Experiencing Silence through Sound
Is Sound Meditation the Ancient Answer to a Present Riddle?
by Emma Winter, written late 2020
Photography Genevieve Stevenson
The dreaded tone of the alarm starts bleeping again. The option to snooze once more has gone. Crank, the lights are switched on, the glare dazzling those bloodshot eyes… Nowhere near enough sleep, gah, last nights deadline still not ready even though the candle was burned until the wee hours last night. Quick shower, coffee and out the door, I’ll finish working on the train… The train is jam packed, a cacophony of clattering carriages, announcements and other peoples conversations clashing in my brain. My head hurts. I pop some paracetamol, balance my laptop precariously on my knee and put the finishing touches to my presentation. My mouth is dry, my chest tight, my shoulders knotted.
Our ancient ancestors looking upon todays modern day civilisation must be utterly flummoxed by our lifestyle and behaviours. Although we have achieved mind-blowing advancements as humankind, as a species we appear to be growing ever distant and in dissonance from our true connection to nature and ever increasingly we are living in states of dis-ease. The faster we whirl the more equilibrium goes askew.
We have all felt moments where we have health and harmony in the body and with our surroundings. That holiday where you wander slowly along the beach, feeling the sand in between your toes and the water caressing your feet…
listening to the waves as they kiss the shore, breathing in the exhilarating fresh sea air, watching the sunset with no concept of time just being. Total bliss.
The fact is that in everyday life we seem to be losing our innate intuition, being dulled down by the myriad distractions, to - do lists, deadlines and general sensory overload. Our senses play such a critical role in our perception of the world around us and our radars are foggy.
We have been reaching for quick fixes that mask issues rather than finding the route of the problem and we have overseen the necessity for daily meditation to maintain our inner health and harmony, that is until now.
Coronavirus has given everybody on this planet a huge wake up call. For many, a forced pause and reflection. That work hard, play hard approach was curbed overnight and in the face of a global pandemic the focus on health, wellness and a back to basics approach started to emerge and become more apparent in the vocabulary of the masses.
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear” – Rumi
Photography Marcos Paulo Prado
It’s no great secret that meditation works wonders. It has been proven that having a regular meditation practice can lower blood pressure, alleviate anxiety, improve cognitive function and even slow down the ageing process.
For somebody who possesses a mind that either darts around like a frog thats ate far too many e numbers or that is so hyper focused on one thing that the sky could be raining cats and dogs and I wouldn’t notice, anything to help quieten the mind is a must! However, your classic seated meditation just wasn’t the mould that worked for me. The chatter was still deafening when I sat in a silent room in stillness.
My medicine and route to my own personal mind zen space were to be found within movement and sound.
“Just as the ancients danced to call upon the spirits in nature, we too can dance to find the spirits within ourselves.” - Anna Halprin
My own meditation journey began with movement medicine. I’d been dancing in clubs since they would legally let me in (ok, maybe a few years before) so I’d been unwittingly practicing movement medicine for years but dancing like nobody was watching stone cold sober was the next level of transcendental. The ticking cogs of my brain quietened and I reached states of euphoric flow.
Working with somatic movement, focusing or being led by physical sensations rather than on external appearance was great exercise, I felt incredible and really started to help clear and release emotional blockages trapped within the body.
“The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance” - Alan Watts.
Photography Hulki Okan Tabak
A few years later, I stumbled upon a Sound bath and thought that I’d give it a go. The idea of sitting still for a 90 minute meditation felt like a challenge at the time and I must admit I went in with suspicions that it probably wouldn’t be for me. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; it is the source of all true art and science.” – Albert Einstein
As I lay there, immersed in mysterious, otherworldly sound waves I felt something in me just let go, I became immersed in the sound waves and experienced something far greater than myself and my own inane mind chatter. I lost all concept of time and place and as I came to at the end of the session, I felt totally rejuvenated. Its’ a tricky one to explain but something within me had shifted. Sound baths then became something that myself and my partner would look forward to once a month or so in an attempt to balance the fast paced London careers and life we had made for ourselves.
"Everything vibrates. Everything is part of the great substance of life-motion responding to different rates of vibration. When these differing vibrations are in harmony, they comply with cosmic laws. Harmony of being and action is the result. When these vibrations are not in harmony, they disobey natural cosmic laws. Discord and destruction is the result.’ Everything is in motion, everything flows, everything is vibrating" - Wayne Dyer
One day, post sound bathing, I pondered on the fact that everything in reality is vibration. My passion for finding meditation through movement in dancing wasn’t so different to bathing in sound really. In sound baths I was allowing the sound waves to dance through me in a more subtle way, far less energetic on my part but in many ways more profound than what I had experienced whilst dancing.
All over the world, time immortal, people have been harnessing the power of sound for its profound healing effects on the mind, body and soul.
Native American Shamans used chanting, singing and drumming in order to achieve trance like states in order to access their healing powers, Aboriginal tribes have used the primordial sounds of the ancient didgeridoo to enter deeper states of consciousness. Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagorus, was convinced that frequencies and in particular the harmonic qualities of sound and music had a healing effect on the human body. It was he who was responsible for the discovery of the harmonic relationships between mathematical ratios and musical chords. As early as the 6th century, gongs were used in China in rituals and tribal meetings. In India deep sedative states are induced by the use of scared mantras. In South America, they refer to sound healing as ‘Icaros’ which is human voice through chanting and song to dispel illness.
The ancient Egyptians seemed to have a far more in depth understanding about acoustic healing than we even possess today. The great pyramid of Giza being designed to reverberate to amplify the therapeutic vowel based toning chants. Within each chamber having its own specific harmonic replicating the harmonics of the cavities within the human body which when combined with healing techniques could restore harmony back to the patient.
Our western world has so much to learn from our indigenous ancestors and their healing wisdom.
To look to our future it would appear that we need to re- learn and reintegrate this ancient knowledge back into our modern day lives.
Acoustic therapies harness the power of a variety of instruments that are tuned to healing frequencies, that work binaurally or that feature overtones and natural harmonics.
In most musical compositions, the mind can easily follow melodies and rhythm. The instruments used in sound healing use layers of harmonics and combination tones which work on the principles of brainwave entrainment, allowing participants to alter from their waking state of consciousness. This helps take people from an everyday waking Beta state through to Alpha (Relaxations), Delta (Meditation) and Theta (Trance) brainwave states.
Therapeutic sound frequencies stimulate the Vagus nerve situated just behind the ears running down the spine and branching out across the body to all major organs regulating their functionality. Specific harmonies cause the sphenoid bone to vibrate. The pituitary gland sits on top of the sphenoid which when vibrated releases opiates which kickstart the release of nitric oxide in the body resulting in many health boosting properties some of which are listed below:
Its anti viral & anti bacterial, stabilises metabolism, Regulates digestion, Enhances vascular flow, Increases energy, Increases sex drive, Alleviates depression, Enhances joint mobility, Aids cell vitality, Improves Memory and generally increases overall wellbeing.
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency & vibration”- Nikola Tesla
Photography Janke Laskowski
All matter is made up of light, sound, frequency and vibration.
To understand how both our outer and inner worlds are created and what keeps them in motion we need to comprehend the language of all matter.
It is without doubt as to the healing potential of sound waves. Modern science has been utilising ultrasound technology as a diagnostic tool for some time and can break down using ultrasound and magnetic resonance to treat deep tissue and break down pathogens. We are on the cusp of huge breakthroughs in the treatment of cancers using sound waves and there is still much to discover.
‘The silent space between is where you receive or create the meaning. Sound only acquires meaning when we also receive the spaces of silence… they are resonance and dissonance.’ Jarod Byrne Mayer
As in many types of yoga, the resting periods are where most of the healing is able to take place.
Nada yoga is the ancient yoga of sound, a practice which celebrates the audible and inaudible sound. Meditating on the sound within is said to purify the subtle energy channels within the body, allowing our conscious mind to access parts of ourselves that are inaccessible in our normal brainwave state.
“A person does not hear sound through his ears: he hears sound through every pore of his body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation: it either wakens or soothes the nervous system. It arouses a person to greater passions or it calms him by bringing him peace. According to the sound and its influence a certain effect is produced… The same energy which goes into the form of sound before being visible is absorbed by the physical body. In that way the physical body recuperates and becomes charged with new magnetism.” Plato
Photography Genevieve Stevenson
Is sound meditation the answer to our present riddle?
Acoustic therapies are becoming increasingly popular as a means to promote self-healing within the body.
The Stress and tension experienced in everyday life causes our fraught sympathetic nervous systems to respond in fight or flight mode, compromising healthy bodily function. Sound baths have been proven to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which causes us to rest, digest, rejuvenate and ultimately heal.
I’ve experienced altered states of consciousness many times with sound meditations with zero added extras to help achieve this, just pure sound. Sure, sometimes the monkey mind can still chatter away, we are all human. Like each day, no two sessions are ever the same and how each individual experiences that same session differs wildly too. Words lack the capacity to truly explain how something so simple can be so transformative. Like most things in life, to truly understand is to experience
The beauty of sound meditation is that it’s accessible and the benefits can be experienced by anybody wherever they may be, theres nothing to learn, nothing to do aside from sit or lay down and just be.