Taking my place in a softly lit studio, snuggled on cushions and covered by a warm blanket, I realise how ridiculously tired I am as I prepare to take my first sound bath. Sometimes referred to as a gong bath, there’s no water involved here. Rather, we are ‘bathed’ in sound, immersed in a range of vibrations which balance the body and soothe the mind. The experience is unique to every individual, but sessions follow similar patterns: a leader uses instruments ranging from gongs to chimes and even the voice to create rhythmic sounds while we lie back, focussing only on the rhythms that surround us.
My tutor and session leader, Dom De Rosa, was a professional guitarist and music teacher before turning his talent for percussion to the gong and Tibetan singing bowls. Now, alongside his wife and business partner Jo, he puts his skills to good use at the beautiful Inner Guidance Retreat Centre in Suffolk, taking us on a personal journey through therapeutic sound healing.
The whole experience feels like a dream. As the gentle reverberations build, my entire body is humming with vibration. For me, the sensation is like being on a train. At one time it speeds ahead, rattling on the tracks as I feel a pounding sensation in my stomach. In the next moment I am chugging along in a satisfying rhythm – all the while I understand that I’m journeying towards something very important.
With the echo of the gong, powerful vibrations are released and absorbed by the body. Just as every organ and cell in each of us vibrates at a particular frequency, the sounds created during our session have their own rhythm – one which helps the brain reach a level of deep relaxation. The aim is to enter what psychologists call the ‘delta’ and ‘theta’ brainwave states (the slowest frequencies and the state in which your subconscious mind resides), that are most commonly associated with daydreaming. These are known to aid relaxation and boost creativity.
What is sound healing and how does it work?
The healing quality of sound has been recognised for a long time – many of us use music every day to find a sense of calm – and sound therapy has ancient origins. As early as 16,000BC gongs were being used as healing instruments; they were believed to have links to the spiritual world and became symbols of status and success. Indigenous Australians have used the didgeridoo as a sound healing instrument for over 40,000 years.
Lyz Cooper, founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, explains that during a session of sound therapy many people enter an altered state of consciousness, experiencing “floaty feelings, reduced anxiety and muscle tension” and even losing a sense of time as their brainwaves settle at a lower frequency. She adds, “These ‘screen-saver modes’ enable the system to rebalance and result in chemical balance and mental refreshment if we allow them to continue for long enough.”
As the echo of the gong dampens and I awake from my meditation, I feel completely refreshed – any trace of tiredness is gone. Simply lying down and letting the sounds and vibrations of the gong wash over me has been quite transformative and I feel a deep sense of positivity and optimism. Dom explains that these are just a few of the benefits of a sound bath. Another client, Karen Vatter, tells me of her first experience with sound therapy. “Every cell in my body felt like it was receiving a good shake up. I walked away from the gong bath feeling like I was literally floating on air; definitely taller and happier. The most spectacular feeling was the clarity of my mind I gained once it was over.”
Many people feel brighter, lighter and less stressed after these sessions. In a 2016 study by the University of California exploring the effects of sound healing, feelings of tension, anger, fatigue and depressed mood were found to be significantly reduced in just one session. It seems that sounds can numb pain too as those suffering with physical pain reported that it was reduced after experiencing sound meditation, and others recorded soothing effects on headaches.
This is how gong master Leo Cosendai found the practice of sound healing. Leo was first introduced to the concept of gong baths by his wife, Sara. She thought that sound therapy might help to ease the anxiety with which he has suffered since childhood. “I tried it out and it worked so well I had no choice but to buy a gong for myself,” he says. “A year later I started holding sessions and now I go all over the world to share the calming therapy which was so much help to me.”
Growing up in Switzerland and Asia, Leo was exposed to cultures which he is sure shaped his path from an early age. He has always been intrigued by therapy and his passion for music is still as strong as ever, but he says, “This is music for entrainment rather than entertainment – sound meditation has the defined advantage of being able to befriend the noisy and overactive mind. It does far more than simply cancel out compulsive thinking.” For Leo, sound therapy has been life-changing. That is why he is so keen to spread the practice of sound bathing. He sees the effects of it on his clients every day. “When you are calm and rested, you suddenly find yourself having more energy, patience and understanding.” This, he says, makes us more present and aware both at work and at home, making life more colourful and fulfilling with just the help of simple meditations.
Sound bathing is a practice we can also do at home. Leo has recently recorded and released a new audiobook, Seven Days of Sound Meditation (HQ HarperCollins, £9.99, from audible, ibooks and kobo), which takes listeners through a series of meditation sessions. Whether you have just 10 minutes for a quick meditation within a busy schedule or 50 minutes to really relax, there is an option to suit your mood. Leo has created meditations for the morning commute, to boost creativity, to help us let go and to become more focussed. No matter which you choose, he says, “a sound bath will leave you feeling incredibly calm and rested, as though you’ve just slept for nine hours straight.”
Featured image by Unsplash/Free To Use Sounds.