How Sound Healing Works
What is Sound Healing?
Healing is the transformation of an individual back to their original state of wholeness and perfection.
In sound healing, a person’s original state is considered to be one of harmony. Any mental or emotional distress, physical illness or dis-ease, therefore, is a state of disharmony. Sound healers consciously apply sound frequencies or musical sound patterns to bring the individual back into balance. From this renewed harmony, a state of health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – ensues.
To really understand how sound healing works, we need to consider five fundamental elements: vibration, resonance, entrainment, intention and silence.
“Sound healing is possible because the human body is not solid and is held together by vibration. Like a well tuned musical instrument, the body is a rhythmic, harmonious form unless its vibratory field is disrupted.”
Marjorie de Muynck
Everything in the universe consists of vibrations. This includes our bodies, organs, cells, feelings, emotions and mental processes. Fundamentally, sound healing works by creating vibrational changes in our physical, mental, emotional and etheric bodies. When these changes occur, they can initiate transformation and healing, by returning us to harmony and wholeness.
Sound is able to effect vibrational change through the principle of resonance. Resonance can be defined as the frequency at which an entity naturally wants to vibrate. When the resonance of two different entities come into contact, the weaker will change to resonate in harmony with the stronger. This is called sympathetic resonance. When a sound healer manifests a vibration that is stronger than the dis-eased entity, it will produce vibrational change in that entity.
Vibrational changes can occur at different levels of our being. On the physical level, these changes work because all matter has a frequency at which it most naturally wants to vibrate. In a healthy organ, for example, its molecules will be vibrating in harmony with each other. Therefore, it is said that everything in nature has its own note at which it vibrates when in optimum condition. Every cell within that organ is a sound resonator that may respond to any other sound inside or outside the body. If a different sound pattern enters the organ, it could affect the harmonious vibration of its molecules. So, it could then be said that the organ is no longer sounding its own note: it is out of tune. If the new sound pattern is stronger than the original, it could establish its disharmonious pattern in the organ. This is what we call disease.
A sound healer uses their knowledge and intuition to produce a frequency which harmonises with the diseased organ. Sound sources could be voice, gongs, tuning forks, conch trumpets, singing bowls, didgeridoos or any instrument that can provide a stronger frequency than the new invading sound pattern. This frequency penetrates the organ, reinforcing its original sound pattern, neutralising the vibrations of the intruder and re-establishing harmony.
In the same way, emotional events held by the body in cellular memory can be dissolved. All tissues and organs produce magnetic pulsations that are the result of tiny electrical currents generated by charge flow in the body’s cells. These pulsations are known collectively as the human biomagnetic field, or biofield. According to sound healer, Eileen Day McKusick, the biofield contains the blueprint for the material form of the body, so a coherent magnetic field will form a healthy body. In contrast, traumatic physical, mental and emotional experiences can become trapped in the biofield, where they can give rise to incoherent electromagnetic oscillations that exert a non-harmonious sound pattern within the person’s body and mind. Over time, they can cause a breakdown of the body’s structure and function, causing disease. Again, a sound healer would work to neutralise these non-harmonious vibrations within the biofield, thereby returning order to the body.
Another way sound healing works is through entrainment. This is an aspect of resonance that involves changing the vibrational rate of a weaker entity through rhythm. In entrainment, two vibrating entities become synchronised or locked in phase, resulting in harmony between them. A common occurrence of entrainment is tapping one’s feet to an external rhythm. Entrainment especially affects vibratory rhythms such as heart rate, breathing and brainwaves.
When sound healing alters our brainwaves, it can have a profound effect upon our consciousness. Playing the gong or drumming repetitively, for example, can lower brainwave rate through resonance and entrainment. This works in different ways. One way is utilising low frequencies, which naturally occur within the gong sounds. In addition, low frequencies are created by the difference between two frequencies - known as difference frequencies - and by isochronic tones, which are regular beats of a single tone that are turned on and off rapidly, such as in shamanic drumming. We may not be able to hear these low frequency tones, but they are received by our brains. Through entrainment, these low frequencies can take us from every day beta brainwave consciousness (12-30cps) into the calm and relaxed state of alpha brainwave consciousness (8-12cps). This brainwave lowering is lovingly referred to by sound healers as “automatic meditation.” Most people feel calm, peaceful and centred after receiving the sound of the gong and, this in itself, can be healing. As 85% of disease is caused by stress, simply relaxing and de-stressing is vital for our health.
If we are receptive, our brainwaves can slow further from the alpha state to theta brainwave consciousness (4-8cps). This is known as the dream and visionary state, linked to our subconscious, where all sorts of inspiration can occur, giving us insight into ways to solve our problems and live a more holistic life.
Another way that sound healing affects our consciousness is when our brains are flooded with aural stimulus that overrides our other senses, causing us to move from outer to inner awareness. Again, this can happen through repetitive drumming and the sound of the gong. But this can also happen with any sound that is dense in tones and overtones or harmonics, such as singing bowls, stringed instruments or the human voice, especially when it is trained to accentuate harmonics. Any of these rich sounds can confuse the left brain, which likes to be in charge and keep everything in order. Consequently, the overwhelmed left brain may let go of control, allowing the intuitive right brain a chance to come to the fore. The right side of the brain is associated with peace, serenity and spiritual bliss; when these qualities are experienced by the recipient, their body’s natural healing mechanism is stimulated. Therefore, the withdrawal of the left brain can be an essential part of the healing process.
In addition to overloading the senses and confusing the left brain, harmonics can heighten consciousness by stimulating the brain to receive greater levels of frequency, thereby charging and energising the whole cortex of the brain.
Many sound healers believe that if the two hemispheres of the brain become synchronised, it can lead to transcendent states of consciousness. We are now beginning to understand why, as Sheila Whittaker says in In the Heart of the Gong Space, “Sound has always been seen as a direct link between humanity and the divine”.
Alongside vibration, another important aspect that makes sound healing work is intention. Intention, of course, is itself a form of vibration. According to Steven Halpern, “Sound is a carrier wave of consciousness” (quoted in Healing Sounds by Jonathan Goldman). Therefore, based on the principle of resonance, if the sound healer intends for the sounds to be healing for the individual, those sounds will carry that healing intention to the consciousness of the recipient. It is also possible for sound to carry feeling or emotion, including peace, joy and love. Receiving and being being bathed in a cocoon of love can be an intensely healing experience in and of itself.
Sound and silence together make up a vibration. Silence, therefore, is an essential part of sound healing and a period of several minutes of silence should be included in any treatment. Silence allows space for the sound to do its work, but it also takes us inwards. In Hindu mysticism, silence is the substratum of sound. Nāda yogis recognise unfolding layers of silence that reveal themselves as increasingly deeper backdrop layers of silence, until, finally, that which has been called the “undertone of the music of the Absolute” is discovered.
Ultimately then, silence is not only an acoustic absence of sound, but a means to take us inwards until we contact the ground of being. As Black Elk asks: “Is not silence the very voice of Great Spirit?” Silence therefore is a way to bring us into contact with our source, our true nature. In this context, contacting our essence could be the most healing act that there is.
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