By Shelby Tuttle
Bathing your body and mind in sound. It may sound a little hokey, but sound baths – an ancient form of sound healing – have been around for centuries. Purported to be rooted in Tibetan culture, sound baths have the capacity to help participants reduce their levels of anxiety, sadness, tension, and even physical pain. The practice of sound baths dates back more than 2,000 years but has only recently begun to gain popularity in the U.S. In 2019, followers of E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” may have experienced their first encounter with the modality when the network aired an episode featuring an extravagant baby shower for Kim that treated guests to a 30-minute sound bath.
But you don’t have to be a member of Hollywood’s elite to experience the benefits of sound healing for yourself. You may be able to find a sound bath offered at your local yoga studio or featured as part of a wellness retreat. Right here in the Valley, more than 15 special sound healing events will take place this month at a variety of venues – some accompanying meditative yoga practices, others created to heal or address specific emotional needs, and even some designed with April’s lunar cycle in mind.
Those seeking a more intimate one-on-one experience may look to work with a sound healing practitioner like Scottsdale’s Kim Balzan. A former makeup artist, Balzan transformed her career path after she took time off to have children.
According to Balzan, “I had to get out and do something again, and it wasn’t going to be makeup.”
At the time, she notes that she was experiencing a shift in which she realized she was “meant for more.” She sought out different practices, techniques, and modalities that made her feel good personally, including holistic nutrition, yoga, and reiki. It was at this time that the healing qualities of sound resonated with what she feels was her soul’s deeper purpose.
“I knew everything else I was doing had to take a back seat to sound,” she says. “I began with Tibetan sound bowls and advanced almost instantaneously to crystal alchemy bowls.”
Each bowl and material used during a sound bath provides a different tone and vibration that are known to affect the body in different ways. Traditional Tibetan singing bowls are made of various metal alloys that produce acoustic healing vibrations that typically range from 110 to 660 Hz. On the other hand, crystal singing bowls are made from quartz, and can also be infused with various gemstones and precious metals – these are referred to as crystal alchemy bowls. Quartz bowls produce frequencies ranging from a tenth of a kHz to several tenths of a MGz. In short, the higher the frequency, the faster the vibration experienced by the participant.
So, what does this mean? From a physical standpoint, different sound frequencies resonate with our bodies – and brain waves – in different ways. The vibrations travel not only through our bodies to clear energy blocks and promote circulation, but also have the capacity to promote healing on a cellular level. We can use these frequencies to shift our brainwaves from normal consciousness (beta state) to a state of relaxed consciousness (theta state) and even induce sleep. Sound healing works on your body to put it into a parasympathetic state, lowering your blood pressure, relaxing your muscles, and reducing stress.
For Balzan, the specific use of crystal singing bowls personally resonated with her very strongly.
“The vibration is so fast! It hits your body immediately and works so quickly,” she said. “For me, it was transformative – I was in a place where I just felt ‘blah’ and didn’t know I could feel joy again. It brought me bliss in a matter of seconds. That was it.”
Within a matter of months, Balzan had opened her own practice and began using the methodology to help others.
For sound healer and conscious leadership coach Sam Harper, she notes that she “stumbled upon sound healing about five years ago by accident.” She continues, “I was at an International Yoga Day event and at the end of the session, we were guided into a sound healing session that rocked my world.”
A licensed therapist for nearly nine years at that time, Harper has a master’s degree in professional counseling with an emphasis in trauma and expressive art therapy.
“I transitioned into [sound healing] as my career organically, and it’s been a beautifully abundant adventure ever since,” she says.
A rather natural fit, she references strong musical influences from her father when she was a child, and her studies in music theory in both her undergraduate and graduate programs. And while her background in academia and music is certainly helpful in her newest role, it is Harper’s gifts that lie beneath the surface that may be the most intriguing to her clients.
Just a year ago, Harper began posting “daily channeled messages” for her followers on social media, in which she shares wisdom and messages that she is able to channel from what she refers to as “Source.” She explains that each of us has our own ability to connect to something greater than ourselves, and we may each refer to that entity as something different, whether it be Source, the Universe, God, Spirit, angels, spirit guides, or something else. In short, the name we assign to it doesn’t matter.
“I have been intuitive my entire life,” she said. “I only started putting my channeled messages out on IG in 2022. It’s something I kept quiet unless you came in to see me for a session. I didn’t want to scare people off, but it’s a huge part of who I am, so the cat’s out of the bag!”
In addition to sharing these messages with her followers, Harper uses her ability to see a client’s energy to tell where it is blocked and facilitate its movement in the body with an assortment of chimes, gongs, rattles, drums, and, of course, crystal bowls.
If all of this sounds a little too far-fetched for your liking, you’re Harper’s favorite kind of client.
“I actually love working with this demographic of people the most because they tend to have their minds blown by the experience,” she says. “It’s evidence-based and [there is] scientific proof to demonstrate the effectiveness of sound healing on the body.”
She’s not wrong. Among many that point to the principles of physics and the impact of sound waves on the body, a 2016 study by Goldsby, et al. – which researched the effects of singing bowl sound meditation on mood, tension, and well-being – determined that participants experienced increased feelings of relaxation and decreased feelings of stress, depressed mood, and anxiety post-meditation. According to the study, several participants also experienced an increase in their sense of spiritual well-being, and interestingly, participants 40 to 59 years of age appeared to experience a reduction in physical pain and tension, as well.
“It’s a gentle healing modality that works quickly without having to articulate your experience. It helps rewire the brain and neural pathways, which is what’s needed for somatic trauma healing,” says Harper.
Not convinced yet? Perhaps you should know what to expect. To experience a sound bath properly, no prior experience is needed. Like yoga, you’ll want to be able to get the most out of your experience by reducing any distractions like uncomfortable clothes, hunger, or thirst, and avoid alcohol ahead of your session.
Balzan notes each person will inevitably have a different experience.
“Some have visions, some see the energy as colors or different shapes,” she says. “Many experience a feeling of being lighter, like something was lifted. Some experience memories from years ago or visions of doing something they’ve always wanted to do come forward, even physical sightings of things leaving their bodies.”
On the other hand, she notes that “some people may not go skipping out of a sound bath. It may stir up some heavy emotions that they need to let go of.”
Balzan says that some people may experience one sound bath and that’s all it takes for them to experience the transformation they were seeking, while others may choose to experience the benefits of the modality for a period of months or years.
She has experienced potentially the greatest satisfaction working with patients at cancer centers.
“The vibrations really resonated with the patients – especially those going through chemo and grief. It brought them to a space of peace and quiet – a space that felt good,” she said. “They tell me how they didn’t want to “come back” from the bath.”
At the beginning of each session for a new client, both Harper and Balzan take the time to walk new clients through the process by explaining the different ways in which each instrument – including bowls, gongs, chimes, drums, and mallets – can be used to create the sound waves that will go to work on their brain and nervous system.
As one might experience in a yoga class, beginning the session by connecting to your breath can aid in settling the mind and allowing you to “drop into your body.” Post session, Harper notes that drinking water is especially important and that the next day, clients could experience a bit of an “emotional hangover.” She explains that this is because sound waves can bring a lot of emotions to the surface that are trapped in our bodies as cellular memories, but she provides assurance that the “hangover” will clear.
For those looking for a sound bath experience at home, an abundance of playlists and videos exist online, or you may enlist the help of your favorite practitioner for recommendations. In addition to offering in-person private and group sessions from her new location at The Portal AZ – a joint effort with Modern Reiki – in central Scottsdale, Harper recently released “The Sound Vault,” an online sound membership that provides subscribers with access to a growing number of pre-recorded and live sound healing sessions that they can access at any time.
The same simple guidelines apply for a sound healing session at home: get comfortable, breathe deeply, minimize distractions and just soak it all in.
For information on Kim Balzan and Sam Harper, their services and locations, visit www.kimbalzan.com and www.samanthaharper.com.