‘Gong Baths’ Deliver Healing Meditative Experience Without Exertion

Published September 3rd, 2019 - 11:33 GMT
Tibetan bowl (Shutterstock)
Tibetan bowl (Shutterstock)
Since the 12th-century, Buddhist monks have used the deep tones of Tibetan singing bowls to aid meditation — and gongs produce similar sounds.

Lying on the floor as someone bashes a gong above you for an hour could be an effective therapy for chronic pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia and more — or so say advocates of the latest alternative trend to spread across the UK.

‘Gong baths’ and ‘sound bath’ sessions using a gong, Tibetan singing bowls or chimes promise to deliver a healing meditative experience without the physical exertion of yoga or the mental discipline of meditation.

Sessions are proliferating in yoga studios across Britain, with brands such as Chanel and Channel 4 among those that have booked sessions for staff. Film stars Charlize Theron and Robert Downey Jr are said to be fans, and Meghan Markle has reportedly taken Prince Harry to sessions.

All that participants have to do is lie down and relax while a practitioner begins to play a large gong, starting gently and quietly, then building the sound into a droning meditative chime for up to an hour.

Since the 12th-century, Buddhist monks have used the deep tones of Tibetan singing bowls to aid meditation — and gongs produce similar sounds. Therapists claim the vibrations promote relaxation and have healing properties.

What little research has been done to investigate these claims — such as a study this year by Colombian anaesthesiologists reported in the Spanish medical journal Cirugía Española — has found no clinical benefit other than slight reductions in blood pressure, which may indicate lowered anxiety.

However, some enthusiasts claim the frequencies of the gongs may boost cells’ health by strengthening the chemical channels by which cells communicate. Lyz Cooper, 54, principal of the British Academy of Sound Therapy in Chichester, West Sussex, where she has treated thousands of clients since it opened 20 years ago, has mixed feelings about the surge in popularity.

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She says the therapy may bring ‘significant benefits in conditions such as pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia’, and adds: ‘We have had so many people make amazing recoveries that there has to be something going on.’

As to how sound bath therapy might work, Lyz acknowledges: ‘I’m sure that there is an element of placebo, but that doesn’t matter — because the placebo effect itself is evidence of the mind’s healing power.’

However, she believes the greatest benefit comes from the way that sound from gongs and Tibetan bowls can send people into an altered state of consciousness.

‘This is similar to the state of consciousness induced by meditation, and transcendental meditation in particular,’ she says.

‘Our techniques enable people to go into a very deep altered state where they release muscle tension, reduce stress and blood pressure. This puts them in a better position to develop insights into their conditions.’

Such trance-like states can be disorientating, even frightening to the uninitiated — and this is why Lyz is concerned by the burgeoning popularity of sound baths. ‘I am worried that some people are just buying a few bowls or gongs and calling themselves sound therapists,’ she says. ‘There is no regulation to stop them.

‘I have had calls from people who have emerged traumatised from sessions but just been told by the practitioner not to worry and that their trauma “will just wear off”. They get no aftercare and are left feeling seriously out of sorts.’

Lyz began working with sound bath therapy in 1997. Her academy runs four-day diploma-level courses for practitioners who now work in the NHS mental health services and in special schools.

She laments that she cannot find funding to establish her work’s benefits. ‘I would love to do brain scanning studies of people undergoing sound-induced altered states, but unfortunately no one wants to pay,’ she says. ‘There’s no profit in store for them because the therapy can’t be patented and marketed like a drug.’

Ingrid Collins, a consultant psychiatrist who is based in London’s Harley Street, believes there may be benefits to be had.

‘Instinctively, we know the power of sound vibrations and how relaxing they can be,’ she says. ‘As parents, we sing lullabies to get children to go to sleep. And as adults, when we want to enhance our own moods, we play appropriate music.’

Sound therapy has even been used sporadically in the NHS. Adrienne Woods, a nurse turned sound therapist in North Yorkshire, has successfully used Tibetan singing bowls with patients with severe disabilities and learning difficulties. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.    

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