Everywhere I go seems to offer new experiences in sound healing, such as the Sound Healing Series this summer at Tibet House, organized by Sara Auster and Jesse Paris Smith, and the ongoing Talking Stick Series at The Rubin Museum. A recent documentary Alive Inside, featuring highly respected neuroscientist Oliver Sacks, shows the way Alzheimers patients recover their memory through music. I read a recent article about the meditative “blue mind” of the ocean. While sampling a Tibetan singing bowl on Carmine Street, I am shown how water vibrates in the bowl when you circle it with the wand.
I greeted the two, who were excited to be our guides for the next two hours. In the center of the room was ahuge picnic of various instruments, including various sizes of Tibetan singing bowls, xylophones, bells, wooden wind instruments, harmonium, small drums-and in one corner of the room-a large drum and a giant gong. There were blankets over mats radiating out from the center outlay of instruments like rays of the sun, with colorful eye masks on blanket pillows, and an extra blanket for cover. The studio altar glowed with lovely candlelight. I rounded up some extra props so I could shift into restorative poses, though I felt like I could also just lie prone cuddled up with blankets.
A sound bath seemed an appealing variation of pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses. All I had to do was open myself to allow the rejuvenation of sound energy waves. I wanted a wash of music that would create stimulating and healing vibrations, a sound energy shower, and the therapeutic treatment of a yoga class. It seemed like a great counterpoint to the turbulent daily hassles of urban life.
Sara writes on her blog that most of us are living the majority of our lives in a state of primarily beta brain waves – aroused, alert, concentrated, but also somewhat stressed. When we lower the brain wave frequency to alpha, we can put ourselves in an ideal condition to learn new information, perform more elaborate tasks, analyze complex situations and even be in a state of improved focus in athletic performance and exercise. She adds that the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus (such as music or sound). When we focus like that, the electrical patterns in our brains slow down and relax, and the amplitude of our brain-waves generally stabilizes in the alpha wave range. This aligned with what I’d heard about the brain shifts in meditation and pranayama, and though I practiced both, I wanted live instruments to take me there on this day.
Sara and Jesse invited us to introduce ourselves, and if we liked (no presh) we could share a sound/tone, and a gesture that expresses what we were feeling pre-bath, and why we were drawn to come. Replies, gestures, tones, expressions were offered such as I’m feeling “ahhhhhh, relieved to be here,” or, “a low hum.” Some raved about all night “Gong Baths.”
We were encouraged not to attach to one sound over another, whether harmonious or dissonant. We lay down with the crown of our heads nearest the instruments. I put my mask on, and covered myself with a blanket. The first wash of sound was like the ocean, reverberating through me, through all the channels I could feel. My cells liked this… The drum seemed to merge with the gong. Jesse and Sara walked around with some of the instruments, offering close ups (like a personal reiki treatment with sound), and whole room tones. I don’t try to guess what instruments were being played, but felt delight each time I noticed a shift in sound, like the rattle of wooden chimes that made a different system in my body respond. The instruments or tones varied with seamless transitions. Jesse’s and Sara’s voices became part of the music. I felt the sound energy created was sequenced to evoke our life force energy in specific ways.
It was a roomful of sound bathers on a personal and collective journey. We were unplugged. I stayed awake and restful throughout, while shifting slowly restorative yoga poses (optional). I kept the mask on the entire time, so I didn’t know what others were up to. It was a pleasure to discover the sounds through our bodies. We let the music wash over our bodies, and seep through our minds, channels and conduits for the sounds to be transmitted through. Everyone seems to feel recalibrated from the event, replenished, restored. I felt more reset. More porous. Open. Cured in some way, as if I’d had a great dream or at least a fantastic catnap. I had plans later that night, and was renewed to meet them.
As soon as the class was over, I wrote down these notes:
“Resonation”---“I want to resonate, vibrate”----“Clear and cohere”---
Echoes of a Nick Cave song enters my mind from “Jubilee Street”:
…“I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing”….
Sara Auster and Jesse Paris Smith offer the Sound Bath the first Saturday of every month at Twisted Trunk Yoga. The next one is this Saturday November 1.
-- Alystyre Julian
Alystyre Julian has taught yoga for 15 years, and practiced for 25 years. She is a multi-genre writer, and is making a feature documentary about poet and performer Anne Waldman, called “Outrider," to emerge in 2015.
Jesse Paris Smith is a composer, pianist, and percussionist, as well as a recent graduate of the Sound and Music Institute, where she studied psychoacoustics, and deepened her understanding of the power of music and sound. Jesse also coordinates The Talking Stick series at the Rubin Museum.