There are times you have to admit you just don’t get it. Not that you can’t understand the theory of something, or appreciate the symmetry or beauty of a philosophy or science, but that you just can’t connect an idea to your own experience.
The idea of healing by sound strikes me that way. I think there must a space inside me that resonates to audible frequencies in a profound way – a way that can actually ‘heal’ psychically and physically.
But nothing in my experience corroborates that belief, no matter how devoutly I may wish it.
Not that Alison Etter of Breakthrough Healing hasn’t tried. A few months ago my wife Diana and I attended a group session of non-musicians making music at her home in Chemainus, and in March I interviewed Etter for this story.
What she says makes sense, and there’s plenty of people who will corroborate her belief sound can heal. For instance, there’s the Sound Healing Association, formed by ‘guru’ Jonathan Goldman (healingsounds.com); closer to home, simply Google ‘sound healing Canada’ and you’ll find lots to read.
Sound healing, Etter explained, is based on the belief that organs in general, the brain and nervous system in particular, respond to certain sound frequencies through a phenomenon called ‘entrainment’.
“It’s something that’s been around for a long, long time. Like a lot of things, it’s been lost but now it’s being found again,” Etter said. “A lot of people think it’s sort of whoo-hoo, but there’s solid research out there.”
She points to Gregorian chanting and the chanting of Buddhist monks as examples of sounds that achieve altered states of mind. Most of us are moved when we listen to those types harmonies and frequencies, but we don’t know how deeply.
Entrainment is likened to one tuning fork beginning to vibrate in response to another near to it. Psychically and even physically we react to sounds, too. “There are many, many ways of regulating the nervous system; sound is one of them,” Etter said. “You will entrain whatever music is going on.”
Loud heavy metal is likely to quicken your heart rate and get you hyped at a concert; the tone of a Tibetan singing bowl, tamboura, or a moon gong can ease you into a meditative state by shifting the frequency of your brain waves.
“Chronic stress keeps all those negative hormones and neurotransmitters working through the body and it’s damaging,” Etter explained. “That’s what sound does so beautifully, it regulates the nervous system.”
The most powerful instrument is the human voice. Vocal toning can be used to regulate the nervous system and bring on a ‘relaxation response.’
“The most important rule is not to use language, because language immediately takes you into your head,” Etter says of the practices of a sound healer, working with a client. “I’m just providing a sound blanket for their healing.”
Other names for the process are sound journey, soundscape, or sound bath.
“The people who really benefit are having problems with anxiety or depression,” Etter explained. “It’s a way of coming into alignment or balance.”
Etter said the resonance of a sound bath often leaves her clients in a trance.
“The most profound thing that happens for me after a sound bath is people just stay in that state, the meditative state, for 10 minutes – they say there are no words,” she said.
“Everybody’s experience is different, but it allows us to experience silence. It gives people an opportunity to transcend all that mental chatter.”