What’s Up With Sound Bathing? (And What To Know Before Your First Sonic Healing Sesh)

Transformative treatment or New Age nonsense? Our answer—and what you’ll experience in session—may surprise you.

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Is your yoga studio advertising sound bathing sessions or has a friend been raving about her recent experience? From massages and aromatherapy to sensory deprivation tanks and crystal healing, more and more women are trying natural wellness therapies that may have been dismissed as “too out-there” just a few years ago. Still, being adventurous has its benefits, and proponents of the so-called sound healing trend are a new wave of pioneers. One of the major benefits for overworked or overtired sound bathers is that all you really have to do is lie down and let the healing wash over you. Sounds amazing, right? If you’re stressed, have a chronic health condition, or are just looking for a new way to give yourself a nourishing treat, you owe it to yourself to try this therapeutic treatment for the mind, body, and spirit.

Wait, what’s a sound bath?

No, you won’t get wet. Instead of warm water and bubbles, when you partake in a sound healing session, you “bathe” in the sonic vibrations created by instruments like Tibetan singing bowls, gongs, handpans, bells, and chimes played by the sound bath practitioner for your benefit. Some sessions also incorporate singing and chanting. As sound specialist Monte Hansen told The Washington Post, one of the reasons it’s called a bath is because people “feel like they are being submerged in sound, like the sound waves created by the Tibetan singing bowls are a visceral thing and they are washed in waves of water.” Sound bathing and gong healing sessions have been popping up more and more frequently in alternative wellness centers and yoga studios, but it’s actually an ancient tradition that’s experiencing a major comeback.

Does it really work?

Maybe. I say this as someone who recently tried sound bathing and experienced a tangible benefit, so I want to say yes! Of course, aside from my personal experience, it’s important to note that while there are lots of studies showing real, empirical evidence that sound, audio vibrations, and music therapy are legitimate treatments for conditions ranging from generic stress to PTSD, there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies specifically about sound bathing—yet. But as many sound healing enthusiasts will tell you, “I may not know exactly what it’s doing to me or how it works, but I know if feels amazing.” I went to a Shakti Gong Sound Healing event at The People’s Yoga—my regular yoga studio here in Portland—hosted by the Starnes Sisters. Stephanie and Sarah Starnes have been conducting sound healing sessions for years, and they’re known for their otherworldly singing voices, which they bring into their sound healing rituals. I’m already a frequent practitioner of yoga and meditation, and am pretty open to alternative wellness, but was still totally shocked at how different I felt after simply lying down and absorbing the sounds for 90 minutes. I would describe the feeling as a slow, creeping relaxation that ended in me feeling almost exactly as if I had just received a massage. Sarah says sound baths are “an opportunity to connect more deeply with yourself,” while Stephanie invites sound bathers to “lay down with [their] eyes closed in a safe space, allowing [them] to relax and absorb the sound that we create.”

Know before you go.

A sound bathing experience usually involves laying down on your back on a yoga mat or blanket in savasana (corpse pose), with or without supporting props like bolsters and pillows, with your head directed toward the source of the music. The idea is to be as comfortable as possible. If your sound bath is hosted in a yoga studio, there will likely be some props available to borrow, but the Starnes sisters recommend bringing your own cozy accoutrements like pillows, blankets, and an eye mask—anything you want to help you feel “extra comfortable.” They also recommend wearing layers, since lying still for an hour and a half can cause your body to cool, and you don’t want to get chilly. You should also know that some people have reported feeling strong or unexpected emotions during or after their sonic sessions. Some even feel the need to laugh or cry. As Stephanie said at the end of our sound bath, “Just in case something has come up for you,” you should make sure to “keep caring for yourself and treating yourself gently” for the rest of the evening. As for me, I went home, drank tea, and basked in that post-sound bath feeling that you’ll come to know if you give it a try.

Cammy Pedroja
Cammy is a freelance writer and journalist living in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Cammy specializes in lifestyle, women’s issues, wellness, and pop culture topics. A background in academia in publishing has made her a skilled researcher, with experience working in the editorial departments of such places as The New Yorker and Narrative Magazine. With an MFA from Columbia University and a nearly finished PhD, her work has appeared widely across publications like HuffPost, USA Today, Parent, The List, FIELD, and New England Review.

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