Can sound baths wash away your stress?

A song can make you feel happy or sad, and affect the intensity of a gym session — but can sound alone have a healing effect? I put the ancient practice to the test.

what is a sound bath

Around 72% of Brits feel stressed at least some of the time during a typical week, according to the 2018 AXA Stress Index. As research continues to reveal the links between long-term stress and physical health, it’s little wonder that mindfulness has become part of our everyday vernacular — and within this movement, a new trend in meditation has been on the rise: sound bathing.

It’s a form of therapy going back thousands of years, the claim being that sound frequencies can balance the body’s energy. In other words, by allowing yourself to fall into a state of relaxation, your body triggers a repair mode, similar to sleep, that allows the endocrine system to restore hormone and chemical balance — which stress can throw out of whack.

Sound Bath London review: Group session

As I walk into Re:Mind Studio in London’s Victoria ahead of my group gong therapy, I’m feeling sceptical — and, I must admit, a little judgemental. I survey the people waiting and find they’re all in their late twenties and early thirties. None of them are dressed as if they’ve arrived from a high-stress corporate job, as I had been expecting — although maybe those people are still working at 6.30pm on a Thursday.

We head into the studio and settle down on little bedding areas arranged across the floor. The leader of the gong bath, Stephanie Reynolds, then gently says a few words. She explains that every sound bath is different and instructs us all to clear our minds and surrender ourselves to the vibrations.

I had wondered how banging on a gong could relax anyone, but I soon realise the soft touches create a deep sound that reverberates throughout the room. I try to focus on the sound as much as possible, and notice a physical response I can’t quite pin down — somewhere between goose bumps and the feeling of a massage. Thoughts pop into my mind less and less as time goes on. I’m not sure if I manage to truly empty my mind or I simply fall asleep; either way, when the session ends, I feel relaxed and ready for bed.

sound bath therapy

Sound bath London review: One-to-one

Michelle Cade is a sound and massage therapist who uses an array of instruments in her sessions including Tibetan bowls, crystal bowls, rain sticks, drums, gongs, shakers and tuning forks.

Apart from three deep breaths to signal the start of the session, she doesn’t lead me with spoken instructions — something I found jarring in the previous session — and the hour that follows is monumentally more affecting.

Michelle places one bowl between my feet and another on my stomach, letting the tuning forks vibrate directly onto my skin. As she travels around my body, the sounds sweep over me like waves into a cove, and any interrupting thoughts I have are challenged by all-encompassing sounds that swirl from ear to ear, cradling my brain in an unknown frequency.

Different sounds evoke different physical and emotional reactions, and once the time is up, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief and release. While the group session felt like meditation, my time with Michelle felt more like psychological therapy — this, I would do again.

See more health and fitness features here.

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