It’s a Thursday night and I’m lying on my back, tucked into a blanket with a lavender-scented pillow covering my eyes. The room is silent but for the ethereal tones of a gigantic quartz crystal bowl that’s being “played” in a circular motion with a mallet – sort of like rubbing your finger around a wine glass.
The sound it’s emitting is high-pitched and unusual, and its supersonic harmonics can be felt vibrating through the floor with a pleasant hum.
I’m experiencing my first healing “sound bath” at The London Edition Hotel, led by Sound Sebastien – the collective name of wellness consultant Toni Dicks and Ayurvedic chef Jasmine Hemsley.
There were around 30 of us taking part but, thankfully for the modest, there’s no communal bathing involved – just Himalayan singing bowls, crystal bowls, biosonic tuning forks and a gong.
This type of group meditation is the latest new-old idea that’s making noise on the wellness scene. Bloggers are raving about it and trendy aural meditation sessions are popping up across the UK at a rapid rate.
We’ve all experienced the feel-good euphoria of hearing our favourite song played live or goosebumps at hearing a beautiful piece of classical music, but sound baths reflect the idea that audio waves could actually help heal both mental and physical issues, like anxiety, depression and chronic pain.
The school of thought suggests that our body has the ability to soak up and ‘harmonise’ with different vibrations, and in sound therapy, traditional instruments are used to entrain our brainwaves into a stable frequency – calming the nervous system and bringing it into alignment.
“The tones produced by crystal bowls are not just heard by the ear,” explains Jasmine. “You feel them in your body, with certain tones affecting your energy centres (chakras) for healing, balancing and meditation.”
Naturally, Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow are said to be fans.
It might sound New Age, but sound-healing as a concept has been around for thousands of years. Aboriginal people were the first culture known to heal with sound, using the vibrational energy from didgeridoos and other instruments. The ancient Egyptians were also known to use vowel sound chants in healing, while their priestesses also used sistrums (a type of rattle instrument) in their healing chapels.
Today’s sound sessions have come a long way, and now they’re luxury operations. Thanks to an interest in wellbeing and medication-free ways to feel good, the ritualistic method is enjoying a massive rebrand.
Sound therapy is now becoming a staple at boutique gyms and wellness centres, and an alternative to a standard Swedish massage at ultra-slick hotels.
So how does it actually feel? Well, sort of like a very restorative nap.
As an urbanite with a busy job, I’ve always struggled with meditation. I’ve downloaded apps, practised in my room and even attended group classes, but I’ve always found the same problem – my mind will not switch off.
What surprised me most about sound bathing was how easy it was to slip into an emotionally calm state.
Sessions are usually introduced with a ten-minute guided meditation. Even while Toni asked us to “imagine yourself sinking into the floor” my brain was rattling around shopping lists, unanswered emails and the plot of the episode of Black Mirror I’d watched the night before.
But as the instruments began making their soul-stirring sounds, I soon relaxed into simply feeling the noise washing over me and the vibrations under my body. It was like the hypnotic feeling of listening to crashing waves on a quiet coastline.
“The most beautiful part of a sound bath is that the benefits are experienced and expressed by the individual and are different for each person,” says Jasmine.
“Perhaps you just had a long nap, perhaps you could feel a sense of stillness as the vibrations went through your body,” she says at the end of performance, handing out cups of Ayurvedic tea to wake everyone up.
Even if you don’t suffer from any pressing ailments, Jasmine says that everyone can find benefit in sound bathing. “Undisrupted sleep or sleeping through the night for longer than usual is a big benefit to the practice,” she says, “as are creative thoughts and ideas and an overwhelming sense of lightness.”
It’s true, I leave the class with a peacefulness that has me switching my phone onto aeroplane mode and simply enjoying the unusual calm. “The most overwhelming feedback we get is that it just feels like a great alternative to the often predictable days and nights out,” says Jasmine.
It certainly makes for a clearer head the next morning. Perhaps it’s time to skip the after-work drinks and spend an evening tuning into a superior frequency instead.