A Soundbath is an immersive experience, a kind of sound journey. It is nothing to do with water or baths but involves experiencing a wealth of sound and vibration, which can be felt through the body. The vibrations of sound and music (which can usually be felt by non-hearing people) are experienced in the body and can affect the nervous system and our very cells. Most people find the experience of a soundbath relaxing and restorative. Soundbaths have their roots in ancient cultures, where sounds and music were used as medicine. More recently, the Kundalini yoga tradition has promoted Soundbaths [also called Gong baths] as a form of healing meditation, and they have become very popular. Many soundbath practitioners use instruments such as gongs and Himalayan or crystal singing bowls.
It is possible to create a Soundbath with very minimal equipment, for example using your voice with a drum or a drone sound (in music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded), or by using conventional instruments in unconventional ways. You may have a piano or guitar in the house which can be used as a soundmaker, rather than in the way they are typically used as musical instruments. Other sounds can be found or easily created from things you may have in your house or garden.
What you need
- Things to make sound with such as acoustic instruments of any kind, including ones that are homemade, items from around your home that make sound and your voice.
- Homemade shakers, drums and instruments can be made or found at home, with creative and careful exploration. For example, a tin tray can make an excellent gong. White noise can be made by rustling paper or shaking a bunch of dried leaves from the garden. Something that creates the sound of gentle rain or waves is very useful – try dried pulses, or fish tank gravel in a long cardboard tube, or in an empty food tray.
- Optional -an ambient or drone like backing track (e.g. rain/ocean sounds/whale/bells, wind chime sounds) which can be found on YouTube and free apps such as iShrutiBox or Dhwani Tanpura.
- A comfortable place to rest, protected from obvious and sudden noises.
- Time: once you begin a soundbath it is important that you are able to carry on without interruption, unless, of course, the interruption is initiated by the person receiving the sound.
Guidance and instructions
- Find and assemble your soundmakers.
- You might explore the different sounds with your recipient, noting and discarding any sounds that startle or appear to have a negative effect. Be aware that music and sound can impact us in many different ways and on many different levels. Emotionally it can enhance or shift our mood and evoke memories of other times and places. Sounds can stimulate, calm or regulate the nervous system. Responses to sound are very individual. Some people find low frequency sounds soothing, whilst for others they may evoke a fear response. High pitched sounds can be startling, but used in the right way can echo the prosody of a mother’s voice as she sings a lullaby, gentling us into a relaxed and more regulated state. White noise, such as ‘sssshhhhh’ or the sound of the sea, can remind us of the time we were safe in our mother’s womb, and a regular beat can recall a steady, reassuring heartbeat.
- Begin to think about which sounds work well together, and how you might combine them to create a kind of sound picture or sound narrative. You can combine sounds to create contrast within the soundscape, or group sounds into a theme or some kind of narrative or image e.g. sounds of the sea, weather sounds, sounds that evoke a particular time or place.
- Practice your sounds before you start, and work out how they might go together – try to avoid sudden stops and starts.
- Some people prefer all ambient sounds, where there is no discernible beat, others need a beat to key into. A steady beat is usually reassuring – not too fast, not too slow. You may want to use a ‘heartbeat’ sound – da dum, da dum. This can feel really soothing, but always check back with the recipient to see if this is the case for them.
- Most people like to lie down for a soundbath, though the most important thing is to be comfortable. Make sure, whatever the position of the person receiving the sound, that they are well supported.
- You might want to ‘set the scene’ for the soundbath with words: this might go something like – ‘Can you feel your body, which parts of your body are touching the floor/bed/cushion/chair? Let your body sink into the floor. Notice where your body is moving as you breathe in and out. Let the sounds come and go.’
- As time goes on, you may be able to encourage more awareness of body and breath, by suggesting specific places in the body, e.g. notice where your legs are touching the floor, notice which parts of your back are touching the floor… and so on. You can make similar suggestions regarding breath. When you breathe, does your chest move? Does your tummy move? Is the breath coming in/out through your nose or through your mouth? There is no right or wrong in this, and the idea is not to change the breathing pattern, simply to bring awareness to it. Depending on your relationship with the person receiving the soundbath, and their consent, it may be appropriate to bring awareness to specific parts of their body by a gentle touch, for example, placing a hand on the tummy may bring awareness and allow the breath to deepen and lengthen without effort. In general, a deeper and longer outbreath means more relaxation, but everyone has their own idiosyncratic breathing patterns, and it tends to be more beneficial to allow these to develop naturally rather than to ‘try’ to breathe in a particular way.
- In general, your soundbath will start with gentle, engaging sounds which may become more arousing in the middle, and end calmly and gently, creating a gradual curve of sound. The person playing the instruments may worry, especially in the beginning, that it will be boring if any one sound goes on too long. However, for the recipient it is important to have long enough to settle into each sound, to feel it and process it.
- Silence is an important ingredient of your soundbath. Don’t be afraid of silences, for example in the spaces when you put down one soundmaker and lift another. We need silence to process and integrate what has gone before.
- Many people simply feel more relaxed during and after a soundbath, but there can be a whole spectrum of other responses. Some people see colours, or experience a kind of waking dream state, unexpected feelings and memories can come to the surface. These may be pleasant, but can occasionally be scary – if your person is not able to tell you what is going on for them, you need to be super tuned to their body language and responses, to ensure that they are comfortable with the sounds. If there is any sign of distress or unwanted arousal, gradually fade out the sounds, or change the sounds, until they settle or gently bring the session to a close.
- A soundbath can be as long or short as wanted – 5-10 minutes is a good time to aim for at first, and you may want to extend this as you and the recipient become more familiar with the experience. No matter how short, always remember to give transition time afterwards. It can be a challenge to transition back from a soundbath into everyday activities, so whatever time frame you are working within, be sure to allow time at the end for your person to come back slowly to the room.
- At the end of the soundbath, bring attention again to the breath, the body, the room, the other people in the room, slowly and gently.
What to observe, assess and record
- Responses to particular sounds – are these relaxing or alerting?
- Changes in posture, breathing and facial expression
- Changes in mood
- Changes in level of arousal
- Changes in behaviour
© Eleanor Gibson
Created October 2020