Sound has been used to manifest creation, invoke healing, and restore balance around the world since the dawn of time. This ancestral knowledge has been largely lost in the West until the late 1800s. Now its revival is in full swing. If you are visiting Nepal, a country with a rich history of sound meditation, a sound bath should be on your list of things to do. In fact, it may even be your primary purpose for visiting.
👉 Don’t forget travel insurance on this trip! I always use SafetyWing!
What is a Sound Bath?
A sound bath is an ancient healing tradition where the vibrations of sound are used to wash away stress, tension, anxiety, and emotional and physical trauma. Also referred to as “sound healing”, “sound therapy”, or “sound meditation”, sound baths are meant to create space for deep healing and relaxation and bring balance to your mind, body, and heart. It is a full-body experience that can guide you into a deep meditative state.
Western medicine treats the physical body – what we can see, while Eastern medicine recognizes and treats the energetic body. Energy can become stagnant or blocked, which can manifest in the physical body as stress, tension, mood disorders, and even disease. A sound bath is sometimes thought of as a cellular-level massage because vibrations from the sound can be felt throughout your body. These vibrations break down energy blockages and stagnation- allowing your energy to resume a flow.
What is the History of Sound Baths?
Sound baths have become an increasingly popular wellness trend in the west. The origin, however, goes back longer than 2500 years. It is one of the most ancient forms of healing and wellness and can be traced back to the oldest spiritual texts and recorded history.
The Greeks of the classical period (500-336 BC) believed sound frequencies had a therapeutic influence on various ailments including but not limited to indigestion, ailments of the mind, and insomnia. Pathagoras, 569 BC, (yes, as in Pythagorean theorem) was known as the father of mathematics, geometry, harmonics, and philosophy and was one of the first to discover the connection between music and healing. He saw music as mathematics and used various harmonic ratios to heal various diseases of the mind, body, and soul. He believed that when music was used correctly it could:
a) bring the faculties of the Soul into harmony
b) compose and purify the mind
c) heal the physical body
Greeks believed that many ailments were caused by disharmony of the soul and that music and rhythm had the power to purge what was disturbing the soul and reharmonize it. The Greeks commonly used the flute and lyre during healing ceremonies.
The Buddha never wrote down his sermons, he only spoke them. He emphasized the importance of listening in his earliest teachings and for hundreds of years after his death, they were only passed down orally. Followers memorized long choral chants to preserve his words until they were finally captured in the dharma – a collective effort of his followers.
Buddhism taught that listening was a way to receive wisdom and that chanting allowed you to absorb both the sound and energy of the wisdom and compassion that is within mantras. Sound was used as a tool to clear negative energy and make way for enlightenment.
Vocal chanting is common to all of the diverse Buddhist traditions, but the use of instruments varies across the schools of Buddhism. More common instruments used, in concert with chanting, are drums, handbells, cymbals, and gongs. More recently, and what you will certainly see at sound retreats in Nepal, are singing bowls. The history and origin of these are complex but their sounds and power are rich.
Roots All Over The World
Sound healing really has roots in cultures all over the world. Australian aboriginal tribes have used the didgeridoo to heal for over 40,000 years. 3000-year-old Egyptian recordings divulge physiological responses to sound. A flute made out of bones was found in a cave in modern-day Germany that is 35,000 years old. Chinese Qigong (or Qi Gong) uses mantras and chants to stimulate organ systems in the body. Hawaiians use songs to heal and celebrate. Hungarian shamans sing only sounds (no words) to heal people and animals. African tribes use various instruments and songs during ceremonies to heal people and during funerals to facilitate the expression of grief. Native Americans use the flute for healing, and in 1877 doctors were using music in operating rooms. Sound has been healing for all of time!
These ancient beliefs are present in the modern practices of music therapy and the recent revival of the sound bath. In the late 19th century researchers began studying the use of music in medicine and healing and found that it indeed can affect physiological responses. Early research showed that it can reduce blood pressure, increase cardiac output (amount of blood the heart pumps), decrease heart rate, improve metabolic processes, and support the parasympathetic nervous system function.
More recently researchers are studying the impact of sound therapy on dementia and tinnitus, although there is little scientific evidence to support this.
Sound baths are most commonly used today to treat the rampant stress, anxiety, and depression in our society. You may see sessions offered at your local yoga studio or at big tech company retreats. Kendall Jenner shares her journey battling anxiety with sound meditation on social media, rehabilitation centers feature sound healers at events, and even children’s hospitals have offered sound healing for patients and families.
What are the Healing Benefits of Sound Baths?
As mentioned above, sound baths are most commonly used today to treat stress and anxiety. But what do they actually do? According to researchers and sound healers, sound baths may:
- Stimulate the endocrine system
- Facilitate behavior change, habits, and ways of thinking
- Facilitate deep relaxation
- Release tension
- Improve focus
- Support recovery from illness and trauma
- Improve sleep
- Stimulate energy flow, creativity, intuition, and motivation
- Remove blockages and toxins from the body
- Purge and harmonize emotions
- Strengthen the immune system
- Reduce stress
- Stimulate blood circulation
- Help find inner peace
How do they do this and does it actually work?
It’s all about frequencies and brain waves! Sound frequencies can alter brain waves. Studies using Electroencephalograms (EEG) show that there is a relationship between different frequencies and different energy levels and relaxation states. And, that sounds (singing bowls in this case) were associated with clear changes in the delta brain wave which is the brain wave associated with your most relaxed state (think dreamless sleep or state of meditation). Brain waves may change from agitated to deeply relaxed when listening to meditative sounds.
Some studies also show that when the brain is processing different tones with different hertz, it will try and balance them – which has an effect on brain waves. There is also a school of thought that the vibrations interact with the body’s energy field, and studies on the physiological response of a gong in rats. These studies showed increased levels of motivational neurotransmitters and decreased levels of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the rats.
More research is needed in the realm of sound therapy, but the research that exists today is promising. And like anything, routine practice is important to reap the highest benefits. Research shows that thirty minutes a day of Theta brain wave meditation (which can be achieved with sound baths) can dramatically improve a person’s overall stress levels and well-being.
The Best Places to Experience a Sound Bath in Nepal
This is a meditation and eco-farm located in the mountains outside of Pokhara, Nepal. It is open year-round and offers retreats and sound healing certification courses. The location and vibe are unbeatable – my top recommendation for a sound healing retreat in Nepal. The views of Annapurna are incredible and the owner, Gerrit, is a delight of a human. You can book a retreat on their website or on TripAdvisor.
The retreats offered are 3-7 days in length, and one 11-day retreat is on a yearly basis. If you are trekking, you can take a bus from Pokhara for about 1 hour and then hike for 2 hours to the village. If you have heavy luggage or don’t want to hike anymore, they will pick you up in Pokhara.
Purna Yoga is also located in Pokhara, Nepal, and offers drop-in sound healing classes as well as multi-day sound healing training and retreats. The options are vast – you can do 1-day, 2-day, up to 21-day yoga and/or meditation retreats. You can opt for a detox retreat, take food classes, get a massage or go on a yoga trek.
The food is fantastic and vegetarian, the accommodations are basic but comfortable, and the staff and teachers are lovely. This is my other top recommendation for a sound meditation retreat in Nepal.
The road to Purna Yoga is very rough and bumpy but you can request that they pick you up in town (Pokhara) with their 4-wheel jeep. Or you can walk – it’s about 15 minutes to and from town.
Mandala Yoga Retreat
This studio is located in Chandragiri Matatirtha, Kathmandu (in the center of the city), and offers various short and long stays. Since you are right downtown you have the option to stay elsewhere during your retreat. They have massage therapy packages, steam & sauna packages, daily yoga retreats, Reiki, and sound healing therapy and training.
The food is good and the teachers are kind and experienced. Highly recommend getting a massage here!
Sound Bath Tools
Tibetan Singing Bowl
Tibetan Singing Bowls are metal bowls of various sizes (to produce different tones) and come with a mallet. To create the sound you press the mallet against the bowl and move it around the outside rim in a circular motion. Once the sound begins you can speed up, slow down, and adjust the pressure to create different sounds.
The history and origin of singing bowls are ambiguous and complicated. Their name – Tibetan Singing Bowls – infers that they are from Tibet. However, they are actually believed to have originated in the Himalayas around Nepal and northern India. While Tibetans did use sound during ceremonies and rituals, documentation only notes the use of bells and chimes.
While the exact origin and history of the singing bowls remain a mystery, what is clear is that they have nothing to do with Tibet. They are, however, one of the main instruments used at most meditation retreats in Nepal and are believed to produce powerful healing sounds.
Crystal Singing Bowls
Crystal singing bowls are similar to Tibetan singing bowls. They come in various sizes and are made of quartz. While Tibetan singing bowls date back to the 8th century, quartz bowls were first manufactured in the late 20th century. Quarts produce Piezoelectricity, an electrical charge that vibrates at a precise frequency. Human bodies also possess piezoelectricity, so when a quartz singing bowl is played our bodies sync with its vibrations. Cool huh?
Gongs vary by region and come in all shapes and sizes but essentially they are flat, circular, metal discs. They are percussion instruments that are played with a mallet and date back to at least 4000 B.C.
Tibetan Bells and Dorje
A bell and a Dorje – the tool used to strike the bell. Traditionally used by many different spiritual traditions. Bells are known to clear the mind of fog and chatter and bring about a sense of calm.
What to Expect at a Sound Bath
A sound ceremony usually lasts around 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, but the duration can vary widely.
You can experience a sound bath in a private or group setting. Typically you will lie down on a mat, but some people prefer to sit up with crossed legs. You may choose to use a blanket and/or a pillow.
Before the instructor begins, they’ll usually say a few things about the focus of the class and ask you to see an intention. If you set your mind on letting go of something or manifesting something, the session will be more impactful.
The instructor may stay up in front of the class, sitting on the floor with various instruments. Or, they may walk around with an instrument, and bring the sound further from and closer to you. If you are doing a private session they may set singing bowls on you while they play them. The instructor may talk during some of the session – guiding you with their voice.
Before You Go
Try not to eat for 2 hours before your class and make sure to hydrate. Sound travels best through water so the more hydrated you are the better. Wear comfortable clothes, plan to remove your shoes, and bring a sweater (sometimes it can get a little cold). You can also bring your own mat to lay on top of the mat that is provided – that is typically what I like to do.
Sound is used worldwide to heal, calm, and celebrate. If you have the opportunity to experience this modality in a place that has been practicing sound healing for centuries on end, like Nepal, I encourage you to take advantage of it.
Other global wellness practices: