What is sonic therapy?
American psychic Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) — known as “the sleeping prophet” because he delivered readings in what appeared to be a trance state — predicted that sound would be the medicine of the future. And that future has arrived today with the work of sonic therapists.
Sonic therapists use sound, vibration, intonation and music to heal the body and mind. Yet sonic therapy is not new; ancient cultures revered the natural world and its healing sounds. Using environmental music such as waterfalls, birdsong, wind, rain and children’s laughter, ancient healers encouraged a sense of wellbeing that is still relevant today. This is especially so in urban life, where we may feel far removed from exploring the senses and interacting with the natural world.
Ancient ways, modern practice
Humans have also had a hand in constructing healing sonic environments, with ancient and later societies using healing sound devices such as Tibetan singing bowls, Australian Aboriginal didgeridoos, Native American thunder drums, African water drums and Celtic harps, along with Indian Tantric sounds, Gregorian chanting, Mongolian harmonic chanting, Mongolian throat singing, Bulgarian open-throat singing and so on.
While most of these are ancient traditions, their practice is considered relevant by vanguard therapeutic science today. For example, the didgeridoo, when used in tonal massage, has an effect on the body at the molecular level, similar to the effect of modern cymatic therapy and its simpler version, toning.
Consider Tibetan mantras, which are popular today because of their deeply resonant effects and the transcendental meanings of the sounds. Mantras are “words of power” recited for various purposes; for example, achieving altered states of consciousness, resonating with divine energy and manifesting enlightened and compassionate states by opening the chakras. The word mantra is derived from Indian Sanskrit and means thoughts that liberate us from samsara (the world of illusions). Grounded in ancient Indian Vedic myth and tradition, mantra chanting today may involve Kundalini energy chakras in the body, dynamic movement and quantum field awareness (neural transformation in the brain by activating the left and right lobes).
Inspired by the acoustics of ancient Indian Vedic cave rituals, Axis Mundi, a group of musicians and sacred sound ritualists in the US, seeks to re-create the same transformational energy fields. Founded by Dr Stuart Sovatsky and Sondra Slade, Axis Mundi melds modern science, electronic technology and ancient ritual to incite healing attuned with today’s world. Aspects of shamanic trance drumming and Buddhist mantras, along with melodic resonation using specific tones and intervals, are their tools of sonic therapy.
Modern healing modalities such
as sound-centred physical therapy and psychotherapy along with emotional triggers and cognitive development are all considered in sonic treatment. These sonic treatment activities change the inner workings of the body, from brain waves to energy chakras and circulation. Neural effects include stimulating the quantum field awareness of the listener by entraining the alpha rhythms of the brain, which has been proven to incite healing.
Ancient sonic therapy was not unique to India, of course, as sound healing was also common amongst the ancient Greeks. Prior to the 6th century BC, when the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras explored the healing qualities of sound, the temples of Asclepius (the “dream healing temples” of the Greek god of medicine) were devoted to healing by sound, working with the visitor’s spiritual consciousness and emotional responses.
Nor is the chakra system unique to Vedic practice, as reflected by traditional Chinese medicine’s consideration of the body’s subtle energy systems and the “element theory”. According to this theory, energy centres in the body are related to the five elements of the earth and are also ascribed their own sounds, or musical notes. Orchestral healing is an ancient practice in the East.
The Biblical David is said to have played his harp to lift King Saul’s depression. Alexander the Great’s sanity was supposedly restored by hearing music played on the lyre. Pythagoras used songs and incantations with melodies and rhythms designed to cure disease. Egyptian scrolls more than 2500 years old refer to incantations as cures for physical pain and infertility.
Sonic healing techniques today
Frequencies of vibration and neural-emotional stimulation trigger sonic healing by means of sensory immersion in sound. Combining primitive and modern-day techniques, sonic healing is taking the allopathic medical world by ear. Pioneers of the current movement include Sir Peter Guy Manners MD, who invented the Cymatic Instrument, Robert Monroe (1915-1995), who invented Hemi-Sync audio technology, and Alfred A. Tomatis MD (1920-2001), who invented the Electronic Ear.
Here are some of the more well-known techniques, both simple and technical, proving effective and popular amongst sonic therapists and sound healers today:
The client sounds specific mantras designed to balance and align their etheric field, resonate through all the body’s organs and affect the emotions. Self-created sounds exemplified by mantras can synchronise the left and right sides of the brain, oxygenate the brain, create calm brain wave activity and reduce heart rate and blood pressure. As certain sounds are particularly high in vocal harmonics, mantras stimulate, charge the cortex of the brain and the nervous system and align the energy centres (chakras) of the body.
Instrumental pieces, songs and chanting are played to the client. They are specifically designed to incite behaviour modification and mood elation. Examples include “The Mozart Effect” by Don Campbell, the “holy chords” (choral) and the “devil’s chords” (jazz).
Originated in 1982 by Sharry Edwards, BioAcoustics relies on identifying frequencies in the client’s voice to create the missing tones. The client’s voice is assessed by a voice analyser, then missing frequencies are created and played back onto the body via synthesised sounds.
Robert Monroe discovered how to use sound waves to synchronise the brain, coining his audio technology “Hemi-Sync”. Synthesised sounds are played to the client to balance the hemispheres of the brain and produce altered states of consciousness. Sometimes interactive synthesised light display is integrated.
The Electronic Ear
Designed by Alfred A. Tomatis MD, the Electronic Ear is used for psychological healing. The client listens to specifically filtered music through high-quality headphones. The method is designed to open the inner ear canal and reduce imbalances in the brain, lessening the symptoms of dyslexia, autism and emotional issues.
The client receives stimulation from sound and imagery in combination. Temperature and light/darkness are often incorporated to facilitate an immersive experience.
When an opera singer makes a glass vibrate with their voice, they have matched the resonant frequency of the glass. When the singer increases their volume, the resonance becomes greater than the glass and it shatters. This same action is used in sonic therapy today, when sound waves are used to break up kidney stones and gallstones, for example. In harmonic resonance, the body’s frequency imbalance is assessed through kinesiology techniques (muscle testing). The body is then immersed in a synthesised harmonic sound to create physiological balance by changing blocked energy.
German physicist Ernest Chladni (1756-1827) found that when a violin bow was drawn across the rim of a metal plate, the sound waves created patterns in sand sprinkled on the plate. A similar principle is applied to vibro-acoustic beds: low-frequency sound pressure waves (sinusoidal 30-120Hz) and selected music is projected onto the body through the bed or chair. Devices such as the Somatron, the Betar and the Genesis are beds or chairs through which healing is stimulated by vibration and sound.
The client receives healing frequencies from specifically designed tuning forks, inciting relaxation and balance physiologically.
Not unlike using tuning forks, the client is immersed in the resonant, vibrational sounds of Tibetan singing bowls.
Cymatic therapy Swiss medical doctor Hans Jenny (1904-1972) designed cymatic therapy after demonstrating that various substances such as plastic, liquids and sand could physically change shape when subjected to different frequencies. He then related that to the human body, which is composed of more than 75 per cent water. In cymatic therapy, specific frequencies are projected into the client’s body via a sonic instrument to produce physiological change.
Toning and overtoning Related to cymatic therapy, toning and overtoning are designed to align physical, emotional and etheric imbalances. They are techniques whereby the practitioner directs vocally generated sounds and vibration onto the client’s body. During a session, the practitioner will scan the client’s body and project their voice onto the areas that show imbalances in etheric energy or vibration. Often beginning at the feet with a deep vibrational sound, the practitioner will gradually work their way up the client’s body, raising the pitch, until they reach the client’s head with a very high sound. Experienced practitioners of this technique are able to hear subtle changes in their vocal timbre, or “tone colour”, as they pass over places of imbalance. They then project a specific harmonic onto the area of the body where imbalance has been found. The treatment is continued until balance is restored.
Using the beats per minute (BPM) of music has been proven to initiate and encourage physiological healing in response to the music. A pioneer in the field of harmonics, Jonathan Goldman says his approach to healing is to assess the healthy harmonic vibration of particular organs in the body and correct the resonant frequency where there is ill health or imbalance. “When we are in a state of health, all these bodily parts are working together in harmony, creating an overall harmonic of health,” he explains. “If one of these parts begins to vibrate at a different rate, this is what we call disease.”
Working through the four brain wave states, which have corresponding frequencies on an electroencephalogram (EEG), sonic therapy resonates with beta waves (normal waking state), alpha waves (dreaming and light meditation), theta waves (between waking and sleep) and delta waves (deep sleep).
While brain wave states are not the same phenomenon as sound waves, certain frequencies of sound can entrain the brain (mental entrainment) to produce greater leanings towards a certain brain wave type. The EEG device creates a pattern which the brain follows, similar to how shamanic healers use drumming. The beat of the drum (or frequency of the EEG) resonates between 240 and 270BPM, shifting the ordinary waking state (beta wave) towards one rich in imagery (theta wave).
The healing effects of sound
Sound, whether in the form of music, tone or vibration, has neurological, physiological and emotional benefits which are documented:
- Equalises activity between the left and right cerebral hemispheres of the brain
- Modifies the brain’s electrical activity
- Enhances learning in developmentally delayed and disabled children (60-80BPM)
- Triggers endorphin release, which improves and lessens pain
- Enhances memory and awareness in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairment conditions
- Changes breathing rate and depth
- Stabilises heart rate, blood pressure and circulation, thereby increasing movement and reducing muscle tension
- Calms pre-operative and post-operative stress in the body and mind
- Accelerates tissue repair after damage or surgery
- Enhances immunity
- Disables growth of cancer cells (in laboratory tests)
- Reduces pain medication usage in childbirth
- Alters the release and regulation of stress hormones
- Relieves or lessens depression
Elicits emotional catharsis and stimulates a multi-layered sense of wellbeing through the intellectual and emotional memories associated with the music or sound
Axis Mundi World Groove Trance Chant
Goldman, Jonathan, Healing Sounds, Shaftesbury, UK: Element Books, 1992.
Goldman, Jonathan, Healing Sounds
Heather, Simon, The Healing Power of Sound, Positive Health Publications Ltd
Tomatis, Alfred A., The Conscious Ear, New York: Station Hill Press, 1991.
Rebecca Fitzgibbon is an Australian writer published in magazines internationally. She leads a sacred choir in Hobart, Tasmania, for the enrichment of women’s lives, circle work and tonal healing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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