YOGA and meditation are two popular ways to de-stress and relax these days, but if you’re the type to become restless in the middle of holding an asana (posture) and can’t seem to stop your mind from chattering, perhaps a sound bath is worth a try.
In a sound bath, participants lie down while the sound therapist uses a variety of instruments to entrain (to determine or modify) brainwaves and the body rhythm for the purpose of achieving a better sense of well-being. Benefits could vary from feeling deep relaxation and peace, reduced pain, to increased function of the immune system, and improved sleep.
According to certified sound therapist Anne Huxtable, the idea is for us to switch from the sympathetic (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic (relaxation response) nervous system by lulling the body and mind - slowing the heart rate and blood pressure, as well as the flow and production of sugar and stress hormones in the system - into a deep, meditative state. She explained that being at peace and rest is imperative for the immune system to function optimally.
Unfortunately for most of us, the left hemisphere of our brains is in a constant state of overdrive - reasoning, worrying, analysing and judging around the clock. Coupled with the fact that our bodies are simply not designed to withstand extended periods of stress, it’s no wonder that many of us struggle with health problems!
To counteract all that mental chatter and perpetual anxiety, sound baths operate with pure sounds - that is, without words. Besides instruments, Huxtable utilises her voice in the sound baths she conducts by making and sustaining vowel sounds - an action she refers to as ‘toning’.
“Pure sounds help to switch off the left brain and bring people into deep, meditative states - that could take years of practice - in one session.
“Meanwhile in the right half, which is the creative side that sees the bigger picture, it’s been shown that all the neural pathways light up,” said Huxtable, an alumna of San Francisco’s Globe Sound and Consciousness Institute.
To experience the power of sound baths, I joined a group session led by Huxtable at the Scientific Sound Asia Wellness Centre in Kelana Jaya. Instead of yoga mats, she prepared cushy Japanese futons, and pillows to prop under our heads and knees for ideal comfort.
As she began playing, moving from one instrument to another and sometimes two simultaneously, I could feel their rich resonance sweep over the pin-drop silent room, almost palpable to the touch. Save for the first - what felt like - 20 minutes of struggling to tune out the clicks from the photographer’s camera and then the contralto of my neighbour’s snoring, it was easy to fall into and drift off to the sound waves made by the gong, crystal bowls and harp, flute and my Achilles heel - the wind chimes.
The one-hour therapy felt like a nap, but better, because I awoke to a quietened mind as opposed to one that’d typically hurry to a task or appointment. And my body felt so tense-free it could melt into the floor.
“Power naps work in a similar way but your mind can still be running around while you’re lying down. Sound can take you into an altered state of consciousness quickly and much deeper. Our bodies love to follow external rhythm; that’s why our heart rate and blood pressure change according to the kind of music we’re listening to,” Huxtable illustrated.
For this reason, she also recommends sound baths to corporate organisations to beat brain fatigue and boost productivity. Being in the beta brainwave state - alert, attentive and engaged in focused mental activity - for too long can lead to chemistry imbalance in the brain, deteriorating performance and amplifying the tendency of making mistakes.
In other words, working long hours is counterproductive.
“Studies have shown that you only have to go into deep meditation or sleep state (theta brainwave) for 10 or 15 minutes to reset and balance brain chemistry. So when you come back to waking consciousness, you’re alert and can get your work done much faster.
“We’re telling organisations in order to achieve better productivity, the solution isn’t to make your staff stay longer hours. Give them a break where they can refresh their brains,” she noted.
Anne Huxtable conducts private and group sound bath sessions.