Gongs, wind chimes, Tibetan singing bowls: These new age-y instruments aren’t just for Buddhist monasteries. Thanks to Sound Baths, they’re making their way into yoga studios, gyms, and living rooms. “[Sound Bath yoga is] a restorative concept in which poses are accompanied by holistic sounds,” explains Guy Douglas, a sound healing practitioner/gongmaster who hosts Sound Baths across the country, with or without the yoga poses. (Sometimes you just lie down on a yoga mat under a blanket and listen.) According to Douglas, meditative tones are absorbed into the body’s energy fields, “allowing for deeper relaxation during each pose.” The result? “A total release of physical and mental tension,” he says.
In an era where our minds are constantly plugged in, the promise of a mute button is welcome. But, ironically, it’s a relic of the Bronze Age that might help get you there. “The gong is a very powerful healing tool,” Douglas explains. “In some cultures, its vibrations are believed to be the sounds of creation itself.” He also uses crystal sonic therapy—in which semi-precious stone bowls are manipulated to create rich tones that may help reduce stress and induce states of wellbeing. Some people even claim that Tibetan singing bowls—a type of standing bell that creates varying tones can stimulate the immune system and produce beneficial changes in brain waves, says Douglas.
Sound therapy isn’t as far-fetched as it seems and when combined with stretching, may help maximize physical and mental benefits. “Noise pollution can increase stress levels and be bad for overall health,” says cardiologist Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “So, it seems logical that pleasant sounds might have some therapeutic effect,” he adds.
Douglas uses a sound frequency of 432 hz for his gong, crystal bowls, and Tibetan bowls. “Almost all the music on commercial radio today is tuned to 440 hz—432 hz gives a greater clarity,” he explains. “There are many researchers and musicians that claim they feel happier, more balanced, and more relaxed when playing music at this pitch.”
I recently visited Black Dog Yoga in Sherman Oaks, California to try a Sound Bath myself. The first hour of the class—referred to by the instructors as “sacred sound”—focused on stretches with light bell tones in the background. The poses felt amazing and I enjoyed the peaceful chimes, which reminded me of naptime as a child. An added bonus? Movements were encouraged to be made with minimum effort—in accordance with a “do nothing” mantra—so it’s ideal if, like me, you’re not looking to work up a sweat on Friday evening. But after that first blissful hour, louder gongs intensified the noise for 30 minutes and made me feel like I was trying to meditate in the middle of rush hour on the freeway. (I have a friend, however, who loves that feeling of noise vibrating into her inner core, much like the “om” in yoga, but times a billion.) While we only held seven different poses during the entire 90-minute class, which allowed my muscles to stretch deeply, next time I might cut my Sound Bath short and skip that last half hour to really relax.