Searches for virtual sound baths spiked during quarantine, as worried minds sought new ways to reach Zen. Here’s how the ancient form of meditation works—no tub or bubble bath necessary.
What They Are
Though the term sound bath may conjure up images of Julia Roberts belting Prince in Pretty Woman, the meditative experience doesn’t involve a bathtub at all. Instead, a sound therapist creates specific relaxing sounds using a variety of overtone-emitting instruments including tuning forks, gongs, Himalayan and crystal singing bowls, chimes, and more. “It’s a deeply immersive, full-body listening experience that uses sound to nurture the mind and body,” explains sound therapist Sara Auster. Maxime Cormier, spa director at Montage Los Cabos, says sound therapy has been used as a healing tool since ancient times, appearing in Greek philosophers’ writings, but the concept of sound baths originated in Tibet. “When you begin to strip away a lot of the structure that creates music—harmony, melody, rhythm—sound in its raw form can be repurposed, and when properly facilitated, it can become easier for the listener to untether their mind,” says sound therapy practitioner Nate Martinez. “Sound baths have become quite popular because participants can have a meditative experience without needing to know how to meditate. It can also benefit those who haven’t had success with other forms of meditation.”
What to Expect
Typically performed in a group setting—many wellness clinics and spas offer the experience—a sound bath begins with each person lying down on a mat, often with a blanket and eye mask. “Eye masks are optional, but encouraged, because when we are able to redirect energy away from one of our senses, like sight, and focus more on listening, it allows us to bring more awareness to our auditory system and our physical body,” explains Martinez. After a few minutes of guided breathwork, the remaining 40-ish minutes are filled with the introduction of different frequencies and sounds in succession by the facilitator. “It engages your senses, so you may find it easier to slip into deep relaxation than you would in traditional silent meditation,” says Auster.
Virtual sound baths are also an option, and have become increasingly popular as a result of the pandemic. Hundreds of variations can be found on YouTube, and many sound therapists, including Auster, offer live weekly sessions online so people can gain access from all over the world.
Anyone at any age can experience benefits like deeper sleep, a calm mind, lowered stress response, and feelings of compassion and connection,” explains Auster. Stress and anxiety relief are two of the biggest draws, but Martinez says sound baths may also help remedy other stress-related ailments like sleep disorders, chronic pain and PTSD, though more scientific data is needed. “When we are able to influence and modify our brain waves through sound, we can positively affect our nervous system and physiology. Over the next couple of years, I think more research will confirm additional benefits.”
Sound baths also offer a way to unplug. “Researchers highlight that excess use of technology reduces attention span, and we are constantly checking our phones,” says Cormier. “While it sounds easy enough, if you’ve ever actually tried to meditate, you know it can be challenging. This approach helps.”