There aren’t many better feelings than sinking into a hot, steamy bath after a long day at work.
Most of us know about the restorative effects of bathing, but it’s less likely that you’ve heard of today’s main focus: the gong bath.
Gong baths claim to offer all the relaxation, rehabilitation and sensory stimulation of a normal bath, but with one key difference — there’s no water.
Instead of submerging yourself in hot, bubbly water, the gong bath experience asks you to simply ‘bathe’ in the vibrations of sound.
So how exactly does this work? In this article, we’ll answer a few basic questions:
- What is a gong bath?
- What are its main benefits?
- How can I create a gong bath experience at home?
- How do gong baths work?
Let’s get into it!
What is a gong bath?
A variety of ancient cultures used sound as a healing device. According to sound healing practitioner Britta Hochkeppel, “gongs have been used as shamanic healing tools, celebratory instruments, and a method of communication for thousands of years.”
The gong bath seeks to use this instrument’s healing properties to bring calmness, relaxation and peace (both physical and mental) to participants.
Today, gong baths translate this rich history into a modern meditative context.
In sessions that usually last between 45 minutes and 2 hours, ‘bathers’ will lie down in a comfortable position, while a session leader, or facilitator, gently fills the room with the sounds of a gong. This sense of immersion is what gives the practice its name.
Usually, a large group will practise together; however, gong baths can also be done individually. With both methods, practitioners are invited to absorb the noises, vibrations and rhythms around them, in order to achieve a kind of altered state of consciousness.
Sound baths such as this can also come in other forms; crystal singing bowls, Himalayan singing bowls, or other instruments can be used to promote a similarly deep state of calmness and relaxation.
However, the gong bath is a specific discipline with its own set of believed benefits. Let’s look into them.
What are the benefits of a gong bath?
Anyone who has listened to a favourite song to help lift themselves out of a low mood knows about the restorative power of sound.
Various scientific studies have proven the positive mental and physical health benefits of music. A 2017 study found that music therapy can reduce symptoms of depression and improve well-being.
In the same way, sound baths can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and help with experiences of fatigue. Gong baths are also used for pain relief, emotional release and general relaxation.
The altered states of consciousness or heightened awareness promoted by gong baths can be deeply relaxing, even trance-like, and the practice can also boost feelings of creativity and positivity, according to advocates.
The therapeutic effects of the gong sound were highlighted in a 2015 study, which reported that participants found the sounds relaxing or healing. According to this report, durable inner peace, stronger physical and mental well-being and desire for personal growth were some of the key effects.
How Do Gong Baths Work?
The positive reports from gong bath participants might sound convincing, but how exactly does the practice produce these effects?
Well, a lot of it is related to brain waves, and the relationship between music, sound, and the brain.
Gong baths allow your brain to relax into alpha-dominant and theta-dominant brain wave states. These are restorative states which allow your brain to store and process the events and experiences of a day.
In the same way that sleep boosts wellbeing, this practice can make you calmer, more balanced and less anxious. By encouraging positive brain wave states, we can promote feelings of relaxation, positivity and awareness.
Related: Sleep Meditation Unpacked: How It Works And The Best Deep Sleep Meditation
What Does a gong bath feel like?
Probably the best way to explain what having a gong bath feels like is by sharing some testimonials from advocates of the practice.
According to Sound Awakening student Lee Mullen, the gong bath’s “physical vibrations and tones revealed powerful forgotten memories and placed me in a highly visual, waking dream-state.”
Sound therapist Farzana Ali has also highlighted the transformative powers of this practice, claiming “you’ll feel calmer, happier, and less anxious after a session. Being in altered states of consciousness can boost creativity, feelings of wellness, or even just processing of trauma.”
Gong bath instructor Leo Cosendai suggests that “Using a gong denoises the mind. It turns meditation into an experience rather than homework that ends up being on your to-do list.”
This experiential principle is key to the gong bath, which is all about inviting practitioners into an immersive environment in which they feel at one with the sounds around them.
So what exactly are you in store for when you turn up for a gong bath?
What to expect when you arrive for a session
In today’s increasingly remote world, gong baths can be carried out both in-person and remotely via live events on Zoom and other video conferencing software.
There are a number of apps offering digital gong bath experiences, including Third Ear, Gong Bath and Water & Gong, while Spotify playlists and Instagram accounts like Sound Bath World offer similar options.
That being said, going to a physical session is probably the best way to experience the benefits of a gong bath.
And when you do, you might initially be surprised by the sight of a large group immersed in a gong bath session.
Typically, practitioners will lie down on the floor, supported by mats, pillows and blankets. The facilitator will then hit a gong using a mallet, while participants soak up the sounds and vibrations around them.
This process can cause different responses for different people. A range of experiences including visions, epiphanies or creative solutions are possible; creating a quieter mind can cause new things to come to the surface.
You may also experience a variety of emotions during a gong bath experience. You may laugh, cry, feel a sense of inner peace or bliss, or even feel scared.
As sound baths can lead to altered states of consciousness, it’s important to go in with an open mind, and remember that whatever emotions arise during a session, you’ll remain safe at all times.
So, are you interested in trying it for yourself? Before you attend a physical gong bath experience, it might be a good idea to try and create one for yourself. Next, we’ll go into how exactly you can do that.
How to create a gong bath experience in your own home
It’s really easy to create your own gong bath experience at home. Here are a few simple pointers to get you started.
- Put on some comfortable clothes, like loungewear, tracksuit bottoms, leggings or pyjamas.
- Choose a room where you won’t be disturbed, and set up a calming space with dim light, closed curtains, and maybe some lit candles or incense.
- Lie down in a comfortable position, either on a yoga mat on the floor or on your bed or sofa. For extra support, place pillows beneath your head or under your knees.
- Feel free to cover your eyes with a scarf or pillow for greater darkness.
- When you’re comfortable, select a recording or live gong session to listen to, and set up your speakers or headphones.
- As the sounds begin, lie down and cover yourself with a blanket. Close your eyes, and focus on the breath as a way of easing into this altered state of consciousness. After a while, breathe naturally.
- Relax and let yourself be immersed in the sound.
- When the gong sounds come to an end, start to slowly move your hands and feet, and stretch your body. Roll into the fetal position, before slowly standing up and re-adjusting to the room.
Is There Anything else I need to know?
Okay, so we’ve taken a look at the benefits of gong baths, asked what a normal session looks like, and shown you how to create your own experience at home. But are there any risks, side effects, or other things that you should be aware of?
Generally speaking, gong baths are very risk-free. However, there are a few things worth noting before you leap into a session.
If you’re pregnant or you suffer from epilepsy or seizures, gong baths may not be recommended. For people with hearing aids or hearing impairment, this practice may also cause some discomfort. Check with your health practitioner if you’re worried about potential risks.
Other than that, there really isn’t anything to worry about. A gong bath can be an extremely powerful way of bringing you calmness, peace of mind, and heightened awareness.
And if you’re keen to experience elevated or altered states of consciousness, this is a great way to do so without introducing the risk that comes with more extreme practices like Holotropic Breathwork.
Interested in finding out about more ways to expand your sense of awareness and experience new ways of viewing and interacting with your surroundings?
Check out our article on the transformative effects of forest bathing.