What’s a Sound Bath—and Does It Have Any Health Benefits? A Doctor Explains

·2 min read
What’s a Sound Bath—and Does It Have Any Health Benefits? A Doctor Explains

If you’ve ever left a concert with your body feeling tingly, that’s a clue to the kind of high you might experience from a sound bath. Available at spas, retreats, gyms, and clinics, these trendy meditative-listening sessions purport to improve mental health, enhance a sense of spirituality, and help heal the body. At prices ranging from $20 per group experience to $300 for a private session, can the sounds really soothe you? Are there any health benefits to sound baths? We asked the experts.

What is a sound bath? And what happens during one?

In a sound bath, you lie or sit in a relaxed position while a practitioner uses a wand to strike a gong, Tibetan bowls, and other ancient instruments. It’s about not just what you hear, say fans of the practice, but also how the sound resonates through you. “The electrical activity of our organs, brain, heart, and central nervous system generates electromagnetic fields in our bodies,” explains Helen Lavretsky, M.D., a professor-in-residence in UCLA’s department of psychiatry. She says this vibrational field reacts to other electromagnetic stimuli like music or other sound. “Our bodies can be in harmony or in dissonance with it, and that can impact our health; the reverberations that cause the bowl to ‘sing’ oscillate at frequencies that resonate with us,” she explains.

What are the health benefits of sound baths?

One small study found that an hour-long session with singing bowls lessened fatigue, anxiety, anger, and tension while increasing feelings of well-being. Another showed that certain sounds could help relieve tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ear). According to Dr. Lavretsky, who studies the effect of such integrative practices on depression in the elderly, the harmonious, calming sounds can relax your muscles and cause your breathing to slow and your heart rate and blood pressure to drop. “This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, releasing endorphins and suppressing the fight-or-flight response,” she says.

So should you try a sound bath?

If you find meditating difficult, a sound bath can be an effortless shortcut to calm. It’s not for those who are pregnant (the vibrations can initiate contractions) or have a neurological condition such as epilepsy. Since no licensing is required for sound therapists, Dr. Lavretsky recommends asking around for recommendations, starting with a single session, and listening to your body: “If you feel uncomfortable, it’s OK to get up and leave,” she says.

How the experience helped one tester

Margy Crary underwent private sound bath sessions after chemotherapy. “Chemo made me feel jittery and out of sync; I could only lie down tensed up in a ball,” the Chicago resident says. “But the sound felt like it ‘organized’ the buzzing, calming my nausea and loosening me up so I could sleep.”

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