BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

How Singing Bowls May Enhance Your Wellness Routine, According to Therapy Experts

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Despite all of the well-documented benefits of meditation, starting a new routine may be tough for some — especially in a home space, tucked away from studios and instructors. Not every meditation space looks the same; if you’ve been struggling to find a sense of calm, you may benefit from picking up a set of singing bowls, according to those who practice modern sound therapy.

Singing bowls have a storied history ranging from use in East Asian cultures and have been used for much more than wellness in traditional settings. Because of age and iterations throughout history, the exact roots of singing bowls used today aren’t crystal clear. Many people, including sound therapy practitioners, identify singing bowls as “Himalayan” due to potential Buddhist prayer and meditation roots. Others refer to them as “Tibetan” alone, but Nate Martinez, a certified sound therapy practitioner behind Brooklyn-based NTM Sound, explains that these bowls are were not limited to historic production and use in Tibet alone. Modern singing bowls may also be conflated with Japenese rin, another instrument that’s popular in meditation spaces today.

In any case, published academic research suggests that singing bowls used in meditation spaces today are very different from any bowls used in the region hundreds of years ago.

“[Singing bowls] are typically made up of a blend of various metals found throughout the Himalayan region. Initially, they served, and still do, as practical functioning bowls for food, seeds and water,” Martinez tells Good Housekeeping. “But they’ve also been used for as long as an instrument to create sounds, as well as a tool for meditation, ceremonies and in certain instances, healing.”

Research has linked these tools to a range of benefits for our mental wellbeing, playing a big part in why they’ve become more popular in mindfulness instruction across the world. Below, we’re recapping everything you’d need to get started on your own meditative routine using singing bowls.

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What is a singing bowl, and how do they work?

Therapy and meditation practitioners today use this vibrating bell to produce a rich, deep tone. “They’re generally made out of metal alloys,” explains California-based sound healer Guy Douglas. “They are made of about eight to 14 different metal alloys, but the main metal in them usually is bronze.” Those interested in using the bowls in routine meditation can find bowls made from several different metals today, including quartz and even gold.

Singing bowls are designed to be struck with mallets (often referred to as puja) that accompany them, emitting a deep, vibrating tone or a form of music.

“What they are designed to do is cancel out the mind chatter, and allow you to really just experience these very soft, tonal wavelengths of vibration that allow you to ease the mind,” Douglas says. “I find that sound is very effective to bring you to that state of meditation: The vibrations move through you and create the sound of peace.”

It’s been suggested that singing bowls are akin to other forms of sound therapy, and the sounds and vibrations of the bowls help to bring people into a more meditative state.

What are the health benefits of using a singing bowl?

“The benefits of listening to and experiencing singing bowls have less to do with the bowls themselves, and more to do with the conscious act of deep listening,” explains Martinez. “When we are able to expand our listening by exploring our environment with all the various sounds, this becomes a conduit to a meditative state without having to fully know how to meditate. The benefits range from feeling calmer, releasing stress, gaining perspective — it can positively influence our nervous system.”

For those who don’t regularly meditate and have yet to find the best tools to help quiet their mind, singing bowls can serve as a great introduction to give yourself something concrete to focus on while meditating. Limited research published as recently as 2016 has suggested that the use of singing bowls can help reduce anxiety and depression, as well as calm the nervous system. A smaller 2017 study consisting of 62 men and women averaging 50 years of age suggests that physical tension can be particularly relieved in singing bowl-enhanced meditations, particularly for first timers.

While more research is needed to better determine holistic benefits associated with the use of singing bowls, these instruments have mostly been determined to be safe by practicing professionals.

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Suze Yalof Schwartz, CEO and founder of Unplug Meditation, suggests that those dealing with frequent neurological disorders, seizures or epilepsy ask care providers about long-term use, as sounds may exacerbate these issues. This is often because the combinations of vibrations and music could be triggering, activating the nervous system in a negative way. Those who suffer from headaches or who are pregnant should also ask their providers before useing a singing bowl.

In any case, it’s a good idea to examine and get familiar with your bowl before meditation, as loud sounds can aggravate your mind, working against the relaxation you’re seeking. “If someone is playing the bowl too loud or creating buzzing or knocking sounds, it could trigger an increase in stress, and ultimately be counterproductive,” says Martinez.

How do you use a singing bowl?

Using a sound bowl is actually much easier than you think, and Martinez stresses that beginners must practice with the bowl before bringing it into a meditation space. “Singing bowls can be sung (hitting the rim of the bowl on the inside) or struck on the exterior with a mallet,” says Martinez. “What’s most important is learning how to use it and spending time to understand the various techniques—not too fast, not too slow. Oftentimes, people will begin to sing a bowl and not understand that you have to be responsive to the sound, since it’s an analog wave moving around the bowl. When they move too fast or too slow, they can begin to create an unpleasant knocking and buzzing sound.”

He recommends playing around with the bowls by hitting various points around the rim and inside, at various speeds and intensities, in order to find the most relaxing option for you.

If you’re new to using a singing bowl, here’s an expert-approved step-by-step checklist to get you started.

  1. Hold the bowl in the palm of your non-dominant, or have it positioned on the floor. Some choose to place it on a cushion to keep vibrations from affecting other surfaces.
  2. Hold the mallet in your other hand, between your index finger and thumb; almost like you’re holding a pen.
  3. Strike the bowl either on the outer area or on the inside rim, holding it at various angles to see how it plays. (Pro tip: Start with a 45° angle, as this is the easiest to play.)
  4. Apply gentle pressure first — you don’t want to go too hard. Imagine hitting it with about 20% of your strength to start, the equivalent of a light tap.
  5. Later, you can try harder strikes, but you don’t necessarily want to hit the bowl with full force.
  6. Slowly, you’ll realize which areas and pressures cause the sounds that are most pleasing to you, and gravitate toward them over time.

    What to look for when purchasing a singing bowl:

    While there’s a variety of singing bowls available on the market, this is a time that shopping in-person really pays off, Martinez explains. “What’s most important is being able to listen to the sound— this should be the ultimate deciding factor. If a tone resonates with you, then it’s worthwhile to spend some time with it,” he says.

    If you’re in the market for a new singing bowl, keep Douglas’ tips in mind to find the best option for you:

    • Consider buying a bowl made and sold from an Asian purveyor. Retailers and resellers often indicate the country of origin for their singing bowls; one of Douglas’ favorite tools is made in Nepal and sold online. “It has a wonderfully soothing sound for most,” he adds.
    • Choose a bowl that comes with more than one mallet. This antique-style bronze singing bowl is packaged with two mallets, one with leather as well as wood — it allows you to create two different styles of notes when in use. You may discover you prefer one kind of mallet over the other.
    • Find an option that produces more than one note. Douglas indicates that the best singing bowls often produce a different tone at its rim compared to elsewhere.
    • As you become more familiar with singing bowls, try adding a quartz bowl into the mix, or another option that emits a different tone. The variations may help you lengthen your mediation, or you may use the bowls interchangeably throughout your routine.

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