Sound Healing Demystified
The healing potentialities of Gregorian Chant and plainsong in and out of the Liturgy to positively affect both listener and performer in matters of body, mind, and spirit.
“It was a music of the spirit, seeking peace, not emotional release, expressing the hunger of the soul rather than the heart. A way of sequencing notes so ancient it might be music's mother lode, its Fertile Crescent.
It wouldn't have grated, I felt, on the ears of ancient Greeks or Egyptians or Mesopotamians or Sumerians—or even on the august auditory equipment of the Buddha or Lao-tzu.” – Tony Hendra
By Aria Thomé
Since the re-release of pre-recorded Gregorian chants by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain in a 1994 album simply titled Chants and release of Moto proprio in 2007 by then Pope Benedict XVI, there has been renewed interest in the Gregorian Chant, and in particular, the healing qualities of both the performer and the listener.
The purpose of this writing is to provide evidence and to postulate theorems of the healing potentialities of Gregorian Chant and plainsong in and out of the Liturgy to positively affect both listener and performer in matters of body, mind, and spirit. Since the resurgence of interest in this corpus of music, by both musicologists and liturgical and secular choral directors, medicinal researchers have had a keen interest in the chants ability to reduce anxiety, stimulate bone conduction, and lower blood pressure. Other benefits also being found include but are not limited to helping the fluency of the speech of stroke victims, ‘charging’ the central nervous system and cortex of the brain via the stapes muscle of the ear, and reducing the number of hours of sleep needed to properly function throughout the day.
Positive neuro-physiological results have also been noted, particularly from the monks in Solesmes, France, a monastery that has been at the forefront of Gregorian chant research regarding interpretation, performance, and steadfast keeping of the sung Hours. Their continued usage of sung propers and ordinary of the liturgy also belong to the body of chants with Gregorian structure. Under stress, for example, breathing patterns irregulate, and the diastole-systole cardiac cycle loses its regular ticking. In Solesmes’ performance of chant the rhythms are the translation of a response corresponding to the capabilities of the entire nervous system, whereby, there exists a calm and regulated cardiac functioning. This is in part due to the verticality of posture of the monks which heightens their extraordinary listening abilities to produce a condition in which the flexor and extensor muscles are inactive, allowing for a relaxed emission of tone that is high and rich in its frequency response and overtones, stimulating positive brain activity.
The structure of the chanting, its composition and cadences, has a positive physiological impact being shown to increase the levels of DHEA, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands to assist in releasing hormones and one whose levels peak early and decline with age. Simply listening to the chants from Solesmes, and to be sure, other like monasteries, can produce endorphins; natural opiates secreted by the hypothalamus. Chanting and listening have been shown to increase nuero-communication between the left and right brain hemispheres which stimulate the immune system and help to create new neural pathways in the brain. There also exists empirical evidence that listening helps to relieve chronic pain, reduce muscle tension, and aid in regulating disrupted sleeping patterns.
In a world full of noise pollution from urban dwellings, electronic usage, and even electrical currents in housing, the body, so connected to mind and spirit, is exposed to harmful frequencies that wreak havoc in the body’s energetic system, producing stress, anxiety, and depression to name but a few conditions. We will look at these more closely in depth, but overwhelmingly, the evidence is clear. Chanting Gregorian chant and or listening aids in, again including but not limited to, reducing anxiety, relieving depression, and balancing the autonomic nervous system. The physical and neurological effects then have a secondary effect on the mind and what we shall define later as the spirit (or soul) through the lens of quantum physics and through the writings of respected spiritual authors.
The Autonomic Nervous System and Sound Healing
Medical research estimates as much as 90 percent of illness and disease is stress-related. Via the body’s nervous system, stress directly interferes with your physical functioning and bodily processes, as well as your mental health via the body’s nervous system.
Some background information before we jump into how sound healing can help:
The nervous system is divided into the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS is made up of the brain and the spinal cord. On the other hand, the PNS is divided into two pathways, efferent and afferent. Say you touch a stove. The afferent neurons tell you it’s hot. The efferent neurons tell you to pull away. From the PNS we have voluntary motions (pulling your hand away) and involuntary motions (your heart beat speeds up). It is this involuntary motion that makes up your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which is divided into the parasympathetic system and the sympathetic system.
The sympathetic system can be thought of as the gas pedal. It prepares the body for action in order to keep safe. It senses a danger or a threat, and the body goes into fight or flight because it is concerned with protection and survival. In so doing, the body releases cortisol as a stress hormone response from the adrenal glands. People with trauma and anxiety for instance can have higher levels of cortisol as their baseline.
In contrast, the parasympathetic system is concerned with resting and relaxing. When the parasympathetic system is healthy, we have healthier digestion patterns. It is the cause of a decreased heart rate and lower blood pressure, and an overall sense of safety, calm, and relaxation. Within the parasympathetic system is the influence of 75 percent of the vagus nerve’s functioning, responsible for much of our organ functioning. We can clearly see the importance of maintaining homeostatis between the SNS and the PNS. Our organ systems, because they are regulated by the vagus nerve, which is mostly within the PNS, can suffer from imbalance of the ANS.
The body unfortunately can be dominate in one or the other. You can have a dominate SNS which can result from trauma, resulting in constant stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and even digestive issues. One can also have PNS dominance, which manifests as depression, low blood pressure, fatigue, and a feeling of disconnection.
So, what does all of this have to do with sound healing?
How can sound help someone who has SNS dominance? Having relaxing sounds with harmonious intervals, for instance from Tibetan singing bowls, helps to reduce the amount of cortisol that is released. The healing intervals also send a message to the PNS that you are safe and your body can relax physically and emotionally. Having a sound therapist use instruments to introduce binaural beat patterns to bring you to a lower, calmer brainwave state (say alpha or theta) that reduces anxiety and helps take the edge off. Sound healing also uses breathing patterns mixed with vocal toning, or humming, (even singing) that can achieve balance between the SNS and the PNS. A final way might be toning the vagus nerve with tuning forks to bring in the relaxation response, again sending a signal to the body that their environment is safe. Gongs, bowls, pipes…all can play a role to help the client enter into relaxation and balance if played properly.
In PNS dominate persons, using more releasing intervals would be appropriate. Having the client using the drum in a variety of patterns and beat would bring about more equilibrium in the ANS. Using mantras, particular with varying melody, as well as vocal toning and various pitches can also help bring balance to PNS dominance. Shakers and rattles also have the same healing effect. Again, with the use of binaural beat patterns, the client can be brought up to a more beta or awakened state. Some symptoms of PNS dominance might be 'butterflies' in the stomach, dissociation, a slow pulse, and perhaps overall lethargy and depression.
So, as we see, the ANS, and maintaining homeostatis, is vital to our health physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. One of sound healing’s greatest attributes is its ability to bring about this balance, and help to create patterns for lasting change. If any of this 'sounds' true, perhaps a sound healing could be what your body is craving for healing.
Thank you to Dr. Anu French for her assistance in this article!
Dr. Aria Thome
Aria is a sound healer based in St. Louis, Missouri
I would like to share with you some fascinating information about Koshi chimes. Perhaps you use some of these chimes in your own practice whether that be sound, reike, massage, etc. It started just with my own curiosity. I will share the email exchange that I had with the designer of the Koshi Chimes.
Hi! I love your Koshi Chimes. I have the whole set and have been using them in my sound healing practice for over 2 years now. I was wondering how you chose the tuning for each one. For example, why did you feel drawn to put in the terra chime the CEG and F? I would love to know more about the rationale behind your construction of these beautiful instruments. Thank you!
With love, Aria
To which I received a very gracious reply:
That is not an easy question…
I guess it just started with one tuning, playing around with chords, imitating the sound of the chimes on my keyboard and listening to the combinations of notes and their harmonics. Much of the time I was meditating and listening to all kinds of music from many cultures around the world.
Intuitively I associated sound combinations with the four elements. The challenge was to create a second tuning that I wished to sound in harmony with the first. And from there it went on for the others.
So, what was the rationale…?
Maybe this beautiful quote from Blaise Pascal explains it all: "The heart has its reasons that reason does not know."
Thank you for your kind email. I’m glad that like them. And our whole team is happy to create and bring them into the world.
All best to you,
So there you have it!
You may have seen crystal bowls and tuning forks tuned to 432 hertz. Why is that? The number seems quite random, let alone assigning it to properties of healing, love, and miracles. In this article there is a lot that I will ask you to take for granted at this moment as we answer two important questions: Why do we bother with 432 hertz? Why is the frequency associated with love and the miraculous? (To be sure, 528 hertz is purported to be THE frequency of love).
First let us begin with how we even got to 432. Through what possible series of computations could bring us to 432 hz? To understand this, we have to look at the Schumann Frequency, often called the earth’s heartbeat. This ever-existing electromagnetic frequency is measured at about 7.83 hertz. I will write a separate post about the Schumann frequency in the future, but for our intent today, let us take it as a given. 7.83 is a number sound healers love. (with good reason)
For our purposes, we will round 7.83 hertz to 8 hertz to give us a nice, convenient whole number with which to work. 8 hertz is indeed below our ability to hear, so we will multiply this by two octaves (2/1 ratio) until we get to a frequency that IS within our hearing abilities, namely, 32 hertz.
At this point we should conjecture that the octaves were continually multiplied until we get to a frequency of 256 hz. This frequency is conveniently close to what we know on a piano to be middle C (261.63). Later in another post we will dive into this ascending octave of C’s, as much healing is accomplished through forks which vibrate at 128, 64, and 32 hertz.
Famed philosopher, musician, and mystic Pythagoras was extremely interested in music and math and their relationship to the cosmos. He surmised and was not wrong that the cosmos, the continuum of the macrocosms and microcosmic realm, were based on whole number ratios. Two in particular, the octave and the fifth. The octave is a ratio of 2/1 and the fifth is a ratio of 3/2. Incidentally, these are the two intervals the human ears most favor. If we multiply 256 by 3/2 we come up with our frequency for G 384 hertz, exactly a fifth above. Played together, it is an interval that human conceives of as pleasing.
To continue with Pythagorean tuning, we keep going up by fifths. (again, an interval which naturally occurs in nature) To get G’s fifth, D, we multiply 384 by 3/2 and get a 576. If we drop this a few octaves to fit neatly next to C in a scale, we arrive at 288. Now to get D’s fifth, which is A, we follow the same procedure. Multiply 288 by 3/2 and voila! We have reached A 432. Now, why in the world is it the frequency associated with love and miracles?
To answer this, let us discuss other reported benefits of A 432 hertz. (It should be noted the 432 systematically replaces the standard piano/equal temperament tuning of A=440). Because 432 is purported to be more in line with nature, the healing benefits are such that it makes you feel more spiritually emotionally aligned. It has been known to decrease blood pressure and alleviate mental health issues as well as stimulate increased physical healing. In some studies, it was shown to release serotonin and endorphins due to its softer and brighter sound. But it is perhaps due to its ability to remove energy blockages and toxins from the heart chakra where it gets its association to love. If there are other reasons, I would love for you to comment what they are!
Are next post will delve in to the auspicious Schumann Resonance!
The Ohm Tuning Fork - 136.1 Hz
In every toolbox of a sound healer (let’s be real, usually velvet pouches), is a 136.1 OM fork. Can we look at that? 136.1 sure seems like a random number. From where did it come?
The Balinese Bell
The unique sound of the Balinese Bell, clear and sustained, renders it ideal for assessing one’s energy field via scanning around the body. Because of its clear and resonant tone, the bell will ring without disruption to the tone unless its vibrations come into contact with irregular vibrations, namely, unhealthy vibrations in a one’s energy field. This indicates a pattern of disturbance.
To understand this more fully, it helps to know that the body emits phonons, or vibrational energy that make up quantum sound waves, from the body at all times. (Have you ever gotten a bad ‘vibe’ from someone?). Although imperceptible to the human ear, the unique chemical properties and construction of the bell allow the bell to react if a disturbance presents itself in the vibrational patterns of these phonons into the energetic field. (The energetic field is sometimes referred to as the aura or biofield).
A disturbance can be a depletion or an excess, let us say in the chakra (seven energy centers) regions of the body. It could also be energy emitted in an area of the body where there has been a traumatic injury, for example the knees or the ankles. It can also detect whether or not the disturbance lies in the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and or soul realm of the body, depending on where the sound healer scans with the bell. Maybe there has been emotional trauma associated with the heart chakra, or a spiritual disturbance detected around the area of the throat, where we communicate. The bell would detect such disturbances.
If the bell sound suddenly drops off or becomes audibly quieter, this will indicate a depletion from the status quo energy level and would require nurturing or fortifying with healthy sound energy. Conversely, if the amplitude increases, or a fizzling quality presents itself, the area in question could be an excess in energy. If an excess exists, the energy pattern would need to be broken up and released before the recalibrating or nourishing process takes place. The nourishing, or nurturing, can be done with the bell, or with another sound healing instrument such as a Tibetan bowl or a tuning fork.
All of this would be done during the assessment stage of a sound healing, providing the sound healer with valuable information on how best to treat the client and facilitate healing.
The Balinese Bell, also known as a Ghanta Bell, has several other uses such as activating the seven chakras, balancing the right and left hemisphere of the brain, absolving of sin, and many other uses beyond the scope of this article. I invite you to read about it here. It has also proven to a recourse in revitalizing the energy in building, otherwise known as space clearing. You can find out more here.
Kurve ghantaaravam tatra
“I ring this bell indicating the invocation of divinity, so that virtuous and noble forces enter (my home and heart), and the demonic and evil forces from within and without, depart from my home and heart.”