Before one recent Saturday, I’d never before participated in a sound bath, but having read about the ancient practice before, I’d been intrigued for quite some time. And, based on a colleague’s rave reviews, of her experiences, I decided I could certainly stand to try out the meditative ritual meant to facilitate a deep state of relaxation for stress relief and healing. Sound baths aim to put you on a different plane, away from the mile-a-minute stressors of everyday life. But as the patron saint of Those Who Suck at Meditation, I was worried about whether I’d be able to do it. And, perhaps more importantly, whether I’d be the same when I emerged.
So, I sought to find out by signing up for a group session with Sara Auster, sound therapist, meditation practitioner, and author of Sound Bath: Meditate, Heal and Connect Through Listening. She wanted us to put our phones on airplane mode, be comfortable, and listen. So far, so good—I felt ready for the main event.
But first, what exactly is a sound bath—and what happens, therapeutically, during it?
No two people will necessarily experience the same thing—just like with any other meditative practice. Generally speaking, though, using a combination of singing bowls, tuning forks, gongs and other overtone-emitting instruments, your alpha and theta brain waves are stimulated. And this is what can lead to those good-for-you benefits.
“These waves are associated with deep, meditative, and peaceful states that are highly conducive to healing,” Auster says. “As these sounds assist a downshift of the nervous system, they can also slow the heart and respiratory rate, creating therapeutic and restorative conditions for the mind and body.”
The potential benefits of a sound bath are also highly personalized, potentially including effects like lowered blood pressure and improved cognitive skills. Most people, Auster says, report a having a good night’s sleep post-bath, which leads to a more generalized sense of calm and groundedness. And some may feel disorientation after a sound bath, thanks to its effectiveness at putting people in a relaxed state. “People can feel a little spaced-out afterward,” Auster says. “Being in a deeply meditative state can sometimes make you so relaxed, you can’t find your shoes.”
What’s generally universal about the effect of a sound bath, though, is that it’s relaxing. Thanks to that mind-set shift from an active state, to a more relaxed state, to even a dreamy state, sound baths are adept at putting those who practice at ease.
Here’s how my sound-bath experience went
Each sound bath is different in its construction, and each person interprets each experience differently. I lay on my mat with my head directed at Auster as she created a symphony of glistening, gleaming tones. To me, the combinations sound nothing short of ethereal, like a sophisticated, layered take on making champagne glasses sing. And speaking of “sing,” Auster’s sonic meditation was accompanied by the vocal stylings of poet and musician Amyra Leon. The effect? Again, ethereal.
The experience also skewed emotional at some parts. The sound bath took me to weird seasons of my past (like sleepovers with a since-departed friend and waiting-room experiences). As I let the sound unground me, I reflected on loss and the past—and patiently waited to find my footing.
Though all ears were on Auster, natural sounds of coughing and even a gentle snore or two made their way into the soundscape. Auster welcomes this, as she says she’s holding space for whatever a person needs in that moment—and that might be sleep. And sleeping doesn’t preclude you from reaping benefits of a sound bath—even if you’re not awake, sound can travel up the auditory pathway to the center of the brain. That said, if you’re snoozing, you’ll receive more of a sound sponge bath than the full experience. “The brain regions involved in emotions, motivation and memory are inactive,” Auster says of sleeping during a sound bath. “That means you will miss out on one of the greatest potential benefits of a sound-bath experience: the ability to shift perspective.”
I very much stayed awake throughout my experience and came out of the bath feeling many things. The practice concluded with instruction to put my left hand over my heart, right hand over my left, and to lock eyes with someone in this pose, leaving me feeling totally seen, warm, peaceful, drowsy, glowy, full-hearted, and a little sad. Sound baths are the opposite of stressful, but those harmonies can take you to weird places if you’re naturally wistful and not the absolute best at clearing your mind.
To this point, Auster recommends being extra gentle with yourself post-meditation: “drink water, sleep, write, create something, reflect on your experience, or share it.” And I’d say her advice is certainly worth taking, given how well I slept that night.
Can’t get to a sound bath on the immediate? Try any of these three soothing practices that work as great alternatives. Or if you love that savasana life, and are looking to improve your sleep game, try a yoga nidra session.
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