Can sound heal?
Children sing for joy. They yell if they get angry and wail if they get hurt. Yet, by the time we have reached adulthood, we have learned not to cry or groan: we don’t use our voice; we don’t use sound. Big mistake, say the growing band of researchers who believe sound healing is a simple, cheap and easy way to release stress, improve our moods and even heal ourselves.
‘It’s a great shame,’ says Suzi Lever who runs workshops on using your natural voice. ‘Because making sound can really change your mood. If you feel low and you make happy sounds, it will lift you without a doubt. Your breathing will automatically change and so will your physiological state. You will find you have a lot more energy, a lot more confidence and that you have a lot less stress.’
In fact there is a whole raft of self-healing you can do with the help of the burgeoning field of sound therapy. Simon Heather, of the College of Sound Healing, describes it as, ‘The therapeutic application of sound frequencies to the body/mind of a person with the intention of bringing them to a state of harmony and health.’
It may sound far-fetched but everything in life has its own frequency. Just try tapping different size and shapes of glass and you can hear the tone changes according to its size, shape and the thickness of the glass. The opera singer smashing the glass is simply pitching her voice at the exact frequency of the glass – then, as the volume increases, the resonance becomes too much.
Fortunately, as Simon Heather reassures, ‘Our bodies are more flexible than a glass! The cells of our body enjoy the vibration of sound.’ Tempted to poo-poo it? Think about ultrasound. ‘Music does affect us physically,’ says renowned sound researcher and therapist Jonathan Goldman. ‘A quick example is that our heart beat, respiration and brain waves all entrain, or synchronize with different rhythms. Slow music tends to slow down our heart rate respiration and brain waves. Fast music has the opposite effect, tending to speed us up.’
Goldman believes that every organ, every bone, every cell of the body has its own frequency and explains that making the right sounds can actively promote health. ‘Disease is simply part of our body vibrating out of tune,’ he says. ‘Every organ, bone, tissue and other part of the body has a healthy resonant frequency.’ He claims that, by creating sounds which are harmonious with the ‘correct’ frequency of the healthy organ, we could all learn how to heal ourselves, bringing our bodies back into balance.
It works by a form of ‘entrainment’, the healthy sound coaxing the unhealthy element of your body back to its rightful rhythm. Think about a line of grandfather clocks. Put them together and, to begin with, their pendulums will all be swinging at different rates. But come back after a few hours and the pendulums will all be swinging at the same speed.
Goldman also believes we need intention. ‘Frequency plus Intention equals Healing,’ he says in his book (an excellent introduction), Healing Sounds – the Power of Harmonics. Sound healers believe that, by delivering the right sound frequency, combined with a clear intention to heal, then healing will occur.
Sound influences mind as well as body. Sound engineer Robert Monroe found that he could change a person’s state of mind simply by introducing multi-layered patterns of sound frequencies. Research at The Monroe Institute found that sound waves from two slightly different frequencies (fed to the brain via headphones) cause the brain to respond by producing a third sound (the so-called binaural beat). The brain locks on and follows the signal and can be entrained into altered brain states usually difficult for most people to reach while awake. High alpha or even theta states can be used for creativity, increased focus and concentration as well as profound relaxation and inducing deep sleep or even lucid dreaming. It seems also to help ADD and ADHD.
Solfeggio frequencies work along similar lines. A form of hemispheric synchronisation (bringing both sides of the brain into ‘whole brain’ activity), these frequencies supposedly date back to ancient times. They were commonly used in Gregorian chants and other sacred songs. Each Solfeggio tone is comprised of a frequency required to balance energy – there are six main Solfeggio frequencies – ranging from 396Hz (Liberating Guilt and Fear) to 852Hz (Returning to Spiritual Order). 528 Hz is known as the ‘Love’ signal, bringing transformation and facilitating DNA repair. This is maybe the easiest introduction to sound healing of all – all you have to do is sit back and listen.
But there are myriad ways of using the healing power of sound. You can use your own voice (either alone, with others or trilling along to a CD); you can listen to sound (either from voices or instruments); you can feel sound in your body by lying on a sound bed or by feeling the vibrations of voices or instruments near you.
Ongoing research into sound therapy and healing is uncovering amazing benefits. ‘It has helped diabetes, emphysema, and eye problems,’ says Simon Heather. ‘It can help to reduce high blood pressure, reduce pain and speeded up the body’s healing. Music influences the limbic system of the brain through pitch and rhythm affecting our emotions, feelings and sensations. Listening to certain music calms the nervous system and improves metabolism.’
It can have incredible psychological effects too. Suzi Lever warns that, if you do try some DIY sound therapy, you might find some surprising side effects. ‘Often it starts to release long-standing blocks and tensions,’ she says. ‘If you have always spoken or sung from your throat it is probably a protection mechanism. Start singing from your heart or your abdomen and you might find something else coming up – old grief, hurt, anger….’
Jonathan Goldman is convinced that sound is the healing of the future. ‘We have within ourselves that most amazing and god given instrument for healing and transformation. That instrument is our voice. It is natural, cost effective and does not require batteries or electricity. And perhaps most important, once you get into using your voice for frequency shifting – for healing and transformation – you’ll find it will give you a lifetime of joy.’
So start singing in the shower – who knows where it could end?
DIY Sound therapy
• Humming is a good way of calming yourself. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or nervous just sit quietly and hum very gently.
• Exaggerated yawning is ideal if you’re feeling tired. We hold a lot of tension in our jaws and mouths and stretching the mouth releases tension. Give a good stretch as well to really wake up the whole body.
• If you’re feeling irritable and tense try an elongated, noisy sigh. Chris James, the Australian workshop leader recommends deep groaning as well to release any negative emotions.
• Take every opportunity to sing. Sing with the radio, while you’re doing the housework, while you’re in the bath or, even better, while you’re driving in your car.
• Try singing the different vowel sounds – uuuh, ooo, oooh, aaah, eeeeh, iiii: where do you feel them in your body? How do they make you feel?
• Try singing positive statements, repeating them with different tunes. If you’re feeling tense try singing ‘I’m calm, I’m calm’.
• Listen to different kinds of music and work out what effect they have on your moods. Try listening to some of the sacred chants available on CD or YouTube for deep relaxation and a profound sense of peace.
• Try chanting. Even very simple chants can have a pronounced effect on the mind and body. The mind becomes clearer and more relaxed. Omm is the simplest chant but also one of the most calming and centring.
• Play with singing bowls. You can buy a variety of ‘singing’ bowls that act like a sort of bell. Tibetan, Himalayan, suzu, rin bowls or gongs are all ancient forms of making healing sounds – they’ve believed to date back over 3,000 years. The sides and rim vibrate to make a series of harmonics. Crystal bowls, made of quartz crystal, can also be used – and experiment with tuning forks and bells.
How sound affects mood
Harmonics: Certain kinds of music are rich in harmonics. Gregorian chant, Indian classical music and a cappella singing all change our brain patters, making us feel more relaxed and connected.
Musical intervals: An interval is created when we play or sing two different notes one after another or at the same time. Some intervals are uplifting (the major third – C/E and the major fifth – C/G for example) while minor intervals can make us feel sad. Some intervals are discordant and can induce darker emotions.
Rhythm: Researchers found that listening to Pacabel’s Cannon (with a rhythm of 64 beats a minute) changes the brain wave pattern from Beta to Alpha…64 beats per minute is the rate of our resting heart beat. If you want to increase your heart rate, listen to hard driving rock music. If you want to lower it, take the pace right down.
Drumming: Repetitive drumming can take you into a trance like state. The regular beat of the drum entrains the heartbeat to its rhythm so you can gradually slow the drum to reduce the heart beat and breathing rate.
College of Sound Healing: http://www.collegeofsoundhealing.co.uk
Suzi Lever: http://www.suzilever.co.uk
Jonathan Goldman: http://www.healingsounds.com
The Monroe Institute: http://www.monroeinstitute.org