Does the click-clack of a fresh acrylic set soothe your angst? Maybe a low, consistent rumble lulls you to sleep, or a high-pitched, whirring noise builds panicked tension in your chest. Humans are designed to be finely tuned to different sounds. Some indicate danger, some indicate the promise of stress or an annoying disturbance, and some incite joy, bliss, love, peace, or rest.
There’s a reason we like softer, soothing sounds in the evening and high-energy dance ballads or metal when we work out. But can sound actually have the power to heal or change us in transformative ways?
First, we have to revisit the basics. All sound consists of vibrations, and all sounds vibrate at different frequencies. Studies show that certain sounds that are in tune with our own vibrations (all things give off a vibration, cue: the vibe check) can have a significant healing effect on the entire body. These sounds are measured by hertz, aka a cycle per second that consists of a repeating pattern of vibration.
ASMR, aka Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, isn’t quite like music but it does affect us in a uniquely soothing way, in a very specific meridian. After an hour of doomscrolling TikTok, we might stumble across just the right ASMR pitch that will tell a certain part of our brains we are safe and ready for sleep, and that’s due to the tingling sensation it sends to the crown of the head: a response to a range of audio-visual triggers. This is usually light brushing, plasticky-sounding tapping, whispers, and gentle gestures of hands or objects slicing through the air.
OK, so quite soft sounds are soothing, we get it. But the science goes on to explain that this tingling sensation, or “chills” we get at the crown of the head and down the spine, have been associated with deepened breathing and increased skin conductivity, meaning we feel more sensitive to the touch. This could be tied to why ASMR is such a good sleep aid—we feel the comfort of our bedding and surroundings more strongly as we deepen our breath and thus lower our heart rate.
Renee Noa Harris, a yoga and meditation instructor and curator of sound baths, tells us that music has medicinal effects, explaining that music has the ability to lower blood pressure, decrease pulse rate, and assist the work of the parasympathetic nervous system.
“Sound baths are a form of meditation that harness the healing qualities of sound to create a relaxing and restorative voyage for the mind and body. For some, a sound bath is perhaps a more accessible meditation style, giving our attention a very clear landing space to return to each time our mind wanders. The frequency and notes that resonate from the bowls are often associated with a specific chakra (or energy center) in the body, allowing for the frequency of the bowl to connect with, move energy through, and restore balance to the energetic field of a specific chakra. Some experts suggest that the sound waves influence our brain waves, too. They believe the sound produced by the bowls moves our beta brain waves (active and external-focused) to alpha (passive, relaxed) and even theta (deeply relaxed, internally focused—the place where subconscious healing can occur).”
Binaural beats and frequency music
Those same waves Harris talks about when it comes to crystal bowls used in sound baths are created in varying yet specific combinations to construct sequences known as binaural beats, or frequency music. These can be specified to the mood or effect someone wants to reach, such as focus, meditation, calming, deep sleep, and even sexual healing or intensified orgasm. That means we can DJ our day, from waking to working to sleeping, based on the frequencies we play.
There are even claims that specific frequencies can help heal the body on a cellular level from diseases and levels of toxicity. While hard evidence of this is still in the works, science pretty clearly tells us that frequency music directly affects the brain, can improve neurological disorders, and can relax us into a deep theta state, as Harris touched on. This state of relaxation triggers a calm that has a domino effect on our health, removing certain inflammation and illness triggers related to stress.
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