Sound Therapy: I had to do this every day if I wanted to become well again

Sound Bath? Sound Meditation? Sound Symphony?

Melissa Felsenstein – sound practitioner – plays crystal bowls and gongs to usher in the summer solstice.

It’s become a wonderful therapeutic 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.


That Peaceful Easy Feeling

To celebrate my birthday, one of my requests was a day at the spa. Not just any spa but this Zen-style spa out in the woods about an hour and a half from where I live. It’s pricey but it’s an experience. And that’s what I’m after — experiences — not more stuff. I’ve got enough stuff.

 The day began with a lovely drive on the back roads of Sonoma County. It was unintentional but the GPS fed us this circuitous yet gorgeous route. I saw parts of Sonoma I’ve never seen — so green and lush — it’s amazing how just a drive through more nature, less concrete, can ease your tension.

The massage treatment I signed up for focused on the body’s meridians and included essential oils. Surprisingly, the 75-minute treatment has you wearing loose clothing; it reminded me of a Thai massage I once had. Although I usually dislike lying on my stomach, I went for it in spite of the nearly constant sinus drainage I experience. The therapist moved my limbs in different ways than an ordinary massage would necessitate.

I didn’t fall asleep but I was very relaxed. It’s often disconcerting that you have to get up so soon after a massage but I felt a little less pressure here. I wasn’t forced to face the world too soon. What awaited me after the massage was a beautiful meditation garden which you enter through a gate that requests silence.

In the last couple of years I have a new respect for silence. I crave it. Is this part of growing older? Or perhaps it’s a result of having a neurological condition where I often find my senses overwhelmed by bright light and a cacophony of noise?

Seated under a pagoda sipping warm tea, I just watched and listened (and naturally shot a little video). My body was relaxed, my mind was relaxed. I was in the moment.

Can I capture this moment again and again? I want this moment to last longer. I want this moment to repeat, and repeat, and repeat.


Pranayama

Yesterday I went to my second Pranayama class at a well-respected yoga institution celebrating 40 years of yoga education in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s a monthly session focused on different methods of yogic breathing. I’ve always wanted to learn more about pranayama (a Sanskrit word that translates to “extension of the prāṇa (breath or life force)” or “breath control”).

Alternate nostril breathing. There are many pranayama techniques; this is just one.

In traditional yoga, as I understand, the natural progression is from asana practice (yoga postures or stretches) to pranayama to meditation. And I want to take up Gareth Walker’s challenge to me — start a daily meditation practice. With pranayama I can practice respiratory health and integrate daily meditation into my life.

I have felt the benefits of meditation — even with isolated short practices. I crave that stillness.

In yesterday’s 1.5 hour class we began on our backs in a restorative pose. For most of the class we reclined in different poses and focused on breathing in our lower back — expanding the space for our kidneys. During the final third of the class we were in a seated position. And that’s when I felt it…sort of like floating. Momentary bliss. If I could capture and bottle the sensation I couldn’t use it that much. I couldn’t write a blog post feeling blissed or could I?

My bliss may be different than your bliss. I felt the release of all tension in my body. The release of all thoughts of past and future and was firmly rooted in the now. No physical or emotional pain or stress.

So I asked the teacher how to begin a regular practice. She told me a good way is to practice for 20-minutes at least 4x/week. Start in a relaxed pose and work up to the seated position. Sounds simple enough.


Healing Sounds

Sound Symphony at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco Photographer: Dan Dion

My first Sound Bath experience was a couple of years ago. It was in a medium-sized yoga studio. The sound musician/artist/yoga therapist used gongs and crystal bowls. I was seated close to her set-up and the experience was interesting but a little disconcerting.

My next experience was with the same performer but I set up my yoga mat and props (for restorative yoga poses) in the back. That change in location made a critical difference in my experience.

Since then I’ve attended this type of experience several times with at least 5 different people performing or officiating. And I can safely say, I love it.

Each experience is different yet they all share the benefit of allowing me to relax my mind and body and instilling a sense of unity with others. Perhaps not community but a connectedness that extends to strangers and all living beings.

It’s all so new to me; I don’t have the language yet to fully describe the sensations, the clarity. I’m waiting to dive deeper into this therapeutic realm; soon I hope to interview one of the practitioners I’ve met.

My most recent experience was at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I used to attend an annual a cappella marathon at this church on New Year’s Eve day so you know the acoustics are special. They call this new, somewhat monthly, event a Sound Meditation. They’re not available for interviews but they did allow me to share their photo.

You can bring a yoga mat into the sanctuary and experience in a reclined position or sit in the pews. I sat this time and actually kept my eyes open. It was unique since there were five people on stage; my previous experiences involved only one performer. It was both an auditory and visual feast.


Multiple Sclerosis & Mindfulness Meditation

Gareth Walker, in northern England, works as a police officer and has progressive multiple sclerosis. His daily practice of mindfulness meditation enables him to navigate the physical and emotional difficulties of living with a chronic health condition.

Walker was first introduced to a mindfulness practice when reading Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Walker is featured in Jo Marchant’s 2016 best-selling book, Cure: a journey into the science of mind over body.

To learn more about Gareth Walker and his practice, visit his website, Everyday Mindfulness.


The Science of Yoga

Murali in the cow-face pose

In this episode my guest, Murali Ventkatrao, discusses the yogic perspective on health and current scientific research exploring how yoga, pranayama (breathing), and meditation affect human physiology and has the potential to treat many pervasive diseases.

For additional information about Murali and an introductory webinar delving deeper into the science of yoga, visit the Ananda Institute.

 


002: Mental health consumer, advocate, speaker & writer

Laurel Roth PattonMy first conversation is with a dear friend, Laurel Roth Patton. Laurel talks with me about her diagnosis with bipolar condition and shares some of the most useful tools she’s gathered over the years. Please visit Laurel’s blog as well as an article she wrote which appears in a collection of writings.

The book Laurel and I discuss at the beginning of the podcast, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir, is highly recommended.

I look forward to hearing your comments, questions, and ideas on Facebook.


Yoga

I can’t remember when I started doing yoga. I may have tried it for the first time during my college years in New York. Or, an introductory class I took in the late 80s in Fort Lauderdale. That is my earliest memory of doing yoga postures, or asanas, in a classroom environment.

I did start doing the seated lotus position when I was very young. Maybe all children can do this but I continued doing it and now it’s easy to maneuver into. It’s comforting to fold my legs into a pretzel.

But, I digress.

Continue reading