The first time I went to a sound bath was by accident. ClassPass was just picking up, and I was going to everything I could to make the most of my $99 unlimited membership. That led me to a sound bath in the outskirts of Miami, Florida. I thought I was going to a meditation (which was also new for me), but when I walked into the room and saw all the crystal bowls, I was slightly confused but also intrigued.
What came next was an hour of the most peaceful relaxation I’ve ever felt in my life at the time. Forget massages; I knew then that sound baths were the ultimate self-care.
As a meditation-newbie, a skeptic, and a girl who was pretty lost in her early 20s, I sat in my car for about 30 minutes digesting the experience before driving home. Somehow, I was able to retain that sense of stillness and peace on the drive—even though this was in Miami (if you know, you know).
Once I moved to New York, I was thrilled by the abundance of sound meditations and sound baths available in the city. Just type in “sound bath” into Eventbrite, and you get pages upon pages of options. A spokesperson at Eventbrite shared that “on our platform, there’s been over a 110 percent increase of sound bath-related events in the U.S. last year compared to the year before. And there are more than 1,700 sound baths in this year alone.” These numbers show just how much the public is craving this experience.
What are Sound Baths?
Alex Falk, founder of Atonal Meditation and meditation teacher at MNDFL, explained a sound bath to me as “a full-body, deep listening experience, where a variety of sounds created by overtone emitting instruments are used intentionally to guide participants into a meditative state.”
To me, sound baths feel like you’re floating in an ocean of sound waves as your body vibrates and coasts. It’s like being blanketed with vibrations, and it leaves you feeling lighter and freer at the end.
What are the Benefits of Sound Baths?
Are the effects all in our head though? Certified mental health professional, Adina Mahalli, shared research that suggests “while the exact mechanisms of why sound is beneficial for both mental and physical health is unclear, the effects of binaural beats might be the reason. This is a form of soundwave therapy where each ear picks up a different frequency of sound that then pushes the brain into a state of relaxation.”
To back that up, Alex explained to me that “there are a host of recent scientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of both meditation and listening to music on our physical and mental well-being. Both of these practices have been scientifically proven to relieve stress (by lowering the stress hormone, cortisol), help improve focus and memory by raising the level of gamma waves in the brain, and make you happier by reducing activation in the amygdala and increasing it in the prefrontal cortex. Seeing as sound baths are an integration of both meditation and listening to music, I think some of these benefits can apply.” I don’t know about you, but I’m with Alex and Adina on this one.
Alex also touched on a generally great point: Stress relief. I always feel my anxiety lift after a sound bath, and that’s why I personally consider it a great method of self-care. During a sound bath, you literally don’t have to do anything. You can lay down (or sit if that’s more comfortable for you) and soak in the goodness without any effort. It’s freeing to let go and surrender to the environment around you in a really immersive way.
As a practitioner with years of sound healing experience, I was also curious to get Alex’s take on how sound baths contribute to self-care. From his perspective, sound baths “give us permission to de-excite the mind and body, to detach from our phones, our jobs, our struggles for validation and approval, and just be.” How often is that something we allow ourselves to do?
Alex went on to say that, “being still and silent in a world that is overly stimulating can feel extremely nourishing and healing. Gathering with a group of people to have a shared experience in a sound bath is a really important form of self-care as well. Building connection and community with others is a great way to care for ourselves.”
Every time I’ve been in a sound bath, it has been in a room with strangers. The fact that all of these people, with different stories and backgrounds and ideals, all come together to get bathed in vibrations really puts the experience in perspective. It’s a safe space. It’s a “coming together.” It’s a sense of validation, knowing we all just want to feel better, live better, and be better.
Even though there are so many holistic benefits to experiencing a sound bath, I hear a lot from people that they think it’s “weird” or “hokey.” The truth is, you don’t need to be spiritual to experience or enjoy a sound bath. You simply need to have an open mind. When talking to Alex about this further, he had a similar sentiment.
“It is important to understand that you don’t have to change anything about your beliefs or lifestyle to participate. There’s no dogma involved; you don’t need to wear flowy clothing, become vegan, or aspire to live in a monastery to learn and benefit from this practice. This experience of deep listening is universal and all-inclusive.”
Sound is for everyone. Meditation is for everyone. Therefore, sound meditation can be for everyone too. And even if you don’t regularly meditate, that shouldn’t stop you from adding this experience into your self-care routine.
Sound Baths are Alternatives to Traditional Meditation
If you’re not someone who even enjoys regular meditation, this might be a good substitute for you to try specifically because of the sound element. I spoke with sound healer, Reiki practitioner, health coach, Leslie McDonald, who brought up an interesting point.
“Meditating asks us to quiet the voices in our head and silence the sounds around us. When a thought pops into our mind, we are supposed to acknowledge it, thank it for being there, and then let it go so we can return to silence. But silence is not a comfortable place to be. With a sound bath, the sound fills the void where silence once was. It gives the mind something to focus on so it can enter a deep, meditative state of mind. There's no need to be quiet when we have the beautiful sounds of the gong to listen to and feel resonating through our minds and bodies.”
When it comes to the accessibility of sound baths, Meredith Futernick, a licensed mental health counselor, shared that she has many clients who say they really struggle with meditation, but find sound healing to be the one method that works for them. “If you struggle with a busy mind, then you know how precious even just a few moments of presence can be. And a sound bath can really do just that,” said Futernick.
And if you do want the spiritual perspective on sound baths, there’s also the effect sound baths can have on our chakras. Ashley Erickson, psychic tarot reader + Usui Reiki practitioner, enlightened me that “our chakras, or our body’s energetic centers, vibrate at their own specific frequency. Therefore, when a sound frequency is played that resonates with our chakras' frequency, it allows the energy to flow freely throughout the body which can help alleviate stress, anxiety and assists us in finding our calm, peaceful center within.”
What to Know About Sound Baths
So what do you need to give a sound bath a shot? It’s simple. “All you need is a curious mind, an open heart, and a willingness to listen, to experience all the therapeutic and restorative benefits of a sound bath,” said Falk.
“It’s simple, easy, and a great entry point for beginners. If you have an existing meditation practice, sound baths are also a great way to enhance your technique.”
If you’re ready to try a sound bath for yourself, Alex also offered me two tips for elevating the experience. I’ll certainly be embracing them during my next sound session!
Comfort is key! Know that there is no specific way for the body to be positioned to best experience a sound bath. Sitting, laying down on your back or side, whatever helps you feel relaxed and comfortable is the right position to be in. Don’t feel like you need to be a statue. Position yourself and reposition yourself as needed. Comfort and ease in the body lead to comfort and ease in the mind.
Practice non-judgment. There is no right or wrong way to feel, to listen, or to be during a sound bath. Let go of the checklists and expectations and just allow yourself to be in the present and observe your thoughts and emotions.
If you’re ready to elevate your self-care routine, this is a great place to start. It may not end up being for you, and that’s okay! The important thing about self-care is exploring our options and discovering what truly resonates with us, and some of those things might be outside of our comfort zones. Ultimately, self-care is about balancing your mind, body, and spirit. However you do that is up to you, but sound baths might be just the thing you’re missing.