath is different and instructs us all to clear our minds and surrender ourselves to the vibrations.
I had wondered how banging on a gong could relax anyone, but I soon realise the soft touches create a deep sound that reverberates throughout the room. I try to focus on the sound as much as possible, and notice a physical response I can’t quite pin down — somewhere between goose bumps and the feeling of a massage. Thoughts pop into my mind less and less as time goes on. I’m not sure if I managed to truly empty my mind or I simply fall asleep; either way, when the session ends, I feel gloriously relaxed and ready for bed.
One-to-one sound bath treatments
Michelle Cade is a sound and massage therapist who uses an array of instruments in her sessions, including Tibetan bowls, crystal bowls, rain sticks, drums, gongs, shakers and tuning forks. In comparison to the group session, the hour that follows is monumentally more affecting.
As I lie there, Michelle places one bowl between my feet and another on my stomach, letting the tuning forks vibrate directly onto my skin. As she travels around my body, the sounds sweep over me like waves into a cove, and any interrupting thoughts I have are challenged by all-encompassing sounds that swirl from ear to ear, cradling my brain in an unknown frequency. Different sounds evoke different physical and emotional reactions, and once the time is up, I feel an overwhelming sense of release.
While the group session felt like meditation, my time with Michelle felt more like psychological therapy and left me wanting more.