We’ve been noticing so many sound healing and sound bath and healing events popping up across San Francisco. First, some background: During sound healing, musicians play instruments like gongs, singing bowls, chimes, tuning forks, and chanting to put attendees in a relaxed, meditative-like state — similar to savasana at the end of a yoga class. Most of the time, sound baths are held in spaces like yoga studios, concert halls, or healing centers. Participants can sit in meditation or lie down to experience the music.
Since we love nothing more than healing our bodies through what we put in our mouths, we were intrigued by the idea of improving our health through sound. As city dwellers, the noise of fire trucks, horns, and construction are the norm. (And we’re guilty of occasionally having our music turned up way too loud.) After experiencing the calming effects of crickets chirping, yoga chants, and classical music, we get how jarring urban sounds could be stressing our bodies out, perhaps without us even realizing it, because it’s so present. Ever jumped at the sudden sound of siren or noticed your heart rate go up when a car’s brakes screech on the pavement? Us, too.
We decided to do some research on sound healing and even attend an event to give you the DL on this new wellness trend. Is it for real, or is it just another noisy fad (pun intended)? Here’s everything you need to know.
While there’s little evidence pointing to the benefits of sound healing and sound baths specifically, there is science that supports why certain sounds are calming. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that those who listened to classical music before a stressful event recovered from the stress more quickly than those who listened to sounds like rippling water. So next time you’re about to hit traffic, try cranking some Beethoven on Spotify. Though most sound bath experiences don’t include the same instruments you’d find in a classical orchestra, many do rely on percussion instruments and chimes. This may provide a similar healing effect to listening to classical music.
What’s even more fascinating is that producing certain sounds yourself may be more healing than passively listening to them. Get this: A 2012 study split 39 participants with a high-stress job into two groups. One group listened to relaxing music for 12 minutes daily for two months. The other practiced kirtan kriya, a meditative form of yoga that is centered around chanting and singing, for 12 minutes daily for two months.
Drum roll: While both groups experienced an improvement, 52 percent of the chanting and singing group reported better mental health scores at the end of the study. Only 19 percent of individuals in the group that listened to calming music reported improved mental health. Though the study’s sample size is small, this might suggest why sound healing and baths — which often incorporate chanting and singing — can have therapeutic benefits.
A few months ago, we attended our first sound bath experience at The Pad Studios in San Francisco. The event started with an hour-long vinyasa yoga class lead by instructor Nicole Cronin, and was followed by a sound bath from musician Lucia Lilikoi. After a strong, grounded flow, we were asked to take savasana. For the next 30 minutes, Lucia played crystal bowls, chimes, and the harmonium (an instrument that’s similar to an organ or keyboard) and sang in a soulful, ethereal voice. (Seriously, this woman has the voice of an angel.)
We should mention that in this case, there wasn’t any chanting except for “Om” at the beginning and end of the class. This effort made us feel like part of a community. It also helped us relieve and let go of some pent up stress — maybe it’s like the yogi version of screaming into a pillow?
OK — back to the bath: After just a few minutes of “bathing,” if you will, we were transported into a deep, meditative state on our mats, supported by comfy props like blankets. Lucia’s voice and the music truly washed over us (finally, the term “sound bath” actually made some sense). When we exited the room, we felt energetically cleansed, at peace, and utterly calm.
We won’t lie: As we floated out of the studio and into the busy, noisy Cow Hollow neighborhood, we totally walked into a crosswalk without looking both ways. But despite the loud honk and screech of the brakes, we didn’t tense our shoulders, get goosebumps, or feel a negative emotion like irritation or embarrassment. We were still on a cloud with Lucia and her harmonium, hearing the sound of her voice and crystal bowls in our head.
If you ever find yourself craving solace from the sounds of the city or desiring an ability to manage the stress that can come along with all the noise (on the streets or in your own head), we highly recommend sound healing.