To introduce the topic of sound healing, I would first like to add this disclaimer: I am not a professional sound healer, but I am a professional musician. My undergraduate and graduate degrees were in music, so my stance and take on sound healing is going to be a bit unconventional and mostly theoretical, but I will try my best to tie that into why theoretics are relevant to a physical and spiritual experience.
So, to start. What is sound healing exactly?
Sound healing falls under the canopy of music therapy, which itself includes a broad spectrum of music-based techniques of therapy that covers healing the psychology and physiological and emotional aspects of the whole human being. To experience sound healing for yourself, be sure to stop in the store or check out our website and Instagram for available private and public sessions. We have them weekly!
This answer depends somewhat on the median of sound. Throughout history, a myriad of mediums have been used for sound healing, including symbols (think Yoga), mbira, gongs, pan flutes, tuning forks, and simple songs (human voices). I’ve seen how traditional western instruments like the piano and guitar have been used to reignite memories for loved ones in nursing homes. In our store and sessions, we focus on Tibetan Singing Bowls as a favorite medium. We love the singing bowls because of how intimately the pitched bowls relate to each chakra, how resonant the tones can become, and how versatile they are in terms of harmonics (harmony is when two or more notes are played at once). I will use them as our example going forward.
Okay, so we understand the functionality and basic definition of what sound healing is. How does it work, exactly? How does sound, an aural phenomenon, translate into a physical phenomenon? For this, I’m going to focus a bit on harmony, as I mentioned.
First of all, imagine a soundwave. It has a shape. It has peaks and crests, and it can be mostly flat, or it can fluctuate widely. Sound waves can move fast or slow, depending on pitch. Lower pitches travel slower and have fewer frequencies. Higher pitches travel faster.
Simple enough, right? But what if I told you that each sound wave—and these are not technical terms—has “shadows” of other waves that correspond with it? That means that every time you play a pitch, other pitches are automatically embedded within that one, depending on the unique shape, speed, and frequency of whatever pitch you’re currently playing. The more pure a tone, the more you can hear the “shadows” of the other pitches overlap. Well, those pitches have a name, and they come in a recurring pattern (because of physics). That overlay is called the overtone series (and yes, that one is the technical term).
The overtone series is the frequencies of pitch whose wavelengths match up. It’s difficult to explain without hearing an example, but next time you hear a pitch or tone, try to hum some tones around it. Some of them coincide nicely; some higher or lower pitches sound like they clash. The ones that clash don’t belong to the series of overtones of whatever pitch you’re hearing. Of course, if you were to add harmonies, more instruments, and make a whole song, the extra frequencies abound, and everything gets more complicated.
So then, let’s go back to the singing bowls and why they’re so perfect for healing. It’s because they each produce such a pure, ringing sound that the overtones can really sing. That’s why they sing. That’s why they heal.
After a brief foray into astrophysics during my undergrad, I learned this: that sound waves are physical. I learned other things and formulas, too, most of which I’ve forgotten, but I did hang on to that important detail.
Let’s go back to the sound bowls and their overtones and why they heal. Sound waves are physical. The overtone series is real. When a singing bowl is played, you are not only getting the sound wave of that particular pitch (which matches a particular Chakra); you are getting the vibrations from all the other pitches belonging to the overtone series. You’re literally getting “hit” sound waves—with music—in its purest form. When multiple bowls are played with multiple intervals, the overtone series is vibrating entirely through you. You’re getting hit with euphoria.
The practice of sound healing extends across cultures and time. Until the 20th century, western music prescribed the philosophy that different keys (technical term, sorry) correspond to different emotions. Compare that to how the Tibetan singing bowls’ pitches (keys) correspond to each chakra. They go hand in hand. Beyond even culture and time, there are psychological aspects and inherited traits and conditions as well. “Perfect pitch” is a rare inherited trait that allows a person to tell with total certainty what key is being played. “Synesthesia” is a perceptual phenomenon where listeners see colors because of how a person’s cognitive pathways are arranged. Even Beethoven, the famous deaf composer, was able to “hear” his music by relying on a tuning fork’s vibrations, which he leaned against as he pressed it against his piano and played.
Music is physical. We have the evidence, and sound healing—if you haven’t tried it—is magical.