Sound Bath? Sound Meditation? Sound Symphony?
Sound therapy has become a wonderful tool to access deep relaxation. For many, it is a gateway to meditation. Melissa Felsenstein of Inner Sounds Meditation shares her story of how playing crystal bowls and metal gongs helped her heal from symptoms of anxiety and depression. A self-proclaimed Nervous System Advocate, after several years of exploring these musical instruments, she now shares her process to help others.
Check out a video from this Summer Solstice Sound Bath.
welcome to glass half full with leslie krongold she shares her stories experiences and knowledge of living and coping with a chronic health condition learn about tools and resources and hear inspirational interviews that help you to live a life filled with quality and dignity with two decades of support group leadership leslie’s ready to help you make lemonade out of life’s lemons are you ready are you ready welcome to the summer if you listen to the last podcast episode about nature i hope you’re now trying to get a daily dose of it vitamin n that is this past week i was quite fortunate to get this great double dose of vitamin and at the university of california’s botanical gardens in berkeley on wednesday i attended my first forest bathing led by a certified forest guide but the two and a half hour experience ended in a redwood tree grove and on thursday morning i found myself in the same grove i didn’t sleep there overnight and i was not kidnapped and taken there but i returned for a solstice sound math i would assume most of you listening out there have never been to a sound bath but it’s an experience i bet will come your way soon my first sound bath we always remember our first time right was nearly three years ago in july at a yoga studio in oakland california sound practitioner was melissa felsenstein and she is my guest for today’s episode so perhaps you’re wondering just what is a sound bath is it always experienced in nature and how is leslie able to read my mind
often i use wikipedia as my go to web page for a solid definition of something but there is no entry for sound math i’ll have to rely on my experiential knowledge so you know when you’re in a bathtub you’re enveloped in water for me this is a truly relaxing experience well in a sound bath you allow yourself to be enveloped by the sound not any sound like i don’t think any cdc concert would qualify but you know who knows melissa uses crystal balls gongs and chimes to create her sound math i’ve been to several sound experiences with different practitioners sometimes it’s called a sound meditation or sound symphony where other instruments in addition to bowls and gongs are used such as a harp wooden xylophone and even a human voice each sound experience is unique many factors contribute to the overall experience who is the practitioner what is the environment like if it’s indoors what are the acoustics like how close to the practitioner am i seated or am i reclined do i shut my eyes and let myself be carried away or do i remain seated so i can watch and listen on thursday i chose to have my eyes open it was a gorgeous sauce this morning in a redwood tree grove and i wanted to videotape portions of melissa’s performance best to keep my eyes and ears open for that what you’re listening to in the background is from that day in the redwood grove you can hear birds communicating in the background and actually when melissa stopped playing the bulls and gongs the birds really went crazy i think they were beckoning for an encore you can already tell i’m partial to melissa’s sound performances i’m a fan shall i say her journey to this work and you know and now after three years she’s making a living as a sound practitioner or healer anyhow her journey is what this episode is all about you can watch a video of the solstice sound bath on the glass half full youtube channel but it’s a best experience live a link to the inner sounds meditation website is in the podcast notes and that’s melissa’s website so i was introduced to sound as therapy in 2008 and i was traveling india and i was at one of those bazaars there was this big market i walked into one that i had i’d known about the tibetan bowls the metal ones they’re metal bowls that are handmade in tibet and in india this was in rajasthan so it’s the northern part of india and so i i went there i saw i saw this this shelves and shelves of metal bowls and i thought oh that’ll be a really fun thing to have and i started talking with the man the store owner and i kept kind of coming back to it like we were there for a couple of days and i kept just wanting to be around this man and just sort of talking with him and i helped him with his business card and some other things and we were just kind of becoming friends and eventually he told me that he used these bowls he used the sounds to help heal children specifically of different ailments and that’s what he was known for and i remember i had this moment like oh my gosh like i’ve always been interested in music i was a dancer so the idea of sound as a way to help people i was just so blown away and i thought and then he was showing me some techniques and i eventually bought a bowl from him and then i convinced him to give me his mallet you know he didn’t want to give me like his mallet but i really wanted his mouth i felt like he was infused with this like power you know and he was very reluctant but somehow i convinced him um and i uh yeah so i came home and i was so inspired from that trip and i thought i’m gonna become a sound healer and then i got home away from india back in the grind of los angeles and i was like that is a crazy idea like who who would ever want that you know i completely denied the dream like i felt the dream and then i i denied it and i was working a corporate job and i just continued and then it’s interesting how you know you have this little if it’s meant to happen it will happen right so i i said i said no and then of course you know a short time later it came back to me like a boomerang i think i just felt like it was just too wild you know and anyway so needless to say um a few years later uh my father fell mentally ill so he was dealing with bipolarism and he was on lithium but then the lithium was really hurting his kidneys and so he was abruptly taken off the lithium by a really bad doctor i don’t know you know someone is a certain way and then you have no idea what might happen really when they’re taken off their meds you just assume it’ll be fine kind of you’re like well what’s gonna change really well everything changed for him everything changed he became manic and he just never recovered he was manic for eight years until he died so uh in the beginning you know he was on the street and it’s interesting how the system i i’ve said this before but the system doesn’t really care that that person was an mit graduate on a scholarship i mean my father was brilliant he worked for hewlett-packard his entire career starting right when he graduated from mit just this really brilliant man very kind and soft-hearted and always taking in stray animals and just a very introverted introverted quiet genius and but the system doesn’t care it doesn’t care that what you were you’re just like another person you’re another number and so he was lost in the system of just mental hospitals and um all sorts of situations that i i don’t really want to go into too much too much detail because it’s um it’s painful but we’ll just say that it was it was a really bad time and so i was very close to my dad i’d say we both had this kind of wild adventurous self that we both understood and we were both a little bit weird and we liked like kind of things that were a little different from other people and he really encouraged me to be an art major he loved the arts he loved that i loved music he loved that i danced so it was really supportive and just i don’t know fun we were like pen pals during that you know my college years so anyway when he got sick um i was doing yoga i was doing kind of your typical exercise and but my nervous system was becoming so
it was becoming so severely imbalanced because i was so afraid all the time for my dad i was afraid for his health i was afraid for my mom’s safety i was afraid for everyone else’s safety he became kind of a dangerous man he became an angry man so um and his his own safety for himself and uh it just became too much you know there’s a certain amount of stress you can deal with but then when that stress keeps going like whether it’s a chronic illness right you understand that and just dealing with this something that’s relentless it doesn’t it doesn’t ever let you go and you don’t know what’s down the line you don’t know what’s down the line you have to become it’s very uneasy it’s unsettling you can’t ever get kind of grounded and feel confident or sure and i think about that like chronic illness or or cancer treatment and sort of my experience too there’s a lot of commonalities and i think a lot similarly this happens for everyone’s nervous system that’s under chronic intense stress you know basically like everyone else i stopped sleeping i was insomniac um because i just couldn’t rest my mind at night so that and then i stopped sleeping then i wasn’t able to eat and digest you know i could barely eat anything i was losing weight i felt sick all the time and bloated and it just felt awful i had migraines i had tmj i had teeth grinding and eventually it got to the point where i had like a shake as well like like and i was losing my hair i mean it was wow severe anxiety severe severe anxiety and as that started to compound i was also greeted with depression because you start to really feel down when you can’t get yourself healthy and you’re seeing you know i think depression it’s different from sadness i mean i was sad about my dad but depression is this there’s a quality to it that’s um so gray it’s so bleak and i could feel that with just this idea that tomorrow is going to look exactly like today right and when you look into the future and that’s all you see is a broken body and sadness grief you know at the time i didn’t realize i was grieving the loss of my dad right like i had lost my dad he was here but who he was was someone like completely foreign to me occasionally over those seven years i’d see this little spark and i’d remember who he was and he’d do a little joke or something and it gets me like teared up just thinking about god it was such a hard time um but was there also an element of fear that this could be your future oh yeah that’s a really good point yeah like i looked into my own future and i was like oh wow this could be it because i was still going to yoga classes and i remember being so like angry and i was very bitter a lot of the time because i was so um mad that my life was lost and my dad’s life and my family my family you know we were sort of broken up by the situation as any family would it’s very very hard to deal with mental illness i asked melissa about her reintroduction to the sound work how did she recapture that dream she originally had in india so i would go to these yoga classes and yoga had always been my savior it always been my refuge and i would sit in shavasana i would just steam i was just so mad because like i kind of felt like even that was taken from me like no matter what style of yoga i did it didn’t work i was doing acupuncture which i always felt exhausted by like i felt like it took something from me to show up to get there to receive treatment and then afterward i was always super tired reiki same thing i tried talk therapy i tried some western medicine i was basically just doing anything i could and i just i just didn’t have any extra energy for anything i was barely able to kind of just show up in my life and just kind of just get through the hours of every day so a few different people um encouraged me to take some time off and i and i did and one person actually said she was like you know i really she was my my therapist and she said i think you should like go to an ashram so i did i did and it was a brilliant move because they’re so disciplined there’s a lot of chanting and that’s kind of when i opened up to this other side of yoga that wasn’t just asana you know asana is the movement it was the chanting and then the meditation um and you know just kind of broadening out what what this concept of of yoga was and at the same time i was taking some classes around my neighborhood and i walked into this class and little did i know at the very end in shavasana she plays a crystal ball and i just had this moment where i could feel my whole body responding to the sound you know that deep deep relaxation and i could feel even my nervous system kind of calming down and it was really brief you know it was only like a minute or two and i just thought i don’t care why or how i’m just going to i walked up i was like what is this i didn’t even know what it was she’s like this is a crystal ball and i was like what and then i just bought them and i had them delivered and i taught myself how to play i bought i bought three of them from home shop in florida no they don’t make them there no no almost all the bowls are made in china actually but um so uh and they were delivered in like you know eight business days and i just unpacked them and just started to play them because i just at that point i was like i don’t care what it is i don’t care what tool it is because i i think i think the pivotal moment too wasn’t just how i felt when i heard the ball and i think it also was that it created hope for me a hope like that future that i saw before that we were talking about where every day is the same and you almost just want to give up you know it’s like why keep living why do i want to live i don’t want to live like this you know and i think a lot of people are confronted with that um often in our lives uh but so it brought me this tiny bit of hope like maybe it could be different maybe i could just try and use this so the sound came back to me under much more rough circumstances um and you know unlike some sound healers uh sound is taking off right now and there’s a lot of different healers out there but i think the thing that makes it slightly different for me was like it was necessary this wasn’t a choice it wasn’t like i like gongs these sound so pretty they’re fun they are fun they’re outrageously fun to play to feel it in your body as you play it’s amazing and i could see that draw but for me it was necessary like i had to do this every day if i wanted to become well again
i don’t know i just feel like the gongs what what they did for me i felt like you know i started for like a month or two with just the bulls and they really rewired my nervous system but i was missing the jump for my depression like i still couldn’t quite mitigate that and um i think the gongs really help with that because they take you into this ethereal meditative open space so when i got the gong it’s jupiter jupiter was the gong each of each of the gongs have a um they’re a certain note that’s aligned with the orbital properties of each planet and they have they have the base note and then they have two overtone notes as well that’s how they’re different from orchestral gongs which are not tuned at all so when i have eight gongs or something i can set them up to be very harmonious based on notes or feelings or dissonant you know but orchestral gongs you can’t do that they’re all just set they they’re tuned to sound pleasant but that’s about it so these are really special instruments and they’re so high quality they’re all made of an alloy of of metal oh okay so they vary in what they’re made of well depending on the maker yeah every maker has their secret recipe so piste’s got a recipe and meinel has a recipe and um nobody wants to give up their secret recipe because it’s a combination of different metals okay to make the sound and of course you know there’s also there’s gong gongs have been around for thousands of years um so there’s chinese gongs and tai gongs and burmese gongs and how did you know you wanted to go to gongs like yeah that’s that’s a good question i don’t know there was an intuition that just you know i did go to a few sound meditations at the time in l.a and i would go and i would feel this like distinct calling like if if i really really want to feel healthy i’m going to need this and i i think it was so it was intuitive but once i got it i did notice a big difference in my healing experience
it’s very hard to describe this the state of being
i always struggle with it on paper and through voice because it’s like a place that’s beyond time i don’t know it’s a place beyond words it’s a it’s a feeling it takes you into this almost like to the soundless place that’s where the gongs take you it’s like you’re you’ve got to prepare the the mind you got to create the pathway in into the silence and i think the gongs really help with that and when we can find silence in different ways rather than just through meditation which is so hard for most people including me i mean i became a meditator after i used sound as meditation as a meditative tool but um so we all struggle with sitting there you know and in yoga they they have you do pranayama first so that way you can do a little breathing technique and then hopefully get your mind ready well in the same way that’s what the sound is doing the sound is stimulating your mind it’s stimulating your senses it’s stimulating your cells it’s vibrating everything it’s unpredictable the gong i don’t even know how it’s gonna show up you know some days i do a hit that i’ve done a million times and it just looks like crazy um so it’s very unpredictable and so the mind can’t um the mind relaxes in that actually it doesn’t it doesn’t grasp it’s not able to grasp to rhythm you know it sort of has to deal with unpredictability which is good because it makes it more flexible but the the sounds i think or this is what i know the sounds of the gongs
are trying to prepare your mind for the sounds without the gongs to prepare it to kind of clear those everyday thoughts out of the way with sound because it takes over just it’s not going to let you spend a lot of time thinking about your grocery list
melissa explains how her playing of the gongs was a healing process remember she was doing this on her own still the gongs and the crystal balls were tools for her own healing also getting a lot of strength from that space too right resiliency you kind of feel like you can get through these difficult points of our lives and you know my dad’s story you know as as i got better and better and better you know dad got worse so you know right as i was launching my business my dad was dying you know so um and i’m smiling right now which no one can see uh and it’s because you know he brought me the biggest gift like would i have found this if everything had stayed the same probably not or maybe it would come to me in a different way we don’t know um if you’re meant to do it apparently it comes back again again yeah but uh yeah i mean his he’s he’s he’s an inspiration for it and also i really felt like the sound as therapy and for myself really expanded my capacity to just handle more you know and so even though dad was going through so much i felt very robust and i let go of the need for him to be the way he used to be and i accepted who he was and i accepted his own karma if you believe in that his own path like i can’t change that it’s what his soul needs and i can just support him with love and kindness and caring and it really having those kind of realizations helped immensely with the guilt and the pain
and i’d say i really started to feel better about a month into it and then really powerful changes in the nervous system three months later and i’d say the depression was really reigned in and sort of obliterated probably six months into it wow so yeah within a year i was already doing really i was a really different person and over the years people were like wow you’re so less gritty like you’re so much more soft i used to be really kind of intense and kind of feisty so it’s it’s it’s changed my pulse you know it’s changed my own vibration and and um but it was you know i started out with myself and i remember my friends they were like what have you been doing you seem different and i was like well i was kind of embarrassed about it i was like well i kind of do this stuff with sound and they’re like what i’m like they’re like that sounds cool like they’re all into it you know and i was like i don’t know and they’re like we should you should you should play for us and i was like i don’t know about that it really like i was pretty reluctant to share um for many reasons you know i kind of felt like well what kind of person is a sound a sound practitioner i’m even afraid to say healer it just feels too heavy what kind of person is that like who does that you know and i’m like that’s not me i like to eat hot dogs and hamburgers bacon i love bacon god if i could have that every day i would and i love to like drink wine and i i’m very standard in many ways just like i’m just a normal chick like you know who is this and so i was very um embarrassed and even when i first moved here you know that was a three years ago i launched my business full-time after doing a few of those events you know and then kind of growing a little bit in la but but i knew i just knew i needed to come here i need to come back home this is where i’m i’m bored i was born in south bay and now that melissa’s been sharing her healing tools with others for over three years she’s learned a lot about the instruments and how people respond to her performances i asked her to elaborate on this it’s organic and you’re really like for me i’m just listening i’m listening so intensely to wait and sort of find the sound that’s special because every sound meditation has several of them and it’s a it could be a rhythm it could be especially with the gongs the bowls are interesting how they show up every time too a little different but the gongs they definitely have their own
individual way to them for each one and so i’m just searching i’m looking around and just trying to find okay where’s that nice and i hear it and i’m like oh what’s that what’s happening here and i’m like oh that’s exciting you know even after years and years and years and years of playing i have those moments every time or where one gong who normally plays very dark and deep is showing up right what’s this about what happened and i’m sure you could go into all sorts of like um the physicists are always like well it’s the temperature of the room and this and that but really i i think there’s something more to this that’s um less scientific and less rational because i could have the same exact two gongs playing for a private session and the person changes but nothing else does and they show up differently and i think that’s also me as a practitioner because like i said i i’m intimate with these instruments they were a big part of who i am and who i’ve become and i have a great respect for them so i’m really i could there’s many people who just want to you know aggressively go at the gong because it’s so exciting it’s so stimulating and it’s fun as a player it’s fun but as a recipient it can be create a lot of intensity and i’ve heard so many people go to these other experiences and say i hated it you know i will never do it again i found that to be like i was panicked the whole time and it’s because your nervous system you know doesn’t understand these sounds and they sound scary and they it just goes into fight or flight so as a player i’m very aware of that and because i’m a nervous system advocate and i’m trying to re-teach people how to relax i’m trying to calm their nervous system down and to clear their minds that’s my intent it’s like a healing environment i am mitigating the gongs quite a bit you know what i mean i i’m really working with them from that standpoint it’s almost like they know that that’s what they need to do and i know that’s what i need to do so but they will play very very very differently and we’re talking like nothing else in the environment has changed so you have to wonder well what is that about well it depends it depends how scientific you want to be or if you want to be open to you know the potential that there’s some greater forces happening that affect how they show up but it’s this idea that this is what i mean by there could be something more and i think there is i’m saying could because i’m being a coward well do you think the energy of the people yeah okay i think so the energy of the people that i understand right you do but you know the average person i don’t know um but yeah the energy of the people um and i get a lot of intuitive because i’m going into a very meditate meditative state i get a lot of intuitive hits as well about people so about like a stranger i don’t even know them but as i’m playing you know there’s a rhythm and there’s a feeling and i’m like oh
i had a few questions from melissa that were less about her journey and more about the science behind the use of sound as a therapeutic tool i asked her to talk about brain entrainment a term i wasn’t familiar with but is often mentioned in this line of work so entrainment is the ability for our brains as animals as humans um and animals to synchronize and so this is how large fish can swim together as one organism or if you’ve ever seen a huge group of birds and they’re might and they’re they’re turning like a mass and it’s not because they’re talking to each other like let’s make a left no it’s because they’re entrained they’re near each other and they’re synchronized two heart cells placed near each other but not touching synchronize pendulums synchronize together um in a conversation actually there’s entrainment with body language so if i were to sit here and put my my chin on my hand you might eventually do that if i rub my nose you’re gonna rub your nose actually that happens every time because people are worried about like is this the whole mirror neurons yeah it’s mirror neurons yeah and yeah entrainment so um in this case your brain waves are synchronizing with the sound waves and the sound waves have tons of properties that induce deeper states of slower slower brainwave states or deeper states of relaxation some of it’s the tonal qualities they have high tones and low tones going together they have very low frequency tones as well that can help they aren’t pure notes so they’re normally flat or sharp by a random amount as your your brain receives these tones it entrains and naturally starts to slow down and it’s through that process that you can go into these deeper states so you can drop into the beta state you know relax tape and the theta lots of people drop into delta as you know so delta brainwave state is deep deep sleep so it’s the kind of sleep that you get after like massive travel right and you’re so tired and you’re like oh my god i’m exhausted boom and then 12 hours later you wake up so it’s like that but imagine getting that in just a one hour experience and say you get 45 minutes of it and it’s rich sleep
my belief you know there’s been a lot of connection around sound healing and cancer treatment my feeling is you know with some of these conditions fibromyalgia chronic pain conditions where our sleep is affected i really it’s extremely nourishing because it’s that rich rich sleep and they find that people are falling asleep and sleeping eight hours but we wake up and we’re tired and there’s disputes about that right maybe it’s you’re waking up at the wrong time of your cycle of your sleep cycle but there has been some research um of late that says that actually it’s you’re not getting delta because we go to sleep and we’re thinking about all these things and we’re stimulated by the ipad and whatever else that we’re using which i’m guilty of and many others right we’re we’re on the line or we’re reading a book or something and we’re too stimulated and we sort of fall asleep thinking about our to-do list and then we wake up thinking about our to-do list and we’re not rested because we’re not actually getting that sleep but you can train your brain and that’s what the sound does so it’s cumulative so each time people they come to the sound meditations and their brain through neuroplasticity which is so amazing right we used to think that your brain was done growing at like 17. and now we know oh my god brains are changing all the time all the time and so you can get better sleep i mean i’m proof of it right like you can restore your entire nervous system from you know it was [ __ ] before to like robust and healthy and healthy immune system and everything just with sound that’s what i did but it’s not some kind of snake oil it’s through science you know if you can get into these delta brainwave states and your brain also starts to learn about the theta brainwave state which is so hard to describe that was the space i was talking about you know inner space a place that is boundless it’s free every time i walk in i it just gets bigger you know there’s so much space in there and there’s so much beauty and it’s a feeling um but your brain starts to get used to it it starts to unlock and become more comfortable with these states that we’re becoming less and less aware of and our ability to get into them on our own is becoming harder and harder simply because we’re being pulled in so many directions right like technology has been great but now we’re always kind of multitasking and the brain necessarily wasn’t made for that or the nervous system the nervous system hasn’t really improved in the way that technology has right it’s an old system so your nervous system doesn’t realize like oh actually i’m not being chased by a bear i’m just late to a meeting like it could be worse right it can’t differentiate but and the body responds in the same way either way and that’s where we get destructive with stress that’s when stress becomes destructive but there’s ways that are easy have no side effects you know sound has no side effects it has only benefit and you know when i said in the very beginning i was doing these other modalities and i felt like they took away from me and i had a private client say the same thing and he so beautifully said he’s like when i come to sound it always feels like it gives to me it doesn’t take it just gives and i love that about it as a therapeutic tool i hope you enjoyed this episode perhaps you might consider exploring this healing modality by attending a sound bath in your area or even trying to see how you react with different sound tools watch the youtube video segments on glass apple’s channel to learn more and check out melissa’s website thanks for listening thank you for listening to glass half full leslie invites you to leave a rating and review on itunes this helps spread the word to others dealing with chronic health issues for show notes updates and more visit the website glass half full dot online last half full dot online