By Jimmy Leslie
Sound Healing Conference introduces the world to the concept of sound as medicine
Unknown to many, “sound healing” is focused largely on stress relief, mental acuity and spiritual connectivity. Sprouting from a small but growing, less-than-connected community of scientists, alternative medicine practitioners and holistic-minded musicians, its sonic umbrella covers a range of ideas that boil down to any instance of audio inducing a positive physical, mental, spiritual or metaphysical reaction in the patient/client.
Examples of sound healing include listening to a CD custom-designed to relieve anxiety in a particular person, ultrasound pulses used to disintegrate kidney stones, and — in the case of one the genre’s most popular figures — the application of techniques received from beings from another planet/dimension.
Many of sound healing’s leaders will be presenting their work at The World Sound Healing Conference, slated for the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco May 11-14. The confab is among the first of its kind and perhaps also the largest. “There has never been a bigger gathering of presenters in the field,” says conference organizer David Gibson.
Gibson, 50, also hopes the conference helps raise awareness. He believes that an informed public will ultimately demand increased funding for the field (as it did in the early ‘90s for other alternative medicine like chiropracty and acupuncture), which will help provide peer-reviewed proof of sound’s potential as medicine.
“Sound healing is starting to become a serious field that is developing more quickly as people share overlapping research, rather than working independently,” explains Gibson, the founder and director of the Globe Institute. Gibson founded the SF-based school four years ago and describes it as the only place in the world where one can earn an accredited certificate or associates degree in sound healing.
A sound engineer and producer known for his popular books The Art of Producing and The Art of Mixing, Gibson says he became interested in the field through his exploration of three-dimensional imaging to help him visualize a balanced recording mix in a recording studio.
Now his school situated in the SOMA district is home to the Sound Therapy Center. Once there, patients choose from therapies like computer voice analysis, “root frequency entrainment,” Tibetan Bowl massage, chakra balancing and tuning fork treatments. The most popular, according center director Alex Theory, is vibroacoustic therapy. “Imagine an internal sonic massage,” he says. “It promotes blood and oxygen flow. It’s an FDA-approved pain reliever. NASA uses it to maintain bone marrow levels for astronauts in space.” Costing $50 to $125 per hour, vibroacoustic therapy is where a patient lies on a special table and barely-audible-to-human frequencies are channeled through the body.
Sound Healing: What the Bleep!?
Over 50 presenters — including eight keynotes — are appearing at the conference. One of the most recognizable is Masaru Emoto, the bestselling author of The Hidden Messages in Water. The hit cult movie What the Bleep Do We Know!? also featured his groundbreaking work with frozen water crystals. Emoto is not a sound healer but his work goes a long way in proving the basic sound healing principle. When positive intentions — such as love or melodic music — are focused on water, the frozen crystals appear as organized, geometrical patterns. Negative intentions — such as hate or dissonant music — appear as random, chaotic images when frozen into crystalline form.
Dr. Jeffrey Thompson is a chiropractic physician whose extensive alternative medical studies led him to develop a clinical sound healing practice. He’s the director of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research in Encinates, California, near San Diego. Over the phone, in a soft and even voice, he describes his holistic, three-pronged “Bio-Tuning” method, which uses cutting-edge medical technology to achieve homeostasis, balance, in his patients.
“The first approach in Bio-Tuning involves physical resonance,” Thompson says in-between patients at the center. “Everything has a fundamental resonance — an atomic frequency. It is the reason why a wine glass vibrates when you hit a certain note. I use imaging equipment, including EEG [Electroencephalogram, a diagnostic test of brain electrical activity helpful in diagnosing epilepsy], to monitor how your body reacts to precise frequencies in order to find out which ones will bring balance to the nervous system and promote healing. The second method is brainwave entrainment,” he continues. “Binaural beats are two tones slightly out of tune that create a pulse. If the speed of that pulse is a brainwave speed, then your brainwaves time themselves to it, and therefore change your state of consciousness. Method three,” he says, “is working with primordial sounds — sounds that have a deep affect on the unconscious mind, including recordings of one’s heartbeat, respiration, internal organ noises and womb sound environments, which are similar for everybody.”
A truly holistic thinker well versed in Chinese Meridian Therapy, Thompson ties all three of the methods together: First he records the patient vocalizing his or her own resonant frequency then he uses a table with built-in speakers to deliver the tone at various octaves — doubling or halving the frequency. A mid-range tone might be felt in the skin, whereas lower octaves would hit lower tissue densities, and then bones. Once the sound is dropped below the lowest threshold of human hearing at 20 hertz, it becomes a string of brainwave frequencies that are perceived in the subconscious and induce the lower brainwave states one routinely enters during sleep.
“People come in with every disease you can imagine. The imbalances in ones glands, or bones, or wherever, are only doing what they’re told to do from the central command [the autonomic nervous system]. I have a medical monitoring device that can monitor those systems, and use sound frequencies to force them into a state of balance. If you can balance the central command station, everything else should ultimately fall in line,” says Thompson, who lists his best successes with stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, anxiety, allergies, depression, ADD and chronic fatigue.
“Frequency, plus intent, equals healing,” says Jonathan Goldman, a musician, teacher and healer based in Boulder, Colorado. Goldman’s background is in psychoacoustics: the study of sound on the human nervous system.
“The ancients and our modern quantum physicists are in agreement: everything in the universe is in a state of vibration, which means they are in motion, and all objects in motion create sound. This includes every portion of the human body,” he says.
Anyone who has ever sung a note in choir might remember how higher pitches resonate as “head tones” while lower notes resonate as “chest tones.” According to Goldman, one’s own voice is the most powerful sound healing tool, and psychoacoustics is centered in vocal harmonics (harmonics are the mathematically related overtones that color a sound) pitched at various frequencies to vibrate targeted areas of the body.
In a phone interview from his home at the base of the Flatirons, Goldman tries to sum up his approach: “Sound health,” he explains in a deep voice worthy of the radio, “is when everything works in concert. But, to use a metaphor, what happens when the second violinist loses her sheet music? In allopathic medicine they would give the player enough drugs to pass out or, to make a surgical analogy, simply lob her head off with a broadsword. But what if you could give this player back the sheet music by projecting the correct frequency to the disharmoniously vibrating body part and restore it to its natural healthy form? That is the basic principle for using sound as a healing modality.
“Sound has the ability to rearrange molecular structure,” he adds. “It has the potential to heal anything, but the healing process can be very complicated. Some people have extraordinary experiences with sound and music therapy. I’ve seen healing of everything from headaches to terminal diseases. On the other hand, sometimes nothing happens. I believe any sound and all music can be healing. It’s different from person to person.”
One of sound healing’s most popular figures is Tom Kenyon, who founded Acoustic Brain Research (ABR) in 1983 to document the effects of music and sound on consciousness. A musician, author and teacher based in Washington state with a master’s degree in psychological counseling, Kenyon’s ABR tapes and CDs utilize “BioPulse Technology,” in which tones known to affect brain states are mixed into the music in order to alter awareness.
“Specifically designed music can slow brainwave activity,” Kenyon says from the road on his way to Seattle for a speaking engagement. “Awareness becomes softer, and more fluid. We call that increased alpha activity. That leads one to reach inside, and when we turn inward, there is something transpersonal — a spiritual connection to all of life.”
Kenyon claims not only connections to life as we know it, but to other-dimensional life as well. On his website, one can find multiple pages of transmissions from a group of “dream beings” he refers to as the Hathors. “The Hathors are a group of beings that are connected to intergalactic intelligence,” Kenyon says matter-of-factly. “They work through the Hathor fertility cult of ancient Egypt. You get in touch with them by altering your brain activity so you’re able to go into an altered state, focusing on the heart chakra, and entering through that point.”
Regardless of their nature, Kenyon claims they played an essential role in his understanding of sound. “The Hathors imparted very valuable information about sound, and specifically about sacred geometric patterns in the brain that could be used to increase consciousness and function,” he says. “All geometries have associated vibrational sounds, and all vibrations have a corresponding geometry.”
Kenyon instructed a test group on how to use this inner technology through sound and music therapy and he claims that the subjects experienced increased health and awareness, such as writers and artists breaking through creative blocks, and people with brain function problems showing improvement in terms of hard markers, and in terms of being able to better function in the real world.
Kenyon says that his fourth-dimensional connections are the most misunderstood aspect of his career, and that it’s a topic that does not lend itself well to sound bites. Concerning his own popularity in the field, he humbly says, “I have no idea. I’m just excited about the interface of consciousness and sound, and my programs are proven to work.”
Echoes of Uncertainty
Sound healing is still a young field. Like any newbie, it’s been met with a certain degree of skepticism by the mainstream. Few question the value of sound healing when it comes to something as easy to understand as blasting kidney stones with ultrasound, but appreciating sonic neuroscience or taking the leap of faith required to believe that sound can heal one’s “soul,” as some portend, is another matter. Concepts and processes on display at the conference may ultimately prove ineffective or misguided. However, down the clinical road, some may prove to be effective, insightful, or downright revolutionary.
It will be interesting to see which aspects of and approaches to sound healing are eventually embraced by the larger scientific community, and which fall on deaf ears.
For more information, visit soundhealingcenter.com
Jimmy Leslie is a San Francisco-based musician and writer who contributes monthly to Guitar Player and Bass Player magazines. He performs regularly with his band at the Boom Boom Room and other Bay Area venues. Leslie’s journalism, music and events can be found at jimmyleslie.com