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How Does Sound Healing Work?

Updated on February 5, 2014

For centuries, Benedictine monks have chanted Gregorian chants seven times a day and maintained a schedule of work and prayer that allowed them little time for sleep. There is a story about Dr Alfred Tomatis which seems to show that the chanting of these specific tones and vibrations charged and healed the monks and reduced their need for sleep. In 1967, Dr. Tomatis, an early pioneer in healing with sound, was called to a French monastery, where the monks were now tired and sick after an attempt to modernize their program had dropped the traditional periods of chanting. Having explored other possible factors, including diet, Tomatis concluded that the only change had been in the elimination of chanting. Once the monks reintroduced the daily periods of Gregorian chanting, which is based on ancient scales and not the modern one Western music uses today, they became well again.

The vibrations of sound have a powerful resonance on many levels that influence cellular structure and invite harmony and healing. When we chant, sing, or surround ourselves with vibrations of certain frequencies, the sound has a deeply calming effect that leads to a state of stillness and meditation.

Sound Therapy

In any note, what we hear most is the lowest, or fundamental tone, but every sound includes a sequence of partial or higher tones, which gives each instrument its particular voice or timber. These are harmonics, or overtones, and they repeat at frequencies that are out of range of human hearing. These unheard overtones have concrete effects on cellular functions, organ systems, the blood flow, the balance of endocrine factors and immune cell products, and other physiological factors. In their book the Role of Music in the 21st Century, researchers Fabien Maman and Helene Grimal, pioneers in sound therapy, observed the reactions of healthy and cancerous cells as they reacted to acoustical instruments, including gong, xylophone, acoustic guitar, and the unaccompanied human voice for 21 minutes. The most dramatic results in their research came from the human voice singing musical scales, which disintegrated cancer cells, and from the gong, which destabilized and exploded cells.

Christian Huygens Described Entrainment in the 17th Century

One reason this may work is through a process called entrainment, in which objects or living systems near each other will adjust their rhythms to synchronize and create harmony. Examples of entrainment include clocks or pendulums which adjust to match each other, the most powerful bringing the weaker one into its rhythm. As we listen to music, body rhythms of heart beat and respiratory rate adjust to the beat of music, and listeners and speakers in stimulating conversation synchronize body movements and postures to match each other's. Biological systems also have rhythms, including breath, heartbeat, pulse, circulation, sleep/wake cycle, female reproductive cycle, and brain waves. Moreover, human bodies are mostly water, and and exist in a matrix of energy fields that permeate and extend beyond the structure of our skin and bones. This gives us a flexibility and responsiveness to sound, which is heard vibration, as well as to unheard vibrations at high and low frequencies.

Dr. Hans Jenny and Cymatics

Cymatic Frequencies

As the video below points out, Dr. Hans Jenny's research in cymatics demonstrates how sound has a vibratory effect on the structure of patterns in solids and liquids. Many of the patterns he documents resemble patterns of life, such as spirals, honeycombs, dragonflies, and vertebrae. His work suggests that every cell and group of similar cells in an organism have their own signature frequency. Many practitioners are discovering that sound used in specific ways can entrain the human organism toward greater harmony and health, and act differentially on healthy or diseased cells because of their differential frequency.

Eternal Om and Nada Yoga

Like the Benedictine chants, Sanskrit mantras are also sounds with powerful resonance on many levels. Nada yoga includes the chanting of mantras with or without accompanying instruments. One of the most powerful of these mantras is "Om." Om is the pranabha, or seed sound of the universe, like a gateway between the dimensions of energy and matter. Etymologically related to "Amen," it is the Word alluded to in the Biblical story of Genesis, which created the physical universe out of primordial energy. Just as a keynote at a specific frequency can shatter a glass, or catalyze the crystallization of dissolved salts in a super-saturated liquid, some sounds have powerful capacity to influence the frequency of cells, to charge them and heal, or to decharge them and induce illness.

Om is one of the simplest and oldest healing sounds.
Om is one of the simplest and oldest healing sounds. | Source

Modern Healing with Sound Programs

To explore this further yourself, look into healing with sound programs in your community, at a local yoga studio or healing centre. These might include chanting, drumming, playing crystal bowls, striking Tibetan gongs and bowls, and placing acutonics tuning forks on or near the body. Some programs also incorporate sound healing into water treatments, such as Watsu, or water Shiatsu.

Audrey Meuse of Centennial Building Wellness Centre in Kamloops integrates sound into her healing practice.
Audrey Meuse of Centennial Building Wellness Centre in Kamloops integrates sound into her healing practice. | Source

In Kamloops, BC at the Centennial Building Wellness Centre, Audrey Meuse is a practitioner who uses the healing power of sound in her work with Watsu and Acutonics. She experienced the power of sound during her Watsu training, when her instructor toned a Tibetan Bowl in the water under Audrey's body as she floated in the warm salt water, and Audrey "felt the sound erupt through every cell," as it was amplified by the water. Since then she did further training with tuning forks, and now incorporates crystal bowls, Gongs, Tibetan bowls, and rainsticks into her treatments with clients, who include patients with cancer, fibromyalgia, post-polio syndrome, and osteoarthritis.

Audrey is looking forward to incorporating her meditative soundscape into a restorative hatha yoga class beginning Monday nights at the Centennial Building Wellness Centre. Intended for people with diminished mobility, chronic fatigue, or who are recovering from illness, the class will use gentle, supported physical postures and guided yogic breath exercises for deep relaxation and healing.

Tibetan bowl, Crystal bowl, Gong, and Rainstick.
Tibetan bowl, Crystal bowl, Gong, and Rainstick. | Source

Sound Healing Treatment with Tibetan Bowls

When Tibetan bowls are sounded and set on the body, they resonate through the energy centres, or chakras, in the body's subtle fields, releasing blockages in the energy channels, or nadis, and stimulating physical and emotional reorganization.
When Tibetan bowls are sounded and set on the body, they resonate through the energy centres, or chakras, in the body's subtle fields, releasing blockages in the energy channels, or nadis, and stimulating physical and emotional reorganization. | Source


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    • manatita44 profile image


      5 years ago from london

      We have a Yoga teacher called Sarama. Probably now in her late 70's. An American in NY. An inspirational woman. Mutual feelings.

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      5 years ago

      Om. Light on your pathway, brother Manatita 44.

    • manatita44 profile image


      5 years ago from london

      Busy and full of service. I feel that you show God's love. Many interesting Hubs. Higher blessings.

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting, theraggededge!

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 

      6 years ago from Wales, UK

      I have heard of this before but your article explains it all so clearly. Very interesting, Janis.

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      6 years ago

      I am not sure about the 8 Hrtz as a perfect healing frequency. I read a book long ago called Vibrational Healing, and it talked of research done using various frequencies for healing and distressing organisms. I will have to do research into this guy Timken. I don't know of him.

      Thanks for your comment, Laurens.

    • LAURENS WRIGHT profile image


      6 years ago

      Fantastic !! Seems that everything works with frequency or the lack of. Somewhere in my past, someone told me that the perfect healing frequency is 8 Hrtz. Further research revealed that a person can be made sick with certain frequencies, have thoughts and sounds beamed into their minds through the use of frequencies. Sound, light and waves are all frequencies. There was a guy by the name of Timken that got thrown out of college because he was proving that frequencies would heal. What a great article!! Again, fantastic !!!

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      6 years ago

      I love it when people get turned on to this energy work, because it is so powerful! Once we know how to find silence within ourselves, we can maintain equanimity in every circumstance. Children need silence too--when the class erupts like that, try turning off the lights and playing some of these chants--Gregorian chanting, or the eternal Om. They'll feel it, too, and you might be the only one in their world who can introduce it to them.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      6 years ago from UK

      This is great - one of your hubs always turns up just when I need it! Today it's been incredibly noisy at school (we've all been commenting on it - it's wet and windy and the children are all staying indoors) and I feel frazzled. So, this was a great find - beautiful, calming and interesting.

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      6 years ago

      You can experience some of the power of Om if you chant along with the Eternal Om recording above. If 50 minutes is too long, try it for 10, then lie down on your back and relax, listening, and breathing the sound into your skin.

      Thank you for the visit, Lisa!

    • LisaKoski profile image


      6 years ago from WA

      Very cool hub. I've heard of the "Om" mantra but not in much detail. I also always wondered why monks chanted at all. Now I know! Thanks so much for sharing on such a fascinating topic.

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      6 years ago

      Silence is most powerful, and these sound therapies work between beats of silence. There is an energetic echo of the sound long after it attenuates beyond the threshold of what we hear. It echoes in the cells and with the breath.

      The sounds and silence of nature are also tremendous healers. Did you "move house" to your Italian farmhouse at that time, or was there a move in between?

      Thank you for your visit and support, as always, dear GoodLady.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Fascinating as always Janis. I found silence to be most healing when I was very ill. I had to move house when nosy neighbors moved in across the street because they disrupted healing silence.

      I don't have the 'om' kind of discipline, but can completely appreciate its benefits, and those of gregorian chanting, which I sang for 10 years!

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      6 years ago

      It is a very powerful form of therapy--related to the fact that we are energy fields, and vibrating at high frequencies. What appears solid bones and flesh is just vibration!! It's amazing, really--what Einstein was pointing to with e=mc squared

    • Natashalh profile image


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      This is really interesting stuff. I've never heard of healing with sound, but the idea of the reverberations interacting with the body are fascinating. I know sounds can irritate me and make me angry, so why couldn't they have the opposite effect?


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