Few things have the power to affect human beings on the physical, mental, and emotional levels as profoundly and instantaneously as sound vibration. By way of a mysterious and magical phenomenon known as entrainment—the tendency of living things to synchronize with external rhythms—we can lower our heart rates simply by listening to music with a slower tempo than our own heartbeat. In concert settings, large numbers of people entrain with one another via the pulses and frequencies of the music, thereby partaking of the same uncanny entrainment process by which groups of birds, fish, and insects move as one, and by which crickets and frogs sing in flawless unison.
With its intrinsic ability to bring various people—and even various aspects of individuals—into harmony and synchrony, sound vibration can make an invaluable addition to any seeker’s spiritual tool belt. Here are some time-tested methods of harnessing the power of sound for greater health, happiness, and awareness.
Chanting your way to bliss
At the same time that spiritual chanting can help quiet the mind and impart a sense of calm, it can also make for a soaring, joyous group experience, as anyone who has experienced a lively kirtan can attest. On a physical level, chanting encourages better breathing, helps stabilize the heart rate, improves blood pressure and circulation, and awakens parts of the brain and endocrine system that are tied to everything from immunity to emotional behavior. From a more poetic standpoint, devotional chants can be seen as love songs to the divine, and a good kirtan session can be considered a tune-up for the spirit.
Drumming to deepen relaxation
A long-standing shamanic method of inducing altered states of consciousness and connecting with the spirit world, drumming activates neurons in all parts of the brain, bringing its left and right hemispheres into balance with one another. Drumming along with one’s own heartbeat can dramatically increase alpha brainwave activity, promoting relaxation, stress relief, and feelings of well-being.
Singing bowls for balance
Dating at least as far back as the 15th century, singing bowls can be found in Buddhist temples all over the world. When the rim of the bowl is struck or rubbed with a mallet, it produces a pleasing blend of harmonic overtones that is conducive to relaxation, mental focus, and energetic balancing. These emanations, which can be felt as well as heard, are commonly used as an aid in meditation as well as in the treatment of ailments like posttraumatic stress disorder and cancer.
Nada yoga for discovering your inner sound
This ancient Indian practice is based on the idea that everything in the universe is made of sound vibration. Its enthusiasts claim that through various disciplines such as mental focus and breath control, the student can learn to hear his or her anhata, or “inner sound.” Explanations of nada yoga’s practices and effects can be found in the writings of musician-mystics like Bhagavan Das, Edward Salim Michael, and Joachim-Ernst Berendt.
Tuning-fork sound therapy for perfect pitch
Different areas of the body are said to resonate with different musical notes. The root chakra, for example, is believed to vibrate at the frequency of the note C. According to proponents of tuning-fork sound therapy, an organ or chakra that is not operating at maximum capacity will entrain to the frequency of a vibrating tuning fork and come back into alignment.
Overtone singing to raise your vibration
With a little practice, singers can learn to produce one or more “ghost” pitches over a fundamental pitch. The effect is surprising, mesmerizing, and slightly uncanny. The inhabitants of southwestern Mongolia have been credited with the invention of overtone singing, which originated as an attempt to mimic the sounds of nature to connect with the spiritual resonances of the countryside and the elements.
Binaural beats entrain your brain to “ahhh”
When two tones are slightly detuned from one another, they cancel each other out. This is said to bring the brain waves of the listener into the same frequency range as the tones (delta, theta, alpha, beta, or gamma), inducing relaxation, creativity, and other positive mental states. A quick online search will unearth loads of free binaural beats.