Adding to the ever-expanding list of ways to unwind and practice self-care is the use of a singing bowl or sound bath to boost relaxation. Some say that this practice actually dates back thousands of years but only recently has experienced a surge due to mindfulness meditation and yoga becoming much more mainstream.
You can think of a sound bath as one form of “energy healing,” similar to how music is used for its therapeutic, mood-altering effects. Because singing bowls/sound baths can help quiet the mind, improve focus and make you feel more relaxed, their use can lead to a range of health improvements — such as better digestion, concentration, moods and sleep.
What Is a Sound Bath?
A sound bath is meditative experience in which you listen to ambient sounds caused by signing/chanting, singing bowls, chimes, gongs, drums and cymbals. Many of the sounds you’d hear during a sound both are vibrations produced by traditional metal bowls or other tools that are played by instructors (or “sound therapists”).
During the experience, attendees usually lay down (in the yoga pose savasana or corpse pose) or sit in a comfortable position, such as on a meditation cushion or yoga mat. They “bathe” in the sounds in the environment in order to keep their attention fixated on the present moment, much like during other types of meditations.
Sound baths are intended to be deeply relaxing and can also lead to other benefits, like “self discovery” and insight. Some practitioners describe the experience of attending a sound bath as a “journey of self healing.”
Attending this type of meditation class can help put you in a deep meditative state, which can lead to reduced stress, greater sense of peace and other mental health benefits.
There’s some speculation over the exact origin of sound baths and singing bowls. Some believe they are ancient practices that date back at least 2,000 years that originated among monks and other meditation practitioners living in Tibet — however there isn’t much solid evidence showing that this is actually true.
The truth is, no one knows for sure where they originated and when — we only know that as meditation, yoga and Eastern religion practices spread around the globe in the late 1900s, the use of singing bowls did too.
Tools (What Is a Singing Bowl?)
A singing bowl is an inverted bell that vibrates to make sound. It’s the type of instrument that is most often used in sound baths in Western countries.
Singing bowls and bells are typically bowl-shaped, made out of metal/bronze or crystal, and come in many different sizes, with bigger bowls producing deeper and louder vibrations and sounds.
According to the Ohm Store website, traditional “Tibetan Singing Bowls” go by many names:
Over the millennia, they have been humbly referred to as a: singing bowl, himalayan bowl, singing bell, standing bell, meditation bell, sound bowl, vibration bowl and many others.
What is a singing bowl used for? Historically, singing bowls have been primarily used to help improve focus during meditation and chanting practices.
Today they are also used in yoga classes, group meditation classes and for relaxation purposes to help bring people’s attention to the present moment and for their relaxing qualities.
How does a singing bowl work exactly?
Compared to other forms of meditation, there have been limited scientific studies focused on the use of meditation bowls and sound baths. Those that have been conducted have found they can help relax the body and essentially take someone out of “fight or flight” by combatting a stress response.
According to yogic philosophy, sound baths are also used to help “balance the chakras by utilizing specific sound vibrations” (although this concept is not one that’s been proven scientifically).
Instructors usually play singing bowls in a way that causes them to produce repetitive notes at different frequencies. These sound like long vibrations that eventually become softer as they fade out.
The cool thing about singing bowls is that each one produces a unique sound based on the bowl’s history, shape, size, weight and dimensions.
As one sound therapist explained to Allure magazine:
“By using particular combinations of rhythms and frequencies, it is possible to shift our normal beta state (alert, concentrating, reacting) to an alpha (creative, relaxed), and even theta (meditative state) and delta (deep sleep; where restoring and healing can occur).”
By bringing your focus to the “here and now” and to sounds in your environment and away from your own thoughts, you’re better able to let go of whatever is on your mind. Breathing exercises are also often used to help you settle into the practice and relax more easily, sometimes as well as stretching/yoga.
What are the benefits of a sound bath? Based on its ability to help fight the negative effects of stress, sound bath and singing bowl benefits can include:
- Calming the nervous system, helping you to cope with symptoms tied to chronic stress
- Improving your mood and decreasing depression and anxiety symptoms
- Deepening meditation and focus
- Boosting creativity and decision-making
- Helping with management of chronic pain
- Improving sleep and reducing insomnia
- Supporting cardiovascular and digestive health
The reason that sound baths (and music therapy and other types of “sound therapies”) are capable of leading to health improvements is due to how they affect the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you cope with stress and keeps you in balance (homeostasis).
Here’s a bit more about some of the main benefits of sound baths:
1. Can Help Enhance Meditation/Focus
Like other forms of meditation, sound baths emphasize focused concentration and mindfulness (moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness).
If you find it hard to meditate or relax because you can’t easily “turn off your brain,” then this type of practice is a good option for you. The vibrations, chants and other sounds you hear during a sound bath help quiet the distractions going on in your physical environment and in your mind, allowing you to relax and focus more easily.
A sound bath can even mimic the peaceful state of mind you would achieve in a float tank, in which you experience sensory deprivation. The resonant frequencies produced by singing bowls and other instruments are subtle distractions that may actually alter your brain waves in a way that promotes a calm, meditative state of mind.
A 2018 study uncovered evidence that people recovering from cancer who were part of a Tibetan Sound Meditation group performed better on a verbal memory test, short-term memory and processing speed task, and improved in cognitive function and abilities, mental health and spirituality scores at the end of treatment.
2. May Lift Your Mood
One observational study found that singing bowl meditation “may be a feasible low-cost low technology intervention for reducing feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression, and increasing spiritual well-being. This meditation type may be especially useful in decreasing tension in individuals who have not previously practiced this form of meditation.”
3. Can Aid Digestion
By reducing the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and helping you feel calmer, meditative practices can improve metabolic processes and digestion. Due to the “gut brain connection,” by feeling less stressed overall you may deal with fewer symptoms like indigestion, lack of appetite, diarrhea and constipation.
4. Can Help Improve Sleep
Sleep requires you to be in a relaxed, restorative state, which is what sound baths can provide. The more you practice relaxing your body and letting your thoughts pass, the easier it should be over time to drift off into restful sleep when the time is right.
5. May Help Improve Blood Pressure
By incorporating a regular meditative practice into your routine, you can help support hormonal balance, cardiovascular function and even immune system function.
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that when people participated in relaxation sessions that included an introduction with 12 minutes of Himalayan singing bowls they experienced a greater reduction in systolic blood pressure and heart rate compared to sitting in silence before a directed relaxation session.
The researchers concluded that singing bowls may be used as an adjunct to directed relaxation session to produce positive physiological and psychological responses, including among adults with hypertension.
6. Can Help You Cope with Pain
One study found that adults who used “vibroacoustic sound therapy” (singing bowls) experienced a significant decrease in stress perception and pain intensity compared to adults who were placed in a placebo group. Another study demonstrated that sound stimulation therapy can help those with fibromyalgia better cope with discomfort.
How to Do It
If you’re using a singing bowl at home, here are some basic instructions:
- Use a mallet to press in a slow, circular motion against the bowl’s outside edge or rim. Try using your whole arm when using bigger bowls in order to create a full vibration.
- You can also make sounds by gently striking the inside of the bowl. It might take some practice, but you’re looking for clear, bright sounds.
If you’ve never tried a sound bath before and are interested in attending a session, look for one at local yoga and meditation studios and event spaces. You’re most likely to find sessions held in bigger cities that have many yoga and meditation studios.
Here are some tips for beginners who are attending a sound bath/using a singing bowl:
- Bring a yoga mat, cushion or towel to help you get into a comfortable position.
- What do you wear to a sound bath? Wear comfortable clothing that won’t cause restriction in movement, pinching or anything else that will be distracting.
- Start the practice with some breathing exercises, which help calm your body and thought. Then try to keep your focus on the sounds in your environment, as well as your breath, to help your mind from following thoughts.
- At one point you might start to feel like you’re going to fall sleep. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but try to remain fully aware of your surroundings as much as possible until you drift off.
- While sound baths are usually in-person experiences, you can use a sound bath app or meditation app, recording, or YouTube video if attending a session in person isn’t an option for you.
Below are answers to some other common questions you might have about getting started with sound baths and singing bowls:
How long is a sound bath?
This depends on where you do it, who’s leading it and the exact type of sound bath.
Some sound bath ceremonies can last for several hours. Shorter sessions might be about 45 to 90 minutes, much like a yoga class.
Each class/experience is a bit different depending on who instructors it, much like a yoga class. You might want to ask questions about the length and other details beforehand.
How much does a singing bowl and sound bath cost?
This depends a lot on the specific bowl, the size and where/how it’s made. Look for singing bowls at meditation shops, some yoga studios or online.
They can cost between $30 and $150 depending on the type. Very large, antique bowls may even cost thousands of dollars.
A group sound bath session typically costs between $30 to $65. If you do a private session, it will probably cost a bit more.
You may be able to find free workshops at places like local yoga or meditation studios.
Can you put water in a singing bowl?
Yes, you can add water to your bowl to produce a different type of sound. Pour enough water to fill the bowl about halfway.
Create sound by circling the rim a few times. If you look closely you’ll even see ripples of water.
Risks and Side Effects
Just like with meditation, there isn’t much risk involved in giving sound baths and singing bowls a try. You might find that you feel frustrated, restless or bored for the first 20 o 30 minutes while you “settle in,” but this is common and usually gets better the longer you practice.
While there aren’t many dangers involved with the use of singing bowls, you’re most likely to get the most benefits if you begin by practicing with a teacher or therapist.
- What is a sound bath? It’s a type of sound healing practice and meditative experience in which you listen to ambient sounds caused by signing/chanting, singing bowls, chimes, gongs, drums and cymbals.
- A singing bowl is a type of meditation bowl that dates back thousands of years to Tibet. Historically, Tibetan singing bowls have been primarily used to help improve focus during meditation and chanting practices.
- Benefits associated with this practice are similar to those of meditation and yoga. They can include reducing stress and pain, improving digestion and sleep, and supporting cardiovascular, cognitive and immune system functions.
- The way that singing bowls and sound baths work is by helping give you a point of focus so you can quiet your mind and let your thoughts go. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system and helps you feel more relaxed, restored and introspective.