The word is emotive.
It makes sense that its etymology comes from the Greek “Art of the Muses,” the goddesses who embodied and inspired art, literature, and knowledge in mankind.
Music was not invented or discovered, but rather something innate in us all. It comes as no surprise then, that for centuries sound healing has been used as therapy to ease and cure many a malady.
We use music for entertainment, expression, celebration, ceremony, leisure, and communication. Whether we are musically inclined or not, it is most likely the one thing that truly connects all humans from all cultures, creeds, and corners of the earth.
We play music at our weddings to celebrate love, and at funerals to say goodbye. We listen when we are bored, and dance to it when we want to have fun. We sing praises and worship our deities with it.
Most importantly, we use music for healing.
Think about every time you have listened to sad songs when you were feeling down, or upbeat songs when you were feeling happy.
Music is therapy.
A History Of Sound Healing
Healing with sound dates back as far as ancient Greece... Apollo was the god of both music and medicine (a strange, but viable combination). Aesculapius was believed to cure mental disorders with song. The philosophers Plato and Aristotle both claimed that music affected the soul and the emotions. Hippocrates played music for his patients, too.
In Ancient Egypt, music therapy was a staple in temples.
In biblical times, instruments were used to vanquish evil spirits from human souls.
Native American culture used both song and dance to heal the sick.
Instances of sound healing therapy are limitless.
Fast forward a few centuries, to the 1940s, when the United States Military incorporated music into their programmes for the recuperation of army personnel during World War II. This is often described as the official dawn of music therapy.
Today it is used, or at the very least highly recommended, in all aspects of medicine and spiritual growth. While it is still considered an alternative to modern medicine, scores of evidence suggest that it is effective — and also necessary — to our emotional and psychological health.
Yet, it remains misunderstood.
Some people assume that those who partake in sound healing therapy are crackpots who seek magical solutions to medical problems. However music therapy, or sound healing, has a basis in both neurology and psychology.
What Is Sound Healing?
Sound healing is the process in which a practitioner uses all (or specific) aspects of music — including the emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, social, mental, and superficial — to improve the health of their patient.
Sound healing therapy improves many facets of the patient’s life, including emotional and social development, cognitive and motor functioning, and psychological and psychiatric health.
Healing with sound happens by having the patient experience or partake in music by means of either listening or singing along to it, improvising musical acts, moving to the time of music, meditating to music, chanting, shouting, or humming to music, playing musical instruments, and even subjecting the patient to specifically crafted and produced sounds that are said to induce positive brainwaves and alter our mood.
The Science Of Sound Healing
Almost everything we experience in the universe is simply our perception of waves.
When sound waves reach our ears, they are converted into electrical signals that travel up the auditory nerve into the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound. Once sound waves reach our brains, they trigger responses in our bodies. This process alters our emotions, releases hormones and chemicals that affect both our bodies and our moods, and triggers certain impulses (for example, singing and dancing).
Although research on how music changes our brains is lacking, there is evidence to suggest that musicians have different brains than those who are not musically inclined. Research has shown that the brains of musicians are more symmetrical, and that the parts of the brain that are responsible for motor and cognitive functioning, coordination, reasoning, as well as the processing of information, are significantly larger. The two hemispheres of the brain have better communication thanks to an enlarged corpus callosum, as well.
In neurological studies, it has been proven that listening to music makes us more productive and creative; it can relieve stress and, depending on the sort of music, can improve our moods.
This is because listening to music floods our brains with dopamine — the happy chemical. It also releases oxytocin, a natural painkiller and hormone that allows us to bond with and trust people — it is most commonly found in mothers during labour.
Music also helps language development and improves communication.
It has been shown to increase our IQs ever so slightly, so it’s safe to say that music makes us smarter. It improves our memory too, warding off brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Music is powerful. It can change our brains, and so it changes our bodies.
How Sound Can Heal You
The simplest way that sound can heal is in the sense that, as mentioned, it makes us happy and can alter our mood. Both when listening to upbeat or cheery music, or when listening to deep, melancholy songs, our emotions flare and we can better process our feelings. The only difference is that typically, we only care to listen to sad songs when we are feeling sad because (and here is the mystery) we know it makes us feel better.
A 2006 study done by the Journal of Advanced Nursing supplied evidence that those who listen to music feel less pain and are generally happier and less inclined to stress and anxiety than those who don’t. Music is therefore not only a tranquilizer of sorts that soothes our emotions, but it also a painkiller.
Since sounds come at different frequencies and we too emit our own waves, healing with sound happens by matching frequencies of different sounds to those that are necessary and conducive to healing and relaxation in the patient.
A study in the 1970s proposed that when one tone is played to one ear, and a different tone is played to the other, the two hemispheres of the brain connect and create a third (internal) tone called a binaural beat. This is said to synchronize the brain, providing clarity, calmness, and faster communication between the mind and the body. It is also evidence that our brains and bodies indeed respond to sound in such a way that we create our own intrinsic music to adapt to it.
This is largely the basis of sound healing, if not a little less refined. We can use certain tones or sounds aimed directly at certain parts of our bodies or brains, and we respond to it by adjusting our own frequencies to suit it.
Therefore, if you are in pain, let’s say you have a headache, a sound can be played to you that will interfere with your brain waves to cancel out the ones that say you are in pain.
Or, if it is your mood... perhaps you are grumpy, playing a relaxing song might lift your spirits and make you forget that you are aggravated.
Sounds and songs also create memories in us, and this can be used to help patients who are traumatized or depressed.
There are a number of methods to achieving sound healing therapy, and a number of instruments and tools that can be used to help the patient through it. However, at its foundation it is based on the premise of entrainment.
Entrainment is a method of synchronizing our brainwaves, which fluctuate, by producing a stable, solid frequency that our brains adjust to and then match.
Healing with sound can improve or cure many ailments including, but not limited to:
- Psychological/Psychiatric and behavioral disorders including autism, depression, learning disabilities, and developmental troubles
- Anxiety disorder
- Mood swings, or negative emotions, such as sadness, aggravation, anger, self-pity, and heartbreak.
It can also bring about:
- Clarity and balance
- Improved memory and concentration
- Improved sleep (both in quality and quantity)
- A stronger immune system
- Improved creativity
- Heightened awareness, both of the self and the environment
Types of Sound Healing Therapy
There are various and numerous types of music therapy out there. Some are more scientific, while others are more spiritual. However, they each share the same common ground in which sounds are the basis of healing and development.
This method of music therapy involves not only sound, but guided imagery. It is most commonly used to assist patients who struggle with physiological and psychological problems. Music is used alongside pictures, which the patient is made to focus on before discussing the issues they might have in that moment.
Also known as Dalcroze Eurythmics, this is a technique used to teach music to students as a form of therapy. It focuses on rhythm and expression as part of learning and development. It increases awareness, and therefore significantly improves motor and cognitive functions.
Of course, we can’t leave out good old meditation.
Let’s not forget that the voice is an instrument, and that if you are using your voice in your meditations, you are practicing DIY sound therapy healing.
Meditation has many health, neurological, and psychological benefits. Chanting as you meditate, or saying certain mantras or prayers, improves sleep, lowers blood pressure, improves our mood, breathing and circulation, calms the mind, and reduces stress. It also brings about an entire array of health benefits on top of that. The same applies for guided meditations, in which you meditate according to voiced instruction.
If you are looking for a perfect guided meditation, Vishen Lakhiani leads an outstanding one in this video below:
Neurologic Music Therapy
Neurologic Music Therapy is based on neuroscience, and proposes that the enjoyment and creation of music has a positive influence on the brain. It uses music as a tool that alters the brain to invoke changes in the patient. This benefits both the mood and cognitive and motor functions.
The Nordoff-Robbins technique is mostly aimed at children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, learning difficulties, mental and psychological disorders, or emotional traumas. This method functions under the assumption that every single one of us can find meaning (and therefore healing) in music, and teaches patients to create music as a form of therapy.
Root Frequency Entrainment
Root Frequency Entrainment is a practice that comes with the belief that our souls have certain frequencies at which they function at full capacity, but that the noise and chaos of the world interferes with these frequencies, making us sick and throwing our moods out of balance. To restore that balance, we must vibrate at our original frequencies — something that is easily achieved with sound healing.
Singing Bowl Therapy
Dating back as far as the 12th century, singing bowls have been used throughout Asia for meditation, ritual, and ceremonial purposes. The sound produced by these metallic bowls is quite similar to a gong or a bell. Used in sound healing therapy, singing bowls are believed to calm and repair the mind as well as reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve breathing and circulation, alleviate aches and pains, strengthen the immune system, and improve the mood of the patient.
Tuning Fork Therapy
Just as with musical instruments, tuning fork sound healing therapy puts our body-soul dynamic back in sync using calibrated tuning forks that are applied to specific points on the body. Picture this as being similar to acupuncture without the pins. These forks will apply specific vibrations to certain areas of the body, which is said to release tension and open blocked energy. This type of healing with sound brings emotional balance and pain relief.
VAT applies sound directly to the body. The patient will lie down on a special bed or mat, where speakers are strategically placed, so that sounds and vibrations, when played, will penetrate the patient to a deep cellular level. This is typically used on patients recovering from injuries, cancer, and even strokes.
Instruments Used In Sound Healing
Of course for sound healing, certain tools will be required. Some of these instruments are easily found or learned. For others, they might require professionals or special circumstances.
The following is a list of musical instruments known for their spiritual and healing properties. Keep in mind, however, whether you are a musician or not, all music has healing properties. If you know how to play an instrument that is not listed here, don’t disregard it as powerful. Playing music, or listening to music (whether specifically designed for healing or not) is therapeutic.
So, if you have an old guitar lying around the house, when next you are in need of a boost or a moment of relaxation, pick it up and play it. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels.
Back to Basics
As mentioned above, the most basic musical instrument you can use is your voice. You can use your voice to relax, heal, or focus, by humming, chanting, singing, and even praying (or affirming) what you need.
There are various tricks to learn when approaching healing with your voice, from the fascinating Tibetan throat singing, to speaking a simple mantra every morning. It is entirely up to you. Although many fascinating instruments exist, and have been designed to inspire healing in us, never forget that you, yourself, are an instrument and that you carry the power to heal with you everywhere that you go.
Didgeridoos originated in Australia as an indigenous and spiritual instrument 1,500 years ago. Its original purposes are believed to be ceremonial.
An interesting fact is that in some traditional aboriginal communities, women are prohibited from playing the didgeridoo. In western healing, the didgeridoo is used as a part of meditation and healing, most commonly to unblock energies, or for concentration.
In 2005, the British Medical Journal discovered that playing the didgeridoo reduced both snoring and sleep apnea, by strengthening the muscles of the upper airway. It also improves the symptoms of asthma.
Originating from West Africa, the djembe is a wooden drum dressed in rope and goat hide. Typically it used to alter consciousness by inducing trances. It is said that it calms the spirit and reduces stress, most likely in playing it. This is a common drum in drumming circles. They are also used for meditation.
Although the sound of the gong can be quite harsh if not played correctly, it is said that the gong alleviates physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. The earliest record of the gong’s existence dates back to 4.000 B.C.. Although they are often used for entertainment, for example in the commencement of sporting events, gongs are an important instrument in sound healing and have been used in meditation, yoga, and even in chakra balancing.
It’s almost as though this instrument were a cross between a harp, a drum, and a keyboard. With its absolutely enchanting sound, many claim that it is the best sound to listen to calm the mind, relax, and meditate. As it is very calming, it reduces stress and anxiety.
This a very ethereal instrument that might inspire feelings of wanderlust or nostalgia, and is best used to resolve emotional turmoil. It is also atmospheric and is therefore perfect for concentration. It has its origins in medieval Europe.
The youngest of the sound healing instruments is the Hang, created by two Swedish innovators only seventeen years ago. The hang serves the same function as the steel pan, only harmonic and far more resonant. Since this is quite similar to the singing bowl, it has the same healing purposes. It can be used for concentration, meditation, and relaxation; however, it also can be used to heal on a cellular level with its deep vibrations. It is a very melodic instrument and learning to play it can be therapeutic as well.
Another instrument that originates in Africa, the Kalimba goes thousands of years back. Made of wood and metal keys, it is often referred to as a thumb piano. Very similar in sound to a harp and the hang, it is reminiscent of music boxes and lullabies. It is very simple to learn how to play. As with most other sound healing instruments, it is used for relaxation and to calm the mind. In Zimbabwe, it is believed that the Kalimba heals mental illness.
Rumoured to be an invention of Pythagoras, the Monochord is an ancient musical instrument that has stood the test of time in both entertainment and spirituality. The vibrations that this string instrument produces are said to re-energize the body and the mind. This particular instrument is also perfect for meditation or yoga as it has an enchanting sound that sounds as though it comes from a magical realm.
Native American Flute
No guesses as to where this particular instrument comes from (har har). This a favorite in music therapy, because on top of emitting a very calm and emotive sound, it’s believed to significantly reduces stress, lower the heart rate and blood pressure, and alleviate anxiety and depression. Most who use this instrument in sound healing therapy also use it to center patience and promote internal harmony.
A creation of the Aztecs, rain sticks are the spiritual rendition of the shakers we made as children (and might be the inspiration behind them).
A rain stick is mostly a dried out cactus with small, hard objects such as stones or seeds sealed inside, producing the sound of falling rain. It is used to relieve stress, anxiety and depression, and to promote serenity and relaxation. Using it (as with drums) is quite therapeutic, and the sound of it will give your mood a boost in the right direction.
As mentioned above, singing bowls are so popular in healing with sound that they have an entire method dedicated just to them.
Singing bowl therapy is one of — if not the — most popular sound healing methods because of its effective and various aspects of healing. From lowered blood pressure, to relief from anxiety, to the opening of the pineal gland... Singing bowls are also one of the rare healing instruments that are used for various types of pain.
It is a method well worth considering if you are interested in sound therapy.
Tuning forks, are as the name suggests, tools designed to tune other instruments that were invented in 1711. The tuning fork, itself, is in fact a harmonic instrument. As mentioned above, tuning forks can be used in sound healing therapy in a fashion reminiscent of acupuncture. After all, your body is an instrument, too. Tuning forks are said to balance our energies and center us.
Wind chimes might be the most magical of all the sound therapy tools. Who of us is not amazed by the sound of them? Wind chimes might simply garden ornaments or decorations to most of us, but they go far back in time to India, China, and even Ancient Rome. Wind chimes are a favorite in Feng Shui, and are said to harmonize and maximize the flow of our life force. Since they require the natural element of air to sound them, and usually come to life on their own without human influence, they are also said to carry elemental power.
As with most, they center, balance, and promote relaxation. They also invoke feelings of joy and contentment.
March To Your Own Beat
Healing with sound is a vast subject that still requires much research to be fully understood. What is fact, though, is that those who try it are in support of it, and that no one can argue with the power of music.
Whether you are looking for an alternative method of healing to coincide with traditional medicine, or are simply looking for a new way to relax, recuperate, and rejuvenate your mind, sound healing has so many possibilities that you are guaranteed to find something that suits you (even if it is only recreational).
Sound therapy can be maximized when used in conjunction with meditation. If you are looking to delve into different waters, perhaps it will be worth it to invest in (and learn how to play) one or more of the instruments listed above.
Most importantly, all music can be used for sound healing therapy. You don’t have to pay large sums of money to harness the power of sounds and music. Next time you need a “pick me up,” a boost, or even a vent, put your favorite playlist on. You will notice the change in your mood instantly.
What are thoughts on sound healing? Do you have any stories about how healing with sound has worked for you? We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below!