November 13th 2017
Gong bathing for beginners and sound bathing for skeptics
January 16th 2018 / 0 comment
Gong baths and sound baths are tipped to become ever more popular in 2018, but what are they, and can they help a self-confessed meditation and complementary healing refusenik?
First up: gong baths and sound baths are in no way watery. No tub involved. The bath is figurative. Just to put that out there if you assumed that this burgeoning wellness trend involved any type of physical cleansing.
Instead, gong bathing and sound bathing harness the resonance and meditative effect of gongs, singing bowls (think running your finger along the rim of a glass and you’ve got the idea), tuning forks and/or other instruments that are rich in “harmonic frequencies” to help you to calm down and chill the frig out in the crazy frantic world that we’re scurrying about in. I’ll let Fierce Grace’s resident ‘King Gong’ Steve Carter explain further:
“The sound and vibrational energy of gongs is an ancient and powerful tool used to help still the mind and allow the body to deeply relax. In this state, we can begin to process and release blocks, and come to deep physical relaxation.”
An ancient practice it may be, but gong bathing and sound bathing is quite the in-thing in yoga studios up and down the land, and shorter, savasana-style sessions are increasingly being incorporated as part of the cool-down/ wind-down section of more hardcore fitness classes.
Take London-based boutique gym Frame’s new HIIT & Chill class, combining speed, strength, plyometric and isometric moves, rounded off with a thorough stretch and “blissful sound bath” and meditation finale to counter the cortisone and adrenaline spike brought about by all of that HIIT. As workouts go, it probably doesn’t get more balanced than that, and fitness pros such as boxing maestro Sonja Moses have been singing the praises (sorry) of sound baths and gong baths as a means of decompression from high energy competitions and training sessions for years. Basically, sound enhanced meditation ain’t just for yogis.
I am neither a yogi nor in any way, shape or form a pro athlete, and to top it off I am potentially the world’s worst meditation pupil- highly strung stress-wise and an insomniac (painting a very stable self-portrait here), I once marched myself out of a ‘meditation for sleep’ workshop because I was too tired and wired to get out of my tree and attempt to participate (it was also held ironically late for a sleep-enhancing event). I enjoy a five minute savasana, but after that I’m thinking about whether I defrosted the chicken for dinner, and consciously trying to meditate in general makes me a bit itchy. Basically, I’m coming from a sightly passive-aggressive cynical space, but I also know that if anyone could benefit from a bit of peace and harmony in the headspace, it’s probably me. Here’s what happened when I took my stressed-out self for an hour long Sunday night gong bath with renowned gong-player Steve Carter (see above) at Fierce Grace Yoga.
Jasmine Hemsley's sound bowl
I’ve arrived here from brunch. It’s 7pm. Brunch started at 12pm and was a long and languid affair with a glass or three of prosecco owing to ‘just got engaged’ celebrations with some pals. Not my usual dry-ish January behaviour. As a result I’m still wearing my leopard print skirt and thick polo neck while most other gong bathers have essentially turned up in pyjamas/ shorts in preparation for bedding down in a humid studio that’s just hosted a hot yoga session. Tights and woolly skirt not the most comfortable move. Have failed on gong night attire.
I have also forgotton to bring a pillow so I attempt to use my handbag before deciding that foetal position on the mat is the way forward for soaking up the gong symphony in relative comfort. Steve explains a little about how the gong bath will work and is generally a very calming presence from the get-go- as we lie down and close our eyes he will play his array of gongs and chimes in different combinations, and we will likely slip into a meditative state fairly easily, although he warns that the sound and vibrations we experience won’t always be serene and joyous- some of it could actually make us a bit uncomfortable or could prove alarming, and that’s okay- just ride with it as the sound changes all the time. This turns out to be quite good advice for some of the more dramatic gonging to come...
Once I’d settled on a position that didn’t give me dead legs, I let myself float along on the gong bong, and actually, I found it far easier to melt into than traditional ‘silent’ meditation, where more often than not I find myself zooming in on the smallest sound (was that a tiny fart?) than doing what I’m kind of supposed to be doing. It was LOUD and ebbed between dramatic, epic gong sequences and more ethereal tinkly stuff, but the blended wall of sound made me feel far less self-conscious or try-hard than I normally do when attempting more spiritual activities such as ohhmming, chanting and meditating. I reached a state of relaxation in which I almost had a nap, which says something given my normally tense behaviour at more hippyish events such as this.
Going, going, gong
Once the hour was up, I was fully committed to the meditative state plain- I’d lost track of time in a situation where I feared I’d be watching the clock, had rolled onto my tummy almost without realising and basically was far, far away to the degree that I was was halfway between being asleep and being awake although I can’t tell you what I was pondering and I definitely wasn't actually snoozing. Weeeird (for someone as ‘overthinky’ as me anyhow). Steve brought the gongs to a soft finale and crept out the room slowly and soundlessly, and we were encouraged to stay put or slowly go on our way as we pleased. He said that we’d probably just want to float off into the evening on our own little cloud, which is what I did.
A sound investment?
At £12 for a pre-booked spot at Steve’s Fierce Grace gong bath, I’d say that an hour chilling out on a mat listening to his unique skills is worth it whether you reach enlightenment or are simply lying back and taking in the ‘tunes’, so to speak.
Other sound-bathing workshops to dabble in include Sound Sebastien’s residency at the London EDITION hotel, hosted by wellbeing entrepreneurs Toni Dicks and Jasmine Hemsley. Their sound bath ‘pop-ups’ are more soothing in nature, using quartz crystal ‘singing’ bowls of different sizes and shapes to create vibrational ‘notes’ that shimmy through your body as well as your ears.
Each bowl has its own purpose and energy, from ‘the grounding bowl’ to ‘the heart-to-heart bowl’, aiming to elicit different emotional responses in the listener, and Jasmine and Toni combine playing the bowls with using tuning forks to create different effects, notes, tune and pitch. They tailor their sound baths to the needs of attendees on the night (the residency runs from 14th January- 19th February) and supply mats, blankets, relaxing essential oils and silk lavender eye pillows to enhance the chill-out potential. Whether the sound proves ‘healing’ or not, cocooning yourself away from deadlines and a stressful commute to a dreamy, chimey soundtrack probably holds a lot of appeal for the average city worker, although ‘turning up and turning off’ will set you back £37.16 for the hour (cheaper than a PT session/ massage however and arguably as beneficial for stress levels). If you’re feeling frazzled and enjoy a musical, this kind of meditation could be just on your level, so as a former disbeliever I say try it once and see if it gets your juices flowing. You could find it hypnotic, you could fall asleep or you could just be bored (the usual outcome for my ‘ants in the pants’ tendencies on occasions such as these, but here is was more ‘ants in a trance’). Jump in the sound bath and see.
Keep an eye on the Fierce Grace website for details of upcoming Gong Baths