Meditation can be hard. Here’s how sound can help.

April 30, 2024 | by

Despite its outward simplicity, meditation can be challenging. But recent studies suggest that there’s something that can help usher us into a meditative state: sound. 

Whether you’re vibing to your favorite tune or immersing yourself in a soothing sound bath surrounded by singing bowls, gongs, and chimes, sound not only helps us achieve meditation but can also amplify its benefits. 

What does sound therapy do to the body?

Hilary Curtis, a licensed mental health counselor and executive director of Recovery Unplugged, a national addiction treatment program that uses music as medicine, says that pleasing sounds can positively impact our physiology. 

“We react to music in physiological and emotional terms, as the auditory system is a portal, or doorway, to the vagus complex, the part of the brain and nervous system that controls our overall physiological and emotional regulation,” says Curtis. This nerve plays a crucial role in regulating heart rate, digestion, and stress responses. Activation of the vagus nerve triggers the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter known for its calming effects on the body. 

“Think of elevator music that calms us in a small space with strangers, lullabies for our children, and how playing songs at gatherings heightens our emotional safety and connection to others,” says Curtis.

This response holds significant health implications. Recent studies propose that sound could be a potent tool for reducing chronic stress, a trigger that negatively affects all areas of the body. A 2022 clinical study found that participants exposed to singing bowl sounds during a sound bath reported substantial reductions in depression and tension, as well as an enhanced feeling of well-being. 

What are the benefits of sound in meditation?

You might have noticed that AI-powered watches now offer algorithmic music and soundscapes for stress reduction or that the practitioners who help you manage your health are now incorporating sound therapy into your wellness routine.

Elena Bradford, a yoga teacher certified in sound healing, says that most people live in a state of overactive thinking, overdoing, and stress, making meditation difficult. “Studies have shown, however, that you can go from beta (our everyday, analytical chatter of the mind) to theta (a deep meditative state) within as little as 30 seconds when you incorporate sound into your practice,” Bradford says. 

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When that happens, Bradford says the effects are overwhelmingly positive. Clients report relief from pain, decreased stress, feelings of relaxation and calm, a release of repressed emotions, and greater positivity. 

Her observations align with the research. Studies have shown that certain sound frequencies can entrain brainwave patterns, guiding the mind into deep relaxation and meditation. For example, binaural beats, which involve playing two slightly different frequencies in each ear, have been found to synchronize brainwaves and induce states of calmness and focus. 

Moreover, sound therapy has been linked to the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which are associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. This neurochemical response may contribute to the profound sense of relaxation and positivity reported by individuals after engaging in sound-based practices. 

In a 2020 clinical study, an emWave Pro device was used to measure mood, stress index, and heart rate variability before and after a sound therapy session. Results showed a noticeable improvement in all areas, including reduced tension, anger, fatigue, depression, and confusion. 

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A 2022 study revealed that sound-based interventions, including music therapy and sound baths, effectively reduced pain intensity and improved pain-related quality of life for individuals with chronic pain conditions. 

Another clinical study compared the effects of a 30-minute silent meditation to those of a 30-minute sound meditation. Sound meditators reported significantly less stress, tiredness, and negativity than those who meditated in silence. 

How long do the benefits of sound therapy last?

As with any wellness program, benefits vary per individual, but practitioners report a direct correlation between consistent practice and the resulting benefits. Bethann Schacht, director of Aurora Counseling Associates, says, “If sound therapy becomes part of your lifestyle—similar to healthy eating and exercise— you should see consistent results.”  

Several experts state that even 10 minutes a day of mindful meditation can profoundly impact stress levels and feelings of overall well-being. So using sound to help you reach that point may “be your biggest return on investment” regarding your emotional and physical health, says Lisette Cifaldi, a master clinical social worker.

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While sound baths and therapy are increasingly easy to find, Schacht says you can practice using an app like Insight Timer in your home. The free app serves as a meditation timer with ambient sound options, and an upgraded paid subscription includes courses on sound healing.

“Incorporating sound into your meditation practice helps focus your attention inward,” says Schacht. “Thoughts can be tyrants, but sound meditation teaches you to be fascinated by them, to tame your thoughts so they don’t control you.” 


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