Healing Sounds

Healing Sound: Contemporary Methods for Tibetan Singing Bowls

Kathleen Humphries, Loyola Marymount University 

Among the many ways that music affects the human spirit, personal growth and healing are among the newest and the oldest. It was not until World War II that a modern society accepted music as a source of healing. During that era, musicians were hired to perform for injured soldiers in hospitals. This paper describes how the uses of a type of friction idiophone, popularly known as singing bowls have evolved over time. Buddhist monks have used these instruments for centuries in religious contexts. More recently, they have been adapted for recreational purposes and for music therapy. The research project will allow me to better understand the diverse applications of music in the service of healing and personal growth.

Healing Sound: Contemporary Methods for Tibetan Singing Bowls

“The large metal bowl sits heavily in my hand. I strike the rim gently with a felt-tipped beater. A humming, singing sound envelopes me. The deep, throbbing undertones gradually change into undulating overtones. I strike the bowl again, and then again and again. The more I strike, the more the room in which I am sitting is filled with sound. The sound calms me. I gradually lose an awareness of time and place. I am living in the sound and the sound is living in me” (Jansen 1992: xi).

The compelling ring of the singing bowl is affecting more and more people in the same way. Within every individual is the ability to experience music in a manner beyond just sound. As individuals discover the overwhelming effect, one must wonder about the origin of the friction idiophone, commonly known as the Tibetan singing bowl, as well as what purpose it serves. Many times, because the singing bowl is a non-Western instrument, Americans automatically fall into a position where they feel that they must ‘believe’ in the power of the sound in order to experience the intended effect. This is akin to saying that you must believe in music in order to hear it. According to author Eva Jansen, “Sound is a physical phenomenon, and the perception of sound takes place in accordance with principles that can be explained in physical and biological terms,” (1992: xii) meaning that sound can be explained in terms of its existence as well as why and how sound affects the human body. By studying singing bowls, one can get a clear understanding of the powerful effect, both spiritual and healing, of how sound transcends into physiological and psychological well-being.

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