I’m not the kind of woman who draws herself a hot bath after a stressful work day.
I’ve tried it, but even with bath bubbles, glowing candles and a glass of wine, I can’t seem to relax.
Recently, Kim Parker, a yoga teacher and sound healer with a studio in Lynnwood, recommended a different kind of bath: a “sound bath.”
A sound bath at Kim Parker Yoga has nothing to do with bathing. You don’t get naked, you aren’t in a tub. Instead of water, sound washes over you.
The sound waves, which Parker produces by playing Himalayan singing bowls, are said to calm the nervous system and balance the energy that vibrates throughout the body.
“The idea is that at a cellular level, we’re made up of vibration,” said Parker, 32, a 2005 Jackson High School graduate. “When the vibration is a little bit off, it’s kind of like a band being out of tune. It feels kind of wonky and it sounds kind of icky and it makes us tense. So by reintroducing these harmonic patterns through sound and vibration, we’re able to reset that vibration. It’s like re-tuning your cells at a physics level.
“It may sound like a woo-woo thing, but it’s actually backed by science,” she said.
Sound bathing is said to provide relief from stress, insomnia, anxiety, depression and chronic pain.
Music soothes me when a hot bath can’t — I like to listen to Bob Marley and the Wailers after a hard day — so it made sense to me that singing bowls have their benefits.
It turns out that our brains are wired to respond to music.
“It basically calms the nervous system by turning off the fight or flight response,” said Paul Schoenfeld, clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. “When we listen to music, our brains send our bodies a message to slow our heart rate down, slow our breathing down and relax our muscles.
“That’s why so many of us, when we’re feeling stressed about work, we come home and turn on some beautiful music.”
The metal bowls, which vary in size from 3 inches to 21 inches wide, are played by ringing or rubbing them with a mallet to produce a sustained musical note.
A wool- or leather-covered mallet is rotated around the outside rim to excite continuous vibrations in the bowl — the same way you may play water-tuned musical glasses. The volume of the musical note depends on the speed of the mallet and the force that is applied.
The bowls are placed on a cushion when played to allow the rim to vibrate freely, though small bowls may be held gently in the hand. The bowls also can be placed directly on the body to give a “sound massage.”
Himalayan bowls are native to India and Nepal, but they are often referred to as Tibetan bowls because many Westerners encounter the bowls in Tibet.
Some Buddhist religious practices incorporate bowls with meditation and chanting — but instead of making the bowls sing, they strike them.
The bowls were introduced to the West in the 1970s. They have since become a popular instrument for music therapists, sound healers and yoga practitioners.
Parker turned to yoga when she was stressed. She was working two jobs to pay off student loans in the Great Recession. The stress from it all took a toll on her. It exacerbated her chronic back pain and disrupted her sleep, digestion and mental focus.
Yoga became her lifeline: a way to achieve peace and maintain balance.
In 2014, Parker was introduced to singing bowls during a yoga retreat.
She had played the clarinet since she was in fifth grade, but this was the first time Parker had experienced music as vibration.
“I just felt like fireworks were going off in my head,” she said. “It was like ‘Oh my god, I have to learn how to do this.’ It just touched me down to the core in a way that I can’t quite figure out how to describe.”
So, after 17 years with the clarinet, Parker found herself a new instrument: singing bowls.
Parker, a certified yoga instructor and singing bowl practitioner, started Kim Parker Yoga in 2015 to help stressed-out people through restorative yoga and healing sound baths. She loves that her job helps them find some much-needed calm.
“Music was always important to me, but I didn’t realize exactly what role it was playing until I got introduced to the singing bowls,” she said. “I started paying attention to how the sounds that we experience throughout our day affect our energy levels, affect our focus, affect our emotions. There’s a reason you listen to upbeat music to work out and soothing music to relax and go to sleep.”
She also has a bachelor’s degree in global studies and comparative religions from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma — “That’s kind of yoga-y,” she said.
On a recent day, I had an introductory session with Parker and her singing bowls.
Parker asked me to share my pains and stresses, and name my intentions for healing, so she could focus the sound waves in ways that would best help me.
She had me lay down in a nest of blankets and pillows so that I would be comfortable for the 45-minute sound bath. She placed an eye pillow on my face to block out light.
She first guided my breathing to relax my mind and body, so that I could feel more at ease during my session. Then she started playing the singing bowls.
Sound waves from the bowls washed over me as they filled the room. Every so often, when Parker placed one of them on my chest, I could feel the vibrations resonate through me.
“The bowls are set up in a pattern of perfect fourths and fifths — those are the musical patterns handed down from the masters,” she said. Perfect fourths and fifths are musical intervals corresponding to a pair of pitches in a diatonic scale. The notes played together are the most pleasing to the ear. “The different patterns help induce relaxation and help with mental clarity.”
Before the sound bath, I had only tried meditation for minutes at a time. I’m not very good at keeping my thoughts at bay. But every time Parker rubbed a singing bowl, the continuous note she played immediately made my brain chatter stop. All my mind wanted was to bask in the warm tone.
I left my sound bath mesmerized. I had truly gained a moment of mindfulness.
Parker finishes most sessions with an affirmation, mantra or reading for students to reflect on for continued healing. She likes to read from the book “The Radiance Sutras” as well as her favorite Mary Oliver poetry. After my sound bath, she recommended a few books so I could read up on the healing power of music. (See the list of books.)
Parker said the singing bowls don’t have any one result because sound affects everyone in different ways. The experience can be both invigorating and relaxing.
Not all of her students turn to the bowls for therapy and meditation, she said, but they’ve all been touched by the experience.
Christina Patterson, 46, of Arlington, said the singing bowls bring her mind to an altered state.
“The first time it kind of freaked me out,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was there, I felt like I was in another realm. It was like a body-leaving experience for me.”
Patterson said the treatments give her some much-needed “me” time.
“I feel more at peace afterward,” she said. “I feel like I can handle things more and not get stressed out.”
Another of Parker’s yoga students, Alysia White, goes to the sound baths about once a month. It’s her way to de-stress and clear her mind. She said she sleeps better after a session with the singing bowls. One time, she even fell asleep during a sound bath.
“I kind of equate it to when you get a massage and, after the massage, you’re just totally relaxed,” White said. “That’s how I feel after a sound bath.”
White, 44, of Lake Stevens, admits she didn’t think the singing bowls would do much for her the first time.
“I was nervous just because I thought it was some sort of hippy-dippy thing,” she said. “I was like, ‘Really? How is this going to do anything?’ But then it was amazing to experience it.”
■ “Healing at the Speed of Sound: How What We Hear Transforms Our Brains and Our Lives,” by Don Campbell and Alex Doman
■ “How to Heal with Singing Bowls: Traditional Tibetan Healing Methods,” by Suren Shrestha
■ “The Singing Bowl Book,” by Joseph Feinstein
About Kim Parker
Kim Parker, 32, is a certified yoga instructor and singing bowl practitioner. She lives in Lynnwood with her husband and 1-year-old son. She operates Kim Parker Yoga in her at-home studio.
Sound baths are scheduled once or twice a month on Saturdays and Sundays. Sessions are 75 minutes. Group rates are $35 per person; private sessions are $80. Sign up for five- or 10-session packages for a discount.
Learn more about Parker’s sound healing and meditation work at www.kimparkeryoga.com.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the fall issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.