Sound is increasingly being used as a healing tool throughout hospitals in the UK. Tom Lawson talks to practitioners from the College of Sound Healing to discover the benefits
Our relationship with music is complex, but its effect on our emotional state is well-documented; putting on your favourite song can change your mood instantly. But is it possible that it can go deeper still and actually heal our bodies and minds?
The College of Sound Healing certainly thinks so. The UK-based non-profit organisation has been providing training courses and workshops on sound healing since 1998. It teaches a variety of skills ranging from mastering gong technique to becoming a fully trained sound healer. In recent years it has gained the interest of the NHS and has started providing sound healing to hospital patients.
Sound is now used in a variety of medical procedures, including breaking up kidney stones and detecting cancer cells. However, sound can also be used to help relax patients and improve their general wellbeing, and it’s this that the College of Sound Healing specialises in.
One of the college’s tutors, healer and author Simon Heather, describes sound healing as “the therapeutic application of sound frequencies to the body or mind of a person, with the intention of bringing them into a state of harmony and health.” According to Heather, there are many different methods that the college uses to practice sound healing, including the use of vocals, playing instruments or simply listening to music.
“There are many benefits of sound healing,” says Heather. “It’s a natural way to treat pain and illness, is simple to use and has no harmful side effects.”
There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support these claims. Studies have shown that removing the stress frequencies in a person’s voice can reduce high blood pressure and speed up the body’s healing process, and that listening to slow rhythms can lower heart rate and decrease stress levels.
“It’s important to include the arts as part of the healing process”
Another tutor from the College of Sound Healing, Chrys Blanchard has run an annual workshop called Soundscape at Abergavenny’s Nevill Hall Hospital for the past three years. The sessions are designed to put participants into a meditative-like state, which Blanchard believes helps patients relax and transport their minds away from the often stressful hospital environment.
“The aim is to bring positive sound into public places and I wanted to take this work into hospitals,” says Blanchard. “I feel that when we run Soundscape, we are reminding ourselves that human beings need love and compassion as part of our healing.
“As a sound healing practice, Soundscape is aimed at those who would like to use their voices. Chanting and voice toning techniques are the main methods used. Instruments are also welcome. We use gongs, flutes and Tibetan bowls. Or people can simply listen to the sounds being created – it’s very inclusive.”
Soundscape also features a ‘harp chair’ that people can sit in to feel the vibration of the strings being plucked, and participants can also have their own ‘sound bath’, whereby they lie down and are surrounded by a chorus of gentle voices singing to them.
A Soundscape workshop at Abergavenny’s Nevill Hall Hospital in October 2012 attracted more than 30 people, with one anonymous patient saying he had just has a look for five minutes, but ended up staying the whole three hours. “This is not my kind of music; I’m more of a Rolling Stones and Doors guy,” he says, “but this was so beautiful, I just couldn’t leave.”
Another patient, Sarah, commented after the event: “It was the most relaxing sound I have ever heard. It was a wonderful experience.”
Nevill Hall’s consultant paediatrician, Tom Williams, is keen to bring Soundscape back to the hospital. “It’s important to include the arts as part of the healing process,” he says. “Soundscape can help people to take their minds off their worries and help soothe the mind.”
There are now a growing number of similar projects taking place in hospitals around the UK. Drum workshops by music education organisation Slappingskins have taken place in several facilities, including the UK’s primary spinal injuries unit in Stoke Mandeville.
The Irish Chamber Orchestra, meanwhile, has played in Dublin’s Tallaght Hospital, where 82% of patients said that listening to the music helped them to relax and 59% said that it made them feel happier.
The diverse range of work taking place in hospitals shows that there is clearly a lot more to the healing properties of sound than simply the joy of an uplifting piece of music. Sound can connect with our bodies in unexpected ways and it seems that for many patients, it is giving them an extra boost on their way to recovery.