Gabriele Wolf PhD ND
Sound Healing Research Indicates Stress Relieving Benefits
“Tibetan singing bowl meditation may be a feasible low-cost, low-technology intervention for reducing feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression, and increasing spiritual well-being.”
—Study published in The Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine
WE ALL INNATELY UNDERSTAND the power of sound; it is present from the very beginning of our lives, when in the womb we can hear the sound of our mother’s voice and heartbeat. Sound has the ability to excite us, soothe us and evoke emotions and memories in us—and many believe certain sound frequencies have the capability to heal us.
Research on the subject of sound healing varies in quality and is relatively young, but studies do show that some sounds and frequencies might have a positive effect on the human body. The exact mechanism of action is still largely a mystery, but anecdotal evidence for the healing power of sound is plentiful.
Let’s look at some recent research on sound as a healing modality, focusing on the major benefit it offers as a drug-free relief from stress, anxiety and quality of life. Sound therapy, is distinct from music therapy, which has to do with the structure and rhythm of music.
Sound and Frequency
Sound is vibration— invisible, physical waves that move through the air and are interpreted by the brain via the ear. The loudness of sound is measured in decibels (dB), while the frequency, or size of the waves, is measured in a unit called a hertz (Hz); the higher the number of hertz, the higher- pitched the sound.
The human ear can detect a range of anywhere from 20 to 20,000 Hz. It’s finding the right frequencies, sound healing expert Jonathan Goldman told MASSAGE Magazine, that can have a positive effect on the human brain and body.“There are two basic ways that sound can affect us,” said Goldman, the founder of the Sound Healers Association and co-author of “The Humming Effect: Sound Healing for Health and Happiness” (Healing Arts Press, 2017). “One’s called psycho- acoustics, and that’s where sound goes into our ears, into our brain and affects our nervous system, our heart rate, our respiration, our brainwaves, our blood pressure,” he explained. “The other is called vibro-acoustics, and that is where sound goes into the body, affecting you on a cellular level.”
Sound healing, he noted, may work via the concept of entrainment, a physics term for the fact that two vibrating objects in proximity will come into resonance with one another, the lower frequency moving up to meet the higher frequency. If cells in the body are not vibrating at their natural, healthy frequency, sounds that match that frequency can help restore them to proper balance, he explained, thereby bringing about physiological change.
One of the most promising applications of sound healing, suggests recent research, is in the area of stress relief.
Sound vs. Stress
A 2019 study looked at the effects of a 30-minute sound meditation using the didgeridoo, an Australian wind instrument that produces a low, droning tone. The research, published in the journal Global Advances in Health and Medicine, divided 74 college undergraduate students into two groups, one of which experienced the didgeridoo meditation and one that underwent a 30-minute silent meditation.
After the intervention, while both groups reported increased relaxation and decreases in negative arousal, tiredness and acute stress, the didgeridoo group achieved significantly more relaxation and less stress.
“Didgeridoo sound meditation is as effective as silent meditation for decreasing self-perceived negative arousal, tiredness, and energy and more effective than silent meditation for relaxation and acute stress reduction in undergraduate students,” the study’s authors concluded. “Further investigation into didgeridoo sound meditation is warranted.”
Another study, published in 2017 in The Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine studied the effects of Tibetan singing bowl sound meditation on mood, anxiety, pain and spiritual well-being in 62 men and women. After the meditation session, participants reported “significantly less tension, anger, fatigue, and depressed mood,” as well as increased spiritual well-being, the study’s authors wrote, concluding that “Tibetan singing bowl meditation may be a feasible low-cost low technology intervention for reducing feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression, and increasing spiritual well-being.”
More research into the area of sound and stress is needed—and the studies mentioned here are just a few of the pieces of research that show its efficacy— but existing results suggest sound healing may help reduce stress by reducing cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing oxytocin, the body’s feel-good hormone. (Salivary cortisol and oxytocin levels were not measured as part of the above-mentioned sound healing research, but these levels have been formally studied and found to change positively
in response to some music therapy interventions.)
A 2020 research review article published in the journal Integrative Medicine concluded that sound healing, along with several other ancient healing modalities, presents “considerable potential for stress reduction globally.”
“The sound of the singing bowl touches our inner core and vibrates the soul. The sound releases tensions, mobilizes self-healing forces and releases creative energies. ”
- Peter Hess, founder of the Peter Hess Institute of Sound Massage and Therapy.
Successful high blood pressure therapy with the Peter Hess sound massage results from the Berlin high blood pressure sound study (2014)
In the framework of a master's thesis of the study program on Complementary Medicine - Cultural Studies at the European University of Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder a pilot study on 10 hypertension patients who, in addition to their guidelines, received either 6 PMR (PR group) or 6 Peter Hess Basic Sound Massages (Sound Group) were completed in the study program at the “Herzinstitut Berlin” At the end of each session, the subjects received additional instructions on daily exercises. The blood pressure lowering medication was not allowed to be altered during the period of study.
The blood pressure behavior was examined before and after the 6-week treatment phase by means of outpatient 24-hour blood pressure measurements. The stress and relaxation behavior was additionally performed with a 24 hour measurement of the heart rate variability and the individual stress processing with the Jake and Erdmann SVF 120 questionnaire. In 2010, Tanja Grotz and Christina Koller had already used this standardized stress processing test in their stress study - research report on 201 subjects and proved positive effects of the Peter Hess Basic Sound Massage.
The 6-week treatment phase was followed by a 6-week placebo phase pre- and follow-up phase, after which the measurement program was carried out.
At the end of the placebo phase, the 10 test participants had an increase of the systolic blood pressure by 3.9 mmHg (from 128.4 to 133.5 mmHg). After the treatment phase, 4 patients in the PR group reacted with an increase in systolic blood pressure. The increase on the group average was +5.2 mmHg.
The results were striking at the end of the post observation:
Now the PR group also recorded a drop in systolic blood pressure, 10.2 mmHg and a further drop in the sound group of 6.2 mmhg. The hypotensive effect was 103.8% more pronounced in the sound group.
In the balance sheet, the beginning of the treatment phase and the end of the follow-up observation was therefore observed an average drop in systolic blood pressure by -4.8 mmhg for the PR group and found that in the sound group had a 10 mmhg blood pressure lowering effect, thus pronounced that the sound group had experienced a double strong lowering effect.
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