In Sound Health
Bowls, tuning forks and other healing instruments can promote well-being.
by Violet Snow
For centuries, healers have used instruments such as didgeridoos and singing bowls to bring people back to health. Their methods are being revived and updated by today’s sound healers, who play gongs, tuning forks and other instruments as tools for addressing issues such as anxiety, depression, anorexia, drug addiction, pain and chemotherapy side effects.
“I like to call it sonotherapy or vibrational medicine,” says Philippe Garnier, founder of the Sage Healing Arts Center in Woodstock, New York. He offers both private sound healing sessions and sound concerts in which attendees lie down on mats, soaking up the vibrations of various bowls and forks. “Each of our cells and organs vibrates, and the body as a whole vibrates,” he says. “If we had more hearing, we could hear a flower grow.” Resonant vibrations can bring the mind to a still point where thought drops away, the brain slows down and, as Garnier puts it, “the heart takes over. We become acutely aware of our own nature as vibrating beings. That awareness enables us to tune ourselves back into harmony.”
Garnier discovered sound healing after developing a severe case of vertigo. He consulted with a top neurologist, who recommended, after a year of unsuccessful treatment, that Garnier try surgery.
Instead, he contacted a Peruvian friend, who connected him with a shaman. Garnier went to the jungle, where he buried himself in the ground several times in search of a vision. “I was visited twice by entities who showed me what sound was and how to help the world,” he recalls. After two weeks his vertigo went away.
Different instruments have different qualities, says Garnier, and the practitioner must tune into the client to determine individual needs. For example, the gong’s deep voice has a clearing or “washing” effect. The high pitches of tuning forks, combined across specific tonal intervals, are believed to cause cellular changes. Crystal bowls generate an ethereal sound, said to stimulate access to intuitive knowledge.
Genie Tartell of Woodstock first tried sound healing when she was having anger problems. “I was getting ready to go on a very long trip to China with my partner,” she recalls. “Because of a couple of things that had happened, he wasn’t certain he wanted to travel with me for that long.”
At treatment sessions Tartell would lie between two gongs played by practitioner Ricarda O’Connor while the sound reverberated between the two hanging disks. “It’s as if you’re immersed in a cocoon of sound and vibration,” she says. “You can feel as well as hear them. I find it very meditative.”
Tartell continues to go for monthly sessions. “If I’m harried, the gongs put me into an energized state but without the frenetic behavior. When I’m sad, I leave with a feeling of well-being.”
“Working with gongs and singing bowls has helped clients who have nervous disorders, people whose bodies are shaking all the time,” says Diane Mandle of the Tibetan Bowl Sound Healing School in Encinitas, California. “With the gong, they’re able to stop shaking. They go into a place of total silence, and it’s such a relief for them.”
Mandle, who specializes in helping patients with cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, works with ancient bowls made in Tibet. During the Chinese invasion, many of them were hidden or smuggled out of the country. “The monks recited chants and blessings as the bowls were made,” says Mandle. Her partner, Richard Rudis, was taught to use the bowls by Tibetan monks; Mandle incorporates Buddhist philosophy into her practice.
“We’re able to reconnect with a part of ourselves that’s dormant, replaced by the stress and minutiae of daily life,” Mandle says. “If we reconnect over a series of weeks, it can make a big difference. When we change our perspective on what’s happening, there’s an impact on the physical condition.” Sound healing is often used to deepen the effects of bodywork or psychotherapy.
Garnier emphasizes the role of a skilled practitioner in playing these instruments correctly. “The sound plays too loud when the person playing the bowl is not centered or in harmony with the energy field,” he notes. With the right touch, the instruments can help produce deep repose, a corrective to the chaos of modern living.