Thriving Together Series: Listening to Sound for Well-Being

Listening to Sound for WellBeing TTWBW music

by Katie Clare, Associate Director for Resilience Programs, University Life

The basic benefit of sound, and the reason it has healing qualities, is because, if you’re willing to focus upon something that is a sound, not a conversation, a sound, not an opinion, a sound, not a problem, a sound, not something that you are wanting to be otherwise, then it has the same capability that meditation does when you’re focused without resistance.” – Abraham Hicks

Mindfully listening to sound can be an especially enjoyable way to strengthen your well-being. Mason’s innovative well-being installation Arcadia, which produces music from the energy of plant biorhythms that are converted through musical digital interface, offers an opportunity to do so anytime through its online live stream. You can listen for well-being in many creative ways, such as through sound baths, time in nature, musical concerts, and through mindfulness sessions that incorporate music, such as the Mindful Mason Moments sessions that feature music from Arcadia.

Sound baths are immersive experiences designed to produce deep meditative states through ambient sounds, often created by singing bowls or gongs. By listening to the sounds, the wandering mind (often the biggest challenge for those who want to engage in meditation) has a clear focus to anchor attention to the present moment. The sound creates a frame to direct attention to the present moment to avoid ruminating on the past or imagining the future. You might think about a powerful sound bath being like the best concert you’ve ever attended – time shifts, attention is fully committed to the present moment, and senses are heightened.

I’ve had the good fortune to attend several sound baths and have always left in a state of calm that I did not feel at the start. Many of us come to mindfulness and meditation wanting some sort of calm, wanting to ease stress, increase focus, and clear a cluttered mind. In other words, increase well-being. Sound familiar? While each sound bath is different, they have always checked those boxes for me. They have always been rewarding, especially when I’ve been most open, most curious. In other words, they’ve been most rewarding when I’ve engaged them with some of the key components of mindfulness.

One favorite memory is from when I was a Well-Being LC faculty member and hosted a sound bath as a special event. One student shared that the experience resulted in profound – and unexpected – clarity that led to changing her major and shifting her career goals. That student is now thriving and will soon start a graduate program in her chosen field. The sound bath experience allowed the student to see herself in a new way by providing a contained space to dial back the stress and the expectations of everyday life and to explore with open curiosity.

In a second Well-Being LLC sound bath experience, I had my own powerful reaction. I was going through a tough time, and during the session, one sound kept resonating with me. I heard the other sounds. I heard the interplay of sounds, but one sound kept pulling me up and out. I spoke to our facilitator, who assured me it was common to be drawn to particular elements. He asked me to describe what I heard and quickly recognized that I kept tuning to the bowl tuned to the heart chakra. If I didn’t believe in the power of this stuff before that experience, I would certainly have been a believer after because my heart was having a tough time.

We all know the benefits of sound, but for good measure you might consider, for example, the soothing sounds of a mother’s voice for a crying babythe experience of the rain or the ocean to calm, or the effects of time in nature – perhaps walking through a forest or even just listening to the birds in our own neighborhoods – to feel more connected, more at ease, more uplifted. The ability to tune into natural vibrations can lead to increased abilities for healing and cooperation.

There are many things to love about a music-based mindfulness practice, and for me, sound baths fall into this territory. One of the things to love is the ease with which it can give our minds an anchor other than our thoughts. If one of the primary goals of mindfulness is to focus awareness and attention to the present moment, our thinking often gets in the way. Music, especially instrumental music, can help us reorient to the here and the now. It gives a clear focus and helps bypass thinking and planning. Hazrat Inayat Khan says: “A person does not only hear sound through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of the body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence, either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either awakens or soothes the nervous system.” This is important because mindfulness should not just be about soothing our minds and reducing our stress. Mindfulness also needs to be about coming into our bodies to develop a full awareness and appreciation of what our bodies are telling us.

Needless to say, I was excited to learn about the unique Arcadia public art installation at Mason, and I encourage you to check it out as a means of developing your mindfulness practice in response to sound. Arcadia is not a sound bath in the way a crystal bowl or gong sound bath, but it might be even better. First of all, you don’t have to search for an online recording of a sound bath or a local event because you can access Arcadia’s livestream 24/7 until the installation closes in fall 2021. Second, you get a new experience each time. Instead of finding an online sound bath recording that you return to again and again, Arcadia gives you something new every time you tune in because its music is non-repetitive and driven by plants.

While we know the sounds of nature can help us relax, I encourage you to be open and curious about how the sounds of nature translated through technology can help you to relax. Check it out at different times of day and with different weather to see how the experience changes for the plants, how it affects the music, and how it contributes to your own listening experience. Do you feel your nervous system awaken or relax? Do you feel resistance soften into more open acceptance?

Additional Resources

Mason’s Music for Well-Being Minor is designed to allow participation by students with minimal formal musical training. The coursework allows students to explore the connections between music and consciousness and between vibration, mindfulness, and well-being.

The article “Mindfulness through Music: An Introduction” by Psychology Today.com describes why music and mindfulness are complementary practices.

The article “Is Listening to Music Good for Your Health?” by Time.com features the well-being benefits of music.

The article “How Listening to Music Can Have Psychological Benefits” by VeryWellMind.com also explores the well-being benefits of music.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Contact us at cwb@gmu.edu for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!