With a growing interest in health and fitness in the United States, holistic healthcare practices have risen into the mainstream domain. With attacks against pharmaceutical companies for harmful side effects written in fine print in recent years, people may be looking for alternative answers. People are beginning to talk more openly about mental health. Wellness has become a social trend as well. Instagram is home to a plethora of pictures of people showing off their best yoga poses.
Now, nearly everyone does yoga or knows someone who does. Yoga studios are still popping up everywhere, and with them, a growing conversation about mindfulness. The CDC reported that between 2017 and 2012, the popularity of yoga among adults rose from 9.5% to 14.3%. The popularity of meditation increased from 4.1% to 14.2%, increasing three-fold over the course of the five years.
As mental health becomes a less taboo subject matter, people are jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon, and meditation is slowly entering center stage with promises of relieving anxiety and depression. An increasing amount of research shows supporting evidence of its benefits.
In June of just this year, the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education published a study that measured the impact of a six-week regiment of weekly yoga and guided meditation on students of the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy. Students who participated in the study experienced a significant reduction in stress and anxiety.
Have you even gotten a massage from a friend or loved one and had them deduce that you must have been under a lot of stress recently? It’s no secret that stress take physical effect on muscle condition. Less stress can mean a lot of things for the body. Research has shown improvements in the health of patients suffering from conditions such as memory loss and glaucoma, both of which are affected by increased stress.
In 2012, a research study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine show significant improvements in the mood and anxiety levels of patients with memory loss after participating in a meditation program for eight weeks. Glaucoma research done by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 2018 showed that meditation enhanced brain oxygenation and decreased intraocular pressure.
How does meditation affect the brain? According to a study in the International Journal of Advanced Research in Computer Science on the effects of meditation on electroencephalograph signals, the act of meditating alters your brainwaves, namely the frontal and occipital lobes. The results of those altered brain waves are fewer thoughts, more focus, better memory and increased creativity among other things. Who doesn’t want that?
Licensed professional counselor and industrial and organizational psychologist Sidney Gaskins in Dallas, Texas is fond of alternative methods like meditation. You can find her at The Health Collective, a group of healthcare providers who use more alternative and new-age approaches. Gaskins uses traditional methods of counseling but said that she often gives her clients time to meditate in the room or sometimes in the collective’s yoga studio depending on their needs.
“It helps them focus as their working through their problems,” she said. Many traditional counseling methods, she said, are actually meditation.
One such method is known at the 5-4-3-2-1 method. When experiencing anxiety, you stop and you count five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing you taste.
“Even if they don’t get the numbers exactly right, it gets them to focus and be present,” Gaskins said.
Growth in the popularity of meditation can be expected to keep rising, especially with its increased public use and the increasing number of different modalities hitting the scene. Since you don’t need a whole lot of space or time to meditate, it’s a wellness practice that can be done practically anywhere. Meditation programs are being launched in workplaces and even schools.
The meditation trend has given way for new modalities that originate from more spiritual practices. The use of sound in alternative healthcare has become increasingly more widely used. Many of these sound-involving modalities come from metaphysical practices in which universal energy is the number one focus.
Sound has been used to cleanse spaces of negativity, balance and clear chakras and meditate. Energy healing, such as reiki, work with the universal energy around you to clear stagnant and harmful energy which affect our bodies and minds. Some practitioners of energy work choose sound to identify and clear energy blockages, although there are several other ways in which practitioners can do this.
Megan Dolph, owner of Maven’s Moon Apothecary and Massage Studio, uses a pendulum method as well as sound when she does her energy work at her shop, which she describes as a kind of spiritual massage.
Energy work at Maven’s Moon involves a spiritual process that begins with an initial intention consultation. Depending on the client’s needs, Megan prepares a smudge smoke cleansing. She uses her pendulum to do a chakra check-up, intuitively delivers spiritual messages and balances those chakras with a sound bowl and a tuning fork. In cases of especially blocked chakras, she uses a drum to energetically beat the blockages out. After checking that all chakras are functioning well, the process ends with a closing prayer ritual.
“With inside themselves, I would say, from what people tell me, they just feel very at peace, very calm and at home.” She describes the sound she listens for from her sound bowl when chakras are working well as a ringing, circling sound.
Although there is little to no scientific research to back the merits of energy healing, there is scientific evidence to support the benefits of the use of sound. In traditional applications, sound therapy has been used by audiologists to reduce symptoms of tinnitus. The research on this therapy is ongoing. Music therapy has been widely used for various types of mental and behavioral conditions for years.
If the ultrasonic frequencies of conch shells can have potential healing effects, why couldn’t Tibetan sound bowls and gongs?
Sound baths are the new wellness trend hitting yoga studios and meditation centers everywhere. Crystal bowls, Tibetan singing bowls, gongs and even the voices of practitioners are used to create a totally unique and transcendental experience for meditators.
“That quick chakra balance I was telling you about, I use that when I get in a bad mood because I know that a bad mood is a disruption in my energy field. So, I can do the quick exercise and get on with my day,” Jay Dosher, a computer technician native to Arlington, Texas said when asked what holistic wellness methods make a difference in his daily life. “That puts a good amount of personal power back into my hands. Not at the mercy of an overpriced doctor.”
For him, using sound is as much a spiritual practice as it is mentally therapeutic. He has learned different techniques that he can do himself at home.
He recently got more into sound baths and sound meditation. “I’ve gotten into some of the recordings that sound healers make. I can listen to those any time, although [they’re] never has effective as live sounds.”
Sharon Wittmann at Harmonic Healing Arts at The Health Collective in Dallas would likely agree. Sharon is a Holographic Sound healer, shamanic practitioner, and reiki master who first began her energy work and leading meditations at her home several years ago. She has been at The Health Collective for a year now and has grown a steady clientele.
Sets of different kinds of gongs, sound bowls and tuning forks line the walls of her peaceful office at The Health Collective. She does both private and group sound meditation sessions where she invites her clients to make themselves comfortable on the floor and she plays an ensemble of calming and hypnotizing sounds herself.
“If they have the monkey mind, the chatter going on in their brain and they can’t let it go and release that, they find sitting meditation is hard because the mind is always going. Well, in a gong or crystal bowl meditation, it gives the mind something to occupy itself with. So, your brain can occupy itself with listening to the sounds and then it allows the rest of the brain and the body to relax… and get into a meditative state that allows the healing to happen,” she said.
Like regular meditation, sound meditation has been used at the workplace. Summer Darvischi, co-owner of Zen Den Wellness Center located in Granbury, Texas, says that she and her team of employees have used sound baths at their yoga center as a team-building exercise where half of the team sits and meditates and the other half plays the instruments. They do this anywhere from every six to eight weeks.
“I think that it is an excellent way for us to stay connected as a team. It’s a very close-knit collaborative effort. As people— as coworkers, it’s a very bonding experience for us. We get as much of meditative and relaxation benefits as people in the room do because we’re immersed in the sound waves and the experience as well”
Zen Den Wellness Center is a yoga studio and metaphysical shop, offering various kinds of yoga, spiritual and traditional, and metaphysical items such as healing crystals and stones. They do free daily interactive sound baths at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. for their customers as well.
Sound baths at Zen Den are unique in that they give meditators the option of laying up in a yoga trapeze in a cocoon-type position.
“So they’re able to just lay back— kind of float on the air. Some people describe it as kind of flying slowly and softly or just relaxing in a hammock. And some people, as the sound waves start to go, they feel like it’s a little bit like they’re floating on water. Some people do choose to stay down on the floor. It’s their choice,” she said.
If the sound bath trend is anything like the yoga and meditation trends, it can be expected to become more commonly used. Sound baths could become more mainstream before we know it, if it hasn’t already, especially if further research is done on the use of sound in healthcare.