Some sounds just help you relax. Some put you on edge.
Crashing waves, soft rain, a babbling creek or the soft melody of song birds may make you want to curl up under your work desk and take a nap. Sirens, car horns, nails on a chalkboard, a noisy restaurant – not so much.
For certified sound therapy practitioner Jason Watford, the right sounds are everything.
Watford, a massage therapist and yoga instructor at The Nature Gallery, uses a mix of Tibetan singing bowls, crystal bowls and even a gong to help clients find relaxation through sound.
“Like meditation, like yoga, tai chi or whatever – you get in that state of mind where … you start to relax,” Watford said. “Some people fall asleep. When the body’s that relaxed, it resets the clock in the brain and good things happen.”
There are actually two approaches that Watford offers. Individual sessions involve vibration from the bowls against different areas of the body while the client is on a massage table – a practice called Vibrational Sound Therapy, of VST. Then, there are sound baths – group sessions where participants lay in a darkened room for an hour while Watford produces sounds by rubbing mallets against the bowls.
A few weeks ago, I attended one of these sound baths. Men and women of all ages gathered on yoga mats at The Nature Gallery on a Sunday afternoon. Arranged in a semi-circle around Watford, participants were dressed in comfortable clothes – most in yoga or exercise wear. The studio provided yoga boosts for head support or to place under the knees. Some, like me, brought their own pillow. Once everyone was settled on the mats and comfortable, the room was darkened and Watford began making the bowls sing.
Other than talking the group through some deep breaths at the beginning, Watford doesn’t speak during sessions. The bowls do all the talking. The gentle vibration from the bowls is enough to put you to sleep – I caught myself on the verge of snoring twice.
“The reason it’s called a sound bath is it is like getting into a warm bath tub,” Watford said. “You’re getting into a bath of sound vibrations and it’s relaxing.”
When the sound bath is over, Watford invites anyone who wants to step into a grounding bowl – a larger version of the hammered Tibetan singing bowls. You stand in the bowl while Watford holds a second bowl, strikes it lightly with a mallet and moves the vibrating bowl around the front, back and sides of the person standing in the bowl.
An individual vibrational sound therapy session is different from the group sound baths. Unlike a traditional massage, someone getting VST is fully clothed. They can choose to lie on their back or stomach during the session. They are covered with a sheet and Watford places bowls on different parts of the body, such as the stomach or upper back. He strikes the bowls to produce a vibration. The goal is to help clients relax, reduce stress and maybe even ease pain.
Tibetan singing bowls have been used in religious ceremonies for centuries. Along the way, people found other uses for the relaxing sounds produced by the bowls.
Watford received his certification in April through the Vibrational Sound Association. There’s also a type of vibration sound therapy that uses metal tuning forks placed at certain points along the body as they vibrate. There are also a number of YouTube videos demonstrating how the bowls work.
Sound baths and VST have been offered in larger cities for some time, but Watford had never experienced it for himself until he went for certification. Also a musician, learning to make the bowls sing appealed to Watford.
“I just fell in love with the bowls,” he said. “The bowls are music in themselves.”
At The Nature Gallery, the VST sessions can be scheduled by simply calling the studio. The open group sound baths are held every other month, although Watford can do smaller group sessions by appointment. A 60-minute VST session costs $65. A 60-minute sound bath starts at $65 plus $10 for each additional participant in the group.
Relaxation is the goal during the sessions, but the benefits can go beyond the sessions, Watford said. Improved sleep, reduced stress, lowered blood pressure and pain reduction can all come when the body is in a state of deep relaxation.
“That’s the whole point – getting them to relax,” Watford said. “That’s when good things happen.”