Benefits of Sound Healing with Gongs

The Gong Sound Calms, Relaxes and De-Stresses You

The sound of gongs, singing bowls and other therapeutic instruments lowers the frequency of our brainwaves. From the everyday, active and busy, Beta brainwave state (13-30 cps), we slow into the Alpha brainwave state (8-13 cps). This is the state just before sleep, where our mind and body are calm and relaxed.

The Gong Sound Helps Protect You from Disease

According to The Center of Disease Control (USA)¹, 85% of all diseases are caused by stress. Whenever we actively relax body and mind, we are reducing our susceptibility to stress-related disease.

The Gong Sound Leads to Heightened Creativity and Insight

If we allow ourselves to relax more deeply into the sound, our brainwaves can slow further from the Alpha state to the Theta state (4-7 cps). In this state, the subconscious mind becomes accessible, along with its gifts of inspiration and intuition. Here we experience those “a-ha!” moments when we suddenly KNOW the answer to niggling questions and solutions to problems.

The Gong Sound Rejuvenates You

We know from quantum physics that everything in the universe is in a state of constant vibration: this includes our bodies. During a gong treatment, every cell and organ of the body gets a sonic massage, leaving us feeling refreshed, revitalised and energised afterwards.

In a healthy organ, all molecules will be vibrating in harmony with each other. When an organ is diseased it could be said that it is no longer in tune. During sound healing, weak and missing frequencies are re-introduced, thus re-establishing the organ’s original harmonious sound pattern.

The Gong Sound Transforms Limiting Thoughts and Negative Behaviour Patterns

In Ancient China, gongs were believed to exorcise demons. Today, the sound of the gong continues to clear away negativity, de-toxify body, mind and emotions and dissolve blockages. No longer stuck, or held back by negativity, we are free to move forward with positive life changes.

The Gong Sound Holds You in a Cocoon of Love

Sound waves are carriers of intention and the gong space is permeated with the loving and healing intention of the gong player for the highest good of those receiving the sound. It is said that during a gong treatment or sound journey everyone gets exactly what they need at the time and there does seem to be a higher intelligence at work, enabling this to be so.

The Gong Sound Re-Connects You to Your True Nature

There is a point in every sound wave at which the amplitude of vibration is zero. This node, or still point, is present at the heart of the gong sound as a silence and stillness which can be discerned by those who are ready. If we follow this silence/stillness back to its source, we may be led ultimately to the state of consciousness that exists behind and beyond thought – the state of nondual awareness, which is our true nature.

 

¹Cited in McKusick, Eileen Day Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy, 2014, page 197

Absolute Pitch

Absolute Pitch (often referred to as Perfect Pitch) is the ability to recognise and name a musical note without a reference tone. It is possessed by about one in ten thousand people.

I have just finished re-reading This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. Levitin is a leading neuroscientist who specialises in music and he tells us that he has read every single research paper on Absolute Pitch (AP). He admits that scientists do not know why some people have it and some don’t. But, he also demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of AP. For instance he gives the example of a colleague who “discovered a patient who has absolute pitch but is tone deaf! He can name notes perfectly, but he cannot sing to save his life¹.”

Why the exclamation mark, Daniel? As someone with AP, my response to this is “like, d-uh!” As long as the patient were not visually impaired or colour blind, no one would bat an eyelid at his recognition of the colour green or blue, yet in no way would this lead to an assumption that he would be able to paint anything recognisable with them.

So, I thought I’d write about my experiences of AP in an attempt to help further understanding of this ability in those who may be interested. Of course, these are only my experiences and those of others may be very different.

Each Note has a Unique Quality

I can recognise an A or D# as easily as I can recognise my husband’s voice, or which one of my dogs is barking. An F just has a quality of “F-ness”. It is not something I have to pay attention to and it requires no effort – though, as we’ll come to, there are exceptions to this.

I Have No Idea How I Came to Have AP

I can’t have been born with AP because at birth I was unfamiliar with the concept of musical pitch. But I don’t recall acquiring it and it feels like I’ve always had it. In fact, I used to think everyone had it. It was only when I misunderstood an aural test and I wrote down the melody of a piece played on the piano, along with the (required) rhythm, that my music teacher told in a mix of awe and accusation “you’ve got perfect pitch!”

The Pitches of Some Instruments are Harder to Identify than Others

I find the piano the easiest of all to determine pitch, even though I’m not a trained pianist. Instruments with prominent dissonant overtones are the most difficult. There are some singing voices that I cannot identify.

AP Does Not Go On Indefinitely

I cannot identify notes at pitch extremes: either high or low.

AP is a Function of Response, Not Initiation

If you asked me to sing a certain pitch, I could do it correctly 90% of the time. But I have to sing the pitch in my head first. Once I’ve heard it internally and experienced the quality of the required pitch, I will know if my internal starting pitch is correct or if it needs adjusting. I can then reproduce it vocally.

If I just sang without hearing it first, I could be off. This correlates with the research finding that muscle memory is not involved in AP.

AP is a Blessing and a Curse

Yes, I’m pretty good at playing by ear! But sometimes I don’t want to know that the key of a piece is Gm: it doesn’t further my enjoyment or connection with the music and sometimes, I think it even gets in that way of that. Also, transposing can be a challenge. However…

I Run in ‘Parallel Pitch’

When you consider that my first main instrument was the Bb clarinet, a transposing instrument, it is even more peculiar that I should have AP. But it seems that I have the ability to compartmentalise. In fact, when I listen to the clarinet, I can tell you the pitch of the note either from an AP viewpoint, or from the viewpoint of the clarinettist. The note has a certain quality which I recognise because I recognise the pitch, and because I recognise the note as its played on the clarinet. I’m effectively hearing two pitch schemes in tandem and choosing to focus on one or the other.

Another example is the Persian setar, which I am studying. The tradition here is to tune in standard pitch when playing with others, but to tune down a tone when playing solo because the strings have more resonance at the lower pitch and the setar sounds better. So, with a tuned down setar, I recognise that my teacher is playing a G but I have to go to the fret which I know as A in order to play the same note. I’m not quite sure what is going on here, but I don’t believe I’m carrying out an instantaneous transposition, rather that I’m running a double pitch scheme in my head, where the quality of G can be an A if I let it.

I Lose it When I Am Ill

Isn’t this interesting? I can lose it overnight if I’m coming down with something. In fact, there are degrees of AP loss: I may just lose it with some instruments and my AP compass might decrease. Or I may lose it completely. I can even use it as a barometer of how poorly I am. When I’m better, it re-appears.

I Have a Relationship with Pitch that Cannot Be Appreciated by Non-AP Musicians

I once wrote an article on harp tuning and claimed in passing that singers find it easier to sing in flat keys. I was taken to task on this by someone who, virtually apoplectic with rage, insisted that this could not possibly be the case. It was something that a singing teacher (without AP) once told me and it matched my own experience. So, when I was challenged I sat down and paid attention to what was happening. It was true: when I was singing a flattened note (ie, an on-pitch Bb, not an under-pitch, out of tune note), I felt a sense of ‘settling or easing down’ into the pitch; when singing a sharpened note, such as F# or C#, I had to ‘reach up’ for it. Enharmonically, I even found it much more comfortable to think in terms of Db major than C# major. I could well imagine that my critical reader would not readily understand if I were to tell him that, for me, going from note C to D# is more of ‘stretch’ than going from C to Eb, because, ultimately, he does not have the same intimate relationship with pitch that I do. We were, therefore, both right from our respective experiences.

 

¹Levitin, Daniel J. This Is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession, May 2008, page 184

Singing Bowls

How Sound Healing Works

“In essence, we are sonic creatures living in a universe created by sound. In sound we are born and in sound we are healed.¹” – Mehtab Benton

The Hopi Indians talk of Spider Woman singing the song of creation over the Earth and bringing all beings to life. Hindus speak of Brahma creating the universe from the primal sound of his finger cymbals. Modern physicists tell a very similar story of how the universe is set in motion through a process of contraction and expansion – otherwise known as vibration. Since all vibrations are theoretically audible, we can indeed say that we are born in sound.

In sound too, we are healed. Scientific research has shown that sound and music can have a transformation effect on a physical, mental and emotional level. According to cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin:

Music initiates brainstem responses that, in turn, regulate heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance and muscle tension, partly via noradrenergic neurons that regulate cholinergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission. It is also being used to help people manage pain, anxiety, stress and a surprisingly wide range of other issues.²

This post looks at some ways in which sound creates vibrational changes in our physical, mental, emotional and etheric bodies. When these changes occur, they can initiate transformation and healing.

Good Vibrations

“Sound healing is the conscious therapeutic application of sound frequencies to a person, for the purpose of healing and with the intention of bringing them back into a state of health and harmony.”³ – Sheila Whittaker

As we know, everything in the universe vibrates. This includes our bodies, organs and cells. All matter has a frequency at which it most naturally wants to vibrate and in a healthy organ, for example, its molecules will be vibrating in harmony with each other. Therefore, it is said that everything in nature has its own note at which it vibrates when in optimum condition.

Every cell within that organ is a sound resonator that may respond to any other sound inside or outside the body. If a different sound pattern enters the organ, it could affect the harmonious vibration of its molecules. So, it could then be said that the organ is no longer sounding its own note: it is out of tune. If the new sound pattern is stronger than the original, it could establish its disharmonious pattern in the organ. This is what we call disease.

A sound healer uses their knowledge and intuition to produce a frequency which harmonises with the diseased organ. Sound sources could be voice, gongs, tuning forks, conch trumpets, singing bowls, didgeridoos or any instrument that can provide a stronger frequency than the new invading sound pattern. This frequency penetrates the organ, reinforcing its original sound pattern, neutralising the vibrations of the intruder and re-establishing harmony.

In the same way, emotional events held by the body in cellular memory can be dissolved. All tissues and organs produce magnetic pulsations that are the result of tiny electrical currents generated by charge flow in the body’s cells. These pulsations are known collectively as the human biomagnetic field, or biofield. According to sound healer, Eileen Day McKusick, the biofield contains the blueprint for the material form of the body, so a coherent magnetic field will form a healthy body. In contrast, traumatic physical, mental and emotional experiences can become trapped in the biofield, where they can give rise to incoherent electromagnetic oscillations that exert a non-harmonious sound pattern within the person’s body and mind. Over time, they can cause a breakdown of the body’s structure and function, causing disease.

Again, a sound healer would work to neutralise these non-harmonious vibrations within the biofield, thereby returning order to the body.

Of Sound Mind

Sound can alter brainwaves and balance the two hemispheres of the brain. This has a profound effect upon our consciousness. Gongs, especially, are known to lower brainwaves. Simply opening ourselves up to the gong sound, can take us from every day beta brainwave consciousness (12-30cps) into the calm and relaxed state of alpha brainwave consciousness (8-12cps). This brainwave lowering is lovingly referred to by sound healers as “automatic meditation.” Most people feel calm, peaceful and centred after receiving the sound of the gong and, this in itself, can be healing. As 85% of disease is caused by stress, simply relaxing and de-stressing is vital for our health.4

If we are receptive, our brainwaves can slow further from the alpha state to theta brainwave consciousness (4-8cps). This is known as the dream and visionary state, linked to our subconscious, where all sorts of inspiration can occur, giving us insight into ways to solve our problems and live a more holistic life.

The gong sound is so densely filled with so many tones and overtones, that it confuses the left brain which likes to be in charge and keep everything in order. Consequently, the overwhelmed left brain may let go of control, allowing the intuitive right brain a chance to come to the fore. The right side of the brain is associated with peace, serenity and spiritual bliss; when these qualities are experienced by the recipient, their body’s natural healing mechanism is stimulated. Therefore, the withdrawal of the left brain can be an essential part of the healing process.

Many sound healers believe that if the two hemispheres of the brain become synchronised, it can lead to transcendent states of consciousness. We are now beginning to understand why, as Sheila Whittaker says, “Sound has always been seen as a direct link between humanity and the divine”.5

 

¹ Benton, Mehtab Gong Therapy: Sound Healing and Yoga, 2013
² Levitin, Daniel This is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession, 2011
³ Whittaker, Sheila In the Heart of the Gong Space: The Gong as a Spiritual Tool, 2012
4 Center for Disease Control quoted in McKusick, Eileen Day Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy, 2014
5 Whittaker, Sheila as above

Working With Me – Conscious Musicianship

Guidance on coming to me for individual sessions.

1. I work with musicians of intermediate and above standard. This is simply because before intermediate level, the focus of the work is consolidating your technique. I’ve put a few pointers to help with this in the Learning an Instrument section of my Instruments and Insights page. By intermediate level I mean that your technique is sufficient for you to be able to play without thinking about technique.

2. I work with all singers and instrumentalists of any genre, including instruments that I don’t play myself. We are not working on instrumental technique, but on how you use yourself while playing. Over 16 years of age only please.

3. We work on any level that is necessary: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. We will probably need to address all of them in some way. My approach is founded on the belief that there is a spiritual dimension to playing music, but you are free to conceive of this in your own terms.

4. Do not be surprised if we don’t do much playing. Depending on your needs, we may work on how you listen, how you use your body, what your thought processes and core beliefs are and whether they are causing musical blockage. We may explore simple exercises and/or healing with sound. I may suggest you try meditation or I may refer you to an Alexander Technique teacher. It all depends on you.

5. I tend to work in small doses of 3-10 sessions. Once the work from these is processed, you may come back for further and deeper work.

6. Sessions take place at my studio in High Wycombe or via Skype. Please note that my studio is upstairs. Pedal/Celtic harps and Yamaha Clavinova are available to use.

Learning an Instrument – Leaving the Inner Teacher Behind

When I was a child, I had a bike with a handle at the back. Dad and I would go up the road to the shops: me on my bike, him walking behind, holding the handle. One day, he let go and I rode home, not realising that he was no longer with me until I reached our gate.

If Dad had let go before I was ready, I could have crashed to the pavement and possibly ended up too traumatised to get back on a bike again. If he’d not let go when I was ready, I could have become dependent on him for balance and never risked riding off on my own. Luckily for me, he let go at just the right time.

Learning an instrument is like this. Regardless of whether we have a human teacher or not, we all have an inner teacher inside us, reminding us of what we need to put into practice as we develop on our instrument. If we have a human teacher, our inner teacher repeats our teacher’s instructions as we practice. We need our inner teacher’s instructions. Without them, we just hope for the best, tra-la-la-ing along in a willy nilly fashion, never developing a solid enough technique to allow us the freedom eventually to play what we want. To mix metaphors, with one hand on the bike handle, our inner teacher keep us moving forward.

But there comes a time when our technique is solid, we are ready, and our inner teacher must let go. Otherwise, the helpful, nurturing voice, becomes the repressive, critical voice that holds us back.

Unlike me on my bike, the musician doesn’t have a Dad who knows when to let go. We have to pick the moment to say goodbye to our inner teacher ourselves. How do you know when its time to let go of your inner teacher? When you feel like you are 90% where you want to be with your instrument. You can play it fine, the notes are there, but you listen to recordings of yourself playing and there’s something missing that you can’t put your finger on. Then its time.

How do you let go of your inner teacher? Thank them for their help and explain that from now on you are going to play without regard to your technique, trusting that it is within you and you no longer need to think about it. Perhaps you might ask your inner teacher’s help if you are studying a tricky new passage or if there is some technical difficulty that you need to analyse before you can play. But once that is under the fingers, it is time for them to go back into retirement.

This is scary stuff. Having your inner teacher’s voice nearby – by which I mean continuing to play while thinking about technique – feels safe. To play a difficult passage without thinking about the notes is scary. To sing without any attempt to control your pitch is scary. To expose your heart and soul and play from a place of total freedom is scary.

Think of my Dad again. When he let me go, he was 90% confident that I was able to ride on my own: the final 10% was trust in a universal grace that would keep me upright. No doubt he was scared too.

Go on. Do it. Now there’s no one holding you upright, but there’s no one holding you back. Once you realise that you are riding your own bike through a combination of 90% innate technique and 10% universal grace, the fear turns into exhilaration. You will also come to know the nature of the 10% that you were missing before you left your inner teacher behind – and you will be missing it no longer.

Non-Aggression

One of the most difficult things for me to learn as a musician has been the practice of non-aggression. This can be a tricky concept and there is often aversion to it when it is explained. But, as Chögyam Trungpa says “transcending aggression is the root of all the artistic talent one can ever imagine.¹”

It is fair to say that, until recently, most of my music has been aggressive. When I was younger, I thought the purpose of my songs was to tell people exactly where the world was going wrong. I grew out of that, mainly because it stopped feeling right. Instead, my songs became focussed on how we should be nice to each other. This, I realise now, was equally aggressive.

Essentially, being aggressive in an artistic sense is attempting to manipulate your audience into thinking or feeling in the way you want. Even if your message is one of love and peace, it is fundamentally aggressive. That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?

Non-aggression, on the other hand, is simply presenting reality as it is, without filtering it through your own viewpoint.

When you start to be aware of the ways in which one can be artistically aggressive, you see how many traps there are for the unwary. If you want people to like/admire/desire/envy you, or think that you’re a hot sax player or a genius, but tortured, singer and you play to that end, you are being aggressive.

Another pitfall is in making your work too obvious, too delineated, because you are concerned with your message being received in the way you want. Chögyam Trungpa again:

Spelling things out proves one’s legitimacy, wisdom or artistry. But according to Buddhist tradition, the only thing you can do is hint. If you want to demonstrate something very badly and you achieve that, your work of art is a dead one².


We usually think of spelling things out as a mental process, but you can also spell things out emotionally. We’ve all seen performers put emotion “into” the music. You see their emotions first and foremost and they upstage the music. That is a huge imposition onto the music and onto the audience who are denied their own emotional reaction to the music.

Even the popular viewpoint of art as self-expression can be problematic, unless that self-expression is clear of neurosis and able to express reality as it is.

Some may think that this is a lifeless, dry approach to performing music. This is not so. Let us play music as it is, without trying to change, inform or manipulate and we will be playing not “our music” but Music.

 

¹&² Trungpa, Chögyam, True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art, 1996, page 105

Stage Fright

A little while ago, someone posted a request on Facebook for help with stage fright. I did not know her personally, but a friend of mine had commented on the post, so, by chance, it appeared on my time line.

I read through the suggestions: “picture the audience naked;” “say to yourself that you are better than they are;” “give yourself a high five before going on” and “look at the back wall.” All were intended to be supportive and some suggestions were sound.

Yet every single one of them came from a place of duality – of us against them. Is this really how we want to approach our audience? If playing before people makes us confrontational, defensive, superior, or any other mask of the fearful ego, what are we doing up there anyway? Is this why we became musicians?

The best way to avoid stage fright is to love the audience. It is as simple as that. Just love them.

Before I perform, I sit still and breathe in and out a few times. I then concentrate on drawing my breath down into my heart area until I can feel a sensation of warmth and expansion. Some would call this practice opening the heart chakra. For me, this is usually enough to put me into a calm, centred, joyful and love-filled state. For others, concentrating on a much-loved person or pet works in the same way. The trick is not to try to convince yourself mentally that you love the audience, but to fully experience the feeling of love and then go out on stage and share music from that place.

The audience will know and love you for it too.