An experiment in Sound

None of us were quite sure how the workshop on 19th January would go.  As the yoga teacher involved, I aimed to prepare participants for lying down for 35 minutes  and to introduce the notion of listening, sounds and silence.

The sound therapist presented a sound bath which was well received and which seemed to help some participants to get to a state of deep relaxation quite quickly.  One participant experienced “losing her body” and felt that the sound bath produced the “purest sounds”.  Another saw imagery that was peaceful.  This is probably attributed to being in a relaxed state between wakefulness and sleep – the “dozing off” time.  The participant did report : “..I think I fell asleep..”  Perhaps this person was experiencing a dominance of theta brainwaves??

There are five main frequency brain waves: Gamma (highest) Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta (slowest recorded). The brain produces consistent waves at all frequencies. Everything we or say is regulated by the frequency of brain waves. Thus, throughout the day in your waking state, your EEG will display all 5 types of brain waves at the same time. However, one particular brain wave will be dominant depending on the state of consciousness that you are in.  In normal activity, brain waves are of the beta type. However, during meditation, there is a shift in brain activity, with alpha waves the most commonly observed. This increase in alpha wave activity is associated with activation of the parasympathetic nervous system – the “rest and digest” system.

As I understand it, and I am still trying to understand, Sound Therapy works upon using vibrations and resonance to calm the listener’s brain – to slow down the brain frequency.  This is claimed to get the listening brain to alpha brainwave day dreaminess quite quickly and then the deeper relaxation associated with theta follows.  The BAST website states:

……At BAST we specialise in combining instruments in a specific way to influence brainwave frequencies, enabling a person to enter an altered state of consciousness (ASC) similar to very deep relaxation or meditation. In this state many different therapeutic process occur……

I become a trifle “wobbly” about the “altered state of consciousness” claim and wonder why since I benefit from and teach approaches to meditation and would happily say that meditation can make changes to our awareness.   Perhaps, it is the linking of ASC and therapy (a friend’s observation, not mine – but I think that I agree).  ASC is defined in Wikipedia as “.. any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking state..” The term was used in conjunction with hypnosis.  It seems to be defined as a temporary change in one’s mental state – an altered state of awareness”. You may find this short video enlightening – or amusing

Crucially, none of the workshop participants experienced a negative reaction to the soundbath.  A couple of us were distracted by exterior construction noise but some said that they did not notice this or that they thought it was part of the soundbath.

Another participant thought that some of the soundbath was a recording.  I found this interesting since the British Academy of Sound Therapy website refers to a study that compared the effects of a 35 minute live soundbath with a recording of the same.  The soundbath matched exactly the one presented in the workshop – Himalayan singing bowls, transitioning to Gongs, transitioning to crystal singing bowls, transitioning to therapeutic percussion.  In the study the soundbath was live, where subjects lay on the floor and received around 35 minutes of sound (as in the workshop)  and by a recording of the same which was available online. The study set out to answer the following questions.

  1.  Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound?
  2. What are the conscious altering effects of this method and to what degree are the domains effected?
  3. What are the therapeutic effects of sound induced ASC?

The data showed positive effects upon physical relaxation, imagery, positive mood, insightfulness, transcendence and ineffability (I struggle to understand these last 2) across both the live and recorded soundbath. The live performance seemed to produce a more energizing experience – perhaps due to the physical vibrations of the instruments – and the recording was felt to me more immersive – perhaps due to the blocking out of external noise.  One participant had suggested that a recorded version might be more useful for that very reason.

I’m also looking at medical research and see that in 1946 a specific sound therapy known as audio-psycho-phonology was developed by Dr Alfred Tomatis (1920 – 2001), a French Ear, Nose & Throat specialist. This therapy  bridges medicine, psychology, music therapy, speech therapy, and special education. Also that Sound Therapy is used by the British Tinnitus Society to help sufferers and that one of the recordings available from the Society is Widex Zen Therapy,  a programme addressing all three aspects of tinnitus distress –  the auditory aspects, attention and emotion:

….Zen fractal tones stimulate passive listening, reduce Tinnitus awareness, promote relaxation and interrupt the Tinnitus-stress cycle. Zen noise can provide additional relief from Tinnitus….

We are having another go in February.  This will be a different presentation than last time.  As always, comments are most welcome.





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