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What Is Sound Therapy?

by Judith Fein

Today, I went to watch dances at a nearby Native American Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Snow had fallen last night, and I stood under the portal of an adobe home, bundled up in winter clothes. The dancers entered the plaza area. The littlest ones were antelope, and the older boys and men were deer and elk. A chorus of older men accompanied them, singing and beating on cow-skin drums. The rhythmic drumming was like a heartbeat and first it was outside of me and then I could feel it vibrating inside my body. The headache that bothered me this morning dissolved. The music was in me and I was in the music. It was an experience with sound healing.

A few years ago, sound healing—which has been used by indigenous people for millennia—was considered marginal and knowledge of it was mainly confined to the alternative healing community. In 2006, the first annual Sound Healing conference took place in Santa Fe, and meeting rooms were packed with therapists and 500 members of the general public who had come to listen to some of the biggest names in the field. The presenters were scientists and shamans, music therapists and singers, musicians, teachers, clinicians, technicians, sound engineers, and self-appointed gurus. There was a lot of buzz about quartz crystal bowls, gongs, tuning forks, drums, CDs of transformational music, and the Aboriginal didgeridoo. Healers met, shared information and techniques, and attendees signed up for private or small group sessions that explored the latest in mind-body treatments using sound.

Suddenly, vibrational medicine entered the mainstream, and now, if you Google the name of your city and “sound healing,” it is likely that you will find a practitioner near your home. Spas and wellness centers like the Omni Interlocken in Broomfield, Colorado, El Monte Sagrado in Taos, New Mexico, and the Chopra Center for Well-Being in Carlsbad, California, are already offering sound healing treatments, and many more will probably be including them over the next months and years.

Living Earth Crafts has developed special spa treatment tables that incorporate Acoustic Resonance Therapy. The cyma 1000 machine emits five harmonic frequencies and is programmed with different codes that correspond to different body parts. The technician selects the appropriate code for a patient and sends the vibrations and sounds though the patient’s aching body part. Patients report relief from soreness and pain, and clients who experience all types of sound healing sessions claim they are helped with chronic and acute pain, trauma, stress, fatigue, and even autism.

I tend to view healing claims with a healthy dollop of skepticism, but the idea that sound can heal certainly sparks my curiosity. Readers of the Bible know that in the beginning was the Word. And “ohm” is believed by many to be the first sound in the universe at the time of creation. Sound is clearly a major ingredient in the primordial soup where life evolved, but how, exactly, does sound healing work?

Jonathan Goldman, director of the Sound Healers Association (www.healingsounds.com), thinks that sound is the original creative force. Everything in the world is sound. Everything vibrates. Every part of the body vibrates. Our body is like an orchestra, and our voice is the most powerful instrument for healing—which is why many practitioners teach their clients techniques for chanting and singing. It’s not just the frequency of the sound produced that induces healing; the intent of the person producing the sound brings about healing— whether it’s the healer or the healee emitting the sound.

One of the luminaries of sound healing, Don Campbell, talks about life in our noisy world and the urgency of going on a sonic diet, where silence is more important than sound. He works in hospitals where he says that the sonic environment modifies the pain process and influences the patients’ outcome. Soothing music isn’t always right, and playing the same music over and over certainly isn’t healing. “Sometimes gentle music increases pain and Michael Jackson diminishes it,” he insists.

Fabien Maman pioneered the use of tuning forks in healing. He has photos of cells that change when exposed to sound. He feels that the power of sound is in overtones, which can penetrate the energy body and induce healing. One should never use strong or big sounds in healing, but dissonant, discordant sounds can actually destroy the negative patterns in cancer cells. “Your cells and all the natural elements change with sound,” he claims. “They all record sound and have a memory.”

Astarius, who dresses dramatically in leopard-skinpatterned clothes, sways as he plays a didgeridoo, and places the open end on different parts of a client’s body. The didgeridoo is played through circular breathing. Inhalation and exhalation are simultaneous, so the sound is continuous. The instrument, which is used by Tribal Aborigines in Australia, is said to heal and awaken the memory of Self beyond all pain and suffering.

Sound healing maven Susan Hale claims that vowels carry the sacred and emotional parts of speech. She maintains that people should chant by using the vowel sounds in their names (so Pete would chant eeeee and Lilly would chant iiii eeee).

Seduced by the claims of what working with sound can do, I went for a sound healing treatment with Marty Noss Wilder in Santa Fe. Wilder, over six feet tall, lithe, and with a background in musicology and singing as well as body work, asked me to pick a card before I lay down on her table. The inscription was about skipping, and Wilder said that would be the rhythmic theme of my session; the joy, freedom, and bounciness one had as a child.

For the next hour, Wilder held three tuning forks to different parts of my body and I could feel the vibrations inside of me. One of the tuning forks had the pitch of “ohm,” between C and C sharp. I almost immediately drifted off into deep relaxation as the therapist tapped on a drum, shook a rattle, and used her breath and voice to make humming, clicking, and lyrical sounds with her mouth and lips. I tried not to fall asleep so I could be aware of what was happening. The sounds penetrated deeply into my chest, rib cage, hips, legs. When I slithered off the table, I was a noodle. My voice was much lower than it ordinarily is and I had an urge to collapse onto a bed. All the tension had drained out of me.

“What in the world did you do?” I asked Wilder in my new low voice.

“Everything vibrates, pulsates, expands, and contracts,” she began. “Our cells do, our selves do, and that’s the whole principle behind sound healing. We use sound vibration to affect the body in its various pulsations and vibrations. Where you have stagnation, pain, immobility and illness, you have some sort of fixation. And we use sound healing to get things moving again, so the cells, tissues, and bones can communicate with each other. The person on the table may or may not be able to discern that, and results can either be immediate or show up a day or two later.”

“Do you think silence is important?” I asked her, thinking of Don Campbell’s words.

“Silence is the pause between things,” she answered.

“Silence is the space in your joints. We are made up of the same things the stars are made of. We have all the elements of the universe in our bodies—earth, air, water, fire, air, and space. Space is our connection to spirit and to the universe and to that which is greater than us. Silence is the element of space, ether, the pause, the way we connect to spirit. In a treatment, I use pitch and rhythm. In rhythm, there is built-in silence, between th e beats.”

By that evening, my voice had come back to normal, and the relaxation remained. I found that I was talking more slowly—which is no mean feat for a native New Yorker.

I can’t say definitively that sound heals, but, at the very least, it can send a person into a state of profound relaxation of mind, body and spirit, where healing can occur.

If You Want to Get the Vibe

If you want to be healthy, sing, chant, and dance. If you want to buy tapes of different talks about sound healing, go to www.visionaryaudiovideo.com and type in: “sound healing.” If you want to experience crystal singing bowls, electro-acoustic devices, quantum biofeedback, acutonics, tuning forks, Tibetan singing bowls, and transformative flutes, go to next year’s Sound Healing conference in Santa Fe (www.bizspirit.com/soundhealing/so_index.html).

Other resources include: the World Sound Healing Organization (www.worldsoundhealing.org); Vox Mundi School of Sound and the Voice (www.voxmundiproject.com); Tama-Do Academy of Sound, Color and Movement (www.tama-do.com); www.astarius.com; www.trancedance.com; www.updrumcircles.com; and www.healingvoice.com.

To book a sound healing treatment with therapist Marty Noss Wilder in Sante Fe, contact her at polaritywellness@gmail.com, or 505-920-3037.

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