In times of heightened stress, anxiety, or emotional challenges, do you ever turn to music to provide relief? Perhaps a favorite song, a specifically-curated playlist, or a loop of your favorite album? What you may not realize is that by doing so, you’re engaging in a simple form of self-healing; a form of sound therapy.
Playing your favorite songs in times of distress or anxiety only scratches the surface of what sound has can do for the body and mind. Sound healing has taken many forms in many cultures dating as far back as ancient civilizations. Many Indigineous peoples around the world have and continue to use sound in their spiritual and meditative ceremonies, and it’s even believed to have been used in ancient Greece to cure mental disorders.
In modern practice, sound healing and therapies take a variety of forms, each designed to target challenges for the person receiving them, in a calming and non-invasive way.
The Types of Sound Healing + How It Works
The unique ways in which sound healing works depends on the specific methods used – and there are many!
Though there are many other forms sound healing can take, these are some of the most commonly employed by sound healers and therapists, often in conjunction with other therapies like acupuncture or acupressure, meditation, massage, cupping or sound baths. It is often the inclusion of the sound practices that patients and therapists say provides the turning point for healing.
Guided meditation: Meditation has long been shown to decrease stress, anxiety, depression, pain levels, and blood pressure, while improving memory and focus. Guided meditation adds a background soundtrack of chants, mantras or gentle sounds to focus your energy and intentions for the meditation and achieve better results.
Tuning fork therapy: In this unique practice, specially-calibrated metal tuning forks apply targeted vibrations to the body in specific points and with specific frequencies. Research has shown that this may help alleviate bone and muscle pain, and it can be used similarly to, or in conjunction with, acupuncture.
Binaural beats: This method is based on the theory that listening to particular pulsing beats realigns the brainwaves to match the beat, leading to increased focus, relaxation and sleep. While all of these therapies are still being researched, some studies have shown pain reduction and anxiety improvements through this therapy as well.
David Kennet has practiced sound healing for 25 years. His work often helps clients address addictions, emotional trauma, anxiety, and allergies.
“The most common response I get from my clients after a session is that they feel incredibly at peace and grounded,” he says. “Some say it feels like coming ‘home.’”
For Annie McDonnell, a licensed acupuncturist, sound healing is incorporated into most treatments, whether using acupuncture needles or not. Her sessions typically begin with sound therapy, which relaxes the client and activates the acupuncture points. For clients who are afraid of the needles, it also offers a needle-free healing alternative, synthesizing various techniques like acupressure, gua sha massage, cupping, sound baths and guided meditations.
Benefits of Sound Healing
While not entirely based in traditional medicine, sound healing is an alternative and holistic approach that has been studied many times and shown throughout history to have positive effects. McDonnell says one of the best benefits of sound healing is its ability to “switch the nervous system from sympathetic (“fight or flight”) to parasympathetic (“rest and digest”). This is the relaxation response in which your body’s innate healing ability can be activated.
Key sounds and frequencies have the ability to shift your brainwaves into a more relaxed and meditative state, allowing for enhanced relaxation and healing from challenges, both mental and physical. For people who have trouble calming their mind, this method of using sounds, mantras or frequencies to do so is very powerful for the healing process.
Kennet also adds that “apart from the emotional benefits of sound therapy, clinical studies have shown vibration and sound to increase the ‘happy’ neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and even oxytocin.”
Sound Healing in 2020
In a year of immensely heightened stress, anxiety and depression for people around the world, is sound therapy a good alternative to talk therapy and medications? If you can safely give it a go, it’s certainly worth trying.
Countless people all over the world swear by sound healing methods for boosting mood and decreasing the effects of anxiety, depression, and stress. If you’re feeling particularly weighed down by mental (or physical) challenges, why not experiment with a more holistic, alternative approach?
With the safety concerns posed by the pandemic, both Kennet and McDonnell (and sound healers around the country) offer new safety measures as well as virtual healing sessions (another benefit provided by this method).
“To me, there’s no complete substitute for the healing that takes place one-on-one in person,” McDonnell says, “when you can most dramatically feel the vibrations from tuning forks and singing bowls placed directly on the body, but a lot can be accomplished in a telehealth consultation with a personal sound bath, guided meditation, and instruction in at-home techniques like acupressure, breathwork and Qigong movement.”
Kennet has similar feelings but also sees the opportunities offered by video chat sessions. He has a professional audio set-up for his calls with clients which is able to closely mimic the sounds experienced during in-person work.
They both agree there may be no better time than deep in the stresses of 2020 to give sound healing a try.
“With stress levels skyrocketing, I feel it is essential now more than ever for people to take the time for self-nurturing and self-care,” Kennett says. “The wonderful thing is that sound therapy is a safe, non-invasive tool that can literally change our biochemistry in a matter of minutes.”
Whether sticking to your curated playlist to get through tough times, or taking it a step further with one of many sound healing therapies, exploring the power of sound to get through tough times is a great step in a hard year like this one.