Tuning Up Mind and Body: How Yoga and Sound Therapy Work in Harmony
Sound therapy has been used to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety and a number of other ailments. It’s also a way to help your students meditate and relax during class. Let’s discover how sound therapy can enhance your class — and your life — in some amazing ways.
Many yoga teachers use some form of music and sound in their classroom. Whether you’re providing additional rhythms to help with breathing or using music during Savasana to help students relax, sound and yoga are deeply related.
Sara Auster, a sound therapy practitioner and meditation teacher, understands how music and sound fit into the yoga continuum. She experienced it firsthand while recovering from a traumatic accident, and is now helping yoga practitioners and teachers learn more about the therapeutic benefits of sound.
Before we dive into Sara’s story, let’s take a closer look at sound therapy.
What is Sound Therapy?
Sound therapy, which may also be referred to as sound healing, uses overtone emitting instruments, often tuned to particular frequencies. These instruments can include tuning forks, gongs, Himalayan and crystal singing bowls and the human voice. The particular combinations and patterns of frequencies affect our brain waves, thereby altering our consciousness, and can be used to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia and other ailments.
Has Research Been Conducted on the Efficacy of Sound Therapy?
There have been a variety of ongoing studies in a number of different fields.
The National Institutes of Health has been studying vibroacoustic pain and symptom reduction since 1995, treating over 50,000 patients per year. This study by Dr. George Patrick found over 50% reduction of pain and symptoms in one study. (Source: NaturalResonanceCenter.com)
In 2008, the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published a review of 20 studies of brainwave entrainment and patient outcomes. The outcome showed it was an effective tool to use on cognitive functioning deficits, stress, pain, headaches and premenstrual syndrome. (Source: SpirtualityHealth.com)
Here, Sara Auster shares with us her firsthand experience.
A Back-Breaking Fall Through the Floor
Sound therapy didn’t just drop from the sky for Sara Auster. It would be more accurate to say that it found her because Sara dropped through a floor.
Fourteen years ago, Sara was working as an artist and a musician in New York City. She was in the midst of a project in a building on 42nd street, when the unthinkable happened: The floor beneath her feet collapsed. She fell 15 feet from the second floor to the first.
The fall broke Sara’s back, and she was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. Miraculously, her body healed itself, and she was able to walk out of the hospital with a back brace and a walker.
However, there was one small problem. “Everything hurt,” Sara said. “So I began a quest to find relief.”
Helpless and Hopeless, the Skeptic Looks for Solutions
Sara began a relentless quest to relieve herself of pain. Self-described as being skeptical of “alternative” approaches, she nevertheless experimented with chiropractic, acupuncture — virtually any treatment she could find.
“When you find yourself helpless and hopeless, you try everything,” she said.
Sara’s training and treatment included many different modalities, including thousands of hours of massage therapy, yoga therapy, Reiki, cranial-sacral therapy, and more. The pain-relieving benefits were significant, and when she discovered something that worked well, she received training on it.
As her expertise grew in these areas, Sara felt like something was missing. Her pain was subsiding, but her spirit was still hurting.
Connecting a Musical Background With Sound Therapy
“I was living a separate life,” Sara explains. The artist/musician in her wasn’t taking care of herself like the yoga teacher was. A piece was missing — a connection.
When she discovered sound therapy, Sara found what she’d been looking for. She loved playing music and performing, and how this creative expression can bring people together. Teaching yoga also generated a similar feeling, so she slowly began to combine the two.
She started by playing live music at the end of class, and people responded. Her class began requesting the music, and soon she delved into sound therapy.
“It’s a perfect way to integrate all my interests and passions,” she said. “I understand the power music has — the ability to have a profound effect on people.”
Sound Healing Occurs During Deep Relaxation
Sara prefers not to call herself a “sound healer.” The term “healer” implies that one person is doing something to another person, she says. “I believe that the body has the ability to heal itself. By creating a safe and comfortable environment and holding space for people, I am setting up the conditions for natural healing to occur. When we downshift to our parasympathetic nervous system, we can access deep relaxation, and that’s when we heal,” she explains.
According to this article in Spirituality & Health, much of the sound therapy is based on the research of biophysicist Gerald Oster:
Oster showed that when a tone is played in one ear and a slightly different tone is played in the other ear, the difference causes the brain to create a third, internal tone, call a binaural beat. The theory is that this syncs the brain waves in both hemispheres, a process dubbed ‘brain-wave entrainment.’
“Entrainment” is how we’re affected by the sounds of external environment. For example, if you take your pulse in New York City, with all the jackhammers, sirens and city noise, it would be faster than if you were lying on a beach listening to the waves.
Sound impacts your physiology and psychology, so Sara’s goal is to create environments designed to support rest and deep relaxation.
A Stress-Free Way to Meditate
That relaxed state is the goal for many who practice mediation. Sara believes the use of sound aids meditation because it “takes the pressure off.”
With any practice of meditation, there is typically something you’re invited to focus on, be it your breathing or a mantra. With sound therapy, all Sara is asking is for people to listen. “It takes away all the judgments, like ‘am I doing it right?’” she said.
Sara uses the analogy of climbing a mountain to explain. Instead of climbing up a mountain to get to the peak, sound acts as a vehicle that lifts you up and carries you to the top.
So what types of instruments does she use to help her students climb that meditative mountain?
Sara uses instruments that are tuned to specific frequencies, and she plays them live in class. Instruments include:
These bowls are actually a type of bell. They are referred to as Himalayan singing bowls or crystal singing bowls.
A tuning fork is an acoustic resonator. It’s a two-pronged fork with prongs made from a U-shape.
Sara plays these instruments in a variety of locations, and she integrates the sounds with the surroundings. “Many of the spaces where I facilitate sound experiences in New York City have other external sounds, so I respond to the environment,” she said.
Here’s a sample of Sara playing:
Integrating Sound Therapy Into Your Yoga Practice
So how would Sara recommend a yoga teacher integrate sound therapy into their practice and teaching? “Nada Brahma – the world is sound. Just realize that sound is a big part of yoga,” she said. From there you will begin to understand where and when to weave sound into your classes.”
Sara recommends adding sound and music in the appropriate places through your yoga session. For example, you can use sound to help your students achieve a deeply relaxed state during Savasana.
If you’re interested in using Sara’s music during your yoga sessions, you can find her compilations for purchase here: http://saraauster.com/store/soundmovements.
All photos courtesy of SaraAuster.com.
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