How Can a ‘Sound Bath’ Relieve Stress?
‘Alternative’ forms of therapy are becoming more common; most hospitals employ board-certified music therapists today
Rebecca Samples of Henderson, Kentucky is holding a Sound Bath in a shaded, secluded spot at Wesselman Woods in Evansville.
She has several instruments and percussive elements arranged around her, and about 15 participants are sitting on yoga mats on the sun-dappled grass.
She works mainly by intuition without a set plan, but does have a general framework. She said she begins by getting attendees grounded into their bodies, and quieting their minds.
“Let the wave of relaxation move down your eyes. Relax any muscles there …” she tells them. She takes several minutes talking them through relaxing before adding musical elements, such as ukulele and a ceramic singing bowl.
“I get them more into those theta brain waves where they're nice and relaxed, but still aware of what's happening,” she said.
“And then what happens with sound healing is that you end up kind of feeling a little uncomfortable, and that is on purpose. So the purpose is to let those kinds of heavy emotions bubble up to the surface.”
She uses a splash cymbal and a mallet, to disturb the peace a little. “(Then) I bring in more of the musical intervals that are more peaceful to wash that bubbling-up-emotion away, so that we fill it in with more of the good love and light frequency.”
With each instrument, she moves about the group, gently playing them over her guests, whether a hand drum or delicate, tinkling Koshi chimes.
So what is a “Sound Bath?”
“Well, it washes you with good vibrations,” Samples said. “So you can come feeling a little frazzled and a little stressed out. And the frequencies of the instruments kind of wash you clean of any stress that you have. And you're left refreshed. And feeling good.”
Elicia Armes of Evansville said the experience was a little weird for her, at first. “And then after a few different instruments, it felt special. It was kind of cool.” Her favorite part was when Samples played instruments directly over her. “I really enjoyed the drum and feeling in your chest, and that connection was really cool.”
She said the experience definitely left her feeling relaxed and energized.
This was everyone’s first time experiencing a Sound Bath, but such forms of relaxation and even non-clinical therapy may be becoming more common.
Brian Schreck is a Music Therapist at the Norton Cancer Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.
For very ill patients with whom he’s famliar — he’ll sometimes plug in a guitar amplifier, turn it on, and let it hum at their feet which he calls something akin to a “sound bath.”
“It's turned up just a little bit so that they can feel it with their skin,” Schreck said. “And it vibrates the body a little bit, but I can watch them while this is happening. So I'm very careful while I'm doing this, but the hope is that they're not just hearing it, that they're feeling it as well.”
He hopes this effect is comforting to them, “almost like I guess, (an) embrace or hug, that there are people around them that are caring about them, and that we're creating things that hopefully are enjoyable.”
Melissa Heffner is Professor of Music Therapy at the University of Evansville. She said music therapy is still not quite mainstream, but acceptance is increasing.
Schreck says music therapists have doubled in number since 2006, and that many large hospitals will have at least one music therapist on staff. He’s one of 8 at his facility.
Samples says she hasn’t gotten a lot of negative feedback or skepticism for her sound baths. “So it's just not mainstream. It's something that people are just now opening up to in the Western world,” se said. “So we trust the lithotripsy that the doctors do and the ultrasounds. So now it's time to start trusting the audible frequencies that you hear with your ears.”
And of course these three professionals work differently. Heffner and Schreck are board certified therapists applying their skills in a clinical and academic setting. Samples uses her talents and intuition in a non-clinical setting. Heffner would hesitate to say that sounds and music have literal “healing” properties.
“But I do think that music can provide support that sometimes, maybe other things haven't been able to be successful at,” she said.
One important aspect of being a therapist is using the music that motivates or comforts their clients or patients. One sound that’s comforting to one, may be disturbing to another. Heffner said it’s important to the difference.
“So what might sound dissonant to this person might be actually calming to this person, and so needing to, to find what this person likes in music, and then using that information to then help them in therapy,” she said.
Such awareness is important to Samples, who seeks consent before playing an instrument over her attendees. To her, music and sound therapy can complement other treatments.
“I have a lot of experience with this because I had chronic Lyme disease for many years,” she said. “I'm no stranger to Western medicine and antibiotics and the need for them … but that being said, to take a more holistic approach to medicine, I think is really where the healing begins where you address not only the symptoms, but also the emotional component of healing.”