Sound baths wash away stress, swell in popularity

WASHINGTON — Soaking in a warm bath at the end of a long day is one way to unwind and de-stress. But a growing number of Zen-seeking locals are swapping bubbles for bowls to experience a different kind of bath — a sound bath.

Despite its name, sound baths do not require one to disrobe and dunk. Rather, the practice is more in line with traditional meditation — think dim lights, quiet thoughts, closed eyes. The difference? Participants are immersed in sounds that emanate from a padded mallet or brush meeting a metal bowl.

Sound bath in studio 1E — a sample of a recent session at WTOP

Several years ago, Robert Lee became fed up with the constant hustle and grind of the corporate finance world in which he worked.

“As the years went by, I knew I couldn’t be doing what I was doing anymore,” said Lee, of Fairfax County, Virginia.

Similar to 18 million-plus adults in the U.S., Lee turned to meditation as a way to deal with the stress of his career. He tried a variety of classes and attended a number of studios, but it wasn’t until he met Monte Hansen and experienced a sound bath that he found peace — and his calling.

“It was just this profound, transcendental experience. I felt completely connected to everything. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just this feeling of knowing that everything is good, and we’re all one on some level,” Lee said.

“And so then, I was just like … ‘Teach me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.’”

Now, Lee and Hansen run the school Human Activation and host sound baths at yoga studios, churches and community centers throughout Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland. Over the years, their audience has grown from about 20 people in Lee’s basement to anywhere from 50 to 100 participants per session. This fall, they’re opening their own space in Annapolis, Maryland.

Other cities are seeing a surge in sound baths, too, and Lee attributes the ancient practice’s newfound success to society’s fast-paced way of life.

“The times we live in are stressful, and I feel like people are looking for a way to relieve some of that stress — not necessarily to escape, but to have a take-away tool,” he said.

“I think it’s that palpable feeling of stillness and calm and peace that they come and experience and then take with them.”

A typical sound bath session lasts about an hour. During that time, Lee and Hansen make tones by manipulating the rims, dents and curves of ancient Himalayan bowls, often called “singing bowls.” Their collection includes hundreds of these bowls, most of which date back more than 150 years.

Hansen said the sounds and frequencies that come from the bowls, create a “spiritual space in an urban place.” Generally, participants are able to get into a relaxing rhythm in about a minute.

Research in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that adding sound from a Himalayan singing bowl has more of an impact on heart rate and blood pressure than directed meditation, alone. And a study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine found that sound meditation participants reported significantly less tension, anger, fatigue, and depressed mood.

Hansen compares a sound bath to rebooting a computer.

“You’ll find yourself being sharper and being able to multitask and accomplish more, just from that simple little shutdown,” he said.

“And then when you come back online, you’re running more efficiently.”

Catch Lee and Hansen’s upcoming sound bath sessions July 20 at YogaShak in Ashburn, Virginia; July 27 at Dream Yoga in McLean, Virginia; and July 29 at Imagine a Holistic Approach in Middleburg, Virginia.

Editor’s Note: This story has been modified to correct the location of the next center. 

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