Have you ever meditated with music and felt that it was a big part of the experience?
Maybe you have seen on Youtube or other video channels how ‘healing frequencies’ are very popular. Sound is and can be very healing!
Healing with sound is not a new wellness trend. Historically, music has been part of the human experience and music has played a role in healing. We can observe this in Greek culture. Medical practitioners of those times used flutes to heal their patients. They believed vibration could help digestion, mental imbalances, and even induce sleep. Aristotle himself wrote ‘flute music can arouse strong emotions and purify the soul’.
It’s the most logical of the alternative therapies. If you think about it, the human body is made up of rhythms. All of our hormones and physiological functions like digestion, breathing, thinking, and even moving depend on cycles. When you hear beats per minute do you think of heartbeats or musical rhythms? Both are frequencies used to measure how fast or how slow an observed pattern happens. And both happen in humans. All cells have an intrinsic beat; a pulse of ups and downs.
Back in 1880, a curious French scientist named Diogel at a hospital in Paris carries out one of the first experiments on how music affects the body physiologically. He measures cardiac output, respiratory rate, pulse rate, and blood pressure in response to music. Back then, music was not recorded, but rather played live. The group he was observing listened to a live concert from musicians. Diogel found that the group listening to music showed lower blood pressure, increased cardiac output, and decreased pulse rate. All these factors prove a happy cardiovascular system.
As science and technology evolve, our understanding of how sound heals and helps promote health also evolve. I am convinced you have heard classical music is good for the brain. Maybe you have seen titles of soundtracks ‘Beats for Concentration’ or ‘Brain Music’.
In the 1950s, researchers determined that stimulating the ventral nucleus of the hypothalamus with electricity would trigger anger. This tiny part of the brain, when the patient was subjected to classical music, did not trigger anger. Another experiment looked at recovery from retina detachment surgery and patients who listened to classical music showed faster recovery time. We can infer music has a relevant effect on some brain structures and how they work.
6 Most Common Types of Sound Healing Therapies
If you are not convinced yet that sound is healing, let’s dive deeper into the different types of sound therapy that are out there. It’s fascinating to see how music has evolved in different cultures. We can observe the common ground that music is very powerful. This power of sound healing can evoke emotions, calm the mind, and even heal the physical body.
1- Mantra Chanting
A mantra is a sacred utterance, a powerful syllable or word that can be chanted. A mantra can be one word by itself or a group of words. Chanting of mantras is associated with spiritual or magical powers. Mantras come from Sanskrit, but are used in many religions and countries around the world.
The most popular mantra, ‘OM’, is said to be the universal sound. It’s sacred in Hinduism. Often called a seed sound, it means it is the original sound, where all other sounds come from. Experimenters recorded brain waves of people practicing OM chanting during meditation. They found theta waves in all brain regions had a higher amplitude.  Theta brainwaves are typically related to sleep but also to states of deep meditation. They are also involved in learning, memory, and intuition.
Mantras can literally be one vowel, a simple ‘ooo’ that is extended for a few seconds. Mantras can also be longer and even meaningful phrases such as ‘Om Bhur Bhuvah Svah’ that can be translated piece by piece. Bhur means the embodiment of vital spiritual energy or prana. Bhuvah is the destroyer of sufferings and Svah is the realization of happiness. Om being the universal sound, you can gather this phrase is a powerful prayer.
There are simpler ones such as ‘Shanti’ which means peace. All of them invoke a feeling, call upon a deity, and invite the chanter to connect with a healing or positive intention. 
2- Neurologic music therapy
On a more Western note, we have music therapy in hospital and rehabilitation settings. Music therapy is used for pain management and brain injuries. In 2016, a study at a pain clinic played music to reduce anxiety in patients that had painful procedures. They looked at music as a coping strategy, a source of comfort and ultimately a pain management tool. Participants were asked if music was helpful. 87% reported yes, music is helpful with pain.
Brain injuries can be treated and healed with sound. Music therapy was used in a rehabilitation context where patients had an acquired brain injury (ABI) that compromised motor function, language, cognition, and triggered emotional disturbances. Stroke patients treated with rhythmic auditory stimulation improved gait parameters. This therapeutic approach pairs walking (gait) with a pulse or a rhythm. In this context, this therapy helped stroke patients better their walking.
3- Bonny method
Violinist player Helen Bonny was so deeply inspired by an experience playing music that she called it ‘conscious-expanding’. In the 1970s, she worked at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and promoted music’s healing power. The relaxation techniques developed were not only about music, but also paired the experience with guided imagery. The Bonny Method is targeted for terminally ill patients, psychiatric inpatients, and people recovering from injuries or addiction, but can be used by anyone.
The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) was evaluated in 275 participants that had different health issues: anxiety, depression, mood disturbances and interpersonal problems. Both psychological and physiological evidence found suggested Bonny Method GIM sessions can improve a person’s wellbeing.
4- Tuning fork therapy
A fork for music and healing? Let’s take a look at this sound healing concept. A tuning fork is a very simple metallic tool. It was invented by musicians in the 1700s in Europe to tune instruments. Around the 1800s they found a medical purpose: to diagnose the vibration of the skull. Tuning forks can be used to pick up the specific vibration of an object. They can also be used to produce a fixed vibration.
Tuning forks are used to shift vibrations. The material they are made up of is a special aluminum alloy. There are different types and sizes of tuning forks for different parts of the body. Each of our body parts has a given frequency and a given energetic field, which can fall into dissonance. This can mean disease. Let’s say, liver inflammation or chest pains. Tuning fork therapy is applied to specific body points (following Chinese medicine meridians) to return such imbalances to their original vibration. Tuning fork therapy helps establish harmony.
5- Brainwave entrainment
Popularly known as ‘binaural beats’, these audios are associated with images of a relaxed and focused brain. Brainwaves are sounds at frequencies that claim to soothe the brain. It seems like pseudoscience, but research is already showing it improves physical well-being.
In this study, participants with stress, anxiety, ADHD, migraine, learning disabilities and myofascial pain received intervention treatment with audiovisual entertainment, including brainwaves. Self-reported results showed better cognition, reduced pain and stress, enhanced mood, and an overall feeling of improvement.
6- Tibetan bowls
Another sound healing therapy practice is the up and coming ‘sound baths’. Usually led by an experienced sound healer, Tibetan singing bowls are played in a ritual or circle setup. The instrument itself is also known as Himalayan bowls. They are gaining popularity due to their capacity to reduce stress and relieve pain. It is often combined with meditation and deep breathing. Offered in wellness retreats, you might see it marketed as a sound bath or sound healing session.
You can also use it in your own home after yoga practice, or just to harmonize your room. It’s very simple to play and in a way very entertaining. Tibetan bowls come with a mallet that you press in a circular motion against the outside rim. Your hand follows the circle slowly until you hear the tone. It’s recommended you use your full arm and not only your wrist.
This alternative method of sound healing has been brought to the research context, and experimenters find benefits. A group of 54 participants with spinal chronic pain received six sessions of singing bowl therapy. Compared to the group that received placebo treatment or no treatment at all, the singing bowl therapy group actually reported reduced pain and reduced stress. Singing bowls could potentially be used for treating pain.
Sound Healing Benefits
Yes, sound is healing. We just mentioned a few of the most popular current forms of sound healing. There are many other methods and healing practices out there. Sound is very powerful. If you think about it, we are made up rhythms, both externally and internally. Using frequencies to harmonize ourselves from the inside is part of our healing knowledge and journey.
Science is catching up. Despite the beginning of research being focused on psychiatry, learning disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more serious clinical conditions, it seems like more and more, experiments support the idea that music therapy is actually beneficial for smaller, common symptoms of the modern man: stress, anxiety, insomnia.
Music is healing. This is an undeniable fact! You can spend time looking at research and benefits, but you can also spend time actually listening and feeling music’s power. Albert Einstein summarizes his life discoveries in the field of physics with the phrase ‘Everything is vibration’. Embracing this idea, we can imagine the vibration of our cells, of our organs, even our thoughts.
– MSc. A. Gabriela Mateo
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