About Sound Therapy
Sound therapy or also called Sound Healing may seem like a fairly recent exploration, (if you are even aware of it) but it is actually thousands of years old and has roots in nearly every sacred musical tradition around the world. Now science is beginning to piece together how sound therapy can affect us on such a profound physical, mental and spiritual level.
Sound waves are measured by their frequency of waves, in Hertz, just like brainwaves. Brainwaves will also synchronize with external frequency waves via a process called Entrainment. Soundwaves can alter brainwaves to aid in achieving states of deep relaxation.
Sound Therapy is similar to music therapy but has a few key differences. Sound therapy focuses more on the elements of sound and their physiological and neurological effects. This is the deeper connection of sound, frequency and rhythm to our physiology. Specifically used, sound has the ability to affect us on a deeper level, by enabling us to transcend our normal, day to day, states of consciousness and find states of relaxation or even transcendence from day to day stresses. Sound therapy also focuses less on the traditional styles of music and more on sounds (specific frequencies or rhythms). Most of the time it is intentionally kept simple in order for the listener to focus less on the composition and facilitate a mental space for letting go of stress.
How does sound therapy work?
The whole universe is composed of moving and vibrating energy and we are too. Our bodies are rhythm-based systems. We have a heartbeat, in and out breath, pulsation, digestive rhythms, circadian rhythms etc. Our brainwaves are even measured by frequency which is also a measurement of rhythm. Specific sounds, frequencies and oscillations have the ability to entrain, or synchronize our brainwaves and physical systems. This enables our body the chance to re- harmonize, balance and find deeper states of relaxation.
Thinking of our brainwave states or states of being as "gears" is one way to look at relaxation. There are four main states of consciousness that are represented by specific frequency ranges in the brain. The brainwave states and associated hertz are:
- Beta - (13-38 hertz) This is our active waking, problem solving state of being.
- Alpha - (8-13 hertz) This is a relaxed and calm state or light meditation.
- Theta - (4-7 hertz) This is associated with deep relaxation, meditation, hypnosis, visualization etc.
- Delta - (below 4 hertz) This is associated with deep dreamless sleep. Buddhist Monks and advanced meditation practitioners have also been measured in this state during meditation.
Most of the time we are in Beta State. This is our waking, alert, problem solving state of being. When we go to sleep we briefly pass thru Alpha and Theta on our way to deep sleep in the Delta waves.
Brainwaves as gears
I like the analogy of looking at these brainwave states like gears on a car or a bike. If you had a car with four gears, but you only drove in first and fourth, then obviously that wouldn't be very efficient. Also, this would put stress on the car. I think the same is true with our minds. We have been conditioned to think we should be in full Beta mode soon after waking up and then at the end of the day we should just switch it off and go right to sleep. Unfortunately, that doesn't really work very well. This type of conditioning results in imbalances that can lead to insomnia, anxiety and stress. Being able to understand and access the other gears in our minds is important to being able to function well. Accessing Alpha and Theta states also invokes the Relaxation Response, the opposite of Fight or Flight Response. The Mind, Heart and Breath are connected via the parasympathetic nervous system. When the mind relaxes, so can the heart and the breath. This helps greatly in alleviating and avoiding stress. This pattern of being is also reflected in nature, whose patterns we are designed to be in harmony with. The Sun rises gradually to start the day. We wake up and our brainwave patterns begin to shift from Delta and Theta, moving toward Beta. In the evening the Sun sets and we begin to relax wind down, this should also be reflected in our patterns. In modern life, it’s easier to go against this with artificial light, TV and other brain active activities that can keep us up. These light signals also send info. to the pineal gland which regulates our circadian rhythms (our cycles of sleeping and waking).
So how can you learn to access these other gears?
Sound Therapy and Brainwave Entrainment is one very effective way. Other great tools include yoga, meditation, prayer, exercise and healthy foods and probiotics. I believe all of these can function together in helping the body, mind and spirit to operate in a stress free and more effective way.
What is entrainment?
Entrainment is when two systems come into synchronization with each other. This was first noticed by Christian Huygens, the inventor of the pendulum clock. He noticed that the pendulum clock in his shop would always "sync up" to each other. This phenomenon was later studied and the idea of Entrainment came into being.
This type of entrainment also happens with our brainwaves. Because the brain, the heart and the breath are all connected via the parasympathetic nervous system, this helps to relax our entire body and essentially allow us the space to find a new level of harmony within the body.
With sound therapy, our brainwaves are entraining to an existing oscillation that is contained in the sound or musical background. Our brains do this naturally. This occurs because of a phenomenon called the Frequency Following Response or FFR. The repetitive nature of these oscillations encourages our brainwaves to entrain with the oscillation. In this way we are able to access some of the "gears" in our mind states. Accessing these different gears not only give the mind a rest, but because the mind the heart and breathing are all connecting via the Parasympathetic Nervous System, they also give our body a rest. Binaural beats are sound oscillations that give our brains a window into accessing these mental states. Other instruments, like Tibetan Singing Bowls or Crystal Bowls also produce these types of oscillations.
A few types of Entrainment:
- Binaural Beats (from Wikipedia) are auditory processing artifacts, or apparent sounds, caused by specific physical stimuli. This effect was discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone: for example, if 300 Hz was played in one ear and 310 in the other, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 10 Hz. The brain produces a phenomenon resulting in low-frequency pulsations in the amplitude and sound localization of a perceived sound when two tones at slightly different frequencies are presented separately, one to each of a subject's ears, using stereo headphones. Binaural beats reportedly influence the brain in more subtle ways through the entrainment of brainwaves and provide other health benefits such as control over pain.
- Monaural Beats (from Wikipedia) Monaural beats are similar to binaural beats in that two frequencies are combined to create a perceivable beat; however they vary in two distinct ways. First, binaural beats are created by introducing two different tones, 400 Hz and 410 Hz, via separate speakers (e.g., headphones). Second, binaural beats seem to be “created” or perceived by cortical areas combining the two different frequencies, whereas monaural beats are due to direct stimulation of the basilar membrane.
- Isochronic tones (Wikipedia) - are regular beats of a single tone (or sound) used for brainwave entrainment. Similar to monaural beats, the interference pattern that produces the beat is outside the brain so headphones are not required for entrainment to be effective. They differ from monaural beats, which are constant sine wave pulses rather than entirely separate pulses of a single tone. As the contrast between noise and silence is more pronounced than the constant pulses of monaural beats, the stimulus is stronger and has a greater effect on brain entrainment. Isochronic tones work by emitting sound at regular intervals.
YOUR BODY IS A RHYTHM MACHINE!... GET WITH THE GROOVE
The body is a rhythm machine. You have a heartbeat, pulsation in your vessels, your brainwaves create frequency (another type of rhythm) and your breath expands and contracts and our digestive system even has it's own rhythm. We have circadian rhythms that regulate waking and sleep states from night to day. On the micro level even our cells have their own rhythms and vibrations. It is important that these things function in concert with each other with ease. Stress is imbalance and disharmony. In order to maintain harmony and ease, we have to maintain synchronicity and harmony in the system. The best part about this is that our bodies are naturally inclined toward this state.
WE ARE HARDWIRED TO FUNCTION IN HARMONY WITH THE ENVIRONMENT--MOTHER NATURE
We just have to relax, do the right things (eat well, exercise, sleep...and practice relaxing!!) and get out of the body's way. This can seem very complicated depending on your situation, but each step you take towards back towards harmony will pay big dividends and your body will thank you.
Entrainment and sharing and matching energies are also common concepts that are present throughout nature. I believe these are also the fundamental ideas behind not only sound therapy, but also other energetic healing practices. Resonance, entrainment and sharing of energies (cooperation) occur in all harmonious systems. Disharmony and lack of cooperation occur in systems that are moving towards a state of degeneration and self-destruction.
These are just some of the basics of sound therapy. Some of the sounds and techniques may seem unusual or even mystical, they are grounded in very measurable scientific concepts that are universal.
Sound Therapy for Sleep
In contrast to the active nature of the use of sound and frequency with yoga and meditation. Sound therapy can also encourage sleep. This is a mainly passive process and very similar to the ways in which sound therapy can benefit with meditation.
One, relaxing sounds may stimulate the release of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that signals circadian rhythms and sets the time of sleep and wake cycles.
Two, because of the random and sometimes repetitive nature of sound therapy. These sounds may encourage more right brain activation. As noted above, the left brain is our “pattern recognition software”. The left brain handles our “to do lists” etc. and is the more task oriented process of the brain. Also, music itself is essentially a sequence of patterns imposed upon frequencies. The mind recognizes these musical patterns (rhythm, melody and focus) and finds them pleasing or displeasing. Focus on this type of activity based thought can discourage the sleep and relaxation process. Sound therapy, however, may help to snap the mind out of these habitual patterns of thought. Due the random nature of sound therapy, there are typically less, or no, patterns of rhythm, harmony or melody in the traditional sense. This adds to the calming affect, and encourages the mind towards a release of “thoughts” and towards a mode of sleep.
Three, sound therapy can begin the process of entraining the brainwaves towards a more relaxed Alpha or Theta state.
Our brainwave states are measured in "Hertz", just like sound waves. Hertz, are a measurement of frequency, or cycles. We have four basic brainwave states. They are: Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. Each of these states also have a frequency band, similar to the EQ on a home stereo. Beta is our most common waking state usually when we are in "problem solving mode". Alpha and Theta are more meditative or light sleeping states. Delta is a deep sleep state, or a very deep meditation.
In the cycle of the typical day we cycle thru all of these brainwave states. At night we are in deep dreamless sleep and Delta mode. Theta mode is typically associated with dreaming, or a deep meditative state. Alpha mode is a twilight mode, experienced as we are going to sleep or on first waking up. Beta is our fully awake state.
Typically, in times of anxiety or insomnia, a person can find it hard to quiet the mind and release from Beta Mode, and into the more relaxed modes. One of the ideas behind Sound Therapy is that as we listen to the repetitive, and hypnotic oscillations of the sounds, our brainwaves tend to move towards the frequency range of those entraining oscillations. This can help the mind begin to move out of Beta, and towards Alpha and Theta and a more relaxed mental space. This primes the mind and body for relaxation, and sleep.
How does this work? During a typical yoga sequence the teacher guides the student through stressful and strenuous poses. As the student is “in” the pose, the teacher is also giving some breath guidance to breath in and out at a slower pace. During the pose, the heart rate increases as the muscles work harder to hold the position. During most types of exercise the heart rate and breath rate would increase in parallel, without any thought. However, during the yoga sequence the increase in heart rate is instead met with a slowed and guided breath rate. This slowed breath juxtaposed against the increase heart rate trains the nervous system to relax in times of stress. This is training the practitioner to consciously maintain the breath rate in times of physical and mental stress. So, in essence the yoga practice is training the body to maintain a certain frequency of breath while under stress. This is a gross, or broad approach to training the body.
Sound Therapy, and consciously created music can work hand in hand with this process by also creating a rhythmic synchronization with the breath. At a more subtle level, the soundwaves can also begin to encourage the brainwaves into a more relaxed Alpha or Theta brainwave state as well. During Meditation a more subtle process of awareness of the breath and interaction with the thoughts may occur. In this case the practitioner can bring a conscious focus to the breath. Training this focused attention on the biorhythms of the body can also help the practitioner to notice more quickly when triggers from thoughts, or stressors of other tend to disrupt these biorhythms. With both yoga asana (poses), and training the concentration via meditation the practitioner is working with mechanical training of biorhythms in an active, and focused way.
Sound Therapy for Stress Release
For thousands of years, sound and rhythm have been used in nearly every culture around the world to achieve deeper states of relaxation and inner connection.
Tibetan Bowl sound therapy has the ability to encourage deep states of physical relaxation, as well as alpha and theta brainwave states, where relaxation, restoration and even creative insights can occur. Sound Therapy with Tibetan Bowls are useful for simply releasing stress and physical tension, or as a prelude to a deeper meditative states. I like to describe Tibetan Bowl Sound therapy as Meditation or Mindfulness on “training wheels”, encouraging rapid access to mental stillness and relaxation.
From the study—“Poor mood and elevated anxiety are linked to increased incidence of disease. This study examined the effects of sound meditation, specifically Tibetan singing bowl meditation, on mood, anxiety, pain, and spiritual well-being. Sixty-two women and men (mean age 49.7 years) participated. As compared with pre-meditation, following the sound meditation participants reported significantly less tension, anger, fatigue, and depressed mood (all Ps <.001). Additionally, participants who were previously naïve to this type of meditation experienced a significantly greater reduction in tension compared with participants experienced in this meditation (P < .001). Feeling of spiritual well-being significantly increased across all participants (P < .001). Tibetan singing bowl meditation may be a feasible low-cost low technology intervention for reducing feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression, and increasing spiritual well-being. This meditation type may be especially useful in decreasing tension in individuals who have not previously practiced this form of meditation.”
Journal of Evidence Based and Complementary medicine: Effects of Singing Bowl Sound Meditation on Mood, Tension, and Well-being: An Observational Study
Other possible benefits may include:
- Brainwave Entrainment
- Melatonin Release
- Vagus Nerve Stimulation
- Nitric Oxide release
- Right Brain Activation
Entrainment is when two systems come into synchronization with each other. This was first noticed by Christian Huygens, the inventor of the pendulum clock. He noticed that the pendulum clock in his shop would always "sync up" to each other. This phenomena was later studied and the idea of Entrainment came into being. This type of entrainment also happens with our brainwaves. Because the brain, the heart and the breath are all connected via the parasympathetic nervous system, Tibetan Bells have the ability to entrain our brainwaves and this helps to relax our entire body and essentially allow us the space to find a new level of harmony within the body.
With sound therapy, our brainwaves are entraining to an existing oscillation that is contained in the sound or musical background. Our brains do this naturally. This occurs because of a phenomenon called the Frequency Following Response or FFR. The repetitive nature of these oscillations encourage our brainwaves to entrain with the oscillation. Accessing these different mental states not only give the mind a rest, but because the mind the heart and breathing are all connecting via the Parasympathetic Nervous System, they also give our body a rest. Binaural beats and Monaural Beats are sound oscillations that give us a window into accessing these mental states. Instruments like Tibetan Singing Bowls also produce these types of oscillations.
Music Therapy and Sound Therapy with Tibetan Bowls also seems to help release melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the Pineal Gland. This may also be partially responsible in helping to achieve alpha and theta and delta brainwave states, as this is the natural occurrence each day as we cycle down from waking states to sleep states in response to the release of melatonin as we are entrained to the natural circadian rhythms of with the Sun cycles. Melatonin has many powerful benefits from sleep aid to cancer prevention.
Article: Brain Music: Turn on, feel better
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Tibetan bowl sound therapy as well as singing and chanting, activate vagus nerve. Vagus Nerve stimulation has a host of benefits from improving mood, and memory to relieving anxiety and depression.
Nitric Oxide release
Sound Therapy with Tibetan Bowls may also release Nitric Oxide which has a host of benefits including expanding blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, and fighting pathogenic bacteria.
Article: Why Nitric Oxide is Good for you
Right Brain Activation
Because of the random nature of Tibetan Bowl sound therapy, it can also encourage right brain activation. The left brain is designed to recognize and react to patterns. The right brain is seen as being more open to seeing the “whole” without attachment or expectation. This can also help facilitate deep relaxation.
Blog Post: The Ego Mind - Left Brain Interpreter
“The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities which engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, cause the brain to become more capable of processing information.”
In summary, Sound Therapy helps to encourage the relaxation response. This is the body’s natural defense against stress.
By relaxing consciously, we encourage the body’s natural self healing and stress reducing mechanisms and encouragement of the positive production of calming brain chemicals. The term “relaxation response” was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard medical school over twenty five years ago. His best selling book by the same name explores simples methods to release stress, including many mindfulness techniques (including sound) that are commonplace today. http://www.relaxationresponse.org/steps/