Sound Therapy and well-being: some scientific studies
According to the Guardian, Sound Therapy “believe that our bodies contain ‘energy frequencies’ and that sonic frequencies can be used to reattune these energies when they go off key. All you have to do is lie down and bask in the tuneful beauty of ‘pure’ sound”.
Sound has been a tool for promoting the physical and emotional health of the body for as long as history can account for, deeply rooted in ancient cultures and civilizations. The ancient Egyptians used vowel sound chants in healing because they believed vowels were sacred. Tibetan monks take advantage of singing bowls, which they believe to be “a symbol of the unknowable” whose “vibrations have been described as the sound of the universe manifesting.”. Also When some American Indian medicine men and women were called upon to heal an ailing tribesmember, they would fast in order to receive a song in dream or vision instructing them in how to carry out the treatment of their patient.
Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of the perception of sound, and it has fueled researchers paths to better understand how it can be used as medicine. To understand the fundamentals of sound in healing, we must first understand our brain waves. The nucleus of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, is the communication between neurons. Brain waves are generated by way of electrical pulses working in unison from masses of neurons interacting with one another. Brain waves are divided into five different bandwidths that are thought to form a spectrum of human consciousness. The slowest of the waves are delta waves (.5 to 3 Hz), which are the slowest brain waves and occur mostly during our deepest state of sleep. The fastest of the waves are gamma waves (25 to 100 Hz), which are associated with higher states of conscious perception. Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) occur when the brain is daydreaming or consciously practicing mindfulness or meditation.
According to Dr. Suzanne Evans Morris, Ph.D., a speech-language pathologist:
Research shows that different frequencies presented to each ear through stereo headphones… create a difference tone (or binaural beat) as the brain puts together the two tones it actually hears. Through EEG monitoring the difference tone is identified by a change in the electrical pattern produced by the brain. For example, frequencies of 200 Hz and 210 Hz produce a binaural beat frequency of 10 Hz (The difference in 210 Hz and 200 Hz is 10 Hz). Monitoring of the brain’s electricity (EEG) shows that the brain produces increased 10 Hz activity with equal frequency and amplitude of the wave form in both hemispheres of the brain (left and right hemisphere).
A series of experiments conducted by neuro-electric therapy engineer Dr. Margaret Patterson and Dr. Ifor Capel, revealed how alpha brainwaves boosted the production of serotonin. Dr. Capel explained:
As far as we can tell, each brain center generates impulses at a specific frequency based on the predominant neurotransmitter it secretes. In other words, the brain’s internal communication system—its language, is based on frequency… Presumably, when we send in waves of electrical energy at, say, 10 Hz, certain cells in the lower brain stem will respond because they normally fire within that frequency range.
It’s very intriguing to think that something as simple as sound, as music, which we have come to treat as utterly pleasurable entertainment, has not only been used to promote healing and well-being, but has proven to work through research as well.
If your mental health is of concern, try listening to a binaural beat to generate alpha waves between 8 and 14 Hz to produce more serotonin. Another option is to take advantage of music that promotes a relaxed alpha state in the brain such as classical music.
Another interesting study utilised a different method of sound therapy (Himalayan singing bowls, transitioning to Gongs, transitioning to crystal singing bowls, transitioning to therapeutic percussion). It was delivered in two ways – by a live soundbath, where subjects lay on the floor and received around 35 minutes of sound, and by a recording of the same which was available online. The focus of this research was to answer the following questions:
- Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound and across what domains?
- What are the consciousness altering effects of this method and to what degree are the domains effected?
- What are the therapeutic benefits of sound induced ASC?
Data was analysed by a test known as a Chi Square analysis to gauge significance. Statistically significant, highly significant and extremely significant data was produced in the domains of Physical Relaxation, Imagery, Ineffability, Transcendence of Time and Space, Positive Mood, Insightfulness, Disembodiment and Unity across both live and recorded studies. These findings have far-reaching implications for the use of sound therapy, specifically sound induced altered states of consciousness (ASC) going forward. The findings provide further understanding of the depth at which live therapeutic sound compared to a recording is experienced. On the whole the experience in a live study seemed to be more emotionally moving, with participants being able to put their experience into words and experiencing joy. This may be due to the presence of the instruments and that vibrations can be felt travelling through the body, whereas the recorded sound seemed to create deeper introspection and a deeper ASC. This is rather like comparing being at a live concert to listening to an MP3 recording – the former is more rousing, and the latter more immersive. Both groups seemed to benefit from the relaxing effect of the sound and lost their usual sense of time and space.