Uncovering the Science of Healing with Sound

Back in the 1990’s, I took my first ever yoga class.

And I’ll never forget the feeling afterward. I knew immediately that it had helped me—especially the “Om” chant that closed out the session.

I distinctly remember noticing that I could actually feel a change in my body and mind.

I felt centered, relaxed, and at ease. My mind was no longer racing… I had clarity for the first time in weeks. And my whole body just felt “lighter.”

What I didn’t understand at the time was why it was helping me.

Not long after, I was practicing yoga a few times a week. And each class opened and closed with a few minutes of this chanting. And it felt great!

I could hardly believe how a couple yoga poses and “Om” chants could make me feel so good… and so quickly. And, unlike a lot of other relaxation techniques I’d tried, it never lost its effectiveness over time.

Not long after, I began doing these chants at home. In the morning, before bed, or whenever I felt a wave of anxiety coming on. Without fail, these chants made me feel much better. Every single time.

I often thought to myself, “Why doesn’t everyone know how to do this?” (Mind you, this was about a decade or so before yoga was a popular as it is now…)

When I started sharing with people how they could use this sound healing technique to reduce stress, I quickly learned that many people regarded it as too “new age” and didn’t take it seriously.

Though it was frustrating to try to convince people otherwise, I knew I couldn’t give up.

That’s when I decided to dig into the research and see for myself if anyone had studied how sound helps the healing process.

The science-backed healing power of sound and vibration

I poured over peer-reviewed studies, and was delighted to find an emerging body of literature on how sound and health intersect.

I discovered that healing happens in the body in multiple ways when we harness vibrational energy.

Of course, Western medicine already uses vibration for healing.

It’s even approved by the FDA…including ultrasound healing for issues like tendonitis, kidney stone removal, glaucoma relief, or speeding the healing process for broken bones.

Outside of conventional medicine, there’s also the increasing use of vibration to stimulate the vagus nerve. This has been shown to help people with conditions including epilepsy and treatment-resistant depression.

Then there’s the stimulation of the vagus nerve with self-created sounds, like using your voice for humming or chanting, which are a key part of what I now teach.

Research on vocal humming and chanting shows significant benefits for thwarting depression, anxiety, and irritability; as well as lowering blood pressure and having a positive effect on heart rate variability.

To further demonstrate the benefits, let’s take a look at a recent study.

Self-generated sounds work wonders

In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, researchers conducted a study to gauge whether producing self-generated sounds would affect participants resting cardiovascular parameters, including blood pressure and heart rate.

Sixty healthy adolescents were divided into two groups.

One group, led by qualified yoga doctors, was instructed to sit in a comfortable posture, with an erect spine, and closed eyes. They were then led through a slow, deep breathing exercise. (I’ll walk you through the details of this exercise in just a moment.)

During the exhale, participants were instructed to chant an “ahm” mantra (“Ahhh-ohhh-mmm”), while also producing a humming sound through the nostrils. (This chanting technique causes a mild vibration on the inner walls of both the throat and nostrils.)

Participants produced these sounds for three to four minutes at a time with a one-minute rest in between, up to five times.

In contrast, the control group was instructed to breathe normally (about 12-16 breaths per minute) with their eyes open in a comfortable sitting posture.

What the researchers discovered was that the group making sound entered a relaxed state such that their parasympathetic activity (which controls the function of your body when it’s at rest like digestion, respiration, and heart rate—also known as the “rest and digest” system) superseded the sympathetic activity (also known as the “fight or flight” system, which prepares your body to react to stressors like threat or injury).

In others words their “rest and digest” system turned on and their “fight or flight” system turned off.

Researchers also found significant reductions in both resting heart rate levels and blood pressure in the humming and chanting group compared with the control group.

They go on to say that:

“The [sound] practice improves the cardiovascular parameters through parasympathetic dominance in adolescents and it can be practiced routinely for the reduction of stress induced cardiovascular risk in their future.”

In simple terms, these participants used an easy sound exercise to help themselves feel better and reduce their risk of stress-induced cardiovascular issues.

And just to be clear, these benefits were achieved without handfuls of prescription pills…without worry of addiction or liver damage…and without a copay!

You can’t beat that…

Vibrate your way to more vigor and vitality

If you’re ready to feel the power of sound for yourself, here’s a helpful exercise based on the method used in the study above:

1. Find a comfortable position to sit in. Sit with a tall, upright posture with your eyes closed.

2. Place your thumbs over your ear canals. (This will help you eliminate distraction and to feel the exercise in a more pronounced way.)

3. Slowly inhale through the nose (for about five seconds) and then slowly exhale through the mouth (for about 15 seconds).

4. Breathe in again and exhale, humming three syllables (“Ahhh-ohhh-mmm”) in equal length. By the end of one exhalation you’ve completed all three sounds.

5. At the end of the exercise, take a few minutes to be mindful and notice how you feel.

In the study, they continued the exercise for 45 minutes.

At first, you might experiment with performing the exercise for just a few minutes minutes and build up your stamina over time. (Always listen your body and do what feels most comfortable.)

Though cultures globally have been using and benefiting from sound healing techniques for centuries, modern science is just now (finally) validating the healing potential of sound.

And the ability to create sound energy is one of the body’s many “built-in” features to help you heal and feel better. It’s just that conventional medicine has never shown us how to do it…

Learning these techniques have undoubtedly changed my life for the better, and I’ve dedicated my career to showing other how to do the same.

Be Well,

Jim Donovan, M.Ed.

P.S. – I’ve recently compiled my decades of research and experience into one single protocol, so you can garner the same benefits and learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home. It’s called my Whole Body Sound Healing System. To learn more just click here.

SOURCES:

1. “Overview of therapeutic ultrasound applications and safety considerations.” Journal of ultrasound medicine. 2012; 31(4): 623-634. PMID: 22441920

2. Vagus nerve stimulation therapy: Indications, programing, and outcomes. Neurologica medico-chirurgica. 2015; 55(5): 407-415. doi: 10.2176/nmc.ra.2014-0405

3. “Neurohemodynamic correlates of “OM” chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study.” International journal of yoga. 2011; 4(1), 3–6. doi: 10.4103/0973-6131.78171

4. “Immediate effects of Bhramari Pranayama on resting cardiovascular parameters in healthy adolescents. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 2016; 10(5), CC17–CC19. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2016/19202.7894

5. “Immediate effects of Bhramari Pranayama on resting cardiovascular parameters in healthy adolescents.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research. 2016; 10(5): CC17-CC19. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2016/19202.7894

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.