Sound Vibrations That Heal

While we Westerners have gotten quite comfortable with the idea of incorporating ancient Eastern healing practices such as yoga and tai chi into our lives, there are other Asian techniques that many find outside their comfort zones. Case in point: Tibetan singing bowl therapy. The name has a nice, well, ring to it, but are we really to believe that banging on a bowl will help our health, maybe even alter our breath and heart rates to allow speedier healing?

I didn’t know much about it myself, but I had read about the results, so I called Diane Mandle, practitioner and author of the e-books How to Clear Space with Sound Using Tibetan Bowls & Tingshas and Ancient Sounds for a New Age: Introduction to Sacred Sound Instruments, to learn more. Mandle works at the San Diego Cancer Center, engaging patients in Tibetan singing bowl therapy in collaboration with the oncology staff and other holistic practitioners. She also maintains a private practice and a school where she teaches this ancient art.

Why Singing Bowls?

First and foremost, I wanted to know exactly what the singing bowls can achieve in terms of health.

When played by a trained practitioner, a singing bowl emits a powerful sound and “tonal” vibration that is felt in the part of the body near where the bowls are placed. This helps to restore normal, healthy “vibratory frequencies” to diseased or out-of-balance points in the body. The bowls are tuned to the frequency of the sound “aum,” a vibrational pattern that represents the natural (and blissful!) state of the universe. This is the same sound used by many people in meditation. Our body can be in sync with this vibration, a state known as alignment — or out of sync because of a hindrance in the body.

Each bowl emits a full range of harmonics (a series of overtones produced in addition to the dominant tone). Some we can hear, some we can’t. Listening to this tonal vibration also produces the deep, calming brain waves of alpha and theta, as proven by biofeedback equipment. “People go into a highly meditative state very quickly,” Mandle said. “Used this way, the bowls are remarkably helpful for any complaint that relates to stress and pain, including the emotional and physical stress of chemotherapy, fibromyalgia, depression and chronic fatigue.”

Mandle also said that hearing and feeling the vibrations of the bowls causes the different vibratory patterns of the body (breath rate, heart rate, respiration) to work together rather than at different rates, producing a resonant frequency in the body called “cardio-respiratory synchronicity.” This synchronicity speeds up healing and initiates the well-known relaxation response. (Studies have demonstrated that cardio-respiratory synchronicity does exist—for example, deep meditation can produce it.)

Is there really any science behind all this? Well, stress does account for nearly 85% of all doctor visits. It produces hormones in the body that lead to headaches, ulcers, insomnia, excessive fatigue, high blood pressure, sore shoulders, even bone disorders. If the bowls can powerfully reduce stress, then they could powerfully heal the body.

A Singing Bowl Session

I asked Mandle to describe for me how she works with a typical client or cancer patient. She said she usually sees people weekly for private sessions that last either 60 or 90 minutes, for four to six weeks typically. A client lies fully clothed on a mat on the floor in a room set up so that 15 to 20 bowls can be placed within three inches of his/her body from head to foot and on his/her body on certain energy meridians known as chakras.

Mandle uses a mallet with a felt or wooden head to strike the rims of the bowls in a variety of patterns. Some rhythms are relaxing…some are energizing. Some patterns encircle a specific area of pain to soothe and diminish it. As the bowls “sing,” Mandle told me, she also takes clients through a visualization that is focused on helping to strengthen a specific area of the body or to discharge physical problems and harmful emotional or behavioral patterns.

According to Mandle, it is not uncommon for the first session to discharge blocked stress, energy and toxins and, as a result, clients are sometimes a little headachy or nauseated afterward. Then again, she said, “Some go home and sleep incredibly well or may have a surge of new energy.” In subsequent sessions, Mandle sounds the bowls to produce alignment in clients’ areas of need and to reconnect clients to their memories of well-being. Eventually an “anchoring” process ensues where just the memory of the sound experience triggers them into a more peaceful state.

Typically, after four to six weeks of regular sessions, she sends her clients off. Some who are undergoing treatment for life-threatening illnesses such as cancer continue to come weekly. She said that it is not uncommon for her to get follow-up e-mails from those who have been helped. “By then, they have shifted so much that they don’t need me any more except for an occasional tune-up. My job is to empower each person to become his/her own healer.” Homework: Mandle gives her clients CDs of singing bowl performances that can be used at home.

Do-it-Yourself Singing Bowl Practice

I asked Mandle whether using a singing bowl is something readers can learn to do for themselves, and she said it absolutely is—adding that Tibetan singing bowl therapy can be quite helpful in easing the stress of painful life transitions (such as divorce or the loss of a loved one) or to facilitate healing from an illness or injury. The bowls can also enhance life in other ways, including enriching the practice of meditation or putting an end to insomnia.

Here is what she advises to start you off in singing bowl therapy…

Bowl shopping. You will need a high-quality, authentic bowl, for which you can expect to pay $120 (for a small one) or more. Don’t shop for a “bargain.” At lower prices, you’d be getting a commercial knockoff made with an alloy that doesn’t have quality sound. The ancient bowls were crafted in monasteries by monks who really cared about how they sounded.

A question of value. If cost is an issue, Mandle said it is better to have one authentic bowl with a lingering tone that you can feel resonating in your body than 20 inexpensive ones that don’t work as well. You can learn more about the different types of bowls and how to ensure that you are buying an authentic one on Mandle’s Web site (