What's a Gong Bath?
When’s the last time you took a Gong bath? I’m a musician, and I was a bit skeptical. As with many healing modalities, there were a lot of claims made of ‘vibrations to bring about healing’, ‘being bathed in meditation gong sound waves’, ‘in use since 16,000 B.C’ (how do we know that?), ‘helps with pain management’, ‘destroys cancer cells’! This sounds (pun intended) exciting and not to be missed.
I arrived at the yoga studio with my mat and the recommended bolster or cushion as participants take a gong bath fully clothed while lying prostrate on a yoga mat. The cushion is for your head and the idea is to get comfortable for the hour-long experience.
I’ve played with a lot of percussionists and seen some unique drum kits. But this setup was inspirational – if you like cymbals and gongs. There was a 3-sided drum cage made of PVC that was about 7 feet high. And suspended from a myriad of cross-member supports were gongs and cymbals of every conceivable size – from a modest 8 inches to a monster 5 footer!
On the floor, I positioned myself stereocenter and snuggled in for the experience. The player began with the small and mid-size gongs as he began to build towering waves of moving sound. I was aware of the fundamental tone and many over-arching harmonics in this rich cathedral of sound. As the intensity built, the player (the gonger?) began mixing and moving from various gong to gong as he composed a tapestry of rich, deeply textured sounds, themes, and vibrations.
Once I let go of my analytical mind (which is the whole purpose of the exercise) I was transported on a journey to various destinations much as a leaf or branch rides along a stream’s current - sometimes slow, sometimes faster.
The time became timeless and then – it was over. I knew most folks in the room had shared a similar experience because of the deep silence – and absence of snoring. Finally, I began to move and rose to a seated position.
My breath was shallow and slow. My heart rate was probably about 60 bpm or less. I felt rested, but not groggy. There was some feeling of energy – and ‘Can we do that again?’
I’d just experienced deep entrainment. That’s when one system of vibrations imparts control upon another. My vitals had been tuned to the vibrations of the gongs. When massive walls of harmonics collide, throbbing sub-rhythms are created – like when side-chain audio compressors are used with modern dance music to build a powerful throbbing rhythm in the track. It’s cool!
Reflecting back on my experience, I can see the potential for pain management as neural pathways are flooded, and pain-gate neural pathways can be overwhelmed with new data. I don’t know about the disintegration of cancer cells, but hey we can crumble kidney stones with sound so ….maybe?
As an aid to meditation, this could be very powerful, especially if you may be new to meditation and your mind screams at you every time you sit to try to meditate.
I think the strongest part of my experience was the actual physical immersion in a physical sound field not - electrically amplified. My entire body was bathed in physical vibrations that were being masterfully orchestrated by the player. That’s a big difference because even a harp, guitar, or any other instrument will not give you the same immersion into a sound field that has such extremes in frequencies, volume, and sheer spectrum saturation.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever taken a gong bath? What about other sound healing modalities, like bowls, chimes, sound beds, etc. What was your experience? Would you do it again?
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James Schaller, CMP is a clinical musician and consultant who trains caregivers on how to use therapeutic music and consults with healthcare facilities to create soundscapes that benefit patients and staff.