The content of this publication is for general information and cannot replace the practical consultation given by a specialist. The publication should not be used as a textbook on medicine, as well as for the purpose of diagnosing or treating any kind of disease states and their complications.
All medical problems should be referred to a qualified physician immediately. The publisher and the authors of the publication are not liable or responsible to any person or entity for any health damage caused or alleged to be caused as a result of withholding from the traditional medical treatment or employing self-treatment based on the information contained therein. The nature of this article is exploratory. Its aim is to share author’s experience and define the hypotheses and problems related to the present day application of Tibetan Singing Bowls’ (TSB), as well as to encourage the study of TSBs’ impact on the human body.
Currently, there are many questions and contradictory information concerning the practice of TSB. Opinions are divided about whether the term ‘massage’ can be applied here. Certain indiscepancies are caused by the lack of a standardised vocabulary, or at least an accurately preserved tradition of TSBs’ application. All practices with the bowls tend to be referred to as ‘an acoustic massage’, regardless of whether the master puts the bowls directly on the patient’s body or places them on the floor around. Furthermore, over the last few decades that the Europeans have become acquainted with TSBs, numerous myths and legends sprung in the absence of scientific data and throughout research. The well-meaning lay publications were mostly inaccurate and confusing, replete with the terms such as ‘aura’, ‘chakra’, ‘energy’, ‘astral’, ‘planetary sound’ and so forth.
Yet at the same time the impact of TSBs on the human body both in the physical and psycho-emotional aspects is undeniable. Many patients treated by this method independently reported a noticeable improvement in the general state of their body and their mind – although some scientific studies are still needed to provide quantifiable data.
I consider the use of TSB to be reasonable and justified, even if we assume that the alleviation or the disappearance of symptoms are entirely due to the placebo effect triggered in the human body by the sounds of TSB. Nevertheless, I deem it necessary to warn the potential ‘masters’ against using TSB without the appropriate preparation, training, and the sufficient education in the matter. It is also important to take into account the potential contraindications for this method. (V.O.Oguy 2015).
There is a lack of agreement about whether the practice of TSB can safely be placed within the ‘massage’ category in the way it is widely understood. In my opinion, it would be more apt to describe them as psychotherapeutic treatments in the case of a direct contact with the body, and psychological treatments in the case where such a contact is absent. Another thing to be aware of is that different authors offer diverse views on how the concept of ‘sound massage’ should be understood. Some see it as a vibrational influence of the sound produced by the bowl during the concerts of meditative music, while others only acknowledge the vibrations that are produced from the bowl and applied directly to the body.
Despite these seeming inconveniences, though, I shall remain faithful to the tradition within which I have been trained and refer to the practice as ‘a massage’, as did my teacher in the Himalayas. I am fully aware that this term is a subject to controversy and acknowledge my opponents’ scepticism, but I choose to use it for the sake of integrity and consistence.
It makes sense to compare TSB massage technique with the method of myotonic massage where neurological tuning forks are used. It has a similar physical and mechanical impact on the body. This method was presented by Tiina Orasmae at the exhibition the Intersharm on the 6th of May in 2002 and there was also an article about it published in the journal Nouvelle Esthétique which confirmed that: “This technique’s physiological effect has been proven. We apply frequencies calculated in a certain way. Currently I work mainly with one frequency, which constitutes 128 Hz – it is a normal oscillation frequency for the mimic/facial muscles. Furthermore, we observed an improved blood flow and lymph efflux. This has been proven in the course of physiological experiments conducted on animals. This is simply an unusual technique of vibrational massage, where instead of using a big size vibrational tool, a tuning fork is being used”. This subject has also been studied in the research paper by John Beaulieu, who described lymphatic and cranial sessions with the help of tuning fork (J.Beaulieu, 2010).
Going through the international information sources on sound music practices with gongs and TSB, we see that the formed points of view are also relatively heterogeneous.
For example, Mitchell L. Gaynor, oncologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill
Medical College of Cornell University in New York and author of the book “The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice and Music” denotes
differences between treatment and healing: “The term ‘treatment’ means
that something could be corrected physically, while ‘healing’ refers to wholeness, unity of mind, body and spirit. Dr. Mithell L. Gaynor, who runs oncology practice in Manhattan, thinks that sound healing relates to integrative medicine: not alternative to science, but complementing” (S.Rosenbloom, 2005).
About Tibetan Singing Bowls
Presumably, TSB have been used in one or another way of human activity since the ancient times. Initially they were vessels for water and food, for making offerings to deities and spirits, and for performing religious ceremonies. Today there are 5 main types of singing bowls – SB (Figure 1.).
1. SB produced by casting method. This variation is called Indian style. The sounds is produced by rubbing SB’s rim.
2. Quartz or crystal SB. The sound is also produced by rubbing its rim.
3. TSB are produced by forging method, hand-hammered. The sound is produced by striking movement.
4. The Chinese SB, the sound is produced by rubbing its handles.
5. This SB is used in Japanese Buddhist temples during the rituals and ceremonies.
It should be noted that Tibetan massage with SB is a procedure that has vibroacoustic effects on tissues, organs and the human body in general (including psycho-emotional state), and it is performed through the contact or non-contact method using TSB. TSB have certain physical characteristics that allow them to have an impact on the physical body, central and peripheral nervous systems, tissues and organs and organ systems. There may be other certain characteristics that TSB supposedly have, but there is currently no scientific machine that could make objective observations and analysis of them.
In Tsering Ngodrub tradition there are two main techniques of Tibetan massage with SB: Contact Striking Method and Sound Bath. In addition, practices with TSB are performed individually, in a group or pairs. What’s more, they are performed even on animals. Methodology of Contact Striking Method is characterised by the fact that TSB should be in a direct contact with the human body.
During Sound Bath TSB does not touch the body, although it is located in a close proximity to the body.
Aspects of TSB
1. Physical aspect
TSB have certain physical properties. For example, when producing the sound by striking the bowl with a mallet, bowl’s walls start vibrating and by doing so having a mechanical effect on the surroundings: in contact with the body the bowl has a physical effect on the tissues and body fluids. This aspect is very close to the term ‘massage’ in its classic interpretation.
A. F. Verbov, a well-recognised and respected professional in the field of medical massage, defines the term ‘massage’ in this way: “A massage is an active therapeutic method, the essence of which is to cause a certain amount of physical stimulation to the naked surface of patient’s body by applying different techniques performed by masseur’s hands or with the help of special massage tools " (A. F. Verbov, 1966).
As M.A. Eremushkin notes: “In the history of massage development there have been many different types of massage developed, categories, subcategories, methods and techniques. This caused, especially in a more recent time, the confusion between massages’ denominations among the experts, which led to disagreements on the key principles of the massage theory and practice” (M. A. Eremushkin, 1996).
Strictly speaking, to use the term ‘massage’ with respect to the TSB’s influence on the human body, according to the authors’ opinion, is applicable only in case of TSB being in a direct contact with the patient’s body.
M.A. Eremushkin says: “Massage belongs to the category of medical factors of mechanical nature. One of the main constituent elements of this treatment method are mechanical vibrations. The arsenal of massage manipulations includes a large number of techniques that create vibrational manipulation (joggling, shaking, tapotement, hachment etc.). In the course of these techniques performance we can clearly observe rhythmed vibrations covering the massaged area” (M. A. Eremushkin, 2011).
According to A. F. Verbov: “Vibration is a massage technique, in which the masseur’s hand (or machine) sends to the massaged area oscillatory motion of different frequency, intensity, amplitude and speed.”
Vibration Effects, according to A. F. Verbov
• have a strong neuro-reflexology influence, causing the enhancement and sometimes restoration of extinct reflexes;
• can have a pronounced analgesic and even anesthetic effect;
• improves contractile muscle function;
• improves tissues trophism, activating regenerative processes; significantly reduces the time of callus formation;
• depending on the frequency, strength, and vibration amplitude, vibration has great influence on cardiovascular system, causing rapid expansion or constriction of vessels.
Nowadays there is being conducted a study on the frequency of massage manipulations: the research studies frequency characteristics produced during the massage that uses mechanical vibrations and waves technique (M.A.Eremushkin, 2011).
Based on the obtained data, one conclusion was made: acoustic features of the massage manipulation, with a certain degree of assumptions, could be compared with mechanical vibrations (Table. 1).
Tiina Orasmae in her report on the method of melomassage in cosmetology focuses mainly on the
vibratory nature of the massage technique she developed:
“This is a vibrational massage, which is performed with the aid of music and neurological tuning forks (camertones) used as a source of constant vibration. It has been proven long time ago that the vibration is one of the most effective methods of classical generally recognised massage. Earlier this method was hardly used in cosmetic medicine. The reason for this is that all vibrational devices require a big surface for application. In cosmetology, that deals normally with limited surfaces, this option is unacceptable. For the use of tuning forks only small area of application is needed, and this helps to achieve high precision in the procedure execution and apply it in cosmetic medicine methods.”
Thus, it can be assumed that TSB’s influence as a purely mechanical aspect (vibration) has all of the effects mentioned above.
2. Musical aspect
The musical aspect represents the most traditional view on the use of TSB.
Searching the Internet for information on TSB provides us with lots of videos on TSB, mainly on its musical effect. While the information on its magical aspect is most frequently found in text formats.
There are plenty of videos of TSB music concerts available online.
Just few years ago we could dominantly find online concerts with the use of metal Singing Bowl (SB) (a bit later appeared quartz or crystal bowls). In contrast, nowadays most concerts imply the use of trump harp (jaw harp), drums, quartz bowls and semantron. Semantrons (Flat Bells or ‘bilas’) should be considered separately, because the information on them, as in the case of bowls too, is quite ambiguous. This is because people promoting this particular instrument are trying in one way or another to create a historical background for it, however speculating with made up stories, rather than using historical documents etc. (Fig. 3).
Ukrainian researchers G. L. Apanasenko and N. A. Saveleva – Kulik consider music therapy to be one of the methods of complementary and alternative medicine. In their study they overview the following aspects of this therapy method: formation and global development, sanogenetic mechanisms, indicators, methodology and effectiveness.
In the final chapter of their research paper they draw a conclusion on music therapy prospects within the medical recovery approaches, describing its effects: “At the present the effectiveness of music therapy has been proven by representatives of the various scientific schools.
Numerous studies on opportunities of music therapy discovered the harmonising role of music therapy, and that it activates anti-stress therapy programme in case of an adaptation disorder, caused by emotional stress of psychosomatic nature” (J. Burns et al.,2002; P. Gomez, B. Danuser, 2007; O.Grewe et al., 2007).
In the aspect of music therapy, we consider the use of TSB in spa: “The ancient method of vibration massage ‘Tibetan singing bowls’ is sometimes regarded as a method of music therapy. This method combines the influence of sound waves and mechanical vibrations on the human body.
Music therapy sessions can be accompanied by chromotherapy sessions, which influence the human body by colour waves of different range. These therapy methods are used in spa and they have primarily relaxing effect. These treatments are offered to customers as an individual treatment (in a special room with individually selected music and lights) and they can also be added to the multi-treatments spa packages"(E.L.Bogacheva, 2015).
Regarding SB in the aspect of music therapy we should highlight the fact that using SB in a non-contact method will have a subjective impact. As a rule, this kind of treatment or manipulation is called Sound Bath, a kind of meditation music concert.
3. Psychosomatic aspect
TSB affect psychosomatic problems. Psychosomatics is a field in medicine and psychology, exploring the influence of psychological factors on the appearance and progression of somatic (physical body) diseases. Till today we don’t know how to control these processes, since there is not enough evidence of the interaction/relationship between mental disorders and physical tension/ blockage in different areas of the body. At the same time, it seems reasonable to base our further research on the current achievements of the body-oriented therapy.
In particular, we are interested in the theory of fascia-muscle tension developed by Reich (W.Reich, 1973). Reich found that chronic muscle tension blocks three main impulses: anxiety, anger and sexual desire. He came to the conclusion that the physical (muscle) and psychological body armour is the same thing. Learning how to loose exaggerated and unwanted tension in the body, that blocks feelings, is just one of the aspects of psychological growth of the person. The Contact Method of TSB massage may be quite successful in this particular aspect. In addition, it is possible to trace certain similarity between seven main segments of muscle tension (according to Reich) and seven body diaphragms in craniosacral therapy and osteopathy. According to Reich: seven main segments consisting of muscles and organs have interconnected expressive functions. These segments form seven horizontal circles, which are positioned at right angle (90 degrees) to the spine and body. Their centres are located in their area of eyes, mouth, neck, chest, diaphragm, abdomen and pelvis. Osteopaths, as a rule, distinguish seven body diaphragms:
1. Diaphragm of sella turcica
2. Aperture tentorium cerebellum
3. Submandibular diaphragm
4. Subclavian diaphragm
5. Phrenic diaphragm
6. The pelvic diaphragm
7. Urogenital diaphragm.
According to the theory of Peter Levine, famous American scientist and psychotherapist, who has been researching the field of trauma and post-trauma stress disorders for more than 30 years, our lives are full of traumas, injuries. Their sources include such stressful events as natural disasters and catastrophes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, wars, acts of terrorism, violence, car accidents and other various losses and damages. Mental trauma is formed due to the incompleteness of the instinctive reaction of the body to the traumatic event, flight and escapism, fight or numbness (P. A. Levin, E. Frederik, 2007).
In the book, the author conclusively proves that a trauma cannot be fully healed without healing the body. For thousands of years healers and shamans from the East have not only been in agreement with psychosomatic medicine that the mind affects the body, but they also recognised the fact that each system of body organs is equally represented physically in structure of consciousness.
Most types of trauma therapies use the conversation approach to influence the mental state of the patient, while drugs are used to cause certain reactions in brain molecules. Both of these approaches bring certain benefits. However, the injury is not being healed, will not and can never be healed as long as we don’t take the body into account, recognising its crucial role in the therapeutic process.
We need to understand in which way a trauma affects the body, and to recognise the dominant role of the body in the process of healing trauma consequences. Without this understanding all our attempts to deal with trauma will be very limited and one-sided.
The third theory can be attributed to the Rosen Method. Rosen Method is a way of accessing feelings and internal emotions through the body. The body does not lie. According to this theory, the body suppresses feelings and emotions (with which we cannot cope during their occurrence) by tensing its muscles. In this way, we often forget what has happened. However, these feelings and emotions remain with us, they are stored in the body, and we make big efforts to keep them there in the unconsciousness. At the same time one should be careful: as soon as people open up, they may need a psychologist to help deal with emotional reactions and information (M.Rozen, S.Brenner 2013).
TSB have a strong anti-stress and relaxing effect (read the dissertation work by A. Kozyreva), which also relates to the aspect of psychology, and hence TSB can be used in the consultations by practicing psychologists. Based on the personal experience performing Tibetan vibroacoustic massage with SB, author of this article confirms that TSB massage often results in emotional experiences of the patient. That is why the author warns against methodless and irrational use of TSB.
Also it is worth mentioning that it is possible to integrate TSB practices with meditative practices. TSB help people to reach the state of relaxation. “15 years of research succeeded in proving that long-term meditation practices not only significantly change the structure and functioning of the brain, but also significantly affect the biological processes, which are of crucial importance for physical health " (R. Devidson, A. Lutts, M. Rikar, 2015). Concept of human brain biorhythms and concept of binaural beats’ influence should be also included in this field.
Biorhythms of brain
Brain Biorhythms are certain characteristics of the human brain activity, and they could be attributed to certain physiological states. It is likely that TSB can affect the person, stimulating his brain activity in a particular biorhythm. This assumption is based on the theory of binaural beats’ effect on humans.
Binaural beats (from the Latin ‘bini’ – couple or two, and auris – ear) are a valuable function of the brain activity, they are auditory illusion or imaginary music sounds perceived by brain (brain ‘hears’ them), although the actual sounds of this frequency don’t exist. Dr. Gerald Oster described in his article (1973) the process of binaural beats occurrence in the brain, which were earlier discovered by German researcher G. V. Dav in 1839.
The method of the human body rehabilitation with the use of binaural beats generated by so-called Flat Bells, or riveting hammer, was researched and patented by Oleg Tkach in Russia. This method is called ‘Prayerful awakening’ and it received the patent of the Russian Federation №139177.
The essence of this method is that sound vibrations affect human. This therapy is carried out on both sides of a person, left and right, affecting each of his ears with 9 paired frequencies. Each pair of frequencies has a difference of 3 Hz (between the frequencies of this pair) in order to generate binaural beats. There are nine frequencies, matched to be in harmonious consent with each other, that are played on the left side of a person – 174, 285, 396, 417, 528, 639, 741, 852 and 963 Hz; while on the other side, the right side of a person, other nine frequencies, that have 3 Hz difference from the previous group, are played – 177, 288, 399, 420, 531, 642, 744, 855 and 966 Hz. This process allows to bring the human brain in a state coinciding with his brain activity in one or the other rhythms of this range.
The frequencies of the human brain (according to G. Haffelderu, 1998):
— Delta-rhythm (0.1–3.5 Hz) – the brain: a deep dreamless sleep, state of trance, hypnosis. Midbrain: personal, the instinct, ‘sixth sense’.
— Theta rhythm (3.5–7 Hz): calm state, sleep, inspiration and dreams, visualisation, fantasies.
— Alpha rhythm (7–14 Hz): relaxed concentration, quiet and serene thinking. Alpha is a ‘bridge’ between the consciousness and the sub-consciousness.
— Beta-rhythm (14–28 Hz): logical thinking, active attention, but also aggression, stress and frustration.