Could sound therapy’s comeback be the solution to seasonal depression?

By Marcia Veiga

Published Oct 16, 2020 at 02:24 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes


On the 25 October, across the UK, citizens will begin the day with a harmonised melancholic cry bidding farewell to our most cherished summer. As the second lockdown is in motion, experts recommend taking a bath, listening to music and using mental health apps like Talkspace, Headspace or Better Health to defuse the winter blues. But what about people in severe cases? Could singing bowls be the answer?

“During making the album, I was reading a book called Sacred Sounds that just explains how the different sounds and different vowels resonate with the chakra system,” states Jhene Aiko in a Nylon interview, where she discussed her new album, which incorporates a singing bowl on every track.

The re-emerging popularisation of singing bowls hit mainstream media earlier this year when model Indira Scott proudly debuted hers on British Vogue, then SZA posed with her vibrant collection for Wonderland’s Spring issue and quite recently gained momentum when Aiko performed on the NPR Tiny Desk earlier this month, surrounded by them. Its budding interest has led to a new hashtag on Instagram #SoundHealing where people post their bowls with heartfelt messages, while other adopters on TikTok go the extra mile in showing just how versatile they are, with one user previously sharing Kegel exercises to the rhythm of her singing bowl before her videos were deleted. So, what is a sound bowl (or bath) and how does it classify as meditative therapy?

Singing bowls are types of idiophones, which is said to be one of the most ancient artisan crafts produced for medicinal and musical purposes. Traditionally made and shaped out of pure copper, ‘Tibetan’ bowls are estimated to be over 2,000 years old. When struck, scraped or shaken, they exude either a delicate tone or deep full-body vibrations. Its indistinguishable tones vary depending on the size, circumference or material of the bowl, but regardless of such, guarantees an immersive experience.

When singing bowls first migrated into the western culture, they gained admiration in wellness and health practices. So much so that it’s not uncommon to start a yoga class with the teacher playing it in the background, or book into a studio and see sound bath sessions being offered. A sound bath is essentially a mediation class encouraging clients to sit on a pillow or lie down on a mat and engage in breathwork while absorbing the chimes of the sound bowl penetrating the air—falling into a deep sleep is also considered a deep meditative state in those circumstances. It’s generally recommended to those who struggle to calm their thoughts in mediation.

“The wellness juggernaut has been intersecting with music in ever more interesting ways,” says Sandra Ballentine in her recent feature for W Magazine. Within it, she examines whether attending a sound bath or exploring mindful breathing techniques exude the same euphoric reaction gained from attending festivals and in short, it does.

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Similarly, in 2016, researchers at the University of California found that “meditation aided by Tibetan bowls noticeably decreased stress and anger—especially among people who were new to this kind of practice.” There are many types of music therapy, and while some lean more towards spirituality: like singing bowls, root frequency entrainment and tune forking; others are more scientific.

Music therapy charity Nordoff-Robbins uses a technique that aims to help children with developmental disabilities by teaching them to create music as a form of therapy. Another one called vibroacoustic therapy requires the person to lay down on a special bed where speakers are strategically placed around, so the sounds and vibrations penetrate on a deep cellular level. It’s typically used to help patients recovering from cancer and strokes.

Lastly, the most favoured form of sound therapy, especially by pregnant women, consists of whale sounds. Unborn babies exposed to music while in the womb have shown significant improvement in their overall mental, sensory, psychological, behavioural and emotional development, according to Healthline. Ultimately, each practice shares the same common ground in which sounds are the basis for healing and development.

Cost and accessibility also factor in deciding which method to apply. The scientific treatments need full commitment both financially and time, while sound bowls and tune forking can be booked by sessions on Insight Timer, a free app that showcases the words and lessons of high profile spiritual teachers such as Mooji, Sarah Blondin and even Gisele Bündchen. The options are endless but with experts already predicting mental health to be at an all high during this second lockdown, why not consider sound therapy as another healing tool?

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