"Of all the methods for altering brain state, the use of sound is the most ancient and primordial. Vibration is the fundamental basis of everything that exists, from the stars and galaxies to our bodies and minds." Tom Kenyon,

We stand at a very interesting point in history. We are at the seam where the "magic" of shamans and healers of ancient cultures and wisdom traditions is being joined with the latest discoveries in "science". Throughout history, healers have used vibrations - specifically the audible vibrations of sound and music, as a pivotal modality, to induce and enhance healing states of consciousness.

After decades of study and research into the consciousness-altering effects of sound and music from around the world, I was drawn more and more to the practices of the Buddhists and Bonpo from the Himalayan region now known as Tibet. Their "extended vocal techniques" utilizing polyphonic (overtone) chanting, which produces two or three notes simultaneously, have a transcendental power and unearthly beauty. These vocal sounds can be learned but take some time and diligence to master.

The metal Singing Bowls from Tibet, Nepal, and northern India have become increasingly available in the west over the past decade. Compared to learning overtone chanting, the bowls are relatively easy to play. Most people can make a bowl "sing" in the first 5-10 minutes.

A number of physicians and hospitals have recently begun to utilize the bowls with cancer patients and others suffering serious illnesses. Mitchell L. Gaynor, M.D., Director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center, affiliated with New York Hospital, authored the best-selling book, Sounds of Healing . Subtitled "A Physician Reveals the Therapeutic Power of Sound, Voice, and Music," the book is a resounding endorsement of the principals outlined in this article, and cites numerous research projects from around the world as scientific "proof" of the ability of sound and music to heal.

It behooves us, in our training as guides, healers, and hypnotherapists, not only to finely attune our sensory acuity, so as to be able to sense our clients' rhythms, but to study some of the ancient shamanic techniques for entrainment, and understand their relevance to 21st century research into brain wave activity.

What is Entrainment? Jonathan Goldman says "Entrainment is an aspect of sound that is closely related to rhythms and the way these rhythms affect us. It is a phenomenon of sound in which the powerful rhythmic vibrations of one object will cause the less powerful vibrations of another object to lock in step and oscillate at the first object's rate.... It seems that nature finds it more economical in terms of energy to have periodic events that are close enough in frequency to occur in phase or in step with each other."

Electrical activity is always going on in the live human brain. Different frequencies correspond to different states of consciousness. To summarize, "normal waking" consciousness means the brain is generating electricity in the "beta" frequency (13-25 or more cycles per second); "alpha" (8-12 cps) is generated when we are daydreaming, in light trance, or the early stages of meditation; "theta" (4-7 cps) is what is commonly referred to as the "hypnogogic" state - in between waking and sleeping, where we frequently experience bursts of insight, intuition, and creativity; and "delta" (.5-3.5 cps) is mostly deep, dreamless sleep.

In developing and utilizing the trance state with a client, brain wave machines that are currently in use by many professional hypnotherapists use neural entrainment to stimulate activity - primarily in the alpha and theta ranges - by the use of pulsed sound and light, which the client perceives through headphones and goggles.

"Sonic driving," a term introduced by cultural anthropologist and shamanic teacher Michael Harner, is the use of sound - primarily regular rhythmic drumming - to help an individual "journey" into their mind, or into a "non-ordinary realty" (NOR) for creativity, healing, problem solving, and generally accessing a greater wisdom. Such drumming is usually in the theta range. The tempo of tribal drumming from Africa, the Caribbean, and South/Central America) is often in the alpha wave frequencies.

More About Singing Bowls: There is very little information available in written form on the singing bowls. Their origin is somewhat of a mystery, and seems to be shrouded in secrecy. They have been used for thousands of years; anecdotal evidence claims that they pre-date Buddhism, and were created and used by the Bon. Originally the term "bon" designated the various existing religious and magico-ritual traditions, very probably based on elements common to the heritage of pan Asiatic Shamanism.

However the people of the Himalayas used the bowls, one thing is certain: contemporary Western people are deeply moved in a special way when they first encounter them. Many feel that their spirit has been touched when they listen to the living sound of the bowls. I have played the bowls for thousands of people... I have yet to encounter anything other than a positive response. A frequently heard comment is that although the sounds are completely new and different from anything they have ever heard, there is something extraordinarily familiar about them. This feeling is less strong when heard from recordings than in person. The sound from the bowls instills great space and peace. A sense of well-being and relaxation is experienced. The vibration seems to synchronize with brain waves for therapeutic effect. Each bowl is hand-hammered from a combination of seven different metals, supposedly corresponding to the ancient seven heavenly bodies. The correspondences are as follows: Gold - the Sun; Silver - the Moon; Mercury - Mercury; Copper - Venus; Iron - Mars; Tin - Jupiter; Lead - Saturn. Together, these metals produce the exceptional singing sound of the bowls. The roundness of the bowls - most are roughly a half sphere - allows for astonishing acoustics. Each bowl, due to its irregularities, and the blend of metals used, produces anywhere from two to five separate tones. These sound waves must bounce back and forth within a bowl while also escaping to move through the surrounding air.

Within the basic tone of each bowl are overtones that present an initial perception which then unfolds itself to the patient listener. The "beat frequencies" often heard on high quality bowls are the result of two or more wave trains passing simultaneously through the same region. This can have the effect, as mentioned earlier, of encouraging entrainment. The "ripples" or "shimmers" or "pulses", which is how they have been variously described, produced by one or more bowls are in the delta, theta and alpha ranges.

The Connection to Hypnotic Work: The oral tradition ascribes three primary uses to the bowls from ancient times: synchronization, internal massage, and to travel without moving the body. Let us take a look at translation of these concepts into viable hypnotherapeutic goals.

Synchronization: Synchronization, as explained above, may be of brain-wave activity. The sounds of the bowl are an incredibly effective hypnotic induction. Or, it may be viewed as bringing about a more meticulous organization of pulse and heartbeat. In a larger context, it may refer to being "in synch" with the Tao, with the flow of life in and around us. Often, although our clients are presenting smaller problems, from a larger perspective, these can be understood as being, in musical terms, "off the beat." Consider the following: "From the moment of conception, when our cells begin to divide and multiply in a womb that quivers to our mother's pulse, to the last fibrillation of our own dying heart, humans are deeply rhythmical creatures, inextricably woven into an intricate web of pattern and pulsation. We're a bundle of oscillating brain waves and palpitating cells, stitched together by the ins and outs of our breath. We're perpetually dancing to circadian rhythms of sleeping and waking; metabolic rhythms of eating and elimination; hormonal rhythms of ovulation, puberty, menarche, and menopause. These personal beats, in turn, are inextricably linked with planetary cycles of day and night, the waxing and waning of the moon, the changing of the seasons, the movements of the stars." .

Gently striking a large bowl balanced upside down on the head (where the fontanelle of an infant would be) of a seated client, produces an extraordinarily powerful experience for the listener. Dr. Rayma Ditson-Sommer, a leading researcher in the therapeutic use of light and sound machines, confirmed that this, indeed, produces a "binaural" beat pattern, synchronizing the hemispheres of the brain.

In a ritual manner, playing the bowls for a group of individuals has the effect of bringing into alignment the frequencies of each person with that moment in time and space, as well as with the frequency of the group. Such synchronizations have a heightened effect if the bowls are played in sacred space (churches, pyramids, yurts, etc.), or at significant cosmic moments (solstices, equinoxes, etc.)

Internal Massage: When a singing bowl is struck, an individual can feel the air around the bowl also vibrating. These powerful vibrations spread through our bodies, resulting in a very delicate internal massage of all the cells. Our bodies consist of almost 80% water, and water is an excellent medium to carry vibration. The human body is a living entity of vibrations and wavelengths. A healthy organ is well tuned, meaning that it vibrates only at its own frequency, while the frequency of a sick organ is disturbed. Our language still uses the phrase "to be of sound mind and body".

"If the sound pattern emitted by a light and sound machine were likened to a 'trickle' of acoustic energy, then psychoacoustic environments create tidal waves!... they all share something in common. They all generate Psychoacoustic Immersion Fields (PIFs).... Theoretically, PIFs catalyze a wide band of neural activity due to the fact that both the auditory pathways and the peripheral nerve endings of the body are being stimulated. In other words, you not only heard the music with your ears, but you feel the music with your body." It has been conjectured that "singing bowls recreate the original harmonic frequency, and stimulate the body to rediscover its own harmonic frequency. By making the body vibrate to the frequency of the bowl, when it is synchronized, it can later vibrate independently. By placing singing bowls onto the body directly over organs or tissue parts, and then sounding the bowl, vibration is "sent" into the body and internal massage is created."

Bowls can be placed on Chakra points to open or "attenuate" them through a sympathetic resonance of sound and vibration. They can be placed around or along the body including the head, to bathe the body or tone it in a "sound bath". Although there are different systems of correspondences (note, color, chakra, organ, etc), I have found it most effective to work intuitively, with feedback and guidance from the client as to which bowls are have the most beneficial effect.

Travel Without Moving the Body: Many ancient and contemporary esoteric practices speak of "astral travel", or "astral projection". Both the American and Russian government spent considerable time and money during the cold war in researching "remote viewing". If, as Dr. Larry Dossey and others have hypothesized, consciousness is "non-local", certain stimuli seem to provide an environment conducive to the direct experience of this phenomenon. From a more conservative viewpoint, this can be understood as Jung's concept of "active imagination". Guided imagery, which a great many hypnotherapists utilize, is often used to travel to remote areas, both in time and space, to gather information, or heal, through reliving experiences differently, wounds from the past. In Michael Harner's shamanic journeying, participants are taught to visit archetypal realms to connect with guides in the spirit, angelic, or totemic (power) animal worlds.

For physical healing in the hypnotic state, the bowls provide an excellent vehicle to carry consciousness through the body, to envision biochemical changes taking place to promote health and vitality.

I encourage all who are interested in healing, in hypnosis, in personal development, as well as spiritual growth, to experience singing bowls directly. In 1999, I recorded and produced a set of 4 CD's, entitled Sounds for Healing, featuring the Tibetan Singing Bowls, as well as Guided Meditations, Trance Inductions, and Hypnotic Fables. For information on ordering these CD's, call 845-247-8839, or  2000 Peter Blum PO Box 1027 Woodstock, NY 12498


Peter Blum, C.Ht., C.I., certified in Ericksonian hypnosis by the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH), and the NY Training Institute for NLP. From 1993 to 1998 he was Director of the Stress Management Department at the Rhinebeck Health Center, working under the supervision of Kenneth Bock, M.D., and Steven Bock, M.D.

Peter is the son of an operatic baritone, Peter has also been involved with the study of voice and music all of his life. Some of his teachers have been Ustad Jamaluddin Bhartiya (sitar), Karl Berger (rhythm and improvisation), Jill Purse (vocal), Pauline Oliveros (listening skills), and Beautiful Painted Arrow. In 1999, his four-CD set, "Sounds For Healing" featuring the Tibetan Singing Bowls was released on the EnTranceWays label. "YYthe ear, the vibration sensor, serves to charge the organism with electrical potential. It is thanks to the ear that external stimuli are able to charge the cortical battery." - Alfred Tomatis, M.D.

HYPNORHYTHMS: It is somewhat inevitable and actually of great value that each person who becomes a hypnotherapist brings their own particular past skills and competencies to bear in their individual approach. For me, growing up in a musical household, and having had a lifelong love affair with music, it was quite natural that sooner or later, I would begin to appreciate some of the applications of sound and music for hypnotherapeutic purposes.

As research by Dr. Thomatis and others has pointed out, our sense of hearing is one of the first that is developed and activated, in utero. Each one of us, while in our mother's womb, floated in a dark environment, filled with different sounds. The mother's heartbeat (approx. 50-60 beats/minute); the mother's breathing, a soft whooshing in and out, sounding much like distant surf coming in and going out (approx. 12-15 cycles/minute); the mother's voice, muted and high pitched, sounding a bit like dolphin sounds; these are some of the primary sounds in the background were other sounds from the outside coming through in a muffled way. We are rhythmic creatures. In as much as all matter is vibrating, our bodies are a series of overlapping rhythmic patterns: heartbeat, pulse(s), brainwave activity.  When we speak, there are variations of pitch and tone, volume and rhythm that, according to research, are responsible for 38% of the communication (the remainder of human communication is 55% nonverbal, and 7% the words we use). So, we are all using sound and music as part of our ongoing human experience and communication network, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. There are many applications of the use of sound and music for healing, and hypnotic work; Three primary uses that I have researched and utilized effectively in my practice are (1) How to choose (and use) pre-recorded music to enhance a learning environment and "anchor" desired states, (2) How to use drum or rattle to pace and lead brain-wave activity of your client (neural entrainment), and (3) How to develop a more sonorous and hypnotic speaking voice through the practice of overtone singing.