The Way Of The Gong
“Men have song as a physician for pain.”
The concept of using song and sound as a medium for healing has existed in several ancient civilizations – as sound therapist Anjan Datta elaborates, “Sound therapy has been around for thousands of years – the Aborigines in Australia have been using the didgeridoo as a sound healing tool for over 40,000 years. They healed broken bones, muscle tears, and illnesses with this deep vibrational sounding instrument. In Africa, people still sing when they are working on the land – lifting heavy pieces of stone becomes more enjoyable and effortless, it relaxes the nervous system and releases muscular contractions and suddenly that piece of rock feels much lighter!”
Anjan has been has been studying, practicing and researching sound therapy for eight years – a discipline that moved him deeply when he received a singing bowl treatment in Nepal, where he went on to study sound therapy with Himalayan singing bowls. Further experiences in sound healing led him to internationally acclaimed gong master Don Conreaux – under Don’s guidance he finished his gong master training and continues to study the way of the gong. He is now based in Siolim, North Goa, where he practices and offers sessions of a rather unique nature – sessions called gong baths.
My good friend organic farmer/permaculture designer Simrit Malhi first told me about Anjan, so together we fuel up our mopeds and head towards Siolim with only a vague sense of where we’re going and what’s in store.
“The gong is one of the oldest and most powerful instruments for healing with sound and vibration,” Anjan tells us as he pours us a glass of water from the copper vessel in the corner of the room, his aura of quiet confidence already instilling a sense of calm even before the session has started – “When the gong is played well (in a therapeutic way) it literally “bathes” the human body with waves and waves of sound, until we are totally engulfed in a cocoon of healing vibrations – this is why we use the term “gong bath” to describe this type of therapy.” Sim and I both nod quietly – more than ready to lay down on our mats, eager for the blissfully serene hour that is to follow.
We are seated on the floor of a dimly lit room filled with an extensive array of instruments of all shapes, sizes and cosmic frequencies – “I have three large Planetary gongs tuned to Mercury, Venus and Earth, Himalayan singing bowls, Tingsha, a Shruti box that I use for singing mantras, a native American flute, didgeridoo, shaman drum, conch shells, various bells, whistles and bird flutes, Kalimba Sansula, chimes, Jews harps – did I forget something!” Anjan laughs. “All the instruments are of the highest sound quality as this is a key requirement for healing work.”
We begin with a few gentle breathing and body awareness exercises intended at balancing one’s energy and grounding you in the here and now. “At first you will hear soft, deep and inviting gong sounds,” says Anjan in a quiet whisper, “but as you listen carefully, you become aware of the many tones within one sound.”
The sounds are warm, soothing – what sounds like a single note at first simultaneously expands into several sounds, like a single drop of water creating a ripple on the surface of a still pond. As the session continues the gong sounds intensify, I can feel the sound as a physical sensation washing over me, as if I am literally feeling sound as a tangible force of energy. “Many people experience something noticeable during a gong bath,” Anjan would tell us after the session, “It can range from feeling their bodies twitch (as the energy meridians are cleared and balanced), seeing amazing splashes of colour behind their closed eyes, detailed visual journeys, the feeling of lifting out of their bodies and watching from above, freedom from aches and pains to simply a feeling of total peace and connectedness.”
As I probe for more explanations on the tangible effects on the human body, he replies, “Virtually everything on Earth vibrates. The planet itself vibrates. All matter consists of atomic material which is in constant motion. This motion generates frequencies, which then generate sound. All organisms on this planet use vibration, a.k.a. energy, as the primary means of communication. Because all organisms are made out of atoms and molecules, you and I and every living thing are radiating energy, vibes.
“We are constantly being vibrated, on a cellular level, by heard and unheard sound frequencies. Sound vibrations have a tremendous influence over human functionality as sound touches and influences our emotions like no other source of input or expression. If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears but through our bones and our skin, basically through every cell in our bodies. Sound and music are nutrients for the nervous system.”
Noticing a decisive shift in our states of mind during the therapy, we are curious about the effects the gong has on the brain waves, and its potential ability to alter them. “Theta brainwave frequencies is most often where the gongs will take you,” Anjan tells us, “Theta waves are defined as brainwave frequencies between 4 and 7 Hz. Theta waves occur during dreaming sleep – or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, although they also occur during deep meditation. Even though you still feel present, you have entered a dreamlike, deep meditative state.”
And how does this relate to healing? “As the gong is played therapeutically, never letting the sounds get too loud, the left brain which is the rational, analytical part of the brain is unable to keep up with the myriad sounds, and as a result it shuts down – letting the right brain (which is responsible for the creative aspects and intuition etc become more active). Right brain activity is important for healing as it is connected to the para sympathetic nervous system which controls all the lymphatic glands, distribution of nutrients, proper circulation of blood, digestion and so on.”
“Think of it like this,” he smiles, “When I drop dishes near you, how do you react? When I play a flute or sing a love song how do you feel? In our modern life we are surrounded by stressful sounds all the time that play a huge role in determining our moods and overall health. Most of our psychosomatic illnesses are a result of not giving proper attention to our inner voice because the perpetual noisy atmosphere around us prevents us from getting in touch with that space within where we can access our true needs.”
Simrit and I leave feeling refreshed and strangely energised – our first gong bath, but certainly not our last.