The Art of Sound Meditation

Find your inner quiet by turning up the volume.

There are no shortage of benefits attributed to frequent meditation. Studies have found that meditation helps relieve stress and anxiety, improves concentration and can even help you overcome addictions like smoking.  

The caveat: clearing your mind is much easier said than done. Of course, practice makes perfect, and the more often you meditate, the more comfortable it will become. Until then, you battle the silence, trying to figure out what you’re going to make for dinner after you’re done with this whole quieting the mind thing. Or running through your to-do list and stressing out about the stuff you have yet to complete.

But what if there were an easier way to clear your mind of all the thoughts constantly running through it? According to ethnomusicologist Alexandre Tannous, you may be able to get to that quiet place more easily with a little noise.

“Contrary to common belief, the practice of meditation is not to empty the mind, but rather to refrain from becoming engrossed in discursive thoughts that enter our consciousness,” he explained at the 2016 East Meets West conference. “A constant barrage of random thoughts can cause mental fatigue by over-running the mind. This eventually begins to distract and disconnect us from our environment, making us more prone to misinterpreting and misjudging situations by projecting past experiences onto the present, and unnecessarily expending metabolic energy.”

How Sound Can Help Quiet the Mind

Sound can help combat this barrage of thoughts. In his own research, Tannous measured normal brain waves with the absence of sound. In this EEG, you can see the peaks and valleys that represent the thought patterns that are typical of our brains—even when we’re sitting alone in silence.

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Then, he played a large gong and measured the same brain waves:

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The peaks and valleys that represent our constant thoughts all but flatline.

“Six seconds of sound quiets the mind,” Tannous explained. “You’re listening without thinking, resisting pursuing a tangent.”

While there’s certainly more research to be done on the effect of sound and it’s ability to quiet the mind, Tannous has seen the positive effects that meditating with sound has had on his patients firsthand. “[Sound meditation] diminishes the electrical activities in the mind,” he explained. “It affects our heart rate, and how the person is feeling emotionally. Through self regulating the mind, meditation offers numerous benefits on the mental, emotional and physical levels: Quieting and clearing the mind, developing compassion, patience, love, kindness, generosity and forgiveness, and easing health issues such as high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.”

Which Sounds To Use

The two fundamental forces that are at work during sound meditation are consciousness and vibration. According to Tannous, scientifically, particles have the tendency to synchronize when they’re vibrating. So the sounds that cause a greater vibration within our bodies are the most beneficial for reaching inner harmony.

However, our music scales aren’t set up in a way that provides us with that ideal amount of vibration.

“Equal tempered scales are the worst thing to happen to music,” Tannous said. He goes on to explain that the equal temperament system divided the musical octave into 12 equidistant intervals. However, it’s when these octaves aren’t split so evenly that we can reap the most benefits from the sound we’re listening to.

Though Tannous recommends working with a sound practitioner when trying sound meditation, you can give it a try on your own. If you’re looking to boost your mood, chimes like Aria and Ignis have been tied to promote feelings of lightheartedness. For clearing your mind, try the sounds made with a Shruti Box, an instrument that provides deep acoustic vibrations.

To reap the most benefits, Tannous suggests having someone play the instrument in the same room as you. But while you’re waiting for someone to answer your Craigslist ad for Shruti Box player, get comfortable, hit play on your computer or phone, and let the some of the suggested sounds help you clear your mind.