Why Is Sound Therapy Having a Moment?

You have to hear it to understand.

Illustration by Jeannie Phan

I’d never really given much thought to the idea of sound therapy—that is, until I attended a wellness retreat at Maine’s Hidden Pond resort back in the summer. Seated at a table in a beautiful, high-ceilinged room with crystal bowls and a huge metal gong at the center, I initially felt a tinge of skepticism. How, exactly, could something called “sound healing” help me forget about organizing the kids’ back-to-school schedules or coordinating those endless house upkeep projects? But after seeing the vibrations on the water when practitioner Joanne Liljeholm tapped the sides of the bowl with her wand and hearing the relaxing sounds it made, I found myself drinking the Kool-Aid—perhaps there might be something to this after all.

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I’m not the only one buying into this age-old practice, which has its roots in Eastern medicine dating as far back as 40,000 years. As it turns out, sonic therapy—which uses the sound waves, or vibrations, of certain tools to shift your brain into a deeply relaxed state—has recently been experiencing a resurgence in contemporary health and wellness circles and is now offered everywhere from yoga studios to corporate retreats. And it’s increasingly backed by science: Recent research has highlighted the therapeutic impact of sound on the hippocampus, a brain segment associated with Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases. There’s evidence that the therapy can help address conditions such as chronic pain and anxiety, too.

But there’s also an intangible aspect to what gives sound its healing magic. “What’s captivating is how we internalize sound in multiple ways. We hear it, and it calms our mind,” says Edward Miano, of Healing Hands Bodywork of Needham and Martha’s Vineyard. As he explains it, the therapy isn’t about bestowing healing, but rather facilitating a mind-body connection. “Bringing people to a higher state of relaxation helps enable the body to heal itself,” he says.

So how can you start feeling that enhanced relaxation state, pronto? The good news is that sound therapy can be found at a variety of practitioners in Massachusetts and beyond, all of whom offer unique approaches. Miano, for example, employs metallic singing bowls—some older than 350 years—and gongs. Char Willingham in Boston offers accessible crystal-bowl meditations. Liljeholm’s Conscious Waves in Wells, Maine, incorporates all of the above and then some, tailoring each treatment to her clients’ individual needs and even incorporating advanced massage techniques and craniosacral therapy. And if you like your sound bath with a plush spa vibe, you can always book a treatment at the Encore Boston Harbor or the Mandarin Oriental, Boston.

As for me, witnessing the sound waves ripple across the water that day at Hidden Pond was eye-opening, and the deep feeling of well-being it induced made me a believer. I still had my long to-do list, but I left feeling less pressured to get it all done at once. Perspective, I think it’s called. Now that’s the sound of progress.

First published in the print edition of the October 2023 issue with the headline, “Listen Up.”