FG's Steve Carter delves into the science and history of Gong Baths and the consciousness altering effects of sound
Sound has been used as a facilitator for altered states of consciousness throughout history. In religious and spiritual traditions the use of chanting, repetitive rhythm and pure tone are used to open the participants to different states of awareness. The sound of the gong is akin to being enveloped in a sonic ocean, rising and falling in waves of intensity which can have the effect of clearing the mind of surface thoughts and taking the listener into a meditative state where there is a possibility of insight into deeper levels of the self. As the mind quietens the body relaxes deeply, and the experience can leave one feeling cleansed and present.
A gong bath is a form of meditation. The gongs work by putting the listener into a space on the edge of sleep where the body is deeply relaxed, but the mind is kept conscious because of the sound. One is conscious and also on the edge of the dream state.
This state is a phenomenon known as the hypnagogic state, usually experienced for short periods as you fall asleep and as you are waking up. This can result in thought receding, allowing access to deeper parts of the mind. People have all sorts of different responses to the experience – some feel it as a very physical thing with deep effects in the body, others experience a sense of drifting in a vast ocean, some access emotions which may have been blocked, others have visionary experiences. One can feel quite energised after the experience.
As the sound keeps you conscious you become aware of the deeper movements of the mind: symbolic, energetic, and dreamlike states arise whilst at the same the body releases tensions, so it can come to a deep conscious relaxed state which very rarely takes place in normal life unless you have a meditation practice. There are also other things taking place – the gongs also pulse, and these pulses create what’s called brain entrainment. In the 60’s they developed technology to map brainwaves, and they found that when they measured monks in deep states of meditation they found that the whole brain had an overlaid frequency pulse of around 4 cycles a second. People then began experimenting with various techniques to recreate this state from the outside. The binaural beats found on many self-help and meditation CDs create this effect. This frequency on its own is below human hearing levels as a note [we can hear as low as 20 pulses a second – 20Hz] but the gongs and other meditational instruments like Tibetan bowls give out pulses in this range, which help to take the listener into the meditational state and bring about a deeper experience.
All that is required of you when experiencing a gong bath is to be comfortable and let the sound take you wherever it takes you. Bringing a pillow/cushion for your head and a blanket to help make you as comfortable as possible.
About the Author
Steve Carter is a Fierce Grace Teacher who has been using sound as a meditation tool for over a decade, performing around the world. Find out more about Steve here, and see the latest dates for all Gong Baths with Steve on our Events page.