In many metaphysical disciplines and traditions, sound therapy is used as a healing modality. This is because certain tones, frequencies, and vibrations are associated with healing in a number of belief systems – people have been doing this for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular methods, and why they’ve become traditional.
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, because there’s no way I can cover everything in a single blog post – entire books have been written on the subject – but these are some of the most popular.
In many traditions, instruments like bowls, bells, rain sticks, rattles, and even didgeridoos are used as part of healing practice. Singing bowls are typically found in Eastern mysticism, including Buddhist practice, and are technically a type of bell. Practitioners create sounds by rubbing or striking the rim with a mallet, which is usually made of wood. In many cases, the sounds are made to signal the beginning or end of a meditative period.
A rain stick is a hollow tube, often made of wood, and sealed on the ends. Before it’s sealed shut, the tube is filled with beans or small pebbles, and pins are arranged on the inside surface. What this does is create a rain-like sound when the closed tube is held vertically – I have a rain stick, and it really does sound like falling rain! In central and south America, rain sticks are made from cacti, and in Asia and Africa, they’re’ usually created from dried bamboo. About.com Healing Expert, Phyl Desy, says, “Rain sticks are a sacred instrument used in prayer ceremonies to bring about rain and thunderstorms. The rain stick is also used as a musical instrument.”
In Australia, you’ve got the didgeridoo, another tube-shaped sound-maker, but unlike the rain stick, it’s open on the ends, and not filled with anything. With its origins in Aboriginal practice, the didgeridoo emits low-frequency vibrations that are believed to bring about healing in the sick. Many people believe that these low vibrations can actually bring about changes in living tissue. Interestingly, studies have indicated that playing the didgeridoo, and not just listening to it, can help treat sleep apnea. Also, it’s really fun to say the word didgeridoo.
Mantras and Chanting
In many metaphysical practices, mantras and chanting are used as part of meditation and ritual. Particularly among those who do chakra work, it’s believed that different types of mantras can be used to unblock the various chakras, or energy vortices in the body.
The theory is that each of the seven chakras has its own vibrational level. By using mantras that are in harmony with the chakras, you can open up your chakras and re-harmonize your body and spirit. Perhaps the best known chakra mantra is Om or Aum, which is associated both with the crown chakra and opening up the third eye, but there are others which can be used depending on which of your chakras you feel may be blocked.
How Does Sound Healing Work?
Sound therapy is being used by metaphysical practitioners to treat a variety of ailments, from stress and behavioral disorders to neurological and musculoskeletal pain. In addition, Eastern mystics have used sound for hundreds of years to reduce anxiety and aid in meditative work.
Sound healing is essentially the use of frequencies and vibrations to heal physical and emotional ailments. Many people believe that each living organism has its own unique resonant frequency, and that if we’re off-kilter physically or mentally, we can change these frequencies with sound healing.
Kathryn Drury Wagner of Spirituality and Health Magazine says, “sound work inhabits a curious space: It has been used for thousands of years—think of overtone chanting from Central Asia, for example—yet, it’s also on the frontiers of modern neuroscience.” Wagner also says that sound therapy, sometimes called brain-wave entrainment, “isn’t without its skeptics, but some research supports it. In 2008, the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published a review of 20 studies of brain-wave entrainment and patient outcomes. The conclusion was that brain-wave entrainment is an effective tool to use on cognitive functioning deficits, stress, pain, headaches, and premenstrual syndrome. The studies also suggest that sound work can help with behavioral problems.”