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Mental Health

Top MD: “Sound Healing Has a Profound Impact on Mental and Physical Health”  — How to Get the Benefits

Surrounding yourself with sound has been shown to ease stress by 89%, boost mood and so much more

We listen to music while we drive, work, cook dinner, exercise and more. We may feel especially relaxed after listening to a classic piece. A familiar song from our youth may lift our spirits. These benefits are part of sound healing, a type of music therapy with impressive benefits to your health. One way to get sound healing benefits? A sound bath, a practice where musical instruments played at specific frequencies induce a meditative-like state, easing anxiety, improving mood and more. Discover how sound healing through sound baths can enhance your health — whether you head into a studio or try one at home!

What is a sound bath?

A sound bath is a “deeply immersive, full-body listening experience that uses sound and simple mindfulness techniques,” explains Sara Auster, a sound therapist, meditation teacher and author of SOUND BATH: Meditate, Heal and Connect Through Listening. “Participants typically lay on yoga mats. They focus on their breath while listening to sounds created from “overtone-emitting instruments,” says Auster. These instruments include tuning forks, gongs and Himalayan and crystal singing bowls, among others. They produce sounds similar to those we hear in nature, like crashing waves or wind rustling trees.

“The practice of modern-day sound baths is an offshoot of the way in which sound was used as a healing technique in our past,” explains Kulreet Chaudhary, MD, a neurologist, neuroscientist and leader in sound healing and Ayurveda. Indeed, physicians in Greece used flutes and similar instruments to promote healing. Ancient Egyptians used music as a therapeutic for the sick. Adds Dr. Chaudhary, “Sound was as much a part of the medical system of the past as pills are part of it today.”

Check out the video below to listen to a sound bath:

Sound healing versus music therapy

Music therapy has proven benefits from easing pain to reducing stress. But the two practices are different, says Tamara Goldsby, PhD, a University of California, San Diego clinical research psychologist and founder of Sound Healing Central. “Sound healing is a vibrational therapy using vibrational musical instruments, whereas music therapy may use any type of music.” She notes that the vibrations during a sound bath appear to be a key part of their efficacy. That’s why they may have stronger health benefits than simply listening to music. And that’s part of why it’s called a bath — participants are essentially bathed in sound and vibration from all sides while the mind and body fully relax. In music therapy, on the other hand, sound may help process emotions or participants may make music themselves as a form of healing.

What are the health benefits of sound healing?

The powers of sound baths caught the attention of researchers around the world — so much so that they’ve begun finding evidence that supports the long-held anecdotal claims about the benefits. And practitioners like Dr. Chaudhary see firsthand the impact sound baths can have. “If I hadn’t seen the profound impact it has on the mental and physical health of my patients, I wouldn’t be dedicating so much of my time and energy telling the world about their benefits,” she shares. Keep reading to discover how this relaxing experience heals you from the inside.

1. Sound baths reduce stress

One of the most common benefits people report from sound baths is an instant reduction in tension and anxiety. In fact, in one of Dr. Goldsby’s studies, subjects reported an average 89% reduction in tension. Plus, they had 68% lower anxiety scores immediately following a sound bath. What’s more, researchers in the European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education found the strategy was more effective than progressive muscle relaxation, another stress-reducing technique. This may occur due to shifts in brain waves. Sound healing encourages a transition from stimulating beta waves involved in logical thinking to a relaxed theta or delta wave state that’s known to ease stress. (Click through for other stress-reducing techniques, like walking barefoot.)

2. Sound baths improve mood

If you’re feeling blue, a sound bath may help lift your spirits. Dr. Goldsby and her colleagues found first time sound bathers experienced nearly a 50% reduction in depression scores. “Participants were extremely relaxed and a bit ‘blissed out’ after the sound healing,” she shares. Dr. Chaudhary explains that this may occur because sound baths are a form of brain entrainment. The rhythmic sounds synchronize brain waves, resulting in a calm mental state. “The overall effect on the nervous system is a reduction in stress hormones and the boosting of feel-good brain chemicals,” she adds. (Click through to learn why nervous system regulation is key for reducing stress.)

3. Sound baths lower blood pressure

“High blood pressure, like so many other chronic conditions, responds to stress,” says Dr. Chaudhary. She asserts many of us experience chronic stress and are stuck in a “fight or flight state.” This stresses the body even further, resulting in chronically high blood pressure. But sound baths induce relaxation and lower our stress levels, factors that may help to lower blood pressure. Indeed, study subjects who followed a directed relaxation session with singing bowls lowered their blood pressure more than those who did not use sound.

How sound healing protects overall health

These individual benefits are a boon for your health. But when combined, they can have a profound impact on your overall wellbeing. More energy and better sleep are some of the benefits you may immediately experience from improving mood, says Dr. Chaudhary. “We already know from medical research that stress and unprocessed trauma is linked to chronic disease,” she explains, noting that diabetes, heart disease and stroke are all impacted by mood.Sound baths are a very simple and easy way to break that cycle of stress and reprogram the brain.”

What to expect from a sound bath

You’ll typically find group sound baths at yoga studios and wellness centers, and some practitioners offer one-on-one sound baths. There’s not much you need to do to prepare for a sound bath. Dr. Chaudhary recommends arriving 10 minutes early. Take that time to relax, so that you’re not in a rushed state of mind going into the experience.

Dress in comfortable clothes. You can bring your own yoga mat or use one provided by the studio. Some practitioners and groups will offer blankets for additional comfort and eye masks to reduce external light and gently encourage the eyes to stay closed, notes Auster.

Your main job during the experience is to focus on your breathing and simply listen. “You allow your brain waves to slow, shifting from a more active state to a more relaxed state, or even a dreamlike state,” says Auster.

Afterward, Dr. Chaudhary suggests taking it easy and resting for at least an hour. “Many of my patients are surprised at the physical shifts that happen immediately following a sound bath, which can include a release of pent-up exhaustion,” she explains. “That is why I always say to schedule an hour of device-free rest time after each sound bath.”

How to get sound bath benefits at home

You can replicate the practice at home, as well. In fact, Dr. Chaudhary recommends incorporating daily home sound baths to your routine. In-person classes outside your home can be a supplement to the daily practice. She explains, “When you approach it this way, each ‘outside’ sound bath you attend can profoundly enhance your daily practice by acting as a catalyst.”

An at-home practice “can be a welcome opportunity to put yourself in ‘do not disturb’ mode,” says Auster. And since you have more control over your environment at home, she suggests adjusting the lighting, your speakers or headphones and location to make each sound bath a personalized experience.

Find a quiet and calm environment in your home and turn all your devices off. Lay out a mat or blanket to lay on. Take about 10 minutes to find a comfortable position and begin to relax. Then check out programs, like Auster’s PAUSE by Auster Sound (use code TUNEIN for one month free), or a video or livestream, like those offered by Dr. Chaudhary on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

Sound baths are generally considered safe for most people. However, Dr. Chaudhary advises speaking with your physician beforehand if you have a mental health condition that is not under stable condition, if you have a history of epilepsy or if you are generally sensitive to sound.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

For more on health-boosting sounds, check out these stories:

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