5 Science-Backed Reasons Why I Love Sound Baths
Have you ever wondered why music has such amazing control over our emotions as humans? The right song can make us feel ready to take on the world or ready to crawl into bed and cry, depending on its speed and sound. Songs can make us feel inspired, joyful and celebratory or sad, nostalgic, and filled with despair — all at a moment’s notice.
Music has such amazing effects on our body and mind because sound is incredibly powerful and primal. As a functional medicine expert, one of my jobs is to help my patients take advantage of the effective healing practices that have existed for millennia. And one of my absolute favorite healing practices is a sound bath. Keep reading for five reasons to try one out.
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1. Sound baths can calm your nervous system
Sound baths are a practice that involves listening to sound frequencies produced by unconventional instruments like chimes, tuning forks, and gongs. The ultimate goal of a sound bath is to get you into a state of relaxation. This might sound a little “out there” but there’s actually some pretty solid research behind the science of sound baths. Every sound we hear with our ears emits a specific frequency and some frequencies have been shown to guide the brain into a theta state, which is well-known to induce a state of calm and relaxation. (1) In fact, it’s the same type of state that is induced by meditation.
2. They require minimal effort
So many of the wellness practices I write about — like herbs and adaptogens, infrared saunas, and elimination diets — require a fair amount of planning and effort, and let’s be honest, they aren’t always cheap. Sound baths are a little bit different; many of them are extremely affordable or free to attend and you can even do them at home by participating in a digital sound bath. All you have to do is download one of the many free sound bath meditations online and create a calming environment. Grab some blankets or pillows and either lay down flat or sit cross-legged, close your eyes, and press play. Ideally, you’ll want to listen through headphones for the best sound quality.
3. They can reduce pain
I recommend sound baths to plenty of my patients, but especially if they are dealing with chronic pain of some kind. Studies have shown that certain sound frequencies can help reduce pain. (2) Even more interesting, the tuning forks used in sound bath meditations vibrate at various frequencies and have been linked to the release of nitric oxide, a free radical that plays a role in pain transmission and the immune and inflammatory response. (3)
4. They foster a sense of community
Things are a little different right now thanks to COVID-19, but sound baths are normally an amazing experience to share with others. I remember the first time I laid down with my pillow, surrounded by others, and experienced my first sound bath. There’s something magical about experiencing something like that with other humans, who are also being put into a similar state of relaxation, which only seems to amplify your own benefits. Once it’s safe to do so, sound baths are one of the first things I’ll be attending again.
5. They can make you happier and more energetic
Thanks to this theta brain state, sound baths have been shown to help alleviate depression. In fact, studies have shown that the brain releases dopamine in response to music. (4) One study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine looked at a group of sixty-two men and women and measured their levels of tension and overall mood before and after a Tibetan singing bowl meditation. The results found that participants across the board experienced significantly less anxiety, tension, and fatigue and felt happier after the session. (5)
One of my favorite things about sound baths is that you can get massive benefits from your very first experience. In fact, in the study Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine mentioned above the researchers also found that those who were participating for the first time experienced the strongest benefits.
If you’re looking for something new to inspire a little calm and joy, which many of us feel in short supply of these days, a sound bath is a perfect place to turn. Take it from me — you won’t be disappointed!
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- Lagopoulos J, Xu J, Rasmussen I, Vik A, Malhi GS, Eliassen CF, Arntsen IE, Saether JG, Hollup S, Holen A, Davanger S, Ellingsen Ø. Increased theta and alpha EEG activity during nondirective meditation. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Nov;15(11):1187-92. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0113. PMID: 19922249.
- Naghdi L, Ahonen H, Macario P, Bartel L. The effect of low-frequency sound stimulation on patients with fibromyalgia: a clinical study. Pain Res Manag. 2015;20(1):e21-e27. doi:10.1155/2015/375174
- Bacabac RG, Van Loon JJ, Smit TH, Klein-Nulend J. Noise enhances the rapid nitric oxide production by bone cells in response to fluid shear stress. Technol Health Care. 2009;17(1):57-65. doi: 10.3233/THC-2009-0535. PMID: 19478406.
- Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, Zatorre RJ. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nat Neurosci. 2011 Feb;14(2):257-62. doi: 10.1038/nn.2726. Epub 2011 Jan 9. PMID: 21217764.
- Goldsby TL, Goldsby ME, McWalters M, Mills PJ. Effects of Singing Bowl Sound Meditation on Mood, Tension, and Well-being: An Observational Study. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;22(3):401-406. doi:10.1177/2156587216668109
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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