A sound bath is a full-body meditative experience where people lie down and listen to resonant sounds. It often involves singing bowls, which create an echoing sound that ‘bathes’ people.
Some people refer to sound bathing as a healing practice. However, while studies suggest it may help people relax, there is no evidence it heals or treats any medical condition. The origins of the practice are also unclear.
Some proponents of sound bathing claim it helps people with various concerns, such as stress, processing emotions, or unblocking chakras. Chakras are centers of spiritual energy or power, a concept that comes from Hinduism.
Read more to learn about sound baths.
A sound bath usually involves lying down on a mat and listening to highly resonant, immersive music. Sound baths usually happen in a group setting, but a person can also do a sound bath alone at home.
Just as a typical bath involves a person immersing themselves in water, a sound bath attempts to immerse a person in sound, so they feel enveloped in it. In most cases, the bath involves singing bowls, which are small bell-like instruments that create a resonant tone when a person strikes them.
According to the Tricycle Foundation, which is a Buddhist nonprofit, the origins of both singing bowls and sound baths are unclear.
There is a common misconception that the practice must come from Tibet because singing bowls are sometimes known as “Tibetan” singing bowls.
While sound and music have long been part of religious practices in Tibet and other East Asian countries, chimes and bells seem to be more prevalent. However, a Japanese instrument called a rin is similar to a singing bowl. This may be where the Western understanding of singing bowls originated.
Despite claims that sound bathing is ancient, the practice that exists today may have emerged from contemporary Western or New Age spiritualism.
Most of the evidence about the benefits of sound bathing is anecdotal. Proponents of this practice claim it is relaxing and meditative and may promote spiritual well-being.
Only a few studies have explored sound baths or the use of singing bowls, but what does exist suggests that the practice may offer some health benefits.
For example, in one 2020 study, 105 participants took part in a single 40-minute long sound bath. Following the sound bath, all participants showed reductions in negative mood and increases in positive mood based on a positive and negative affect (PANAS) rating scale.
The 20 participants who agreed to heart rate monitoring saw a decrease in their heart rate.
The music group showed lower measures of anxiety based on an anxiety inventory. They also showed slight decreases in heart rate variability, suggesting lower anxiety and stress.
A person might be a good candidate for sound baths if:
- they feel comfortable meditating or would like to try meditating
- they are interested in group meditation
- they are realistic about what sound baths can and cannot do
However, some people may not get on well with sound baths. This includes those who:
- find intense sounds stressful or overstimulating
- have migraine with noise triggers
- have hearing aids, as the sounds may be uncomfortable
People who have a mental health condition may want to speak with a doctor before trying a sound bath, as they can be intense experiences that bring up both pleasant and unpleasant feelings.
There are several ways to experience a sound bath.
At a sound bath event
A person can attend a group sound bath by searching for local events or practitioners. Some cities have sound bath meetups.
Before going, check whether the practitioner has positive reviews or recommendations from others. A person does not need any qualifications to conduct sound baths, so this may be the only indication that they offer a safe and comfortable setting.
In a one-to-one session
Some practitioners offer solo sound baths to people who prefer to experience it alone. This may be an option for people who feel more comfortable in a private setting.
It is possible to try an adapted version of a sound bath at home. However, it will not be exactly the same as a group or guided session.
To do this, a person can use singing bowls, chimes, tuning forks, a drum, or another musical instrument. They could also play a recording on good quality speakers.
If using bowls, first sit comfortably on the floor or a yoga mat. Sit in a neutral posture, which involves finding a relaxed position that minimizes stress on the tendons, muscles, and bones, and take a few deep breaths.
At this point, a person may wish to set an intention. An intention means setting an objective or goal for the day or the session.
Place a group of singing bowls on the floor and begin to play them. A person can strike the side using a striker or mallet. Alternatively, they can run the mallet around the edge to make a deeper sound.
Continue focusing on breathing and playing the instrument of choice for the duration of the bath.
While sound baths involve musical instruments, they are different from music therapy.
Music therapy refers to a broad group of practices that incorporate music into therapeutic techniques for physical and mental health. Qualified music therapists carry out these techniques, using music to help people express themselves, process feelings, enhance memory, or achieve other goals.
Sound baths are more of a spiritual practice than medical therapy. They involve feeling the vibrations from the sound throughout the body.
A person does not need to have any qualifications to host sound bath sessions, although some have a background in other types of complementary therapy, such as yoga or meditation.
Sound baths are a meditative practice involving the use of resonant music. This creates an immersive sound that fills the room and the body, aiming to help people relax and let go of stress, anxiety, or other worries and concerns.
People report feeling deeply relaxed after sound baths, which may have health benefits. However, a sound bath cannot be a substitute for medical care.
It is a relatively recent trend in the United States, and researchers are only beginning to understand it.