I Tried It: Sound Therapy

Making some noise at a cushy Boston spa.

Photo by Toan Trinh

I am surrounded by loud noise. Most evenings, my ears are treated to a cacophony of Patriots games spliced with YouTube nursery rhymes overlaid by a babbling (and sometimes crying) almost-toddler. Honking horns are the soundtrack to my a.m. and p.m. drives. So when I found out the Spa at Mandarin Oriental Boston offers a type of sound therapy that involves hitting metal bowls in a tiny treatment room, I was skeptical: How could more noise help me relax?

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As it turns out, Himalayan singing-bowl therapy, as it’s called—an ancient healing art traditionally used in meditation—is designed to do just that. Thought to restore balance and release blockages in both mind and body, “it’s like a massage for your cells,” my therapist helpfully explains.

But first, a breathing exercise with frankincense essential oil: seven breaths in, hold for four seconds, eight breaths out. Repeat three times. I struggle to inhale deeply enough—it’s been a while since I’ve been mindful of much of anything. My therapist asks me to try again, then preps me for what’s to come. “Some people laugh, some people cry, some people sleep,” she explains. “Whatever you feel—just let it go.”

From there, I’m guided to the massage table, where the therapist places the sturdy bowls, handmade in the Himalayas, directly on and around my sheet-draped body. And then. Gooooong. She begins tapping them with a mallet, à la a drummer in slow motion. Like church bells echoing all around, the rich noise and vibrations in varying frequencies feel at first jarring and then soothing. My mind begins to wander to my latest to-do list—what calls do I still need to return tonight? Gooooong. My inner monologue is drowned out, overcome, by the music washing over me.

When the sound bath comes to an end, the silence is, well, excruciating. I spend a restorative half hour in the spa’s “vitality pool” and amethyst-crystal steam room before venturing out into the autumn chill. Every noise is now somehow clearer than before—the wind whipping through the trees, the distant chatter of bundled-up commuters making their way to the T. But I think what changed is the way I think of those sounds—with more awareness that each one serves a purpose. Though I’d still take singing bowls over honking horns any day.

Read more about how you can find a little more serenity in these troubled times.