Lyz Cooper explores the benefits of Therapeutic Sound for Health and Wellbeing.
Cast your mind back to the last time a sound affected you positively – can you remember what it was and how you felt? Perhaps the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore lulled you into a deep meditative state, a chorus of birdsong lifted you out of the doldrums, or the first cry of your newborn child opened your heart to the most overwhelming love. Sound has the power to enable us to transcend time and space, transform and lift our emotions and enable the spirit to soar – but how does it do this? Is this some kind of secret alchemy known only to a select few? Do we have to be initiated into a secret society or study with a guru or shaman to be privy to this sacred knowledge? In short, no.
Every one of us has within us the knowledge that enables us to use sound to affect our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical levels of being and most of us do this naturally every day when we select music to suit or change our mood-state. However sound can go much deeper than that – careful selection and implementation of sound in a specific way can improve your health and wellbeing and enhance personal development, enabling you to clear life-limiting beliefs and live a fear and stress-free, blissful life.
In 2000, following six years of research and development, I founded The British Academy of Sound Therapy. My research is based on exploring the therapeutic benefits of sound-induced Altered State of Consciousness (ASC). An ASC is an ancient practice that has been used by shaman and healers for hundreds of thousands of years. Acoustic archeologists have found evidence which suggests that early man may have used sound to enter an altered state. Based on these ancient practices, I have developed specific techniques to enhance the therapeutic benefits of ASC which has resulted in many people receiving benefit from life-limiting illness. I travel all over the world presenting and sharing my work and training people to use the techniques I have developed , known as the ‘BAST Method’. This method of sound therapy also features a reflective technique, which helps to deepen the healing process by enabling a person to reflect on the impact that their symptoms have on their state of mind and emotions.
What makes sound so healing?
The therapeutic effects of sound are achieved in a number of ways:
Rhythmic Entrainment: Millions of years of evolution has resulted in a motor-auditory pathway in the human brain. This basically means that we are able to move in time to music, such as when we are dancing for example, but also music (in particular rhythm) has the power to influence our brainwaves. Five minutes of drumming at three beats per second will result in most people going into a controllable trance or ASC. Regular trancing develops our consciousness enabling a greater sense of unity, bliss and wellbeing. It can also help with pain and suffering on a mental, emotional and physical level.
Sound, Space and Time: Low pitch sounds relax and high pitch sounds stimulate. This is due to the way the ear sends signals to the brain. Car alarms and the human scream are high pitched for a reason – they call us to attention. When you hear an alarm your system will release a small amount of adrenaline in response. In contrast, slower oscillating, lower pitch sounds are more relaxing, they give us the illusion that time is passing more slowly and as a result the system slows down. The instruments traditionally chosen by sound healers are ones which encourage long tones such as singing bowls and gongs. The vocal techniques used are usually long low tones – like ‘Om’ for example.
What Is Sound Healing?
As the popularity of sound healing and sound therapy grows, more varied therapeutic approaches are springing up all over the world which include 1-2-1 sound therapy sessions, group soundbaths, soundscapes, sonic art sessions, vocal choirs, kirtan, mantra and chanting groups to mention a few.
Everyone can benefit from sound used in a positive way – let’s have a look at the most commonly used therapeutic instruments.
Sound Signature: When an instrument is played a particular set of harmonics is produced which is the ‘timbre’ or ‘colour’ of the instrument. If an oboe and a flute both play the same note you can hear that two different instruments are producing the sound, even though they are playing the same note. This is due to the material the instrument is made from, the way it makes the sound and the particular harmonic structure that the instrument makes. It is the overall ‘personality’ of the instrument, if you like. Each instrument is chosen for its different effects on the mind, body and emotions. For example, the Himalayan signing bowls are warm and comforting like a sonic cuddle and they can be deeply relaxing and gentle. Whereas the gong is powerful and penetrating and can be very beneficial for physical pain, arthritis and tension but they are also good for any ‘stuck’ emotions. The crystal bowls are profoundly expansive and relaxing so are used to deepen the Altered State of Consciousness.
In the BAST method of sound therapy drums are used to massage the body, by beating different rhythms close to the body, muscles can relax and pain can be reduced. Your voice is one of the most powerful self-healing tools you have because when you use your voice you become the instrument. Research undertaken in the field of music psychology has shown that the closer the instrument is to the human voice, the more emotionally moving it is. Therefore your voice can be used to create positive emotion and release negative emotion. Most vocal practices will involve ‘toning’ which is basically the use of sustained tones, usually vowel sounds, ‘overtoning’ which is the singing of more than one note at once, ‘chanting or mantra’ the use of words (sometimes sacred) that are sung repeatedly to induce trance.
The power of sound and music is still not yet completely and fully understood but as science progresses we are finding out more about why it is such an effective therapeutic tool. This makes this field cutting edge and exciting – even more so when we realise that its roots reach back to the dawn of human civilisation. There is nothing that needs to be ‘believed’, as such, because each one of us can relate to being moved by music at some point in our life, and therefore even the die-hard sceptics could gain insight into why this methodology has such potential.
Bring Sound Healing Into Your Life
As soon as you feel stress coming on, wiggle your toes and feel your feet on the ground. Then, try one of the following:
This exercise is great for grounding a busy mind at a moment’s notice. It works best if you’re lying or sitting, but I’ve used it on a crowded subway train.
- Close your eyes. Using the flattened fingers of one hand against one thigh, tap out a heartbeat rhythm: ‘lub-dub’ then count ‘two, three, four’ silently, before repeating the tap – ‘lub-dub’ [two, three, four], lub-dub [two, three, four]. Don’t let your mind wander, just focus on the beat.
- After a few minutes of using a silent count of four, extend the silent count to five for a minute, then extend to six for another minute. Keep extending the count a minute at a time for five minutes in total (the last silent count is nine).
Practised for a few minutes, this humming technique provides a quick fix as stress takes hold, but you can also use it for longer periods in therapeutic sound sessions when anxiety seems to be a long-term feature in your life.
- Close your lips and hum in a low pitch, breathe in through your nose when you need to take another breath and then keep humming.
- After a couple of minutes, experiment with the pitch – try a little higher or lower until the pitch resonates with you, but try to keep it generally to the lower end of your register. Keep humming for between three and five minutes to get the full benefit of the calming effect.
About the author: Liz Cooper is the author of What is Sound Healing?. She was the first person in the UK to formulate a therapeutic sound method which was officially recognised by the Institute for Complementary and Natural Medicine (ICNM) in 1997. In 2010 the ICNM recognised her work with a fellowship for her outstanding contribution to therapeutic sound worldwide. Lyz is also co-founder of the Therapeutic Sound Association. Her collaboration with ambient music trio Marconi Union came 11th in Time Magazine’s ‘Top 50 Best Inventions’ of the year awards ‘ for ‘Weightless’ – the most relaxing track ever.