The latest relaxation practice to infiltrate the trendscape: sound baths. With climate anxiety at an all-time high—45% of young people say it impacts their daily lives—there has never been a better time to re-up your meditation practice. And as it turns out, the simple addition of sound may be the key to maximizing your mindfulness.
Healing through sound has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, featuring on TikTok, at your local yoga studio, and in the feeds of celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Lizzo (the latter’s meditative videos, which featured her signature flute, were a balm at the top of the pandemic; the former is a fan of crystal singing bowls). The concept of using certain audio frequencies and music to wind down is nothing new, but the latest (and buzziest) iteration seems like it may be here to stay.
But what exactly is a sound bath, anyway?
What Is a Sound Bath?
“To put it simply, a sound bath is just another form of meditation,” say partners Justin Ballatore and Jami Avery of The DEN Meditation in Los Angeles. “To us, a sound bath is an opportunity to break free from the busy day-to-day to experience deep healing on a cellular level through vibration.”
Sound baths aim to calm anxiety and promote positive shifts in the body through (you guessed it!) sound. To do this, practitioners—or simply musicians—use Tibetan or crystal singing bowls, gongs, drums, flutes, and various other instruments, playing notes and songs as participants relax on a mat and soak up the sound.
"Most sound baths are between 30 to 90 minutes and our goal is to have each guest as comfortable as possible," says Avery, who adds that participants use blankets and pillows for optimal coziness. "Experiences at sound baths vary depending on the frequencies used in the session and how they translate to the person. Some fall asleep. Others have wild out-of-body experiences, see colors, or experience a range of emotions as they move through different sounds."
Utilizing the power of sound in healing or worship practices is nothing new, with deep (and augmented) roots around the world, and sound baths are separated from music therapy through the addition of a meditative element. “It feels incredibly soothing and relaxing as if you are tuning your body to a steady frequency,” says Suze Yalof Schwartz, CEO of Unplug Meditation, where teachers rely on crystal bowls, Koshi chimes, and ocean drums.
Music’s power to bring people together and the comfort that comes with well-chosen notes seem to be among the main draws of a modern sound bath. But, if you ask fans of the practice, they count vibrational frequency, and its power to promote positive changes in the body, as a bonus as well.
Healing Through Sound
According to UCLA Health, music can regulate breathing, increase oxygen throughout the body, and lower cortisol levels (aka reduce stress) while improving immunity.
"Because our bodies are made primarily out of water, the frequencies used at our sound baths have the potential to create impactful shifts,” says Avery. The claims of ease are backed by relatively new research: One study says that Tibetan music is effective in reducing nervousness, tension, and fear in patients pre-surgery, while another notes that the practice is effective in boosting overall well-being, mental and physical.
While more research is needed to determine the exact effects, and the why of them (hertz promoting deep relaxation and mood affecting physiology are two common theories), the ancient and universal power of sound serves as a proof point in itself. And really, why not up the ante on your meditation game with some soothing sound?
How to Give Yourself a Sound Bath
Start with an instrument or sound frequency that feels comforting to you.
"Maybe you’re just ringing a bell as you sit, or you may find a way to mindfully circle the outside of your crystal bowl as you close your eyes—these frequencies feel good even when you create them for yourself," says Ballatore. "When you are able to implement sound into your at-home meditation (even if it’s your own voice), it adds a level of ritual that helps the body and mind prepare for stillness."
For a bit of additional guidance, apps like Unplug: Meditation from the aforementioned studio offer pre-recorded sound bath sessions from some of the world's top healers. "Plug in your headphones, cover your eyes with an eye mask or piece of clothing, lay down in your bed, and just melt into the sounds," says Yalof Schwartz.
We're feeling more relaxed already.