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Singing Bowls, a Guide to Healing through Sound banner

6. Altered Brain Waves

Music is a miniature of the harmony of the whole universe, for the harmony of the universe is life itself, and humans, being a miniature of the universe, show harmonious and inharmonious chords in their pulsations, in the beat of their hearts, in their vibration, rhythm and tone.
Hazrat Inayat Khan

An invitation to an open house at the Stone Mountain Counseling Center in New Paltz, NY, led to an interesting experiment. The owner of the center asked me to bring some singing bowls. I lectured about the bowls for a small group of people. All were very interested. One of the participants, Barbara, was hooked up to a brain wave monitor while I placed the bowls on and around her. Barbara had been suffering from depression for some time. On the monitor this showed up as high amplitude Theta and Delta waves. At times during the session, these brain waves would drop dramatically. This surprised Stephen, who runs the center. Her average brain wave shifted towards Alpha and Beta, indicating an uplifting mood. After the session Barbara told us that she was feeling calm, happy and radiating. She had also seen numerous images.
Brain waves are categorized into four groups: Alpha, Beta, Delta and Theta. Alpha waves (7 to 12 Hz) arise when the eyes are closed and the mind is in a relaxed state. In the deeper states associated with Alpha waves (5 to 7 Hertz) there is a loss of awareness of the environment as one drifts in a profound state of relaxation. Beta waves (13-30 Hertz) reflect a state of alertness, attention, arousal and anxiety. High Beta waves cause high energy levels and even hypertension. Theta waves (4-7 Hertz) are responsible for a state of drowsiness and dreaming. It is a twilight state which we normally only experience as we wake up or fall asleep. Delta waves (0-4Hertz) are related to the deepest, most relaxed state of sleep.
How do brain waves fit in with singing bowls? Alfred Tomatis, a French surgeon, did experiments on the relation between the ear, the brain and the nervous system. He discovered that sound actually charges the brain. The little known reason for this is that the first function of the ear is to make sure the cortex receives sufficient neural energy through the "charging" effect of sounds. This is often overlooked because doctors are misguided by the generally accepted idea attributing a primarily auditory function to the ear. Actually hearing is a secondary function. It is a well-known fact in zoology that the auditory apparatus acts as a charging or energizing dynamo. It furnishes current to feed the brain. Tomatis goes even further and explains that the chain of small bones in the ear does not simply carry sound from the outer to the inner ear. This sequence bones has the function of putting the entire cranium into resonance. Sound picked up by the eardrum circulates by means of this chain of small bones throughout the cranium which as a result is made to vibrate. The sound is distributed and regulated by a constant pressure in the labyrinth.
The listening function does not only affect the ear, it mobilizes the entire nervous system. This activation of neurons regulates muscle tensions and the position of the body. Tomatis explains that higher frequency sounds generally resonate in the brain and affect cognitive functions, such as thinking, spatial perception, and memory. Middle frequency sounds tend to stimulate the heart, lungs, and the emotions. Lower sounds affect physical movement.
This explains the link between the sounds of the singing bowls and the effects they produce. Brain waves are rhythmic changes in electrical energy, receding and swelling again and again like waves of the ocean. The sounds of the singing bowls are likewise rhythmic, and it is easy to hear waves of low, medium and high frequency in each bowl. Sound waves that correspond to the four kinds of brain waves can be heard when playing a bowl. Singing bowls seem to have a well balanced amount of each of the four kinds of waves; listening to the bowls is like listening to brain waves. Knowing that sound has such a profound effect on the brain, the bones of the skull, and the entire nervous system, it is no wonder that singing bowls can have such a profound effect on people. It explains why participants in a session are so relaxed and happy afterwards, and how the sounds work to create positive changes on physical and psychological levels.
The sounds produced by singing bowls are rhythmic and soothing, they come and go, again and again. Even though they are monotonous the beauty of the intricate sound patterns they produce makes them fascinating. Before you know it, you are entranced. One day I had a sudden realization, hypnotism and trance states work in the same way. In hypnosis an individual is led into a trance state by means of monotonous, repetitive verbal commands, a swinging a pendulum, eye fixation, and muscle relaxation. We can also slip into a trance state naturally. Hypnotic or trance states are not that exotic, they happen to us every day. Daydreaming, crossing over into sleep at night, the transition of waking up in the morning, watching television, or watching the white lines on the highway all are ways of falling into hypnotic state of relaxation that corresponds to alpha brain waves. In "primitive" cultures trances are often produced by singing and dancing
In a trance the senses are more developed and accurate. A hypnotized person will experience increased concentration and complete relaxation. The same seems to happen in singing bowl sessions. More than once participants have reported that as the session progressed their hearing became clearer and they could distinguish more sound combinations.
In hypnosis the individual allows the hypnotist to make suggestions. In the hypnotic state of mind it is possible to recall or resolve past memories which relate to current blockages. Old, outdated, and inappropriate patterns of behavior can be dropped in favor of new and more rewarding ways of being. The purpose of hypnosis is to change the human being in a positive way. Similar to hypnosis, the sounds of the singing bowls produce an initial relaxation followed by a trance state that differs from one person to another. With singing bowl sessions, however, no one gives the participants suggestions. Instead the individual opens the doors to the inner world and experiences what is needed at that moment. Expectation can be a determining factor, a kind of self suggestion or hypnosis. This would explain why people who are already engaged in spiritual practices will have interesting experiences while other people will just deeply relax, and a few will even go to sleep.

sound waves  

frequency spectrum

frequency spectrum


Table 1: Frequencies of Singing Bowls in Hertz

  Butterfly Bowl Alpha and Omega Bowl Deva


Diamond Ring Bowl Sunset Bowl
  9" wide 1 " wide 8 " wide 7 " wide 9 " wide
  3 " high 5 " high 2 " high 2 " high


3 " high
Hum tone  126 Hz 87 Hz 238 Hz 250 Hz 86 Hz
Fundamental 328 253* 699+ 712 291+

(* loudest tone;+ tones generated by rubbing)





















+ 580








copyright 2001 by Dirk Gillabel