Music Therapy: How Tibetan Singing Bowls & the Conch Shell Really Work

Conch Shell – Ancient Tool of Music Therapy

The normal, waking state causes a particular brain wave pattern called Beta. There are five primary brain wave states in all. Beta is in company with those of Alpha, Theta, and Delta (Mu is the name given to a sudden burst of synchronous activity in several parts of the brain) . A beta brain wave state is characterized by about 12 to 30 oscillations per cycle, or 12.5 Hz to around 20.8 Hz. The higher beta states are not associated with regular waking consciousness as the lower are. Low amplitude beta waves are akin to a busy, restless, active mind. On the other extreme are Delta waves. These waves create a deep, relaxed consciousness, almost like sleep. While a truly ‘healing’ brain wave pattern is a combination of all four brain wave oscillations, it helps to imagine what occurs in the brain when these patterns interact.

Neural oscillation occurs when there is a repetitive and rhythmic cycle in the brain and central nervous system. It is a complex science, but rhythmic activity, called entrainment, can happen in numerous ways. First, there can be a conversation between particular synapses in the brain, and secondly, there is a post-synaptic, harmonic undulation that happens in even the nerve membranes. If you imagine the brain’s neuronal firing like the waves created by a pebble thrown in a lake, with cohesive and interfering patterns which are made as another pebble in thrown in the same lake, just slightly apart from the first. The interruption of the pattern of the two waves causes a third movement in the water, and so on. When the brain waves start moving as if pebbles are thrown in a perfect, harmonizing pattern, the subsequent activity becomes more harmonious, that is, it changes our brain wave state to reveal the depths of the lake, instead of just the surface ripples. Hans Berger was one of the first modern scientists to understand brain wave oscillation induced by sound, but the ancient sages and yogis of Tibet and India also knew that sound could alter the body physiology.

“If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears but through every cell in our bodies.  One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes. Sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiologic functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.”  Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in NY

The true esoteric knowledge of the Tibetan singing bowl almost disappeared due to the communist rule and Chinese military occupation of Tibet in the 1950s. It has been a mere 20 years or so since they were first introduced in any wide spread fashion to the western world. While there have been many experiences among both high ranking lamas in Tibet and westerners who hear certain bowls, the most profound is the experience of receiving a ‘teaching’ specifically form the hearing of the music the bowl produces. It is in the teachings of the ancient lamas of Tibet, that every bowl, or even certain objects found in nature, like a conch shell or a crystal, or a man made object forged of steel or wood, like a gong or a drum, has a certain song, and in it great wisdom to be taught to those who have a clear enough mind to hear.

In modern scientific terms, we understand that certain sounds cause the brain to oscillate differently. We can create, with the ‘song’ of the Tibetan singing bowls, a brain wave state with unleashes great creative potential in the brain. We can unleash long-held emotions of pain and guilt, so that they can be purged form the physical body. We can hear the song of the conch or the drum and change our mental state from one of busyness and agitation to one of great contentment and peace. This is the true music therapy. In a recent article on Science Daily, entitled “Music Therapy May Offer Hope for People With Depression” it stated that people who participated in clinical studies to prove the efficacy of music as a therapeutic tool not only received benefit from the treatment but also were more likely to be compliant with the program that with more ‘traditional’ treatments such as psychotherapy and psychological evaluations. The BBC also recently reported that ‘Music Therapy Helps ‘Treat’ Depression.’

While science is just beginning to understand the song of the Tibetan singing bowl, ancient Hawaiians knew the conch could heal, as well as the music of the waves combined with an ukulele. The ancient Indians knew sound could heal with mantra repetition, created with the human voice. The monks of Rome, circa 590-604 understood that music could heal, as evidenced by Gregorian chant. Toning, or using the human voice to create sound, and thus brain wave pattern changes, has been used by a multitude of cultures for eons. American Indians used drums and chants to invoke certain states of mind as did the spinning Sufis of the 12th century. Using sound as medicine is not a new endeavor, but it is, indeed, effective beyond what we may even conceive.

Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny,  Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World.

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References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neural_oscillation

http://www.bodhisattva.com/singing_bowl_history.htm

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080122203158.htm

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/08August/Pages/music-therapy-for-depression.aspx


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