What Is A Sound Bath? Here Is A Quick Guide

By Kristin Hickey

If you keep tabs on the wellness scene, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of the concept of sound baths, but perhaps you’re not exactly sure what they entail and the benefits the practice offers. Spoiler: it’s more than just beautiful sounds woven together. Keep scrolling to learn more about the experience, what you can expect, and tips for a first-timer looking to try it out.

What exactly is a sound bath?

Elian Zach, founder of WOOM Center in New York City, explains that what is commonly referred to as a “sound bath” or “sound healing” is immersion in the sounds of overtone-rich instruments, such as singing bowls, gongs, tuning forks, chimes and more. “Overtones are a part of every sound—they create the uniqueness of the sound of a violin and of that of a piano, and even help form the differences between our individual voices,” she says, elaborating that overtone-emitting instruments are special because the overtones are quite pronounced and audibly isolatable, allowing us to be moved deeply into non-ordinary states of consciousness by virtue of listening. 

She adds that she prefers to use the terms “sound journey” or “sound therapy” over the popular “sound bath” phrase to define the experience. “The reason for this has to do with the intention with which we enter the session—physical immersion is fantastic, and there are definite benefits for being in the physical presence of such tones; however, the real paradigm is a shift in consciousness which summons up not only the physical body, but our greater awareness,” she explains. Zach also says that the sound journey is in essence a voyage of deep listening and that through such listening we’re able to alter thought-patterns, observe our mind, get in touch with our emotions, and invite unconscious content into conscious awareness in order to embark upon an honest healing process. 

What are the benefits?

If you’re wondering what you can “get out” of sound bathing, the benefits are vast. Zach points out it can help quiet the chatter of an overthinking mind, cultivate harmony within the self, and help you practice presence, self-awareness, and self-inquiry. In one 2016 study, researchers asked 62 participants to gauge their feelings before and after a sound bath—they found that feelings of anxiety, tension, and negative moods were significantly reduced post-meditation compared with pre-meditation. Another study from 2018 looked at the effects of listening to Tibetan singing bowls on 30 participants before heading into surgery and discovered that their heart vitals and other indicators of anxiety had improved (compared to another group of 30 participants who were given headphones with no music). In a well-played sound bath, you might reach a heightened sense of relaxation and feel a sense of restoration—things we could all certainly use.

What happens in a typical session?

During a typical session, you should prepare to lie down and get comfortable, as this is likely where you’ll be for much of the time while you focus on listening to the sounds. The exact instruments used will vary depending on the practitioner, for example, The Soundbath Center in Los Angeles uses a combination of gongs and crystal singing bowls for a signature sound bath experience.  “When the practitioner is skilled in combining the sounds, the greater amount of gongs and bowls is very effective in relaxing the mind and body and helping one to feel a greater sense of overall health and wellbeing,” reads the website. The Soundbath Center also points out that a skilled practitioner is key—anybody can hit a gong, but not everyone can blend and merge the sounds of the gongs and bowls together to create a therapeutic sound bath experience. “Each sound bath experience is unique; occasionally more physical sensations are felt, sometimes it feels like an emotional journey, and other times people will see colors, shapes, or images similar to a waking dream,” writes The Soundbath Center.  “Now and then the sound bath will activate the higher mind and people will receive creative insights or work out issues they couldn’t solve prior.”

In addition to playing a variety of overtone-emitting instruments like gongs, Himalayan singing bowls, tuning forks, bells, and more, Zach says the WOOM Center incorporates other facets into their sound journey sessions like talking about the therapeutic properties of sound and how to use it as a meditative tool; vocal toning, or using our own voices to activate, release and receive; breathwork to reach a heightened state of awareness and deeper state of meditation, and lastly, connecting by sharing musings, thoughts, and feelings about individual experiences.

Any tips for a first-timer? 
We have a few tips if you’re a first-timer looking to give sound bathing a try. “Take time to scribble down some feelings before the journey in order to crystalize what is now present and needs addressing—this may help form an intent for the session,” advises Zach. She adds that you’ll also want to avoid arriving on a full stomach (but make sure it’s not too empty either) and stay away from alcohol or other substances for a few days before the session to increase sensitivity. Some of Zach’s other suggestions include wearing comfortable clothing so that you’re able to stay still for an extended period of time, bringing along an eye mask to eliminate visual distraction, and taking a journal and pen to jot down any insights that come to mind. Lastly, an open mind and heart are always advisable. “Try to be available for whatever arises without judgment or expectation and be willing to offer yourself a lot of compassion throughout,” notes Zach.

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