Soak in a Sound Bath

The Sound of Relaxation

When I was younger, the idea of lying still without the goal of falling asleep seemed absurd. Even when I became a certified yoga instructor, I scoffed at my trainer’s suggestion to make Savasana — the resting pose at the end of each session—at least 20 percent of my class.

Oh, how times have changed. Now that I have years of teaching yoga under my mat, plus the pressure (and noise) that comes with a walking, babbling 15-month-old-boy, I find myself relishing the end of my practice. I don’t even use the time to catalog my to-do list anymore. I simply lie there like a noodle you throw against a wall to see if it’s done. So when the “Sound Bath” phenomenon started popping up at fitness and wellness studios everywhere, I knew I had to give it a shot.

What Exactly Is a Sound Bath?

Sound bathing is an ancient sound-healing practice that has been used to reduce stress and anxiety for centuries.

Basically, a sound bath is a form of meditation guided by sound. Although it is relatively new to the United States, sound bathing is an ancient sound-healing practice that has been used to reduce stress and anxiety for centuries. How? One way is that the sounds that wash over you (hence, bath) are supposed to help still your mind because it can’t anticipate the next note so that “entrainment,” the changing of brainwave frequencies, can occur, allowing you to reach various stages of relaxation or meditative states. Sound baths can be performed with many different instruments, including crystal singing bowls, gongs, chimes, tuning forks, different types of percussion and more.

An entire hour of stillness and music? Sign me up.

My Sound Bath Experience

I chose to attend a gong meditation at a local reiki studio because I read that it may be best to go to a place that wouldn’t have distractions, like the clanging of kettlebells or the buzz of a juice bar threatening to interrupt my experience. It would just be me, the gong and my fellow meditation seekers.

Walking into the room, I saw everything I would expect from what I call “Zen Dens”: rolled-out yoga mats with a head pillow at one end and cylindrical bolster at the other lined the floor, while a basket of cozy blankets sat in a corner. Bold rugs with lotus flower patterns dotted the area around us, tapestries featuring geometric shapes hung on the walls, and the smell of incense drifted through the air. The centerpiece of it all? A giant gong and mallet patiently waiting for their master.

Gongs are just one of many instruments that may be used to create a sound bath.

The room was quiet, and there were already a couple of people resting on the mats, so I followed suit. I chose a mat, tucked the bolster under my knees, laid a blanket over my legs and got out the lavender-scented eye pillow I had bought especially for this occasion. Go big or go home, right?

Laying the pillow over my eyes, I nestled into my spot and breathed in a few deep breaths, readying myself for whatever was about to happen. Although I was excited for the hour of uninterrupted stillness, I am a self-proclaimed horrible meditator. I never reach the blissed-out states I’ve heard about, and sometimes feel like a fraud of a yogi. I was hoping today was the day!

I sensed the lights dimming even further, and a deep hush fell over the room. A woman’s voice softly welcomed us and she introduced herself as Anna, our gong guide. I pictured a woman in her mid-50s with flowing silver hair and linen dress with billowing sleeves.

Anna said she was looking forward to guiding us through our journey, and to let the waves of sound wash over us. She said we may experience a “tightness” and to just breathe through it; that was our energy pushing through. This made me a tad nervous. I didn’t want to be one of those people who broke down crying mid-meditation. But then I thought, “Don’t I want to experience meditation at its fullest?” If crying took me there, then I should embrace it. I decided to just do what Anna said and let the gong’s song take over.

It started low at first. A minor rumbling that barely filled the space around me. Then I heard something else. A rattle? Wind? No. Wait a minute. It was snoring! The girl next to me had dozed off in less than five minutes! I didn’t know whether to be irritated or jealous.

I tried to ignore the snoring and focus on the sound. It was tough because all I wanted to do was roll the girl on her side like I would my husband in the middle of the night. Then something weird happened.

When the sound rose, so did my chest — my breath getting caught up in its rhythms.

The sound of the gong increased and washed away everything else around me. I started to feel as if I was floating through a void; the sound had literally picked me up and was surrounding me like a force field, keeping me from falling into the abyss. I couldn’t feel the mat underneath me, or the blanket resting on my body. When the sound rose, so did my chest — my breath getting caught up in its rhythms. I would inhale and exhale at the gong’s command as sound continued to swirl rapidly around me, increasing and decreasing in intensity like a score in a Spielberg movie. My mind would try to drift off to other things, but it would bounce back, thwarted by the force field. I was the gong’s captive.

What seemed like mere minutes later, I heard the tinkling of tiny bells, a sign Anna had said she would use when it was time to come “back to earth.” I had thought that description was a bit exaggerated at the time, but as I exhaled a breath I didn’t even know I had been holding and felt myself rooted to the mat again, I realized she had been right on.

Anna advised us to bring awareness back to our bodies slowly, and to take our time leaving. She also said to try to take it easy for the rest of the night if we could. Go somewhere quiet, read a book, or just relax and let the frequencies continue to work. She also said to stay hydrated because the sound waves carry on water, so the more hydrated we were the more likely they would have a penetrating and lasting effect. (It’s important to start the class hydrated too!)

I knew curling up with a book was not in my future, but I did have a 25-minute drive home. I gathered my things, thanked Anna — who was in her 50s, but with shoulder-length gray hair, jeans and a pink butterfly t-shirt — and made my way to my car. I was sure the class had been only 30 minutes, max, and was happy that I’d be home earlier than I thought. But when I got in my car, the clock read 7:03 p.m., an hour after the class had started. I was shocked. Never had 60 minutes gone by that fast, especially when I wasn’t even moving.

I drove home in silence, not wanting to interrupt the calm I felt. Maybe it was the freeway beneath me, but I swore I could still feel my body vibrating, like the notes had clung to my skin and were playing over and over again. Was this what it felt like to be “blissed out”? Had I actually done it? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I liked whatever it was, and not even the cacophony of plastic building blocks tumbling to the floor as I walked in the door could shake it. I slept amazingly well that night.

Whether you “believe” in meditation or just want an excuse for some “me time,” I’d give a sound bath a try. At the very least, you may get in a nice nap!

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