You may not realize it, but every noise you hear has an effect on your body and mind. “Certain sounds make us feel certain ways,” says Sara Auster, sound therapist and teacher at MNDFL, a New York City meditation studio. “Think about the music you choose to work out to — it’s probably not the same music you listen to before you go to bed.” Auster practices and teaches mindfulness meditation that features harmonic vibrations created by singing bowls, gongs, and other highly resonant instruments. Known as “sound baths,” the practice urges on deep relaxation and helps to quell stress. The music, along with the focused meditation, can even allow the benefits of meditation to be enhanced.
Music has been heralded for neutralizing stress, but its calming ability has scientific backing. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that subjects who listened to classical music before a stressful event recovered from the stress faster than those who listened to rippling water or simply relaxed in quiet. Additionally, sound can also slow down the heart and respiratory rate, creating a therapeutic effect on the mind and body.
Curious about trying sound meditation on your own? The key is to start slow. Just like one visit to the gym won’t make you lose 10 pounds, engaging in a single meditation session won’t flood you with total peacefulness for weeks to come. Watch the video above and review Auster's four simple steps for sound mediation to get started with your own practice.
1. Close your eyes and listen. See if you can notice the sounds in the room and outside of the room. Some might annoy you at first or not be particularly pleasant, but draw your awareness to them. Allow and accept the sounds as they are. If you've opted to play music or the sound of any instruments like wind chimes or a gong, focus on the sound and the contrast it leaves in the room after it fades away.
2. Stay loosely focused on your breathing. Let the sound be a secondary focus of the practice. Call to mind the creators of these sounds and embrace the sound as part of your breathing practice, as you strive to breathe in tune with the vibrations and rhythms in the room.
3. Become aware of the space around you. Become conscious of the space in front, behind, and to the sides — even above and below. Allow yourself to feel as if your mind is expanding into the space surrounding, even expanding outside of the room.
4. Let the sounds you hear anchor you in the present moment. Try not to get caught up in judging what you hear or analyzing the sounds; just listen, observe, and experience them. If you become restless or impatient, acknowledge these feelings and allow them, but do not react to them. Stick with this for at least five minutes and see how your awareness has shifted from the beginning of the practice to a calmer, more relaxed state.