I believe that every one of us is honour-bound to give ourselves plenty of TLC. And that means finding the right mix of exercise, supplements, foods and de-stressing techniques which keep us balanced and on top of life. I don’t think of it as ‘selfish’. On the contrary, I like to cite those in-flight oxygen mask instructions (which you really hope and pray you’re never actually going to have to remember) to put the mask on yourself, before you help anyone else. That’s why taking care of yourself isn’t selfish in the least; if we’re running on empty, we can’t look after our kids, parents, friends, colleagues to the best of our abilities.
For me, ‘sound therapy’ has always played an important part in maintaining my equilibrium – but I’ve rediscovered it in the last couple of months, big-time. Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of meditation, which I’ve been doing for the last couple of years with the help of an app called Headspace. (Read about my experiences here.) I still love and wholeheartedly recommend Headspace – but the challenge is that I’ve completed almost every appropriate ‘pack’, and my motivation was slipping. I decided I needed to ‘mix it up’ a bit – and stumbled upon something rather marvelous called Insight Timer. There are literally hundreds of different meditations uploaded this free app – from chants to yoga nidra, guided sleep meditations to meditations featuring gong baths, crystal bowls and Tibetan bowls. And it was this that sold me – because there’s something about the vibrations from ‘singing’ bowls which makes me feel deeply, deeply relaxed and grounded.
I first discovered the magic of crystal bowls on the Portobello Road in the late 1980s – and bought a huge one. Used with a sort of drumstick, which is dragged around the textured exterior of the bowl, huge soundwaves are produced, continuing to pulse outwards even when you’ve stopped playing the bowl. Challenge is, actually using the bowl doesn’t relax me at all. Lying there while someone else does is another matter, but there are alas no volunteers in my house. (In point of fact, I frequently have to empty out the singing bowl which everyone seems to regard as some kind of ‘Lost Property’ zone.) I’ve had some amazing, almost literally mind-blowing ‘sound bath’ sessions with therapists called Genevra Jolie (who runs Soundlove evenings in a Mongolian yurt in Sussex), and Gabby Kinsella, who offers similar in a rather draughty unit round the corner from me at home.
But now, thanks to Insight Timer, I’m enjoying the soothing sounds of Tibetan bowls, crystal bowls and massive gongs on a daily basis, each morning while my Rare Tea Company Speedy Breakfast brews. There are dozens of options for these on the app, lasting from about eight minutes to more than an hour. I ‘bookmark’ the ones I like, to listen to later. For me, the vibrations and deep, dark, soulful sounds are an incredibly calming way to start the day. (I’m way, way less interested in the ‘social’ aspect of the site, which tells me how many people around the world were meditating at the same time – and lets me connect with meditators nearby. But this of course, is entirely optional.)
What’s the thinking behind sound therapy? Its use can be traced back to ancient civilisations across India, the Orient, Africa and parts of Europe via the use of chimes, gongs, bowls, drums, chants. Everything in the universe is, we’re told, made up of vibrations – so it makes sense that external vibrations would affect us on a deep level. It might require a deep breath to absorb the next bit, but if you believe in chakras, it might resonate (um, in a very real way) that different vibrations correlate to different chakras, helping to release blockages and correct imbalances.
Indeed, some studies have apparently shown that sound can have a direct impact on mental processes, the nervous system, muscles and more. To quote Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Cornell Cancer Prevention Centre (who uses ‘singing’ bowls in his clinic), ‘If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we can understand that sound is heard not only through our ears abut through every cell of our bodies.’
Personally, I feel about this rather the way I do about anti-ageing creams: I don’t need to know why they work; I just want to know that they do – and for me, these vibrations certainly feel incredibly healing. To me, that’s all that really matters.
One thing is for certain, though: however we achieve it, this is the very best time of year to up our game, in terms of finding ways to calm and balance ourselves. Fact: nobody’s stress levels are likely to be as high as in they are in run-up to Christmas when we’ve so much to do, so many presents to buy – oh, and did I mention the ‘p’ (for party) word…? Personally, I plan to lie back, and let the good vibrations waft over me – in the hope of enjoying my calmest festive season ever…!