What is Sound Healing? An Interview with Simon Heather.
Listen to a Radio Documentary about Sound Healing
Recorded and produced by Ben Cock.
Sound healing is the therapeutic application of sound frequencies to the body/mind of a person with the intention of bringing them into a state of harmony and health.
Sound Healing can be transmitted to a person in a number of ways:-
Each organism has its own vibratory rate. Every object in the universe has its own unique resonant frequency. Tap a wineglass and it will emit a ringing sound determined by its size, shape and the thickness.
When an opera singer vibrates a glass with her voice the singer has matched her voice to the resonant frequency of the glass and set it into vibration. As the singer increases the volume of her sound the resonance becomes too great for the forces that hold the glass together and it shatters.
Luckily, our bodies are more flexible than a glass! The cells of our body enjoy the vibration of sound.
If one 'C' tuning fork is struck and placed next to another 'C' tuning fork, the second tuning fork will begin to resonate together with the first tuning fork. The sound wave from the first tuning fork has imparted some of its energy to the second one.
If the stem of the tuning fork is placed on a metal, glass or wooden object, this object will begin to vibrate. A simple experiment can be conducted by placing a tuning fork on the top of one's head. You will find that bone is an excellent conductor of sound.
The human body is made up of 70% water; this makes it a very good conductor of sound.
Modern medicine now uses sound waves to break up kidney and gallstones in the body. The machine used is called a Lithotripter. This machine bombards the stones with a specific sound frequency for one to two hours. The patient is admitted in the morning and discharged in the evening. Generally no anaesthetic is needed. With most patients only one treatment is necessary to break the stones down. The pulverised stone is passed out of the body through the urine.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is now used in some NHS hospitals and private clinics to treat prostate cancer. The therapy closely targets tumours, causing much less damage to healthy tissue than conventional surgery or radiotherapy.
Every organ, every bone, every cell in the body has its own resonant frequency. Together they make up a composite frequency like the instruments of an orchestra. When one organ in the body is out of tune it will affect the whole body.
Through the principle of resonance it is possible to use sound to bring the body back into harmony hence avoiding the need for drugs or surgery.
In 1665 a Dutch scientist Christian Huygens, ‘discovered’ the principle of ‘entrainment’. This principle states that whenever two or more oscillators in the same field are pulsing at nearly the same rate, they tend to lock in and begin pulsing at exactly the same rate. The powerful rhythmic vibrations from one source will cause less powerful vibrations of another source to lock into the vibration of the first source.
Systems theory states that "the less diversity there is in a system the more energy it will conduct". It takes less energy to pulse in cooperation than in opposition. The composer Paul Hindemith said "People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least while the music lasts!"
Nature seeks the most efficient state. We see the law of entrainment in action when birds fly together in migration; they will flap their wings together and glide at the same time to save energy. Women who work or live together will often find that their menstrual cycles will synchronize.
Itzhak Bentov illustrates this phenomenon in his book ‘Stalking the Wild Pendulum’. If you place a number of grandfather clocks on a wall with pendulums all swinging at different rates within a few hours all the pendulums will be swinging at the same speed!
The principle of entrainment can be experienced when one sings in a choir. If you are singing next to someone with a strong voice it is easy to sing your part. If the person with the strong voice is singing a different part to you it becomes much harder to hold your part.
If you sing a strong clear harmonious sound to a person who is sick or out of balance their body will lock into your powerful healing sound. The principles of resonance and entrainment are both at work in a sound healing treatment
Recent scientific research has identified specific sound frequencies, which relate to different parts of the body. Therapeutic application of the appropriate sound frequencies can help disorders in those parts of the body.
If a part of our body is out of balance we can retune it like tuning a piano. If a piano is out of tune, do we drug the offending key or rip out the offending piano wire? This is precisely what we do to the human body.
Rudolph Steiner said "There will come a time when a diseased condition will not be described as it is today by physicians and psychologists, but it will be spoken of in musical terms, as one would speak of a piano that was out of tune."
Jonathan Goldman in his book ‘Healing Sounds - The Power of Harmonics’ says "When we have learned techniques for harmonic toning, the human voice is able to create nearly every frequency, at least within the bandwidth of audible frequency".
Jonathan offers the simple formula: - "Frequency plus Intention equals Healing". If we can find the right sound frequency coupled with the right intention then healing will occur.
Intention is another important principle underlying the way sound healing works. If we sing a pure sound to another person with a pure intention then healing will occur.
Every action we perform has a conscious or unconscious intention behind it. We can see the principle of intention at work when a mother sings her baby to sleep. In a Sound Healing treatment, the sound carries our intention to the person receiving treatment.
Research in the USA has shown that certain sounds are under stress in our voices. These sounds correspond to imbalances in our bodies. Changing our voice pattern changes our brain wave frequencies and reduces illness.
Removing the stress frequencies in the voice has helped to reduce high blood pressure; it has helped diabetes, emphysema, and eye problems, reduced pain and speeded up the bodys healing.
Our voice is the ultimate healing instrument. All of us have the ability to create pure tone and vocal harmonics. There is a Sufi saying that "The voice is the only instrument made by God. All other instruments were made by man."
Toning is an easily learnt skill that begins to free the voice again. Regular toning helps to re-energise the body and restore health to the mind, body and spirit. There is a saying in Germany that "bad men don't sing"!
When groups of people tone together, it produces a tremendous feeling of connectedness.
Laurel Elizabeth Keys in her book ‘Toning the Creative Power of the Voice’ says "A whiny weak voice will suck in negativity, attracting lingering illness like cancer, asthma, allergies, tumors, rheumatism and arthritis. No healing will be possible until the person reverses their tonal pattern".
Laurel discovered toning by accident. One day her body became filled with a sound so great that she had to express it: - "Each time I toned, my body felt exhilarated, alive as it had never felt before, a feeling of wholeness and extreme well-being".
Pythagoras lived on the Greek island of Samos from 560-480 BC. He is credited with the invention of the monochord and the discovery of the harmonic ratios in sound. Pythagoras said "study the monochord and you will know the secrets of the universe".
The monochord is a long wooden box with one long string attached to two raised pieces of wood to permit it to vibrate. When the string is plucked it produces a sound that is called the fundamental tone of the string. Using a wooden bridge we can divide the string in two. When either half of the now divided string is plucked it will produce the same note as the fundamental except it will be an octave (eight notes) higher, since it is vibrating twice as fast as the vibration of the fundamental.
If the string were divided equally into three, the note produced would be different from the fundamental note. If the fundamental note was C the note produced would be G, an octave above the fundamental note. If the string were divided equally into four the note produced would be a C, the same note as the fundamental note but two octaves higher.
Pythagoras found that whenever the whole string was plucked, higher sounds would be created at the same time as the fundamental note. These higher sounds or ‘harmonics’ were mathematically related in frequency to the fundamental note through whole number ratios of 2:1, 3:1, 4:1. These harmonics were related to each other in ratios of 2:3, 4:3, 5:8. Pythagoras discovered that these ratios were found in the proportions used in art and architecture.
Pythagoras saw the universe as a giant monochord, an instrument that stretched between heaven and earth. The higher sounds were those of pure spirit and the lower ones were those of the earth. Pythagoras found the harmonic intervals in all phenomena in nature, the elements, the planets and constellations.
In the 1920's a German scientist called Hans Kayser developed a theory of harmonics based on Pythagoras's work. Kayser states that the whole number ratios of musical harmonics are found in the basic laws of chemistry, physics, crystallography, astronomy, architecture, spectroanalysis, botany and other natural sciences.
Singing any note produces harmonics. Within one note are many notes all related to the fundamental note through exact mathematical ratios.
Most of the time we are unaware of the existence of harmonics. When we are in a room with good acoustics like a church or a bathroom, we are suddenly aware of a richer sound. The richer sound is produced by the harmonics that are accentuated by certain acoustic spaces.
The ancient people used this knowledge when they constructed sacred sites like Stonehenge, Newgrange or the Kings Chamber in the Great Pyramid. All these buildings were sound chambers where sound healing took place.
When we hear music rich in harmonics, like Gregorian Chant, Indian classical music or a cappella singing it induces an altered state of consciousness. It changes our brain patterns so that we feel more relaxed, more connected with the music.
Ancient cultures understood the power of harmonics. Stringed instruments are particularly rich in harmonics. In the bible, David is said to have played the harp to heal King Sauls depression. Orpheus played the lyre, another stringed instrument in Ancient Greek mythology. In India, Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom and music, is seen playing the Veena, a stringed instrument.
Music is filled with musical intervals. If we sing or play two different notes, one after the other or at the same time, we create a musical interval. Each musical interval will have a different effect on our body, our emotions, and our mind. This explains why we choose different types of music at different times.
Generally, simple intervals like the third (eg C/E) and the fifth (eg C/G) are uplifting and sound pleasing to the ear. Minor intervals can induce tension or feelings of sadness. Some intervals are discordant and can help us to get in touch with darker emotions.
In an experiment, two people sang the notes of the octave into an oscilloscope (an instrument which measures sound waves). On the screen of the oscilloscope appeared the symbol of infinity, the figure eight. Is it a coincidence that the Latin word for eight is octave?
When we study musical intervals further, we discover that each interval produces a mathematical ratio. For example, the octave produced the 2:1 ratio, the fifth produces the 3:2 ratio.
When we study nature, we find these simple mathematical ratios cropping up everywhere. They are found in the structure of the atom, in crystals, leaves, petals, shells, in the proportions of the human body, and in the orbits of the planets around the sun.
Architects used these ratios when building the great cathedrals and ancient sacred buildings. Goethe described architecture as frozen music.
Fabien Maman's research has shown how sound can destroy cancer cells. Cancer cells were found to become unstable and disintegrate when they were played all the notes of the musical scale. "In contrast healthy cells absorbed and integrated the sound without resistance." (Fabien Maman - The Role of Music in the 21st Century - Book 1)
Singing very simple chants has another effect. After a period of chanting the mind becomes relaxed and clearer. This effect is used in most spiritual traditions. In India this practice is called ‘kirtan’.
Over time music became more complex in Western society. The singer and musician have to stay more concentrated in their left brain function. Consequently we have lost much of the healing power of sound in our modern music.
When the mind repeats the same phrase over and over again, we relax and find ecstatic states of joy and inner peace. This is particularly the case when we sing or chant with great devotion.
Listening to Pacabel's Cannon which has a rhythm of 64 beats per minute, (the rate of a resting heart beat), will change our brain wave pattern from Beta to Alpha.
Slower tempo music slows our breathing rate. The human heartbeat will tend to match the rhythm of music. Researchers at Louisiana State University found that listening to hard driving rock music increased the heart rates of young adults working out. Easy listening music allowed them to do longer training sessions and experience lower heart rates.
Music influences the limbic system of the brain through pitch and rhythm affecting our emotions, feelings and sensations. Listening to certain music calms the nervous system and improves metabolism.
Repetitive drumming slows down our brain rhythm helping us to experience trance like states. These techniques, prominent in shamanic practices, allow the healer or client to leave normal conscious awareness in order to journey to other realms of consciousness. Here, healing can take place.
Barbara J.Crowe says that from a physiological perspective, drumming creates this affect in the listener because of the action of the reticular activating system (RAS) located in the brainstem. This structure alerts the brain to incoming sensory stimulation. Loud, repetitive sound such as drumming floods the brain with input and overrides the other sensory channels. Normal brain activity is suppressed, and the consciousness is freed to explore other forms of perception.
EVERYTHING IN NATURE IS VIBRATING.
Our body has a whole number of rhythms: -
All these rhythms will be affected by the drumbeat.
When we are in a state of stress our heart beat can increase to 87 beats per minute. When we are deeply relaxed this rate will fall to around 57 beats per minute.
The regular rhythm of the drumbeat will entrain our heartbeat to its rhythm. In a healing session we may take a person's pulse to determine their heart rate then begin playing at that rate. Over a period of ten minutes we can gradually reduce the drum beat rate to help the person to relax. We can watch their breathing rhythm to gauge how quickly their heart rate and breathing rate has entrained to our beat.
Simon Heather explores these four aspects of sound, Resonance, Intervals, Harmonics and Chant, in his book The Healing Power of Sound and in his Sound Healing courses.