Forget the bubbles, all you need for this bath is your ears

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Forget the bubbles, all you need for this bath is your ears

A person plays a singing bowl, an instrument used during a sound bath session that facilitates meditation. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

A person plays a singing bowl, an instrument used during a sound bath session that facilitates meditation. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

 
“Ding... Ding... Dong... Dang...”  
 
Different frequencies of sound continued to resonate through the Seoul Marina Club & Yacht located inside Yeouido Hangang Park in western Seoul on a recent Saturday afternoon. To every sound of a resonating bell, a group of 10 people who were either lying down or in a seated pose on a yoga mat with their eyes closed inhaled and exhaled deeply.  
 
It may look like a hippie-esque ritual, but it was actually a one-day class of an increasingly popular meditation practice known as sound bath. This immersive experience that uses waves of soothing, echoing sound from traditional percussion instruments like singing bowls has become popular across the globe and in Korea amid the pandemic, as more and more people feel the effects of anxiety and stress.  
 
“My friend invited me to try the class as the amount of stress I've been experiencing since Covid-19 became unbearable,” said Kim Ji-yeon, a 34-year-old living in Seoul. “I tend to bottle up my stress but since the beginning of this year, with this pandemic situation that looks never-ending and me not being able to travel overseas to see my family who live abroad, I just felt I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had difficulty sleeping and breathing so I wanted to visit a therapist then my friend suggested that I take this class first.”
 
Crystal singing bowls used by instructor Choi Seo-hong during a sound bath session on a recent Saturday afternoon at Seoul Marina Club & Yacht located inside Yeouido Hangang Park in western Seoul. [YIM SEUNG-HYE]

Crystal singing bowls used by instructor Choi Seo-hong during a sound bath session on a recent Saturday afternoon at Seoul Marina Club & Yacht located inside Yeouido Hangang Park in western Seoul. [YIM SEUNG-HYE]

 
Kim says the idea of a sound bath seemed a little weird at first.
 
“I’ve heard of relaxing through a nice hot bubble bath but a sound bath? I didn’t know how it worked,” she said. But after an hour session of “good sound bathing,” she says she felt a lot “lighter, as if somebody had added an additional lung in my body or something. I could breathe a lot easier and I felt mentally and physically rested after the session.”  
 
The use of sound for healing is nothing new. Like the ancient Greeks who used sound vibration to help digestion, induce sleep and treat mental problems, music has been used for its therapeutic effects for thousands of years. 
 
Sound bath instructor Choi Seo-hong holds a sound bath session during this year's "Royal Culture Festival" held in May at Changdeok Palace in central Seoul. [NEWS1]

Sound bath instructor Choi Seo-hong holds a sound bath session during this year's "Royal Culture Festival" held in May at Changdeok Palace in central Seoul. [NEWS1]

 
Choi Seo-hong, one of the first sound bath instructors in Korea, says sound bathing was developed from the two-thousand-year-old Tibetan tradition of using instruments known as singing bowls — a collection of metal and crystal vessels that emit different frequencies — to clean the soul.
 
“This practice experienced a great boom in the United States about three to four years ago and recently in Korea as there’s increased interest in health, wellness, meditation and mindfulness,” said Choi.  
 
According to Choi, listening to the transcendental tones of the Tibetan singing bowls encourages meditation and relaxation. To hear more about the history and practice of sound baths and how it can help people achieve a Zen-like state, the Korea JoongAng Daily interviewed Choi. The following are edited excerpts.  
 
Q. Can you first introduce sound bath?  
 
A. We use the word "bath" because you get submerged in sound when you engage in this practice. It’s a healing method using not only Tibetan singing bowls but other instruments as well, to go into the state of full relaxation. You don’t just hear the sounds through your ears, but using your full body in order to bring balance, relaxation and a sense of calm to your whole being. It’s different from listening to relaxing music like slow jazz or classical music. Relaxing music leads the mind to a certain state according to the feeling of the music, but with sound bath, it’s more important to feel the vibrations that resonate from inside your body.  
 
Q. What’s the difference between sound bath and other types of meditation or breathwork practices?
 
A. Sound baths don’t involve much guidance. We ask the participants to just be present and listen. What practitioners do is strike the singing bowls at the right time to stimulate the alpha and theta brain waves. By using different rhythms and frequencies, we can train the brainwaves to move from the normal beta state to relaxed consciousness, which is the alpha and even reach theta, which is the meditative state. That’s the role of the practitioners using the singing bowls. What participants need to do is just lay down in savasana, a yoga pose where you lie down flat on your back or sit down comfortably. They can get cozy using a blanket and even an eye mask. All you need to do is allow your body to slow down, take a rest and receive the sounds without the need to respond or react.  
 
Q. Why do you think sound baths are gaining popularity at the moment?
 
A. I’ve felt the interest increasing here from about three years ago. I think more and more people want to work on their issues naturally rather than depend on drugs like antidepressants or sleeping pills. I think it’s especially appealing to Koreans as we are living in such a rat-race society and so many people are looking for ways to find mental stability. I think people began to realize that traveling and resting only provide short-term relaxation, making them turn to an essential way of healing your mind. Many people know the importance of meditation, but it’s quite difficult to do it alone. Many thoughts interrupt you while meditating. That’s why people get into sound bathing.  
 
Q. Who usually participates in your classes?
 
A. From university students to people in their 70s. In the end, mindfulness and peace are needed by everyone. Most participants are those in their 20s to 40s who currently work. Many of them say they don’t know how to relax and want to learn how to relax their tired souls.  
 
Q. Does sound bathing at home using a kit or a mobile app also help?  
 
Choi Seo-hong's DIY sound bath kit [CHOI SEO-HONG]

Choi Seo-hong's DIY sound bath kit [CHOI SEO-HONG]

A. Meditation is about seeing the present as it is. It helps you to know the fixed thoughts you have in your life and gives you a new perspective. Singing bowls are just a tool that facilitates meditation. It helps anyone to stop thinking and find stillness. In that sense, using a small singing bowl kit at home and doing it yourself can also help you to meditate. A gift of a small singing bowl from an acquaintance was in fact the start of my career. It brought me to where I am now. It’s very simple. You just strike it once, close your eyes and listen to the sound and breathe naturally.  
 
 
 

 
[REVIEW] Apps that help you relax 

 
Sleep Space

 
Sleep Space is a sleep tracking app that helps you understand when you cross the threshold between when you fall asleep, wake up and what happens in between. But the sleep analysis itself is not that accurate. (Perhaps it’s because I put my iPhone on the bed instead of using a wearable device on my wrist, which the app says provides best tracking.) What you’ll enjoy in the app is the white noise it provides in its Sleep tab. The white noise automatically adjusts its volume according to the level of the surrounding noise. It’s especially helpful when you have a snoring partner sleeping next to you. I find myself using it frequently when I’m on trains or airplanes to block out distracting noises and take a nap. There’s a Meditate tab as well in the app, which guides you through different types of meditation you can do in the mornings or at nights. The app also provides graphs to let you see general trends of how much you sleep on average, how often you toss and turn every night and offers you a meditation program that may help you sleep better.  
 
 
Pillow



Since I don’t own an Apple Watch, I like to use sleep-tracking apps that work well with just an iPhone placed on the bed. Pillow is a more polished sleep-tracking app. What it does best is record the noises you make while you sleep, like snoring and sleep talking. It also has a smart alarm feature that uses your movements to find the best time to wake you up in the morning. (Though I’m not sure it was the best time to wake me up.) You can set goals on this app, like whether you want to fall asleep more quickly or you want to have at least four hours of REM sleep. But in order for that to work, you have to follow the guided program it makes, like meditating before you sleep. A premium subscription allows you to get more in-depth reports on your sleep but unless you want to know what you do while you sleep every minute, it’s not really necessary.  
 
 
Calm  



Calm is not a sleep-tracking app but one of the most popular meditation apps. It features more than a hundred calming exercises and programs that help you breathe better. There are different meditation sessions but what I like about this app is that it has an unguided session where I can enjoy real peace and quiet. One of my favorite sections on this app is listening to stories narrated by celebrities, which gets updated regularly. There are bedtime stories, non-fiction as well as ASMR. They are narrated by celebrities like Kelly Rowland and Harry Styles. I also like the Music section, which is full of hundreds of curated soundtracks that put you at ease. There are six categories: Focus, Lullabies, Relax, Sleep, Soundscapes, and Nature Melodies. I had my doubts at first, but after falling asleep while listening to one of the soundtracks in Sleep while working, I began to have blind faith toward the app.  
 
 

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [yim.seunghye@joongang.co.kr]
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