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Steven Halpern at Rhodes

Relaxation, Stress Reduction and New Dimensions of Sound Healing

© 2010 Steven Halpern

The healing powers of sound and music have been revered for thousands of years,  but only recently have leading edge researchers and musicians begun to understand the deeper and more subtle implications of this most ancient of the healing arts. Their findings expand greatly upon the bias of orthodox music therapy for classical compositions, the disinterest of the entertainment-oriented music industry, and the opposition of the pharmaceutical industry. 

In the past 35 years, sound healing, in all its subgenres, has attracted the attention of millions of individuals who want an easy way to reduce stress, enhance health and well-being that's also effective and enjoyable. Other benefits include improved sleep, enhanced concentration, focus and creativity, improved digestion, greater ease in practicing yoga, enhanced rapport in massage and greater intimacy in lovemaking.  

Sound healing is a rapidly growing aspect of complementary and integrative medicine, and includes ancient and modern techniques and tools, such as tuning forks, crystal bowls or Tibetan metal bowls. These can be used by professionals for their clients, in person or indirectly thru recorded media. There are also techniques and tools you can use on your own, by yourself.

Relaxation is the Basis of Most Sound Healing

Sound Healing refers to the use of sound or music with the intention of enhancing, balancing and uplifting body, mind and spirit. Typical benefits include experiencing and enjoying more inner peace, happiness, inner harmony, and love. It's easy, affordable and accessible. However, it's still too early to make claims regarding healing specific diseases, and beware of any practitioner who does so.

Keynotes of Sound Health

How do you respond to sound and music?  Is there a physical resonance to the specific vibratory frequency of the incoming sonic stimuli? Is it the melody, harmony, rhythm, or tone/color/timbre?  Researchers identify a wide range physiological, psychological and emotional responses. Until 1970, effects on brainwaves, consciousness and our subtle anatomy (human bio-field / aura) were totally ignored. Are we affected by the emotional, physical or spiritual state of the practitioner/musician? Does intention matter? 

These responses may differ considerably from person to person. However, there are also universal factors that we share in common and hold true for everyone. The key is to find what works for you. 

1.)  Resonance:

Everything in the universe vibrates, and thus is considered to make a 'sound', even if we can't hear it with our physical senses. Every atom, molecule, cell and organ in your body vibrates at a specific frequency.      

Sound healing is effective because every atom and organ responds (resonates) to incoming sound stimuli at its own natural frequency, or a harmonic thereof. It's not metaphysical. It's a physical law of the universe. In that sense, we're each an organic radio receiver apparatus. 

In a general sense, lower sounds resonate in the lower part of the body, higher sounds in the upper part of the body and head. You can verify this for yourself if you have a keyboard handy; if not, sing a low note, and feel where in your body you feel the tone.  Now, sing a high note, and do the same. 

According to pioneering researchers like Dr. Hans Jenny and Dr. Peter Guy Manners, every organ has a characteristic frequency that is the same for everybody. Cymatic therapy, for instance, is based on helping the body reestablish the proper frequency, or tuning, of each organ. A new class of practitioners are using a computerized device to deliver precise combinations of frequencies developed by Dr. Peter Guy Manners. Learn more at www.cymatechnologies.com 

Stress tends to decrease the vibrational frequency of a cell or organ, and creates disharmony, discord and dis-ease in the individual. This understanding led me to title my first book Tuning the Human Instrument

When you feel a particular part of your body “buzzing” to the sound of a crystal bowl, Tibetan bowl, tuning fork or vocal toning, that's resonance in action. 

Perhaps the dimension of sound healing that most people have experienced since the 1970’s is listening to healing music composed and recorded by a new class of artists who create soundtracks that nurture and heal body, mind and spirit. 

When it comes to sound healing, there's no need to limit yourself to just one modality. Find the ones that work best for you. 

 2.) Our bodies are self-healing organisms, (if we give them a chance), and healing occurs most effectively in a state of deep relaxation. 

Sound and music are potent forces to engage this response. Sound is pure energy, and can support or undermine our health. 

Most music is not composed with the intention of evoking relaxation and healing, so just listening to classical or other entertainment-based music is not be your best choice for relaxation.

Itzhak Bentov (Stalking the Wild Pendulum) and Dr. Herbert Benson (The Relaxation Response) pioneered the understanding that our bodies are hardwired and genetically preprogrammed to manifest higher levels of wellness when we shift gears and enter the state of relaxation. 

To be effective, the level of relaxation must enable you to reset your chronic stress level. Most music does not accomplish this. Mine does. 

How can you tell if you are truly in a relaxed state? One of the easiest ways is to observe your breath. There is a natural reflex that occurs when we relax, in which our breathing becomes deeper and slower. If the music you're listening to, for instance, speeds up your heartbeat, that would be analogous to drinking three cups of coffee and trying to go to sleep. (Not a wise choice.) 

3.)  Rhythm Entrainment:

 The most noticeable response to most music is to its rhythmic component, and drumming for wellness is becoming a popular option for individuals and groups. 

Rhythm entrainment describes the phenomenon in which a stronger, external stimulus overrides the natural internal rhythm of the heart and causes it to synchronize to its stronger beat.  If you listen to fast music, your heart will beat too fast to allow relaxation to manifest.  

However, when you are actively participating in group drumming circles, for instance, other factors come into play. Becoming part of a rhythm matrix activates other endorphin-producing opportunities, it can reduce stress, plus it's a lot of fun. The Remo Percussion Company has been conducting groundbreaking research on music-making and wellness. 

4.)  Pattern Recognition, Melody and Harmony 

Melody and harmony can surprisingly be an unexpected source of stress, as well as a “distraction factor” in evoking the relaxation response. We have been culturally conditioned (by Western classical and pop music) to respond to familiar patterns in predictable ways  We are unconsciously forced to project patterns into the future… but relaxation only occurs in the present, the now. Trying to relax while listening to “future-tense music” is usually not an effective choice. 

In short, most classical, pop and other music is composed on a foundation of tension and resolution. If you’ve had problems trying to achieve effective relaxation while listening to such music, now you know why. I posted a short demo on what I call the “Scalus Interruptus” phenomenon that I think you'll find intriguing as you tune in to how your body reacts in real time. You can find it at www.youtube.com/StevenHalpernMusic 

5.)  Intention and Music: Thought Field Resonance 

It's not just the notes, but the energy that comes through. “Music is a carrier wave of consciousness.” The same melody or notes can have a positive or negative effect depending on the stress level, ego and intention of the performer. 

It's as if this meta-information is broadcast and transmitted by the musician to the listener, albeit in an inaudible manner. Quantum physicists have now proven that the power of intention can be measured as well as intuitively felt. 

It may therefore be impossible to calibrate how much healing happens because of the music itself, vs. how much occurs “automatically” when the listener gets into the appropriate coherent brainwave state and bio-field harmonic resonances facilitated by the music. The bottom line: if it works for you, go for it. 


Many cities now have practitioners who either focus on sound healing or incorporate certain elements into their body work, counseling, etc. Find one you resonate with, and explore. 

Of course, you can begin on your own right now: 

1. Practice vocal toning in the shower or your car for 5 minutes.

2. Buy a hand drum and keep a steady rhythm for 5 minutes.

3. Buy a metal or crystal bowl and listen carefully as the tone fades away. Repeat for 5 minutes.

4. Go outside and listen to the sounds of nature, especially the birds.

5. Listen to healing music at low volume to create a soothing mood and relaxing ambiance at work or home. For extra credit, listen with headphones.

So stay tuned, keep good music and harmonious sounds around you, and enjoy the benefits of sound healing.


Steven Halpern