Despite the recent rise in popularity of sound baths, they're far from new. In fact, sound healing is an ancient practice first seen in Greece, Egypt, and India thousands of years ago when singing bowls, tuning forks and even chanting where used as a form of healing the body and mind. Keen to learn more about the supposed sound bath benefits? So was I, which is why I've been trying the alternative practice for over a year now.
As many of you look for more holistic ways to support your wellbeing and combat the chaos of modern life, sound therapy is up there with the likes of meditation and breathwork training as a sure-fire way to ease stress and boost mood - so much so, even Meghan Markle is reported to be a fan.
From London’s OG sound bath location Re:Mind to the city’s latest offering at Third Space, over the past year I've done a tonne of sessions both in-person and virtually. I've been totally converted to the sound bath way of life - it's not only transformed my stress levels, but massively improved my sleep and mood, too.
To read my thoughts after testing for a year, keep scrolling. Spoiler alert: if you're wondering what to expect at your first sound bath session, there are no actual baths involved. Below, some of London's top sound healing experts share your need-to-knows about sound baths and the transformative benefits of this mindful practice. Don't miss our guides to journaling for anxiety, reiki healing and reframing negative thoughts, while you're here.
I was curious about sound bath benefits, so gave them a go for a year - my verdict
What is a sound bath?
Contrary to the name, there are no baths involved in a sound bath session. It's simply a meditative experience accompanied by sound, the idea being that you're bathed in the sounds around you.
Sound healers or therapists use a range of therapeutic grade instruments such as crystal bowls, chimes, tuning forks, drums and gongs to create sounds of a certain frequency that lull the body and mind into a state of relaxation.
But, how does it actually work? "It's about the concept of sympathetic resonance," explains Clare Walters, Third Space's Mind & Body Master Trainer.
"Resonance is the vibrational frequency of an object or being and sympathetic resonance is where one object or being’s vibrational frequency can impact another’s, bringing it into synchronicity and harmony," she continues. This means that instruments used during a sound bath are tuned to different vibrational frequencies which can have different effects on the body and the mind.
"It is said that emotions have different vibrational frequencies and emotions that we consider uncomfortable or unpleasant are said to vibrate at lower frequencies, whereas joyful emotions are at higher frequencies," explains Walters. "Through sympathetic resonance in sound healing, we can encourage the body to start to vibrate at a higher frequency, creating better conditions for more positive emotions to occur."
8 sound bath benefits
"Sound has the biggest impact on the brain, stimulating the slowing down of our brain waves from Beta to Theta which allows us to down regulate the nervous system and find a state of relaxation," explains Walters. "The main benefit that you’re likely to experience from a sound bath is deep relaxation."
Just like breathwork and meditation, this ancient practice helps to kickstart our parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest response, which is a direct neutraliser to our sympathetic nervous system, also known as our fight-or-flight response. This down regulates our nervous system, our heart rate and breathing rate our lowered, and the release of our stress hormone cortisol is reduced. It also alters our brainwaves to bring us into an ultra-relaxed state.
But, that's not all. In fact, a 2016 study found that sound baths, specifically with Tibetan singing bowls, can reduce tension, anger, fatigue and improve mood.
What's more, sound bath experiences can also induce a trance-like state. I've experienced what I can only describe as a floaty dream-like sensation during a few of my sessions, which Farzana Ali, sound therapist, wellness expert and the author of Sound Healing: How to Use Sound to Beat Stress & Anxiety, tells me is an Altered State of Consciousness.
"When you're in a trance-like state, as induced by sound baths, you can experience something that we call an Altered State of Consciousness (ASC)," explains Ali, who has become my go-to sound therapist. "How you experience an ASC will depend on your brain and how you process information. For some, like you, that can feel like they are floating, for others they may see lots of colours."
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Can a sound bath improve sleep?
I've had my fair share of sleep issues over the years. Although I've now learned how to improve sleep, nailed my sleep hygiene and found the techniques that work for me, there's no denying that on the days I've attended a sound bath session or listened to a sound healing audio track before bed, I have fallen asleep quicker than usual.
So, could a sound bath be the secret to a good night's sleep? "It's very different for each individual," Ali tells me. "That said, lots of people experience improved sleep after a sound bath."
She reveals that this is because sound baths help us to relax, which is usually the biggest blocker to sleep. "A sound bath allows you to access a space of deep rest and even deep relaxation," Ali explains. "Also since a sound bath changes your dominant brainwave state, you tend to be closer to the more relaxed states that come just before sleep. This is also why some people even fall asleep in a session.” Guilty!
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What to expect in a sound bath
If you're nervous about your first in-person soundbath, don't be. Every studio I've been to has been warm and welcoming, and all the best sound therapists will guide you through what's going to happen in the session before they begin.
You'll often sit or lie down on a yoga mat during the session, and sometimes you'll be provided with a blanket, cushion, yoga bolster and eye mask for extra comfort. If there aren't blankets available, I suggest bringing an extra layer into the session with you, as you'll find when you start to down regulate your nervous system, it can get a little chilly.
The studio will usually have low-lighting, and might even have a few candles or diffusers around to create a cosy atmosphere, and add a sensory element to the experience.
Depending on your sound bath session and the instruments the practitioner is using, you may hear them walking around the room with their instruments during the session and so the sound may feel further away or closer to you from time to time.
Your sound therapist might also include breathwork in the session, either at the beginning or the end of the practice to help you relax and settle into the space.
After the session, give yourself time to come back into the room and adjust to the natural light. Ali recommends drinking lots of water to rehydrate after your sound bath as you might feel thirsty and it will help to flush out any toxins that have come to the surface of the body during the sound healing and breathwork.
3 best sound baths to try at home
Of course, while I've preferred heading in-studio to attend my sound baths, giving them a go at home can be just as beneficial. "Both in person and online sound baths have numerous benefits," Ali tells me. "In person, it's a more immersive and somatic experience, whether you consciously register it or not. Your body also benefits from the physical vibrations of the instruments, so this can be good for pain management and releasing stored tension in the body."
She adds: "Research shows, however, that online experiences evoke a more introspective experience and sometimes even a deeper ASC. Either way, both will leave you feeling more rested."
Keen to give sound healing a try at-home? See our top sound bath experiences on YouTube.
1. 10-minute crystal singing bowl sound bath
What is it? If you're time-poor, try this short sound bath created to help reduce stress, tension and anxiety using crystal singing bowls.
How long? 10 minutes.
2. 1-hour singing bowl meditation
What is it? This singing bowl meditation is super relaxing and a great track to play before bed as you drift off to sleep. The addition of soft bells adds a cleansing element to the track, which can support you in letting the tension from the day melt away.
How long? 1 hour.
3. 8-hour sound bath for sleep
What is it? This sound bath designed specifically for sleep uses crystal singing bowls to lull you into a state of deep relaxation for the best night's rest. It will play for eight hours straight without any ads.
How long? 8 hours.
Shop our favourite relaxation aids now:
NEOM's Perfect Night's Sleep Pillow Mist is one of my favourites. It's a lovely addition to an at-home sound bath, turning it into a total sensory experience. Formulated with a calming blend of lavender, sweet basil and jasmine essential oils, it will help you to relax.
This Yogamatters 3mm mat is made from sustainably harvested natural tree rubber, and is recyclable and biodegradable. It comes in a range of soothing colours, and makes a great spot to lay down and soak up the vibrations of a sound bath.
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Ciara McGinley is a freelance journalist, editor and mindfulness meditation practitioner. She covers health, wellbeing and lifestyle topics for her favourite women's lifestyle publications including Marie Claire, Stylist, Red Magazine and Woman & Home. She's all about betting that mind-body connection, and takes her self-care and night-time routine very seriously... When she's not writing or teaching meditation, you'll find her trying out the latest wellness trend, or escaping London for a hiking weekend.
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