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Alcohol and Mental Health

What Is a Sound Bath? And What Are the Benefits?

November 9, 2023
22 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
November 9, 2023
22 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
November 9, 2023
22 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
November 9, 2023
22 min read
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Reframe Content Team
November 9, 2023
22 min read

You’re stressed — and no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to catch a break. You’ve tried multiple practices: massages, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, exercise, and deep breathing, but you’re just not getting much relief. But then you hear about this thing called a sound bath — a meditative experience in which we “bathe” ourselves in sound waves.

What is a sound bath? Is this just another new age gimmick, or is there really something to it? Are there any tangible sound bath benefits? And what about any potential sound bath negative effects? In this post, we’ll explore sound baths and why so many health and wellness experts are excited about the benefits of sound bath healing. Let’s dive in!

What Is a Sound Bath?

A person laying on his back experiencing sound bath

A sound bath is a meditative experience that involves being “bathed” in sound waves produced by various sources, such as gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, percussion, chimes, bells, rattles, tuning forks, and even the human voice.

The music doesn’t have a catchy melody or rhythm because this might cause our brain to hook into a certain melody or focus on a repeated beat — preventing us from entering into a meditative state.

Instead, the music is a diligently selected wash of instrumentation and vocals with coordinated resonance and overtones. They’re called “baths” because people often feel like they’re being submerged in sound, as if being washed or cleansed in waves of water.

Many wellness experts are touting sound baths for their ability to provide relief from stress, anxiety, and depression. The sounds created during sessions pulls us into a deep meditative state, helping rebalance our energy, relax, and rejuvenate our bodies.

Historical Roots

While it might sound like a “new age” concept, the practice of healing bodies through sound is actually thousands of years old. In fact, sound healing traces its roots back to ancient civilizations in Greece, Egypt, and India. These societies believed in the transformative healing power of sound and used methods such as singing bowls, chanting, and tuning forks to promote a harmonious environment for the body to heal from various mental and physical conditions. Let’s take a closer look!

  • Greece. The ancient Greeks used sound vibration to aid in digestion, treat mental issues, and induce sleep. 
  • Egypt. Ancient Egyptians used sound baths as elements of healing rituals meant to improve physical and spiritual well-being. For example, sounds were central to ceremonies in temples, and instruments such as sistrums, lyres, and flutes were used to communicate with the divine. The sistrum (a type of rattle) was especially powerful, as it was associated with the goddess Hathor who helped ward off evil spirits and energies.
  • India. Ancient Indian rituals and ceremonies were full of sound as well. Sacred sounds known as mantras create vibrations within the body that align with certain frequencies that promote healing and spiritual growth. Likewise, instruments such as the tanpura, singing bowls (imported later from regions like Tibet), bells, and the flute create soundscapes conducive to meditation and spiritual practices.

Sound Baths: Science or Myth?

It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that researchers started working on proving the correlation between sound and healing. That said, many are skeptical about the benefits of sound baths. It’s relaxing, sure, but can it really help us at a physical level?

So is there science behind it? You bet! In fact, studies show that singing bowl sound meditation provides tangible benefits when it comes to relieving anxiety and depression while promoting peace and well-being. Likewise, a 2020 study on Himalayan singing bowls showed that the practice had a positive effect on mood, even after a single session!

How Does Sound Bath Therapy Work?

The practitioner uses one or more instruments to create soothing, overlapping vibrations, meant to lead us into a deep state of contemplation and relaxation. Sometimes, depending on the practitioner, sound baths feature integrated yoga practices, such as chants, mantras, or rolling oms. Other techniques might also be incorporated into sound bath sessions such as guided imagery, deep breathing, visualization, or focusing on positive thoughts.

A guided session lasts anywhere between 15 and 60 minutes. At the end, practitioners typically turn off the sounds slowly, guide us back to a feeling of awareness, and transition us into a seated position.

Experts believe sonic waves hold the potential to heal the body by helping “tune” the nervous system. The idea is that the harmonious, calming sounds relax our muscles and cause our breathing to slow and our heart rate and blood pressure to drop. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, releasing endorphins and suppressing our body’s fight-or-flight response.

What Are the Benefits of a Sound Bath?

Limited research has been done on sound bath healing, but the studies we have show that sound baths have positive physical and mental health benefits:

Mental Health Benefits

Studies show that sound baths may help treat mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. One study found that tension, anxiety, and negative moods decreased significantly after participants experienced a sound bath. 

Another study found that heart rate and other vitals that indicate anxiety improved in those who listened to Tibetan singing bowls before undergoing surgery. In general, sound baths can help people better handle negative emotions and improve distressed mood, tension, anger, and anxiety. They can also contribute to an increased sense of well-being.

Physical Health Benefits

Some research suggests that in addition to helping the body relax, sound baths can potentially foster physical healing. One study found that people who regularly enjoyed sound baths had a greater decline in systolic blood pressure compared to those who turned to other meditations. Another study showed that certain sounds could help relieve tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ear). 

Sound baths may also help reduce or relieve physical pain. One study found that participants ranked their pain lower than they did before experiencing a sound bath. Furthermore, sound baths help relax our muscles, slow our breathing, and drop our heart rate. 

Experts believe that because stress is associated with health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, sound baths may be a good preventative strategy to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions. However, more research is needed to confirm this theory. 

Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Sound Baths

Who Can Benefit Most From Sound Baths?

Part of the beauty of sound bath therapy is that it can be beneficial for anyone. Since we’re lying down on our back the entire time, we don’t need athletic ability or flexibility to participate. In fact, sound baths are very beneficial for people of all ages experiencing disease, illness, or trauma.

Experts say that the only person they might advise not to experience one is someone who has had a concussion or who is overly sensitive to noise: the vibrations might cause a headache because of their volume or intensity. Some experts also caution against participating in sessions during pregnancy, but when offered by a specialized practitioner, they’re generally considered safe.

Those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression, and stress might find them particularly beneficial. Similarly, sound baths may be good for someone who has had a difficult time connecting with traditional meditation or yoga, but who wants to experience the same benefits. For instance, people who overthink or have excessive thoughts often struggle with traditional meditation. With sound baths, however, it’s often easier to let go, relax, and be in the moment.

In fact, sound can impact us quite quickly — and usually without us noticing it or being aware of the changes in our body. For instance, think about the songs on your playlist that elicit strong emotions. Maybe we were feeling sad, but all of a sudden a song comes on that brings us to a happy memory. Similarly, sound waves do the work for us, calming the body and helping us feel safe enough to drop into a meditative state quickly and deeply.

Sound baths aren’t inherently dangerous, but please note that sometimes people experience intense emotions, such as sadness or sorrow. These emotions might be buried in the unconscious, and the vibrations from singing bowls are believed to uncover them.

The bottom line? Sound baths aren’t a replacement for proven treatments, but they can be considered a low-risk complement or supplement to other proven methods, such as psychotherapy.

Are There Side Effects From a Sound Bath?

When experiencing a sound bath, negative effects are rare. That said, sound baths affect every person differently. For instance, some people may feel tired or relaxed after their sound bath, while others might feel energized. It largely depends on what we’re trying to achieve from the sound bath and our state of mind before starting.

Some of the most common reactions to a sound bath include feeling calmer or less stressed; enjoying looser muscles; and experiencing pain relief, better sleep, improved mood, and greater awareness of our body. We usually start to feel some of these benefits within 10 minutes of starting the session. Because sound baths promote relaxation, it can be especially effective to have a sound bath at night and then go to sleep without spending time on screens or devices.

Experts recommend drinking plenty of water, eating healthy foods, and getting a good night’s sleep before a sound bath, as this can increase its effectiveness. Hydration is especially important, since vibrations travel better through water (including water in our body). It’s also advised to steer clear of alcohol prior to a sound bath.

How To Experience a Sound Bath

Sound bath therapy is becoming more and more popular in the United States due to an increased interest in health, wellness, meditation and mindfulness. Some yoga and meditation studios offer sound baths regularly and are a great place to start a search. Speaking with local wellness practitioners — acupuncturists, reiki specialists, yoga teachers — can guide us to a local sound bath experience.

We can participate in a group session or sign up for a private, one-on-one session customized to our needs. Some people prefer individual sound baths where they can be in complete control of the session, while others enjoy the community of a group experience. We might even find “pop up” sound baths in parks, churches, or other communal spaces. 

While we can also purchase sound healing instruments to create our own sound bath, most of us experience deeper benefits when guided by an expert. Similarly, we can also listen to a sound bath recording at home, but they’re generally more effective live and in a professional setting. 

Drawing Your Sound Bath

Here are some specific steps on how you can “draw your sound bath” and soak in the healing:

  • Comfort is key. If we sign up for sound bath therapy, it’s important to be as comfortable as possible. Consider wearing soft, loose, or stretchy clothing like you would wear to a gentle yoga class. Avoid wearing anything too tight or constricting. While you don’t have to, it’s generally advised to close your eyes during the experience to prevent distraction and promote deeper contemplation.
  • Listen in. If you’re curious but not yet committed, you can listen to publicly recorded sound baths before experiencing a live session. However, be sure to do so in a quiet place with the intention of letting your mind and body relax. 
  • Set an intention. Keep in mind that you’re likely to get the most out of a sound bath healing session when you can identify a clear intention or goal for the practice. For instance, your goal might simply be to relieve stress or anxiety, or reach clarity on a persistent issue that’s been plaguing you. The intention can evolve during the experience, and that’s okay. But try to bring your mind back to it if it wanders to stay present to the experience.
  • Practice mindful breathing. Throughout the experience, gently focus on your breath to bring mindful awareness to the present moment.
  • Hydrate. Make sure to stay hydrated by keeping a water bottle nearby.
  • End on a grateful note. Gratitude has science-backed benefits for brain health, and ending your sound bath by focusing on feeling grateful for the experience will give it an extra boost.

Enjoy the bath!

After the Bath

It can be particularly helpful to journal or reflect on our experience afterwards. For instance, we might ask ourselves how it felt, what types of emotions arose, or what we walked away with. We might also ask ourselves what types of sounds affected us the most emotionally. 

As for how often we should do a sound bath, it largely depends on our personal situation. For instance, if we’re looking to reduce stress and promote relaxation, a monthly sound bath can help us feel more balanced and centered. However, if we’re dealing with a particular issue or challenge, such as anxiety or chronic pain, it may be beneficial to do a sound bath more frequently. 

Keep Your Doctor in the Loop

As with any practice that involves our health, it’s important to keep our doctor in the loop. Those who have health conditions (for example, epilepsy) should be especially careful about introducing sound baths to their regimen. Always best to err on the side of safety!

Likewise, try to find an experienced professional who knows what sound baths are all about to guide you. This can be a yoga instructor, a healer, or a wellness coach. Sound baths are the staple for many when it comes to mental health and self-care routines, and having an experienced “bather” to guide you can bring the practice to a new level.

The Bottom Line

Sound baths are a meditative practice that help promote relaxation and rejuvenation. They can be easier than other meditative practices, as they don’t require much discipline or patience; instead, we simply listen and allow the music to wash over us. While they aren't a replacement for medication or therapy, sound baths can be a complementary tool for relieving anxiety or depression.

If you’re turning to alcohol to ease your stress and anxiety, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier habits for managing stress.

Summary FAQs

1. What is a sound bath?

A sound bath is a meditative experience that involves being “bathed” in sound waves produced by various sources, such as gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, percussion, chimes, bells, rattles, tuning forks, and even the human voice. 

2. How does a sound bath work?

Sound baths are typically led by providers trained in south bath musical techniques. During sessions, providers will use one or more instruments to create soothing vibrations, which are meant to lead us into a state of relaxation and contemplation. 

3. What are the benefits of a sound bath?

Studies suggest that sound baths can boost our mental and physical well-being by relieving stress, anxiety, and depression, and causing our heart rate and blood pressure to drop. 

4. Who benefits most from a sound bath?

Anyone can benefit from the calming effects of a sound bath, but they can be particularly helpful to people struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression, or those who have difficulty with traditional meditation techniques. 

5. Are there side effects from a sound bath?

Sound baths can affect people differently. But, most people feel more relaxed and calm, and experience a greater sense of well-being and awareness after a sound bath.

6. How can we experience a sound bath?

While we can listen to prerecorded music at home, sound baths are generally more effective when they’re being led by a trained provider. Many yoga or meditation studios provide group and/or private sessions. 

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