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.
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?
The rise of the wellness industry brought with it an excessive amount of healthcare apps that people quickly adopted without any questions. Some were good, and some, ahem, less so. Today, many will consult a doctor through the Babylon app, while others praise the wonders of digital therapy. Along with this wave of health tech arose the more niche market of holistic health care, characterised by the treatment of the whole person, rather than just treating the symptoms of a specific disease. But what exactly is holistic healing, and more importantly, should we rely on it to ‘cure’ our mental, emotional, and spiritual issues?
Among the holistic healthcare services is Healing Clouds, a platform for online holistic healthcare offering online therapy through live video sessions that aim to promote the benefits of holistic healthcare and bring awareness of it to the world. While some of the services the platform offers can surely be done through live chat and video sessions with a certified practitioner, such as communicating with a dietitian or a couples therapist, others pose problems. How exactly can video calls treat arthritis, diabetes, or even my PMS?
Screen Shot spoke to Asim Amin, founder and CEO of Healing Clouds, about where the idea for the platform came from, and the importance of conventional medicine in conjunction with holistic approaches. Amin’s mother suffered from osteoarthritis in her knees, which confined her to a wheelchair and impacted her mental health as well. After finding a “silver lining in Pranic Healing and Counseling,” she was back on her feet. “With the advent of healthcare globally, it is important that people take care of their health in a holistic manner where they address their mental and emotional health in addition to their physical health,” explained Amin. Because of the stigma associated with mental and emotional health issues, Amin decided to create Healing Clouds.
Platforms like Healing Clouds offer help to people that actually need it, which should be appreciated. The problem lies in the way these platforms may sometimes present that help. Instead of clearly stating that holistic health care should be used by patients as extra support, people looking at the website could easily assume that it promises to be the sole ‘cure’ to any kind of disease—from depression and cancer to “spiritual issues” and “limiting beliefs.” Putting a greater emphasis on the different dimensions of a patient’s life (psychological, social, or even spiritual) doesn’t sound wrong in any kind of way. However, it is wrong and unhealthy to depend only on spiritual guidance, and so is promoting it as this sort of miracle cure.
Amin explained that with Healing Clouds, there are some boundaries set, “Online sessions for therapy and healing are never intended to replace medical attention, rather, they are complementary to conventional medicine and they help you address your overall health and heal from within, whilst you’re on medication (if any).” While this shows that Healing Clouds, specifically, is careful about what kind of message it might promote, other similar services in the wellness industry are not that conscientious.
Having a holistic approach to some things in life, meaning thinking about the bigger picture, can be more than useful. But when did the definition of holistic become interlinked with spirituality? Mixing actual medical advice with a supercharged version of card reading is an approach that can prove itself dangerous, if used for the treatment of high-risk diseases. Some might not see mental health problems as ‘high-risk’, but with the mental health crisis that we’re undergoing, it is a growing matter that should be taken more seriously. More students are getting strongly affected by this crisis, and while a holistic or spiritual approach to ‘curing’ mental health issues is not presented to young adults as the only way to tackle it, it is starting to be more promoted than ever, through slick-looking apps and websites.
Most people diagnosed with a mental health condition can experience relief from their symptoms and live a normal life by actively participating in a treatment plan. This can include medication, psychotherapy, and peer support groups. A holistic approach to this treatment would be to also look at the patient’s diet, sleep, and surroundings. However, what is sold through this new trend of holistic healthcare is a cure in the form of spirituality. Relying totally on it could put people’s mental health, and therefore lives, in danger. In other words, receiving daily affirmations through my email account might lift my mood for a short time, but it won’t cure my depression.
A big part of the wellness industry has shifted from its primary aim—to heal, help, and keep people healthy—to another one; one that seems to contaminate every industry and aspect of our society: to make easy money by using people’s vulnerability. So please, rub as many crystals as you wish, enjoy yoga classes through video sessions with your instructor if you feel like it, but don’t forget, holistic healthcare is not the miraculous cure to all your problems.