How Does Sound Healing Work?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.