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

Therapeutic Harp

The historical and archetypal significance of the harp as an ancient, spiritually healing instrument opens many doors to the personal and collective unconscious and may thereby facilitate the healing process.¹

The harp has a long history as a therapeutic instrument: it was used for healing in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Ireland. Indeed, the future King David soothed Saul’s soul (try saying that quickly) with his harp. The harp’s status as a healing instrument can be attributed to several factors, including its particularly resonant sound and pure harmonics, its wide pitch range (which maximises available frequencies) and its long decay (which gives the frequencies time to do their work). It is not surprising, therefore, that there are a number of currently available programmes intended to train therapeutic harp practitioners to serve in modern clinical settings, such as hospitals, hospices and private practice.

Harp at the Healing Market

The harp is used in clinical settings in two main ways: first, its music affects change by the process of entrainment – for example, the listener’s breath or heart rate slows to match the music, or their emotions shift to the mood of the piece. The second way is known as Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy. This involves applying specific frequencies from the harp directly to the desired part of the body via speakers installed in a vibroacoustic table or chair. In both, the harp player tunes in to the needs of the patient and then plays whatever is needed to produce a beneficial change in their physical, emotional, mental or spiritual state.

My own interest in Harp Therapy came about because I am a professional harpist and a qualified sound healer. I have played in healthcare settings over the years and I’ve witnessed some strong therapeutic reactions to the harp: I’ve seen previously non-responsive dementia patients come alive at the sound of an old favourite tune and I’ve seen the calming spell the music wove in a children’s intensive care ward. Eventually, I decided to formally train as a Certified Healthcare Musician with the International Harp Therapy Programme.  

I offer Harp Therapy sessions for individuals in person at my studio and online. I also play music for healing sessions, meditation groups and yoga classes and in anxiety-triggering environments, such as hospitals, prisons and in care homes. I have devised a therapeutic harp session based on the Ancient Irish tradition of the three strains of healing music – sadness, joy and peace – and I am currently experimenting with the astrological therapeutic music of Marsilio Ficino.

¹Williams, Sarajane Good Vibrations: Principles of Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy, 2005, page 15

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

Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy

People coming for Harp Therapy in my studio are invited to make use of The Ombed.  This is a vibroacoustic bed in which the frequencies from the harp are directly transferred to the body via inbuilt speakers. The sound of the harp is thus felt bodily at the same time as it is heard. These subtle sensations vibrate and resonate with the tissues of the body, providing the receiver with a “musical massage.”

As the sound of the harp continues to envelop you, hearing and physical sensation merge together in a way that can leave you feeling completely cocooned by the music. In this state, many people find themselves able to drift away, free from everyday worries and concerns. According to the founder of Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy, “Most patients who receive VAHT report responses such as deep relaxation, dream-like imagery, pain and tension reduction, increased energy and body awareness, as well as the feeling of being nurtured.”1

Harp Therapy Studio

Please note that due to Covid-19 restrictions, I am currently unable to offer in person Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy sessions. I shall resume treatments as soon as it safe to do so.

¹Williams, Sarajane Good Vibrations: Principles of Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy, 2005, page 74

Therapeutic Music

What is Therapeutic Music?

For many of us, listening to music contributes to our wellbeing. The right music at the right time soothes, relaxes and uplifts us emotionally and spiritually, restoring us to harmony and equanimity. Music can also bring about physiological changes that have a positive effect on our body and mind:

 “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.” Daniel Levitin, Cognitive Psychologist and Neuroscientist¹

So, what type of music could be considered therapeutic? I was very struck by a comment I read once by pioneering sound and music healer, John Beaulieu. He bemoaned that many people had come to associate therapeutic music with the amorphous, ambient music commonly known as “New Age”. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with New Age music and, for some people, it can be just what is needed, that’s not always the case. For someone needing an injection of energy, for example, he considered that a good old boogie at the discotheque (the book was written in the 1980s ) may be far more therapeutic.

The same goes for the musical instrument itself. I would argue that, whatever the instrument, if the listener loves it, then it can be therapeutic for them. However, when you don’t know in advance who your listener/s will be, its best to play it safe. In this case, the harp is about as safe as you can get. I only ever met one person who didn’t like the harp – and he played the banjo!

HEALTHCARE MUSICIANS

Part of the therapeutic potential of music comes from musicians themselves. As Stella Benson, Founder of the International Healing Musicians Program, says: “Each musician has the propensity towards using music as a healing modality by tapping into his or her own natural compassion, passion and pure love for fellow human beings.”² Certified Healthcare Musicians – also known as Therapeutic Musicians – have taken this further still and undergone extensive training in the art of using music as an intentional tool of transformation.

MUSIC AS SERVICE

“The music always centres me. It makes me feel less anxious, depressed and worried. It’s almost a spiritual experience and certainly very comforting.” Therapeutic Music Patient³

Therapeutic Music is not intended as entertainment. Rather, it is offered as a service. A Therapeutic Musician tunes in to the needs of the patient, client or audience and then plays whatever is needed to produce a beneficial change in their physical, emotional, mental or spiritual state. This is why live music is more effective than recorded music, for the musician can respond instantaneously to the needs of the listener/s by changing rhythm, tempo, key, mood, volume, instrument or switching between familiar and non-familiar music. For this reason, Therapeutic Music is considered to be non-intrusive and non-invasive as the needs of the listener are always central.

GET INVOLVED

If you are a musician and interested in playing therapeutic music on harp, or your own instrument, then I would say, first, learn to tune in to your listener/s and try to intuit what they need in that moment. If you feel they need to be more relaxed, more energetic or whatever, then music will provide the way for them to get there. There are techniques to help you do this – Stella Benson’s  book, The Healing Musician, is highly recommended. Ultimately, though, allow yourself to be guided what to play.

If you would like to give yourself the benefit of therapeutic music, then my suggestion would be to listen to whatever you are drawn to at the time. Give yourself permission to really immerse yourself in the music and listen. These days it is rare to completely give our attention to music unless we’re in the audience of a formal concert; it is usually just something we have going on in the background. Why not make it a regular practice to switch off, close your eyes and just listen to your choice of music for however long you need?

¹Levitin, Daniel This Is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession, 2008
²Benson, Stella The Healer’s Way Companion 2: Calming Music for Anxiety, 20014, page 12
³Therapeutic Music Patient Quoted in Roberts, Peter and Cox, Helen The Harp and the Ferryman, 2013, loc 778

Tuning Forks

The tuning fork was invented in 1711 by John Shore, Court Trumpeter and Lutenist to Queen Anne. Originally intended as a pitch standard for tuning musical instruments, the accuracy, constancy and purity of the tuning fork’s tone has led to it becoming a valuable tool for healing and the development of spiritual consciousness.

The tuning fork is used in two complimentary ways:

1. The stem of the activated tuning fork is applied to the body so that the sound vibration is received directly by the body’s tissues and bones.

2. The tuning fork is activated away from the body so that the vibration is received as audible sound waves.

I work with tuning forks in both ways and will usually combine them during a treatment session.

ON BODY APPLICATION

Disharmony can manifest in the body as stress, tight and sore muscles and fatigue, creating blockages to our Qi or natural energy flow. These blockages can lead to illness. The sound waves created by the tuning forks work like kinetic energy to move disharmony and tension from the body, remove Qi, stagnation and helps to restore a sense of balance and well-being.¹

Osteophonic – or Otto – tuning forks feature a weighted prong which is designed to strengthen the fork’s vibration as it is transferred to the body. Osteophonic means “to vibrate bone”. During a treatment, the recipient can feel their body vibrate in resonance with the tuning fork: it is a very relaxing and pleasurable experience.

In a typical session we will apply one or two otto tuning forks to acupressure points, including Heavenly Gathering (SI11), Bubbling Spring (K1), Central Treasury (LU1), Sea of Qi (REN6), Primordial Child (REN17) and Gathering Bamboo (UB2). This opens up the body’s energetic pathways, removing energy blocks and allowing the Chi or Qi to flow freely.

It is a feature of tuning forks that their sound naturally decays into silence. In a healing context, this silence is vital because it allows the sound to be absorbed fully by the body.

Off Body Application

Accompanying the Otto tuning forks are a range of forks that are designed to be sounded away from the body for a range of different purposes. Here are the main sets that I use:

Brain Tuner Tuning Forks

Brain tuners use sound to shift the brain into different states of consciousness. They work through brain wave entrainment, which alters the frequencies of brain waves. For example, experiencing the slower alpha, theta or even delta brainwaves can bring about healing for the typical stress-ridden “Type A” personality who is normally dominated by the faster beta brain waves associated with peak concentration and heightened alertness.

Solar Harmonic Tuning Forks

This set is tuned to the Pythagorean scale – a scale built on the naturally occurring overtone series. It is ideal for exploring the healing effects of natural musical intervals and can also be used in meditation. Musical intervals can have a powerful effect on our mind-body. For example, tuning fork expert, John Beaulieu, believes that the interval of a perfect 5th triggers the release of nitric oxide, antibacterials, antivirals and free radicals:

Research suggests that vibration transferred to neuronal, endothelial and immune cells through tuning forks stimulates nitric oxide and sets off a cascade of physiological events which directly influence our health, well-being, state of mind and consciousness.²

Fibonacci Tuning Forks

This is an extension of the Solar Harmonic Tuning Fork Set, based on the Fibonacci number sequence. Their main purpose is to open gateways into alternate realities and to explore higher states of consciousness in order to empower a creative healing response. They are intended for work on a deep level and therefore, we would approach this tuning fork set once you have worked with the Solar Harmonic set.

The Solar Harmonic tuning forks work well in conjunction with other Sound Healing treatments. Likewise, if we are struggling to unwind, the brain tuners can be used to induce a slower brain wave pattern, helping us to be in in a better place to receive the sounds of the gongs and other instruments.

¹ De Muynck, Marjorie Sound Healing: Vibrational Healing With Ohm Tuning Forks: A Practical Application Manual 2015
² Beaulieu, John Human Tuning: Sound Healing with Tuning Forks 2010

Reiki Drum

“Drumming provides solace, retreat from anger, courage when afraid, even ecstasy.”
Michael Drake – The Shamanic Drum

The Reiki Drum Technique is a transformational combination of Reiki* healing and shamanic drumming: both are gentle and non-invasive, yet deeply powerful. The two were brought together as Reiki Drum™ by the American, Michael Arthur Baird, in 1999: the technique is still relatively new to the UK.

I am a fully qualified Reiki Drum Master Practitioner. My Reiki drum is a vegan Buffalo Drum that has been specially attuned for the purpose of healing body, mind and spirit. I offer Reiki Drumming as a stand-alone treatment.

The Three Reiki Drum Techniques

There are three Reiki Drum techniques from which you can choose, depending on your needs and interests. The first two treatments are available to all clients:

1. Reiki Drum Healing

Receive a Reiki healing session enhanced by the energy of the drum.

Healing Reiki energy is channelled through the drum while it is softly played over the body. The gentle, yet powerful, sound of the drum directs the Reiki energy to where it is needed, promoting the release of blockages on all levels.

The session concludes with a traditional Reiki treatment. Here, we use the hands to encourage the integration of the drum sounds into the physical body.

2. Reiki Drum Mental & Emotional Reprogramming

Make lasting changes to your life with the transformative power of sound.

This technique uses positive affirmations to actualise a desired life change. We work together to verbally formulate the desired change. Then, supported by the gentle Reiki energy, the repetitive rhythm of the drum influences your subconscious mind, helping to permanently programme the new positive intention.

A series of three – four sessions are recommended for maximum benefit.

The third technique is open to clients who are ready for this level of spiritual work:

3. Reiki Drum Journey

Set off on your own healing journey to the beat of the drum.

For thousands of years, shamans have known that rhythm is an effective way to alter consciousness. Rapid repetitive drumming at 180 beats per minute – known to shamans as the Eagle Beat – slows down the brainwaves and take the listener into a trance state. In this ecstatic state, the shaman connects with spiritual dimensions and accesses healing knowledge on behalf of their clients. In a Reiki Drum journey, you yourself undertake your own journey for healing or insight into any questions you may have.

The drum guides you on your journey deep into the knowing reality of your subconscious mind, while the Reiki energy gently and safely supports you throughout the process.

You will need to make an initial journey to meet your power animal, if you do not already have one. Your animal will then accompany you on future journeys. This initial journey to meet you power animal may take one or more attempts.

Please note that due to Covid-19 restrictions, I am currently unable to offer in person Reiki Drum sessions. I shall resume treatments as soon as it is possible to do so.

*Reiki

Reiki can be translated as universal life energy. It is a gentle healing energy that can be channelled through the practitioner to dissolve blockages and bring relaxation and balance to the recipient, allowing Ki/Qi, or life force, to flow unhindered once again.

I have been trained in the original Japanese style of Reiki, as re-discovered by Mikao Usui in the early 20th Century. This is a simple, uncomplicated style of Reiki, that was intended as an aid to spiritual development and places emphasis on intuition, rather than strict method.

Sound Pollution

I am writing this on the day of the Royal Wedding. Some neighbours are playing amplified music in their garden at such a loud volume that it has penetrated into my study through closed windows. The music is not to my taste and, yet, my brain cannot help but engage with it. This is interfering with my ability to concentrate on what I am writing. I feel invaded, angry and stressed. Such is the power of music.

The more time I spend working with sound and music, the more convinced I am of its power. Although sound healers utilise this power to bring about beneficial results, it needs to be more generally acknowledged that the opposite is equally true: careless, inconsiderate use of sound and music is pollution and, like all pollution, it is harmful.

 An Unsound Journey

This has been brought close to home at the last two Sound Journeys, which both suffered from unwanted music coming from outside the hall. In the case of May’s Sound Journey at Great Missenden, the proximity and scale of the noise pollution from the fun fair forced me to cancel the Sound Journey. This was certainly not something I did lightly, so what made me take that decision?

First of all, I knew that the deep bass, repetitive beats and intermittent sirens would have initiated brain stem responses that would have raised heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance and muscle tension – not what we had an mind for an evening of relaxation. The noise would also have affected the body through the process of entrainment. This is a natural phenomenon whereby a weaker vibratory pattern will change to align with one that is stronger. For instance, brainwaves of students will largely oscillate in harmony with – or entrain with – the lecturer. Likewise, a healthy organ will have its molecules working together in a harmonious relationship with each other and will be of the same pattern. If different sound patterns enter into the organ, the harmonious relationship could be upset. If the foreign sound pattern proves to be stronger than the organ, it can establish a disharmonious pattern in the organ, bone or tissue and this is what we call disease.

Sound is a potent force that communicates directly with the unconscious as well as the conscious body/mind. The intention and performance of the musician, the musical elements of the composition, the frequency range used and the timbre of the instruments are all carriers of information. According to Torkom Saraydarian:

“From whichever centre a piece of music originates, the corresponding centre of the listener will gradually synchronise its vibrations to the originating centre. This is how contamination works.”

So, ultimately, I could not, with any shred of responsibility, invite people on a sound journey, open them up to receiving sound on all levels, with the very real possibility that they would have been wide open to receiving something that would have been harmful.

But what about less extreme cases, or when avoiding the noise is not an option? Is there anything I can do right now to mitigate the effect of the noise from my inconsiderate neighbours? After all, if a vast majority of illnesses are caused by stress, then by stressing about it, I am making myself ill.

In Music and Sound in the Healing Arts, John Bealieu offers two approaches to coping with environment noise. The first method involves voice and body movement. He suggests that we let our voice imitate the sound and let our body by moved by the sound. For example, a car horn suddenly honks and we notice that our body tightens. Our mind is cursing the driver and are emotions are held in. This is similar to touching something hot without letting out a sound. He says, therefore, that instead of holding the sound, jump back from the car, allowing your body to unwind the tension and then allow your voice to make a loud spontaneous “honk”! Its got to be worth a try…

The Gong

Welcome to the Gong Space

Welcome to the gong space
A space of rest and renewal
Of harmony and wholeness
Of being held by sound and healed by sound

Welcome to the gong space
A space of loving acceptance
Of safety and non-judgement
Of letting go and letting be

Welcome to the gong space
A space of unlimited possibility
This is your space for receiving
Whatever it is that you need

© P Tait 2017

The skilfully played gong gradually builds up into multi-layers of sound that contain all the tones and harmonics of the sound spectrum. Some of these tones we hear, but others are complex frequencies above and below our human hearing and these we experience as subtle energy. Thus, the gong’s sound has become known as the sound of total resonance because we hear it at all levels of consciousness.

Meet the Gongs

There are five gongs in my studio space: a 34” Paiste Symphonic gong and four Paiste Planet gongs: Mercury, Chiron, Nibiru and Uranus. I work intuitively and, depending on what is needed, I will play any combination of these gongs in any order.

Symphonic gongs contain the fullest range of tones of any of the Paiste gongs. My symphonic gong has a warm, gently compelling, feminine energy, which balances the more masculine energy of my Planet gongs.

The Planet gongs were created specifically for Sound Healing work and have been given sound characteristics that evoke the planet they represent.

Mercury is the Divine Messenger of the Gods and Master of Healing. Associated with speech, communication, intellectual prowess and creativity, he supports the throat and thyroid. Mercury comes into his own when we have been denied our right to speak our own truth or think for ourselves, as so many of us have. I have seen clients undergo profound changes after Mercury has played for them, often surprising themselves with their new-found confidence in their own truth and ability to speak up. As a Master of Healing, it is appropriate that Mercury should be a very effective healing gong.

Chiron is the Wounded Healer. He is associated with alchemy, vision, wisdom, compassion and healing. He “stands for the deep karmic wound in the subconscious that we have come in this life to heal¹.” He also brings these wounds to the surface so that they can be healed.

It has been my experience that Mercury and Chiron work together as a team. Mercury goes first and then Chiron will step in if a wound is very deep or undetected. Together they make a deeply powerful pair of healing gongs.

The second pair of gongs are Uranus and Nibiru. These gongs are especially concerned with change and transformation.

The planet Uranus is an ice giant, named for the primordial Greek god of the sky. In astrology, Uranus rules Aquarius and is the harbinger of change. Associated with revolution, liberation and spontaneity, Uranus moves against the flow, inspiring originality, free thinking and discovery. The Uranus gong can also help with problems of the reproductive system. If there is something specific you want to change, Uranus is the gong for you.

Nibiru is the hypothetical tenth planet², also known as Planet X. Some believe that it has a 3,600 year orbit and is about to cross paths with the Earth once more, causing widespread destruction. Others believe that its very existence is a fantasy. Either way, by taking their inspiration from such an enigmatic planet, the master gong makers at Paiste have created a gong like no other.

Some gong players choose not to play Nibiru because of its association with destruction. Yet, for me, this gong acts in a similar way to Shiva, the Cosmic Destroyer, clearing away that which is no longer needed and allowing new consciousness to emerge. At the same time, is it not a gong I approach lightly, but with full composure and respect. As with Uranus, Nibiru is all about change. Here, however, we are looking at deep transformation on the evolutionary or quantum level. This gong resolves genetic and deep soul issues and facilitates our self-exploration and understanding of our true purpose for being on the Earth.

Now is the time of Nibiru, now is the time for us to recognize our timeless connection to our home planet and to heal her ravaged wounds as a transit to healing ourselves.” Acutonics Website

Read a description of the Benefits of Sound Healing with Gongs.

¹Whittaker, Sheila In the Heart of the Gong Space: The Gong as a Spiritual Tool, 2015
²If you include Pluto, which has since been officially downgraded to a dwarf planet.

Didgeridoo

Drone On: The Drone in Sound Healing

The Use of the Drone in Sound Healing and Spiritual Development

(This essay, in slightly different form, was initially written for, and submitted for my Gong Practitioner diploma from the College of Sound Healing.)

In this essay, I will explore the role of the drone in sound healing and in spiritual development, by looking at how the drone manifests in three contrasting musical instruments.

The Didgeridoo

When played with circular breathing, the didgeridoo produces a continuous drone. Ashley Tait calls the didgeridoo his “healing tool¹” and indeed, there are practitioners such Gregg Chapman² who specialise in didgeridoo sound therapy. So, what is it about the didgeridoo that makes its drone so useful to sound healers?

If the didgeridoo is a good one, it will be highly resonant. Dick de Ruiter likens listening to the didgeridoo to “bathing in sound vibrations.³” These sound vibrations can bring parts of the body back into harmony through the principle of forced resonance, whereby the weaker vibration of out of balance cells and organs will entrain to the stronger vibrations of the didgeridoo. When I play my didgeridoo, I can feel my chest, upper thighs and feet vibrating in response. I like to think that the didgeridoo is giving me a heart massage, while, at the same time, gently reminding me to remain grounded.

Another feature of the didgeridoo’s drone that is important to sound healers is that it is rich in harmonics. These high frequency sounds are needed for optimal health. They resonate the upper parts of the body, head, ears and brain. Radiology specialist, Dr Jarrah Ali Al- Tubaikh goes even further, stating that it is the high frequency sounds which produce healing on a cellular level4.

Harmonics also affect consciousness. A good didgeridoo player, like an overtone singer, will continuously modify the shape of their oral cavity, resulting in an ever-changing array of harmonics. This, along with the constant rhythm and monotony of the drone itself, has the tendency to put listeners into a trance state. There will be more on altered states of consciousness later. Here it is enough to mention that the trance state, known to the Australian Aborigines as The Dreamtime, can produce insights and visions, as well as being a precursor to healing.

So, the didgeridoo can be beneficial in sound healing for its ability to re-harmonise and charge the body’s organs and cells and for bringing people into a trance state where spiritual insights and healing may occur.

The Setar

The setar is a long-necked lute from Iran, prevalent in Sufi music. It features two melody strings and two drone strings:  the drone strings are tuned in octaves and provide a fixed tonic through the piece. I have weekly Skype lessons with Master Shahab Azinmehr in Tehran and often I find myself close to tears as he plays. I believe that I am so moved by the setar because its drone, which – along with the nature of Persian classical music itself – intensifies the effect of musical intervals on the listener.

Setar

It is believed by many sound healers that intervals have a predictable effect on the listener. I have read lists of these effects in numerous books and been given similar lists on courses. I am not certain that I agree with such a prescriptive approach, but I do believe that intervals have an effect and that a practitioner or musician can intuitively know which interval is needed for their client or audience and play accordingly.

So, given that we accept that intervals can affect the listener’s feelings, what is it about the setar that produces this effect so deeply in me?

The setar provides both its own melody and accompanying drone, so these share the same tonal quality:  I believe the similarity of the two tones enhances the effect of the interval they produce. In addition, Persian classical music is modal. Therefore, unlike Western music, the tonic does not alter and so the interval is always charged with the same meaning. The continuous drone and the reiteration of this charge has a cumulative effect. Equally, unlike Western music, there is no third note (or more) to dissipate the effect of the intervals. This all goes to produce intervals in their most fundamental and potent state and would explain why I am so moved by this particular instrument.

I also believe that modal music based on a drone affects the way one hears intervals.  Since I began studying the setar, my relationship to intervals has changed. Recently at a tuning fork workshop we were asked to determine whether intervals were consonant or dissonant. Eyebrows were raised when I stated that each interval sounded consonant to me, including the 2nds and 7ths. I am sure it appeared that I did not understand the concept of consonance and dissonance, but after months of hearing these intervals in relation to a fixed drone, they all sounded equally acceptable to my ears. It would have helped that we were using Pythagorean tuning forks tuned to natural intervals, as the setar is, and not to equal tempered tuning. How could intervals that appear in the natural harmonic series not be beautiful and perfect as they are?

Now that I have experienced how it is possible for one’s relationship with intervals to change, I can better begin to understand why Rudolf Steiner links the evolution of human consciousness to humankind’s changing perception of intervals. Steiner holds that music, in essence, is spiritual. He says that “the spiritual element in music is found between the tones [and] lies in the intervals as an inaudible quality.5” I would now like to look at what it is that lies between the tones and its possible effect.

The application of binaural beats is well known in sound healing. This is a phenomenon that occurs when one frequency (i.e. 500Hz) is sent to the left ear and another, slightly higher (or lower) (i.e. 505Hz), is sent to the right ear. The brain “hears” the difference between them – which in this case is a binaural beat of 5Hz – and becomes entrained to that frequency. This causes an altered state of consciousness that depends on the binaural beat frequency: here, at 5Hz, we would expect dominantly Theta brainwaves.

Dameon Michael Keller has written at length on brain entrainment and he has some surprising information about musical intervals, for he alleges that they have the same effect as binaural beats:

If you play any two notes together, you hear the pulsed, beating, third note. The brain of the listener perceives the frequencies whether they are consciously aware or not… This is exactly how binaural beats are produced for brainwave entrainment, but what most people do not realise yet is that those same frequencies are present in every piece of music we listen to6.

So why do we not experience altered states of consciousness whenever we turn on the radio? I think it is partly because Western harmony and instrumental arrangements diminish the effect of the intervals, as discussed above. I also think it is connected to the shorter length of modern pop songs, as it takes approximately ten minutes for brainwave entrainment to take effect. This probably explains why Persian classical pieces are so long. I believe that the altered state of consciousness that results from musical intervals is very much present in Persian classical music. Indeed, Iranians have a word for the state of ecstasy that is the desired result of listening to Persian music: hal. During hal, both the musician and audience are expected to be in an altered state of consciousness: this is an integral part of the musical experience.

There is a further advantage of the drone for the musician and audience. When playing or improvising over a fixed tonic, there are no strictures of harmony, or shifting tonics to watch out for and so, ultimately, as I found with my new appreciation of intervals, no “wrong notes”. Without the necessity of keeping one ear open for the rules of Western harmony, it is easier for the musician to be in a state where they can surrender and allow things to happen. This is an important concept in Persian music where the musician is expected to become an empty vessel and, ideally, will not even be fully aware of what they are playing. According to Master Morteza Varzi “Persian music is one of the most powerful means of spiritual transformation7.” It is precisely because the musician is free to be a channel that this becomes possible.

We have seen, then, in this discussion of the setar and Persian music, that intervals can affect feelings and consciousness and that the drone of the setar can support and intensify this effect. This is beneficial in both sound healing and in raising spiritual consciousness.

The Ichigenkin

The third instrument that I want to explore is the ichigenkin. This is a rare, single-stringed zither from Japan. Like the better known shakuhachi, the ichigenkin comes from the Zen Buddhist tradition and is intended not to be played as a performance instrument but as a tool to teach the student about ultimate reality.

The ichigenkin should be played with the consciousness anchored in the hara, which my teacher, Randy Raine-Reusch, calls the “the ground of silence.” Peter Wilburg goes even further saying:

The Hara is not only a still point of inner silence. It is also the gateway for a descent into silence which leads us into a world of inner sounds or “sounds of silence.8″

Ichigenkin

It took me about two years to experience playing “from the hara”, but, once that happened, I became aware of these sounds of silence that Wilburg refers to. Moreover, I began to experience the inner sensation that I am playing the ichigenkin above what I can only call a continuous drone of silence. My perception of the silence is that it is in continuous flow, dynamically moving forward with the melody line, supporting it, as if it were both a musical and a metaphysical ground. I believe that this “drone of silence” is similar to what Hazrat Inayat Khan calls the “undertone of existence9” that goes on continuously and with which, eventually, all will merge.

Whether the ichigenkin has further lessons in store for me remains to be seen. But it has already taught me to experience the reality of inner silence. No wonder that the ichigenkin is considered a tool for spiritual development. Furthermore, once the ichigenkin player has reached a certain level of spiritual attainment, they are able to transfer this to their audience. Randy Raine-Reusch calls ichigenkin concerts “a meditation in action and non- action, sound and silence and one note and many notes. Audiences gently slip into another world, another reality.10” The other reality of which he speaks is, of course, Ultimate Reality, where the audience members experience action/non-action and sound/silence as the two aspects of vibration from which all things emerge and re-merge.

Bringing it All Together: The Gong

I hope that I have shown how the drones of these three instruments can be of use in sound healing and spiritual development in a wide range of ways. If these effects could be combined into one instrument, it would be an extremely powerful tool for healing and spiritual development. Luckily, we have such an instrument in the gong.

As the didgeridoo is used by sound healers for its resonant qualities and rich harmonics, the gong is known as an instrument of total resonance: its sound encompasses all tones and harmonics, meaning that it is able to entrain any part of the body through forced resonance, as needed. The gong is also a powerful brainwave entrainer, slowing listeners’ brainwaves to Alpha, Theta or even Delta frequencies, bringing them into a meditative, trance or blissful state. Gongs have a fundamental tone, which functions in a similar way to a fixed tonic. The difference tones that cause the effect of binaural beats are also present when two gongs are entrained together. When this happens, these difference tones manifest as extremely low frequencies (ELFs). These are powerful healing agents that can be felt in the physical body and sensed in the subtle bodies. Finally, as the ichigenkin introduces its player to inner silence, so too there is said to be silence at the heart of the gong tone, ready to bring those who can hear it back in tune with their true nature.

Notes

1  Tait, Ashley, An Interview with Ashley Tait in Drury, Ed Sticks and Drones, 2011, ebook location 4378
2  http://www.didgesoundtherapy.co.uk/
3  De Ruiter, Dick The Healing Sounds of Didgeridoo: An Invitation to a Personal Spiritual Journey, 2001, page 29
4  Keller, Dameon, Michael Sounds Great! The Spiritual Science of Sound and Vibration Volume II, 2015
5  Steiner, Rudolf Music: Mystery, Art and the Human Being, 2016
6  Keller, Dameon, Michael, ibid
7  Caton, Margaret, L. Hafez: Erfan and Music as Interpreted by Ostad Morteza Varzi, 2008, page 8
8  Wilburg, Peter The Little Book of Hara, 2011, ebook location 374
9  Khan, Hazrat, Inayat The Music of Life, 1988, page 57
10  Raine-Reusch, Randy, The Zen of One String, http://www.asza.com/zenone.shtml