Sound healing. Healing your body through sound. Say what? Before you dismiss the notion entirely, know that the concept has been around for thousands of years, from mantras, to ‘medicine melodies’ known as the Icaros found in Central and South America to Pythagoras’ use of interval and frequency. In a nutshell, our brain responds to different frequencies and the sound can heal both our physical body and our energetic body. We’ll let Ali Gunning, yoga teacher and gong healer, tells us more about this practice.
What is the theory behind vibrations and healing?
That everything in the universe, including ourselves, is composed of energy and therefore in a state of vibration. When we become ill or stressed out, the vibration of our minds, energy fields and bodies is disrupted. The potential to get out of sync comes from within ourselves – our thought patterns – and outside ourselves – think about all the noise, pollution and negativity that bombard us in a city environment. So sound healing leads us back to our natural state of harmony, within ourselves and with the world around us.
Surely this is some new age-hippy fad? How long has it been going on for?
Hardly! Yogis understood the potential for sounds such as mantras to heal us 5,000 years ago. The gong dates back to the Bronze age and has been used in ceremony and healing in Persia and China for thousands of years. Its more that we are slowly re-discovering something ancient and ancestral.
How can ‘good vibrations’ be applied to the body? What instruments are commonly used?
The sound slows our brain waves and calms the nervous system – the more relaxed our minds can be, the more our bodies can repair and reboot.
The study of cymatics shows how sound creates beautiful patterns in sand or water – sound creates form. We can imagine the same thing going on inside or bodies, which are composed largely of water. Our out of balance bodies begin to resonate with the sound. If you think about the vast array of sounds that the gong can produce, it means that lots of ‘bodies’ with different needs can be affected.
Other instruments include himalayan bowls, crystal bowls, tuning forks, drums and natural instruments like rain sticks. Many ancient cultures had their own unique sounds or types of instruments and we are very lucky that today we can bring lots of these different influences into a sound bath. The voice is a hugely powerful instrument that we have at our disposal.
What are the benefits people can look forward to?
Everyone’s experience is unique, every time! We tend to take what we need from each sound bath and may come away alive and tingling or relaxed and sleepy. Some of the common things people experience are: sleeping very deeply and soundly, feeling more connected to the world around them, going into a deep state of meditation, experiencing colours and images, feeling more creative, receiving wisdom or inspiration about their lives, releasing old thoughts that are weighing them down and finding relief from a physical issue such as back pain.
Are there any side effects?
You may find yourself forgoing a Friday night out to join a gong bath!
Like a yoga or meditation practise, sound can produce profound shifts in the way we think and feel; that can sometimes mean dealing with stuff we had been avoiding. I would say this is a positive effect – awareness is the only way to transform whatever we don’t wish to be into who we really are.
Who shouldn’t do this?
As we are sound – sound is for everyoneI The beautiful thing about a sound bath is that we are all, literally, on the same level – laying on the floor, eyes closed, resting the ego which compares and judges. You dont even have to be able to lie on the floor, I have often gonged people in chairs and even hospital beds. I would ask anyone in the early stages of pregnancy to be very cautious, likewise someone with sensitivity to sound.
What happens during a gong bath?
You’ll get warm and settled with blankets and pillows and something to cover your eyes. Then I guide you into a relaxed and meditative state, working with the body and breath and asking you to set an ‘intention’, something you are here to connect with or focus on today. The sound begins gently with voice or tibetan bowls before moving into the waves of gong which build and recede in intensity. There are lots of other sounds woven through the gong bath – different types of singing bowls, shakers, shruti box, bells, voice. So it becomes a journey that your mind can surrender to as the sound washes over and through the body.
How long have you been doing this for? What got you started?
I have been playing gong for about 4 years. Through teaching yoga I had a revelation that sound was going to be important for me. The universe connected me with a wonderful sound healer and he encouraged me to play the gong. From then on I started learning, playing and collecting them! In the last year and a half demand for gong has boomed so I’m now playing several times a week and blessed to be sharing what I love with many others.
What’s your favourite ‘instrument?
Oh that’s hard, I love them all! But centre stage in the gong bath is usually my 38 inch Paiste Sedna gong. We seem to have a special connection and her watery feminine sound resonates with most people. I also love my conch shell; hearing it sends a shiver down my so pine and takes me straight back to Rishikesh.
Ali Gunning is a yoga teacher and sound healer, who first discovered a passion for vibrations through mantras. She has since studied with gong masters, Don Conreaux, Tom Solton, Abby del Sol (Tone of Life) and Sheila Whittaker. If you would like to find out more about Ali Gunning’s gong baths and where sound healing in London is taking place, visit www.yoga-adrift.com You can also read our Yin Yoga and Gong Bath experience at East of Eden here.