Consider the sound bath. In normal times, this ancient meditative practice was considered one of the stranger, less essential wellness activities—who has time to lie down for an hour and listen to ambient beats and atmospheric whooshing noises? Well, today a lot more people do. Alongside Instagram Live yoga and meditation, the sound bath has emerged as the star of quarantine self-care. In the past few weeks, brands and studios from MNDFL to Modrn Sanctuary to The New York Times have all hosted digital sound baths, and stressed-out wellness devotees and agnostics alike have eagerly logged on to participate.
While sound baths are typically performed in groups, the experience lends itself particularly well to at-home practice: All you need is a pair of headphones and a place to lie down. Nate Martinez, a certified sound therapist and the host of MNDFL’s recent sound bath on Zoom, told me that while an in-person experience is different—often there will be live instruments in the room—you can still reap the benefits alone in your bedroom.
According to Martinez, it all has to do with how sound travels in a space—in person, the sound waves are experienced both physically and mentally (think of how you might experience a full-body sensation when you’re at a concert with exceptionally high bass, for example), but digitally, it’s about how audio affects your brain waves. As long as you have good speakers or headphones, “you can get to the point where you can untether your mind and experience a ripple effect in your nervous system,” says Martinez.
He thinks the practice is particularly popular right now because audio therapy can be easier for people to get into than straight-up meditation. “The participants can let themselves off the hook a little bit, and in the process of doing that, they’ll get to the mental space that meditation leads you to anyway,” he explains.
Personally, I’ve always struggled with meditation, so after getting my fourth or fifth invitation to a virtual sound bath in my inbox, I decided to try one. On Friday at 9:30 p.m., I tuned into a sound bath on YouTube hosted by CBD brand Lord Jones and created by art collective Visual Reality. On Instagram, it promised to help me “enter the astral plane” all while I was social distancing. Before the gentle melodies and nature sounds started, I laid down flat on my bed and secured my Bose over-ear headphones in preparation. I was ready to relax, but as soon as I heard the narrator, musical artist Torkom Ji, say the event would last an hour, I felt my entire body tense up. The thought of spending 60 minutes doing nothing but laying still and listening was enough to make me instantly stressed. So I will admit that for the first 10 minutes of Lord Jones’s presentation, I wasn’t quite doing nothing.
I got up and cleaned some dishes and decluttered my nightstand, willing my thoughts to sync with the synth-like sounds that were like something you would hear during a massage or perhaps in B-roll from Planet Earth. But with my minor messes cleaned up and still 45 minutes to go, I decided to give it an earnest try. I took a CBD gummy and laid back on my bed in savasana, briefly watching the hypnotic nature scenes that filled the screen of my phone before ultimately deciding to close my eyes instead. After about five minutes, I was finally able to relax.
Though I’ll admit I may have checked my phone once or twice for the remainder of the bath (old habits die hard), for at least 20 minutes I found myself in a state of meditation not unlike the moment in between sleeping and waking up—those 10 extra minutes you allow yourself in bed after pressing snooze again. The changing music helped to quiet my thoughts a little bit—just as if I were listening to a really great album for the first time—and when the narrator returned to announce that the sound bath was over, I felt something like pride.
“There is no wrong way to enjoy a sound bath,” Lord Jones founder and CEO Robert Rosenheck told me. And doing it my way left me a bit more relaxed and certainly surprised by its ability to soothe me. Want to try it for yourself? Here are a few tips to make your audio experience even better.
Martinez recommends wearing an eye mask to help you focus your mind fully on the sounds. Don’t think about it as disconnecting with your body, but rather putting it in a position where it has to exert minimal physical effort.
Optimize Your Sound
Your phone or laptop speakers might be fine for Netflix, but to get the all-encompassing audio experience of a sound bath, opt for a good external speaker or headphones. I found my over-the-ear ones (which are muffling but not totally sound blocking) to be perfect.
A sound bath shouldn’t make you more stressed than you were before it started, so do what you need to do to make it work. That might mean cheating a little like I did, enjoying an accompanying visual effect such as those provided in Lord Jones’s livestream, or working your way up to a longer meditation. All you need to do is listen—it doesn’t get simpler than that.
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