Sound Healing: Benefits and Techniques

Last update on Nov, 13, 2019

It’s common knowledge that being around loud machinery or listening to music with the volume too high can be detrimental to our hearing health. But sound is powerful. Most of us have also been touched by a beautiful song or kind words. Music, laughter and the voice of a loved one can soothe us and spark joy. So, it may not come as a surprise that sound has restorative properties as well. Let’s take a look at sound therapy and its benefits.

What is sound healing and how does it work?

Sound healing, as the name suggests, involves using tones—whether music, speech or vibrations—to promote health. The ancient technique has been practiced for centuries, initially as a way to treat mental illness in ancient Greece. Today, sound therapy is used to promote physical and mental health, and the benefits are multifold. Different approaches vary based on the desired result. These techniques can reduce stress, mood swings and blood pressure, lower cholesterol, help manage pain and improve sleep. Although there are many methods, a few common ones include binaural beats, tuning fork therapy, vibrational sound therapy and music for healing. There’s plenty of research still to be done, but studies have demonstrated its ability to boost relaxation and overall well-being.  

Common sound healing therapy techniques

Binaural beats

This sound therapy method uses two slightly different tones, which are played simultaneously in each ear. The tones are so similar that the listener perceives them as one. Different hertz levels ranging from .1 to 100 can be played for a range of purposes. The lower-level binaural beats are associated with dreamless sleep, meditation and relaxation, while the higher-level patterns support focus and attention. Listening to binaural beats can reduce stress and anxiety, improve motivation, mood and confidence, and deepen meditation. If you’re curious about trying this technique yourself, you can listen to binaural beats from the comfort of your own home. To get the most from the practice, aim to listen for 15 to 30 minutes daily for 30 to 45 days. All you’ll need are headphones, an audio system and a quiet environment. The App Store has free apps available, such as Binaural (β), which allows you to choose which frequency level you’d like to listen to and for how long.  

Tuning fork therapy

Much like acupuncture, tuning fork therapy applies pressure to different parts of the body. A specialist will calibrate metal tuning forks with different vibrations, and then place them directly on the individual. The tuning forks emit sound healing frequencies, stimulating the same central points that acupuncture treatments target. The goal of the practice is to reduce pain and release tension, creating a balanced body and mind. If you’re interested in trying this method, find a wellness professional who specializes in this type of sound therapy.

Vibrational sound therapy

Also known as Vibroacoustic Therapy, this sound healing exercise uses low frequency vibrations to increase cellular movement. This results in higher energy levels, increased mobility and reduced pain and inflammation. It is particularly beneficial for those with Parkinson’s, autism, migraines, muscle cramps and cerebral palsy. In a study among an elderly population living in nursing homes, vibrational sound therapy also helped ease depression and promote relaxation.

Using music for healing

Several types of sound therapy use music for healing. But why is music important? Research shows that it can improve stress levels. In fact, one study found that listening to music before a taxing event sparked a physiological change in the nervous system, helping participants’ cortisol (the stress hormone) return to a normal level more quickly than it did for participants who didn’t listen to music beforehand. Simply listening to music can help us keep calm, but there are also more formal treatments. 

Here are three ways to use music for healing:

  • Neurologic music therapy is typically led by a professional who can tailor the session to an individual’s needs. It has been shown to diminish anxiety—particularly before and after invasive medical procedures—since music is able to distract us and influence our moods. To reap the benefits of this method, participants create, sing, listen to or move to music.
  • Nordoff-Robbins uses healing sounds with guidance from a trained expert. Musicians go to school to learn the technique, which often helps kids with learning disabilities or developmental delays. The practice involves listening to or making music, sometimes with an end goal of a performance.
  • Singing bowl therapy is a style of meditation that’s been practiced since the 12th century. Metal bowls are used to create a soothing sound and calm the listener. One study that looked at its effects on mood, tension, anxiety and physical pain found the meditation significantly improved well-being.

Sound healing: Research-based benefits

Sound therapy may be an unfamiliar idea, but it’s gaining research-based traction. Several studies found that music has anti-inflammatory properties and can strengthen the immune system while lowering stress levels. With less tension and anxiety, the body can maintain healthy cell activity and protect itself from illness.

Research also suggests that group singing and group drumming, which have been in practice since prehistoric times, improve well-being. Spending quality social time together while making music creates a positive atmosphere that can lessen psychological stressors.

Evidence shows that using lullabies as music therapy helps premature infants’ heart rates and breathing and can even improve their feeding behaviors.

There’s also good news for those suffering from tinnitus—that pesky buzzing sound that comes from inside the ear. Tinnitus won’t disappear, but “Tinnitus Retraining Therapy” (TRT) uses sound therapy to teach the brain to ignore the irritating ringing sensation.

Whether you’re hoping to enhance relaxation, get a better night of sleep or manage pain, sound healing can help you find relief. With so many different forms of the practice to choose from, consider trying out a few different types to discover what works best for you. 

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