Healing comes in many forms. Here in the west, we tend to think in terms of pills and prescriptions, hard-hitting antibiotics and hasty visits to overworked doctors. But away to the east, in the orient and on the subcontinent, healing has – for thousands of years – been a very different matter: the body, mind and spirit often treated as a whole.
And so we get yoga and tantra, acupuncture, herbal cures and massage – practices which are believed to work holistically, healing the cause rather than treating the immediate symptoms. That’s not to say there’s no place for modern medicine – given the recent global corona scare, where would be without it? – but there are, perhaps, gentler ways to treat and heal some of the ills that ail. Including, straight from Tibet, sound bathing.
The idea, says Dora Nemes – a yoga instructor, aromatherapist, and singing bowl practitioner, who holds sound bathing classes every Thursday at the 7 Buddhas Yoga and Massage Studio in Paphos – is to use the power of sound to bring balance, relaxation and a sense of wellbeing to mind, body and spirit. And this she does through the use of Tibetan singing bowls…
Now, if you’ve never seen – or heard – a singing bowl, you’re forgiven for thinking it’s something one might find in a Disney cartoon. But nothing could be further from the truth. Singing bowls are in fact a type of idiophone: an instrument which, when struck, shaken or scraped, produces sound through vibration.
Think of the sound of bells (the gentle chimes and peals that ease and soothe) and you’ve got the idea. Singing bowls are basically inverted bells, ranging in diameter from a few centimetres to a metre or more, and the sound is produced by using striking the side, and prolonged by rolling the mallet around the edge.
“Each bowl is made from a special mixture of metals,” says Dora, who generally uses Tibetan-made bowls to produce the purest sound. “The sound depends both on size and composition, but it’s very healing, very relaxing for the body and mind.”
For some, this may stretch the bounds of belief. But, for millennia, and across a myriad of cultures, sound has been employed as an alternative healing method. The didgeridoo was one such instrument, used by the native peoples of Australia to promote healing in those who were sick. And in West Africa, therapeutic drumming techniques have been used for thousands of years to maintain physical, mental and spiritual health.
More recently, a scholarly review of scientific articles on music as medicine produced strong evidence that music has mental and physical health benefits to improve mood and reduce stress, highlighting the fact that it’s the vibrations (or the rhythm) rather than the melody which provides physical pain relief. The Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine has also published research proving that an hour-long sound meditation (in which Tibetan singing bowls feature largely) helped reduce tension, anger, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. And a 2015 study involving those suffering from fibromyalgia concluded that low-frequency sound stimulation could improve sleep and decrease pain; nearly three quarters of the study’s participants were able to reduce their pain medication as a direct result of the sound therapy they had received.
“Sound bathing can improve everything from self-acceptance and anxiety to cognitive skills and blood pressure,” agrees Dora. “It’s even known to help boost the immune system – something that’s very important at the moment in light of Covid-19!”
Each of her classes begins with 15 minutes of gentle movement – “a very simple, easy flow to release the energy and cleanse the body” – followed by a short invocation in which participants connect with their breath. “And then,” she adds, “we lie down in a circle, making sure everyone is comfortable and cosy, and I begin playing the singing bowls.”
Depending on the needs of participants, Dora works with anything up to seven bowls – each of which relates directly to one of the chakras, releasing and healing certain types of energy. “There are no rules, other than what works for the people in the class,” she reveals. “You can use all seven and go through the chakras from root to crown, or focus on just one or two bowls. I often find the bowl which gives out a frequency related to the heart chakra is particularly valuable for participants: in these uncertain times, we need a smooth flow of compassion, affection, and love.
“Sound bathing is,” she concludes, “a very relaxing, immersive experience. Here, in my sessions, I light candles, and diffuse healing essential oils; in the winter we use blankets to make sure everyone is as cosy and comfy as possible. And it’s a therapy that works for all ages – we have 20-year-olds and 70-year-olds attending the sessions; benefiting from this beautiful sound therapy.”
Even those who are sceptical about the practice are welcome, she adds with a smile. “There’s a reason the practise of sound bathing has been around for thousands of years. Singing bowls can help everyone.”
Dora holds sound bathing sessions every Thursday evening throughout August, at the 7 Buddhas Yoga and Massage Studio in Paphos. For more information, call 99 072431 or visit the Facebook event page ‘Sound Bath – A Journey Inward’