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Singing Bowls, a Guide to Healing through Sound

9. Shamanization

Each human personality
is like a piece of music,
having an individual tone
and a rhythm of its own.
Hazrat Inayat Khan


Little is known about how singing bowls were used in the past. They appeared in the West without instructions, and new practitioners have had to learn for themselves how to use these unique instruments. In certain ways this is not a bad thing. It is important to feel for yourself what you can do with them. The following suggestions can help you get started.
Joska Soos suggests to first listen to the bowl until the sound can no longer be perceived, then listen to it in the mind. This is a technique used in Nada yoga, the yoga of the sound. Nada Yoga explores the knowledge of sound qualities and how they affect us and tells of four states of sound. Vaikhari is the coarse, audible sound with which we are all familiar. Concentration on this state leads to the discovery of more and more intricate levels within the sound. The second state is Madhyama, a seemingly external sound that is heard but not produced physically. Pashtyanti, the third state, is an inner sound that is not produced physically. This mental sound is heard by the inner ear. Concentration on the sound of singing bowls leads one to experience inner sounds produced in the mind. These are heard when we pay attention. In Pashyannti Nada, the fourth state, every outer sound has disappeared and a completely new sound is heard. Ultimately this will lead to Para nada, a transcendental sound above and beyond the four levels. It is heard in other dimensions on other levels of consciousness.
Why would anyone practice this technique? Like every form of yoga, Nada yoga breaks down inhibitions of the mind and brings its activities to a halt, using sound to entrap and quiet the mind. The darkness of fears, frustrations, complexes, and negative emotions dissolves, allowing spiritual progress and inner growth. Like any yoga practice it takes discipline.
At first, with only two bowls, I played every evening for half an hour. At the time I knew nothing about Nada yoga, I just liked the sounds. After a few months an effect was noticeable. I felt more free, in the psychological sense. It was a liberating effect, although I could not quite put my finger on it as to what it actually was.
Do not hesitate to play your singing bowl as often as you can. It will certainly affect you, although it might take some time. When you come home from work, tired and stressed, lie down and play your Singing Bowl on your chest. It is recommended to put a thin rubber mat (can be found in shops with kitchen supplies) underneath so the bowl will not slide off. In twenty minutes or half an hour, you will be totally relaxed, so relaxed that you may forget to strike the bowl again. Larger bowls with lower sounds are the most effective, used with a soft striker. We live in an increasingly stressful world. Many people go out to a bar for a drink or go home to relax on a sofa in front of the television. This is not true relaxation. When achieved through proper means, true relaxation breaks the train of everyday thought and decreases nervous activity in the body. Yoga works in this way.
True relaxation in body and soul is a conscious state that is close to but deeper than sleep, at the same time the ability to experience external events remains. This is the state often described by people attending group sessions with the singing bowls. For many it is the first time they have experienced such a deep state of relaxation. Some lose contact with bodily sensations, at the same time they remain aware of themselves and the sound of the singing bowls around them. This can be achieved by playing a bowl on your chest. Deep relaxation is an absolute necessity for the well-being of the body. It allows the body to release tensions and to recharge itself fully with omnipresent and healing life energy.
Some people like to tone (spontaneous wordless singing) with singing bowls. This is a good method to make a close connection with your bowl. It demands a good listening ear and a good resonance between your voice and the sounds of the bowl. It allows for a creative expression. You can hum, chant, "om", or sing with your bowl. In addition, the back of the throat can be used as a sounding board, creating a wavering distortion of the bowl’s sound. This takes a little practice. Strike the bowl with a harder striker and hold the bowl close to your mouth. Move your throat as if you are gargling or yodeling, but without making any vocal sound. Move your lips as if you were saying ooh-wah ooh-wah. The result is a wavering wa-wa-wa sound that isolates certain frequencies of the bowl. It works best with harder strikers. Too soft a striker and it will not work at all.
The singing bowls can uplift and change the energy of a place when they are played there, with cumulative and long lasting effects. Once an hour long evening session was given in a shop, but one of the shopkeepers was unable to attend. The following day when she came in she immediately felt a total, positive change of energy in the room. So, be aware that with your singing bowls you can uplift the atmosphere around you. Use them to purify a room, an entire house, your garden, or any other place. Put your heart into it, your intentions count. The more frequently you play in a particular place, the better. Even if there is noise nearby, entrain the sound and turn chaos into harmony.
Openness and spontaneity are helpful when working with the singing bowls. One day, when playing around with the bowls, I discovered that I could turn a big bowl upside down and put it on my head. It has to be wide enough as to not touch the nose or any other part of the head that might dampen the sound. Be careful, make sure that if the bowl slips off it will only fall onto something soft, better yet keep one hand ready to catch it. Sit on a soft rug or pillows. When the bowl is struck, the sound vibrations can be felt traveling through the skull bones, and depending on the kind of bowl, they can even be felt traveling down the entire spine. Of course the vibrations go through the soft tissues too. This is another way to give yourself a unique sound massage.
Imagination is the limit. The singing bowls can be used for other purposes. They can be used in ceremonies, traditional or magical, or in any other kind of energy work. It is up to you to discover what is appropriate for you. Over the years I have developed my own way. I experience myself as a bridge between spiritual forces and the people I am working with. The bowls are sacred shamanic tools, and sound can be a carrier of energy and intent. The beautiful, sacred sounds create an atmosphere that facilitates healing as the person playing them serves as a channel for healing energies from a spiritual source.
Observations based on the experiences of many people show us that the sounds of the singing bowls work on the chakras; dimensional portals connecting the inner and outer worlds. Both the person playing the bowls and the participant connect with the inner and outer spiritual worlds. The time, place, participant, player, singing bowls and spiritual energies are all factors that work together in both group sessions and private sessions to create a special and unique experience.
A group session is a shamanic sound journey. Each event is unique, in it the particular sound vibrations of the singing bowls and their combinations allow an entrance into the rich environment of the human psyche. Participants lie down on a soft mat and relax with eyes closed. The lights in the space are dimmed. A few minutes of steady drumming on a frame drum facilitates the change of ordinary day-consciousness into a more relaxed and receptive state of mind. The penetrating clear sound of the abbots bell and cymbals is used to summon my guides and any spiritual entities who might want to help in the healing process of the people involved. Incense is burned to deepen the mystical mood of the event. For the next forty-five minutes a group of singing bowls of various sizes is played, intuitively creating a cosmic sound bath where the participants are able to ride the waves of sound on the sea of their own unlimited minds. Each person will intuitively experience whatever is necessary for their own inner balance and healing. It will emerge on its own out of the depths of his or her consciousness. For some it is a profound relaxation deeper than they have ever experienced. For others persisting tensions emerge and resolve. Some report inner visions of colors emerging, or images, some with symbolic meaning.
After the last bowl has rung, the participants are given time to adjust and make the change from deepened state of awareness back to their normal waking consciousness. Often they are so relaxed that they do not want to get up for a while. A brief time for sharing and comparing experiences is provided at the end of the session. It helps re-entry back into normal awareness and is always fun and interesting for all involved.
A private session is different. The work is more direct and intense. The client lies down on a soft mat, relaxes and closes his eyes. He then enjoys the sounds and music of the singing bowls as they are played both on and around the body. I always place a bowl on the chest. A resonating chamber, it is an area where childhood traumas are often stored. Depending upon the person’s anatomy, bowls can be placed on the belly. With some the back of the body is an easier placement and gives equally good results. Since the human body consists of about 80% water, it is an ideal conductor of sound. When placed directly on the body, the bowl’s vibrations go through the body in a powerful way.
The harmonious sound patterns instill a feeling of immense space and profound peace. As body and spirit are touched by the living sound of the bowls, a sense of physical well-being arises that remains even after the session. This feeling results not only from the profound relaxation, the harmonically interwoven vibrations spread quickly throughout the body to give a delicate internal massage that reaches all of the cells. The singing bowls restore a natural harmony within the body and the uplifting atmosphere they create allows a greater enjoyment and peace.
People often ask where I learned to play the bowls. My initial lessons came from the Hungarian shaman Joska Soos. The rest I learned by opening my heart and listening not only to the sound, but also to the spiritual dimension behind the bowls. The energy flows through me. I eliminate thoughts and listen to my intuition. When and how to play, which ones, their placement, and what sound combinations are appropriate, all this becomes effortless. I once read that the best meditation is done without effort. This is equally true for the singing bowls. It is a matter of effortlessly emptying oneself, making the connection with the group or person to be treated and the spiritual dimensions beyond. I play differently each time because each time the group, the patient and the circumstances are all different. Being fully present in the moment is most important.
Singing bowls come from a culture infused with religion, mysticism and magic. The bowls were crafted according to cosmological principles and used in special ceremonies. Healing work with the singing bowls requires the same attitude and intention as any other healing methods. All spiritual healers have some notion of the Divine which has created the universe and all living beings. The Divine has the ability to correct any disharmony, and thus will heal any disease. The healer often functions as the mediator. He or she will create the right circumstances, the healing method allows the innate, Divine energy within a person to correct the disharmony associated with disease, opening the doors to healing. I use the sounds of the singing bowls to create the "right atmosphere" around and in the person or group, this allows the Divine energy to start the healing process. Healing is not always in the way we want or expect, but in a way that is most appropriate for that person at that time. If the person is open and has embraced the life lesson contained in their problem it can happen quickly, even immediately. The healing process more often takes time however, a person may have some inner work to do that cannot be rushed, no one can take another persons lessons and learning away from them. Work without expectation, giving help when asked, always asking for the higher good, whatever that may be.

copyright 2001 by Dirk Gillabel