Having mental health problems is a situation that affects one in seven people around the world, according to official statistics. For centuries, it contributed to poor education and physical health, unemployment, and estranged relationships with family and friends. There is a long history of research that has been done in order to find solutions to the neurological issues that we, as a modern society, have been facing.
Although medication is a predominant way to approach mental issues, there are many therapeutic methods that can help, besides common sense self-care such as going for daily walks, eating healthy and meditating.
One of the alternative healing modalities that have proven helpful for neurological issues (as well as a variety of other mental and physical problems) is Sound Therapy. While it is not a substitute for proper medical care, Sound Therapy has gained popularity in alternative therapies for its non-invasive, gentle yet powerful balancing effects.
What is Sound Therapy?
As the name suggests, Sound Therapy (or Sound Healing) uses the vibrations of sound to help improve your emotional and physical health. This differs from the use of relaxation music and from music therapy. It is sometimes referred to as Vibrational Therapy or Vibrational Sound Therapy. When referred to as the former, it can be confused with a specific modality based on vibrations created by specific devices to address several physical conditions. So in this case, Vibrational Sound Therapy would be more accurate because we employ the vibrations of instruments that produce sounds.
One common idea is that Sound Therapy is very ancient. This is an understandable misconception because the use of sound to alter perception, states of mind, and facilitate healing is probably as old as humankind. However, the way we understand and frame Sound Therapy nowadays has been developed in the last 50-70 years.
Some of the different subtypes of sound therapy include:
1) Vocal Toning
We define vocal toning as the practice of producing sustained sounds with one’s voice. Vowels sounds are often preferred because they provide a wider vibration throughout the body.
The deep breathing associated with a toning practice facilitates the parasympathetic function of the nervous system, which regulates nourishing and restorative functions.
Other positive effects include the release of oxytocin (1) and endorphins (2) as well as the potential to facilitate limbic deactivation, relevant to the treatment of depression and epilepsy (3).
2) Singing bowls
While Metal Singing Bowls have been around for thousands of years, their use as therapeutic tools is not documented in ancient texts despite the assumption that their use in vibrational therapy is also ancient. They are often referred to as Tibetan Singing Bowls, however a more appropriate name would be Himalayan Singing Bowls as most bowls are produced in Nepal, India and China. I prefer to call them Metal Singing Bowls. They can be used directly on the body, they can be listened to and they can be used around the body.
Quartz crucibles made of silica, also known as Crystal Singing Bowls, are a more recent invention that has gained great popularity.
Singing bowls have proven to be an effective intervention for reducing feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression, and increasing spiritual well-being (4).
3) Tuning Forks
Tuning forks can be used in a variety of ways: directly on the body (including on acupuncture points as a replacement for needles); close to the ears for a listening experience; around the body to influence its electromagnetic field (also known as Biofield).
Tuning forks, have been observed to contribute to balance the cycles of Nitric Oxide (NO), an important neurotransmitter that regulates levels of free radicals (5)(6).
4) Binaural beats
Binaural beats are often included in lists of Sound Therapies, although they don’t employ the physical vibration of sound. In fact, this technique relies mostly on the use of headphones through which it is possible to listen to two tones of different frequencies, one in each ear. This is meant to elicit a synchronisation of the brain hemispheres and a response in the brain waves activity.
The general effects may include deep relaxation, improved quality of sleep, improved focus (7).
5) Sound Baths
A Sound Bath is a restorative meditative practice that consists of being exposed to the sounds of the instruments mentioned above (as well as other instrument, including musical instruments). The aim of this practice (generally a group event) is to focus one’s attention on the sounds that reach the body and the ears with presence and awareness. Effects may vary from deep relaxation to feeling energised.
Applications of Sound Therapy
The use of different sounds has helped not only emotional well-being but physical well-being as well. Because of the physical symptoms stress and depression create in the body, working on such effects can help ease the cause.
Here are some examples of common issues that can be addressed with Sound Therapy:
1) Headaches and Migraines
Depending on the kind of headache and its cause, the application of sound directly on the head, neck and back can prove very effective to alleviate or even eliminate pain in the head. The effect can be temporary or permanent depending on the individual circumstances.
2) Lack of focus
Music’s positive effects on the brain are well documented. Using Binaural Beats, especially if mixed with music, can include a higher level of concentration and focus and a reduction of stress and anxiety. Along with focus, it can improve the attention span, which is helpful for people diagnosed with ADHD. It is interesting to note that binaural beats can also be offered with tuning forks.
The most commonly experienced effect of Sound Therapy is deep relaxation. The majority of people who receive an individual session or take part in a sound bath share how deeply relaxed and restored they feel afterward. Such a deep state of relaxation helps trigger the so called “relaxation response” which can prove very beneficial for a wide range of issues.
4) Bodily pain
Depression, anxiety and stress can affect the body, which, in turn, aggravates emotional and mental states in a psychosomatic loop. Sound Therapy can relieve muscle tension and pain, joint pains, and even inflammation in patients with high levels of stress.
Sound therapy’s wide range of applications can bring positive effects to individuals who are dealing with mental and physical health. Some of these include stress and stress-related symptoms like pain, lack of concentration, fatigue, etc.
Although research on the topic is limited, all studies show it has some positive effects on people’s lives. Its growing popularity will surely trigger more studies on the topic, contributing to its establishment in mainstream awareness as an effective complimentary modality.
This article has been written in collaboration with therapist uk where you can find a local or online therapist to help you with the neurological problems you may be facing. We hope this article helped give you an understanding of what Sound Therapy is and how it may help you.
1 – Jason R. Keeler, Edward A. Roth, Brittany L. Neuser, John M. Spitsbergen, Daniel J. M. Waters and John-Mary Vianney – The neurochemistry and social flow of singing: bonding and oxytocin
2 – R.I.M. Dunbar, Kostas Kaskatis, Ian MacDonald, Vinnie Barra – Performance of Music Elevates Pain Threshold and Positive Affect: Implications for the Evolutionary Function of Music
3 – Bangalore G Kalyani, Ganesan Venkatasubramanian, Rashmi Arasappa, Naren P Rao, Sunil V Kalmady, Rishikesh V Behere, Hariprasad Rao, Mandapati K Vasudev, Bangalore N Gangadhar – Neurohemodynamic correlates of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study
4- Tamara L. Goldsby, PhD, Michael E. Goldsby, PhD, Mary McWalters, BA, and Paul J. Mills, PhD – Effects of Singing Bowl Sound Meditation on Mood, Tension, and Well-being: An Observational Study
5- Elliott Salamon1, and Minsun Kim, John Beaulieu, and George B. Stefano – Sound Therapy Induced Relaxation: Down Regulating Stress Processes and Pathologies
6 – John Beaulieu, N.D., Ph.D – BioSonics, Stress Science, and Nitric Oxide Literature Review
7 – Patrick A. McConnell, Brett Froeliger, Eric L. Garland, Jeffrey C. Ives and Gary A. Sforzo – Auditory driving of the autonomic nervous system: Listening to theta-requency binaural beats post-exercise increases parasympathetic activation and sympathetic withdrawal
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