Week 39: Sound Bath
To those who are unfamiliar with a sound bath, or in other words, to those who don’t live in LA — that’s only a half-joke — it doesn’t involve water. Instead, participants are bathed in sound.
Singing bowls, gongs, shakers, and other auditory stimulants sound and resound for an hour or so, either in combinations or solo. They are meant to stimulate emotions…
…Specifically, those emotions that remain confined to our subconscious. THOSE ones. Those deep, dark, never-seen-the-light-of-day ones that we liked to keep locked up, Chamber of Secrets style.
Anyways, you know about those experiments: the ones where someone plays different kinds of music to see how plants, or water molecules, respond.
While I can’t lay claim to having scientifically studied how a range of sound affects the brain waves of an individual, it’s not a stretch to say that peaceful people tend to (tend to) listen to more chill music, while more chaotic folk tend to (again, tend to) gravitate towards more chaotic music.
That’s obvious, right? Like attracts like.
But it’s less about labels — good, bad, angry, happy — than is it about plain old frequency. Each of us vibrates at a certain frequency, and it changes depending upon what kind of energetic state we’re in. We all have the experience of feeling an angry person’s vibe from across the room, just as we can feel the field shift when a deeply realized person walks by.
Sound. too, has frequency. And frequency is a universal language: it resonates at a deeper level than we can process in our brains. So, the frequency of sound bypasses our conscious mind and connects with a less accessible part of ourselves, just as the frequency of anything — say, chemo — has an influence on our body, whether we want it to or not.
According to Vedic philosophy, for example, chanting a mantra (which literally means ‘freeing the mind’ in Sanskrit) penetrates beyond the mundane inner chatter, no matter how dull our brains are. (Well, I can speak for my brain at least…)
Sound baths supposedly operate on this same principle.
As a practitioner of sound meditation for seven years, I have no doubt that sounds affects our consciousness on all layers. So, one would think I would embrace this practice with arms wide open.
Well, no. Not really.
I admit that I’m intrigued. But while meditation is an age-old practice, sound baths seem to me like a new-age, West Coast fad. Even the name ‘sound bath’ sounds more goat yoga than it does ascetic. (I’m a huge fan of goat anything, though.)
Even so, it’s just one of those things I have to try.
And try it I do. Four times, in fact.
The first: in September, my friend and I are in La Jolla…staying in a tipi. We (meaning I) decide to go full on California-pseudo-spiritual for the weekend, so naturally we go to a yoga class that also incorporates a sound bath. The next day, I drag us to a crystal class. #spiritual
The second: for six months, I wanted to visit the Integratron, which is essentially a UFO in the desert. I finally went in September and already wrote about my visit, but in terms of the sound bath itself, the one there is far and away my favorite. While all other sound baths I attend focus on exploratory noises (using experimental instruments, like shakers), this one employs only crystal quartz bowls.
This is because of the intention of the sound bath: the Integratron wants to promote a holistic experience centered on attunement of the body, as well as “peace, heightened awareness, and relaxation of the mind.”
For this reason, they play a specific sequence of quartz crystal singing bowls, each one keyed to the energy centers of the body, “where sound is nutrition for the nervous system.”
Make of that what you will, but a year of rigorous training at the Integratron is required before someone can lead a sound bath. Besides the structure being acoustically perfect, they take the alchemy of their sound baths very seriously, and here I feel an otherworldliness that I feel in no other sound experience.
The third: a friend of my mother’s hosts monthly sound baths in a room adjoined to the local library, so I attend one with good ole mom. There are two assistants, and all three of them are dressed in white. I once went to a Kundalini yoga class where the teacher was all in white, so my assumptive nature takes over and I speculate that they all practice Kundalini.
The fourth: with horses. Enough said!
Kidding, but this is what sold me. On a frigid October day in Minneapolis, I see an Instagram ad that advertises a sound bath to be held back home in three days. I’ll be back in two.
(Does anyone ever click on IG ads? It was the first one I’ve investigated, and I have to give them props for being so creepily spot on with that one.)
Saffyre Sanctuary is a sanctuary for rescued horses located just a few miles from where I ride most days of the week, and this will be their first sound bath.
I book a couple spots instantly and, a few nights later, arrive at the sanctuary, which is a little barn behind a house. All of us — the twenty or so attendees — spend an hour with the ten horses. The sound bath leader is also there. She’s not the same friend of my mom, but she and her four assistants are also dressed all in white.
(Are sound baths related to Kundalini yoga?)
These horses captivate me. Many of them come from abused backgrounds, and the shelter focuses on their emotional and physical recovery. You can read the story of one horse, Josh, here. His story is not an anomaly.
The sweetest moments of the entire evening begin when a man — Ben, one of the assistants — starts playing the Native American flute to a horse. The nostalgic, enchanting, haunting notes permeate the air.
A beautiful exchange plays out. The horse stays at attention, looking at the flute-player, until the last notes drift into the chilled breeze.
I find something special with survivors of hardship, whether they be man or animal. There is a sensitivity to them, a resilience, a sorrow that is all at once acknowledging and healing.
And horses, whether or not they have been through hardship, are creatures of another realm. They can be bullies and nuisances and everything earthly, yes, but the wisdom, insight, and gentle lessons they impart — not only to myself, but to countless humans, if we listen carefully — belong to a profound dimension of being.
Instead of this project detailing weekly experiences, I could have an equally lengthy blog of lessons I learn from horses each week I spend time with them. And, like many ‘horse people,’ I don’t think a person can understand me without understanding my relationship with these beings, and how they have formed the very fabric of who I am.
After an hour, we leave the horses in the barn and head over to arena, where the sound bath itself is held.
Although the actual sound experience is not really different from than the other ones I’ve attended, lying in the sand of the arena is special.
Now, I do already have an intimate relationship with the ground of an arena: I’ve fallen off well over ten times. But this has not been a wanted intimacy. There’s an old joke: “What’s the hardest part of riding?” “The ground,”
My relationship with an arena is an action-oriented one: it’s where things happen. Inside, I’m on a horse. Outside, I’m a spectator.
It’s a completely different experience to be held in its sands, bundled in blankets, soothed and lulled by sound to the point of letting awakened consciousness go.
I love it. This is what makes the experience so special. Even though it’s not the sound bath per se that moves me so, I appreciate the event giving me an opportunity to do something I’d never consider: lie down in an arena, gazing at the night sky.
When it’s over, we make our way through the barn. Most leave, but there are some cupcakes that need to be noshed on. So I help out, and a few other eager helpers try to join in.
So, are sound bath incredibly moving?
To me, the Integratron sound bath is special, and I’d cross the desert to go back again and again. The team there is dedicated to the science of sound, and their regard for it plays out in the bath sessions. Both the Integratron structure and the sound baths have some kind of healing quality integral to them. Maybe it’s the aliens.
Other than that, I would say no, even though I had a moving experience at the sanctuary. Despite the number of sound baths I’ve been to this past month, I’m not crazy about them.
It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that they don’t leave as strong of an impression on me as something like chanting meditation does. They have been very influential for others, though.
So the jury is out…and while I don’t think a sound bath is the only (or even the best) way to go for someone wanting to explore the waves of meditative sound, experiencing one for yourself makes the jury worth joining.