Even for people who’ve been doing it for years, meditation can be difficult sometimes. So, it's no wonder that those who are new to the practice can be frustrated or confused about what's going on. What's meditation supposed to feel like? How do you make your mind stop racing? How do you know when you've done what you need to do to reap the many benefits?
That's where a shortcut like soundbathing can come in handy.
While it's not a guarantee of a certain experience, it's a way to help those who are trying to understand what meditation feels like. "Instead of saying, 'I'm going to climb to the top of the mountain,' someone picks you up and drops you at the top," Lodro Rinzler, the founder of the New York City-based meditation studio MNDFL, told Quartz. "You can experience it for a little bit and say: 'Oh right, that’s what I’m talking about.'"
Later, when you sit down to meditate, you'll be clearer on how good it feels. A sound bath can also be an easy way to relax when you are extra-stressed, and since many meditation and yoga studios now offer classes anywhere, they can easily be accessed on those days that you might need some outside assistance to calm down.
What is soundbathing?
It's not all that complicated. It involves relaxing in a comfortable setup of some kind, either pillows and/or a mattress set up on the floor, and blankets, usually covering you while you lie on your back. It's similar to savasana in yoga — the pose typically done at the end of the class during relaxation.
You will likely do some basic deep-breathing exercises to start relaxing your parasympathetic nervous system, while a therapist uses Tibetan singing bowls, tuning forks or other instruments, each of which vibrates at a different frequency or note.
It's called soundbathing because, "People often tell us that they feel like they are being submerged in sound, like the sound waves created by the Tibetan singing bowls are a visceral thing and they are washed in waves of water. They use words like 'cleansed' and 'cleared' to describe their experience," meditation teacher Monte Hansen told the Washington Post.
A very relaxing experience
You can get an idea of what soundbathing looks and sounds like in the video above (skip to 5:20), but to experience the full benefits of the bowls, you have experience it in person. That's because this isn't just "meditating to relaxing sounds" as it might seem. In person, you both hear and feel the sounds as they come from the bowls, which are made from quartz crystal or metal. Sometimes there's also a gong, singing or other sounds that may be incorporated into the bath.
"Selection of bowls also varies depending upon which chakra, or energy meridian system in the body, we are focusing on that day. For example, if someone wants to have a grounding meditation, we use bowls that primarily resonate the C note because it affects that lower chakra. If they are looking for a heart-opening session, we select bowls that resonate the F note," says Hansen.
It's both the relaxing musical tones as well as the vibrations traveling through the air that are meant to affect your system and bring you to a state of equilibrium and relaxation. Most people are surprised by how easy and relaxing it is; you really don't have to do much for this wellness practice.
And none of this is new. Meditation, yoga and sound have been used for thousands of years to reduce stress and to relax the body. And studies have backed up the anecdotal and historically noted positive effects of certain tones on mind and body.
Ultimately, you have to try soundbathing to see if it works for you; but there's little risk, since it's a very relaxing experience.
"Your brain is like a human computer. You have all these tabs open and, over time, your system will remind you that it’s time to reboot," says Hansen. "When you finally allow your system to recalibrate, what happens? It comes back faster, fresher and clearer."