Some folks are adventurous optimists. They assume that all new experiences will be fun. Ask one of these folks: "Hey, optimist, wanna go Naked Ice Fishing in the Antarctic?" Chances are they'll say "Sure, count me in!" And even if they go naked ice fishing, catch nothing but a bad cold and even lose a few extremities to frostbite in the process, you can still ask them next time: "Hey optimist, want to go sunbathing in the Sahara?" And their answer will be: "Sure, count me in!"
And then there are their opposites. I am one of these creatures. You can call us "party poopers," or just say we're "cautious." We are picky about how we spend our time. We assume that most new things outside of the tried-and-true will NOT be fun. Our default answer to most new activities is "no thanks!"
Before you say "how terrible! That's so limiting!" keep in mind that our ability to say "no thanks" is often hard-won. Most of us crankypants cautious types have been talked into outings and parties and performances for decades and we've been assured we will LOVE them. And then we go, only find ourselves bored, anxious, disappointed, or annoyed. We've learned to trust our own instincts and ignore the enthusiastic promises of the adventurous optimists. Don't get me wrong: we Party Poopers still have plenty of fun; we're just way more selective about how we have it.
All this is to say that while in San Diego, Crabby McSlacker, queen of the Crankypants Party Poopers, got talked into a "Sound Energy Healing" session involving the playing of Tibetan singing bowls (and bells and gongs and other exotic objects).
How did this happen? Well, it was one of those situations where despite some skepticism I couldn't really decline unless I wanted to be a total... what's the female equivalent of a prick, anyway? So the Cautious Crab went off with the Lobster to a sound healing session, generously offered by a friend's mother who happens to be a certified Tibetan bowl practitioner (and a very cool person).
So what does a Tibetan Singing Bowl Sound Healing session entail, and does research say it's effective or is it just a whole lot of hooey?
The Science of Sound
Actually, there does seem to research backing the notion that various kinds of sound, music and rhythms can have healing powers. According to oncologist, Mitchell Gaynor, "We know that music is capable of enhancing immune function, lowering heart rate, lowering stress-related hormones like cortisol that raise our blood pressure and depress our immune systems." Other research suggests that music "trims complications after heart attack, calms anxiety, slows breathing and increases production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers."
Gaynor is a big proponent of using Tibetan bowls to help cancer patients, but says that there is more going on than just the effects of relaxation. He implies that there is something special about these bowls that taps into spiritual energy that can help cancer patients heal.
Furthermore, in a sound healing article in the New York Times, one practitioner explained: "When the body is sick - it could be a cold, a broken bone, an ulcer, a tumor, or an emotional or mental illness - it's all a matter of the frequencies of the body being out of tune, off balance, out of synch. Vibration can help bring that back into balance."
Er... maybe. I'm frankly skeptical about the whole vibrational balance explanation. I think that there is so much evidence about the beneficial effects of stress reduction, meditation, and even placebo power that we don't even need to go there. But hey, if people believe that the sound vibrations are going into their bodies and messing with their cells in positive ways and resetting their frequencies or whatever, I think that's a good thing, whether it's true or not!
What is a Tibetan Bowl Sound Session Like?
It's pretty cool.
We went into a room that had dozens of Tibetan bowls of all sizes as well as some bells and who knows what else. (If I were a proper reporter instead of a lazy blogger, I probably would have thought to ask what all the stuff was). Tibetan bowls can be struck or rubbed, and they have a very rich sound with lots of overtones. Apparently they are tuned to the frequency of "aum." In more technical terms, they sound pretty.
As instructed, we removed our shoes, lay down on a comfortable mat, were covered by a blanket, and were given nice little eye pillow thingies. This triggered pleasant massage associations and was a nice surprise.
Then I start to forget the order of things. Did our host make the trance-inducing suggestions about letting go and ripples and ponds and hearts blossoming open and such before she put the bowls on our chests and bellies? Or did the cool bell tones and chimes start first and then the suggestions and then the belly bowls?
Anyway, I do at least remember that the sounds the bowls made being struck and rubbed all around us (and on us) were VERY soothing. The tones were rich and warm and layered and luxurious. Because I could feel the vibrations, the sounds seemed to worm their way into deeper places in my head and body than regular music normally goes.
By the end, I was so relaxed I could barely speak.
I didn't go in with any specific medical issues to deal with, so I can't attest to the pain-relieving, disease-fighting properties of Tibetan bowls, but I can say that they are pretty wonderful things to be around. As someone who sucks at meditation, I am always looking for ways to turn down the mental chitter chatter a few notches. (Which is not to say that the yapping in my brain went away entirely, but at least it was contented, meandering, quieter yapping).
Anyway, the Crankypants Crab will continue to defend to her dying day the practice of saying "no thanks!" to new experiences. But, um... sometimes new experiences actually turn out to be awesome. (Thanks Diáne!)
(For more information on Tibetan bowls, Tibetan bowl music cd's, or attending sound healing concerts or presentations, check out Diáne Mandle's Sound Energy Healing site.)
Anyone else try something new that you didn't think you'd like? Were you right or were you wrong?