Sound Therapy – Himalayan Singing Bowls

Himalayan bowls, also known as Tibetan or Nepalese singing bowls, are believed to have originated from the Bon civilization, dating back more than 3,800 years, long before Buddhism. Historically, there is evidence that the metal bell originated in China, even earlier during the Shang dynasty (16th–11th centuries BCE), and that bells are among the oldest bronze objects found in China. Musically, Himalayan bowls are classified as a type of bell (a bell is a hollow object which has maximum vibration around an open rim – a gong, on the other hand, has maximum vibration towards the center).

Historically, Himalayan bowls have been used in various religious ceremonies, particularly in Buddhist meditation, chanting and prayer. The Himalayan singing bowl is a type of standing bell played by striking or rubbing its rim with a wooden or leather-wrapped mallet called “Puja”. This excitation causes the sides and rim of the bowl to vibrate and produces a rich sound. These bowls are handmade, though their precise composition varies, and generally are composed of a bronze alloy that may include copper, tin, zinc, iron, silver, gold or nickel. There are many distinct bowls, which produce different tones, depending on the alloy composition, their shape, size and weight.

Quantum physics tells us that all life is energy, eternal in nature and morphing from one shape or form to another. Physicist Dave Bohm calls this the “implicate order”. According to Bohm, what lies behind all phenomena is vibrating energy, which forms an “unbroken wholeness, which connects us all”. Each “energy shape” has its own unique pattern of frequencies, or vibrations. When one form experiences a matching frequency in a musical note, or even words, the form will begin to vibrate in sympathetic resonance. A strong enough vibration can even cause a form to restructure itself, as has been noted with crystal glasses and water crystals. 

Every note or sound frequency creates a sympathetic resonance with every other note, producing harmonic overtones that commence the meditation or healing process through entrainment.

Entrainment can be understood as the process of falling into vibrational step with a surrounding frequency, such as the bowls. It is thought that the sympathetic resonance between mind-body and bowls helps to awaken an intrinsic bliss and self-regulating healing within us.

Today, Himalayan bowls are primarily used for ceremonial and meditation purposes. Nevertheless, these amazing instruments are increasingly being used in healing sound therapy, music therapy, and even contemporary music. The following articles describe some of the cultural background and sound-harmonic research associated with the Himalayan singing bowls. 

• A 2010 study of the GABA modulating effects at the Daegu Haany University in South Korea in 2010 followed up on similar study in 2006 (Zhao et al) and found that acupuncture stimulation at a single point (HT7) effectively modulated GABA neuron excitability and dopamine release.

 • A 2012 study at the Henan College of Chinese Medicine Zhengzhou, China, found that stimulation at the acupuncture points HT7, UB62 and K6, Shenman, Shenmai, and Zhaohai, potentiated GABA expression and the expression of GABA receptors in the hypothalamus, significantly better than stimulation at P6, ST36 and SP6.


• A clinical study in 2010, at the Catholic University of Korea, Department of Integrative Medicine, found that a 2 Hz 2mA electrical stimulation for just 10 minutes at a single acupuncture point, ST36, ameliorated physiological dysfunctions in anxiety triggered by restraint stress, such as cortisone spikes and immunoreactive expression affecting neurotransmitters, as well as decreasing anxiety-related behavioral responses.


• A 1999 article on acupuncture and the limbic system outlines some of the early scientific observations after fMRI studies revealed how directly acupuncture stimulation affected the limbic system, and how science explains these effects.


• A study in 2003 in Seoul, South Korea, at Kyung Hee University, found that acupuncture stimulation significantly modulated the hippocampus and neuropeptide Y, restoring functional activities. The hippocampus and neuropeptide Y have been observed to have decreased activity in patients with stress disorders, causing physical symptoms.


• A follow-up study in South Korea to the one mentioned above found that neuropeptide Y is involved in the regulation of various physiological functions related to anxiety, and that specific acupuncture stimulations signficantly modulated the expression of both neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the amygdala, as well as the expression of NPY-immunoreactive cells. The researchers found that this may be one way that the acupuncture stimulation reduced anxiety-related symptoms in study animals following traumatic stress. 

• A 2008 study at Kyung Hee University then found that acupuncture stimulation also modulated corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), as well as neuropeptide Y, in the limbic system, to improve physical manifestations of anxiety induced by chemical stimulation. 


• A 2012 study at the Henan College of Medicine, Zhengzhou, China, found that acupuncture stimulation at P6, ST36, HT7, SP6, K6 and UB62 increased both the expression of GABA type A receptors in the hypothalamus of laboratory animals, as well as the up-regulation of GABA at the receptors. Stimulation at points UB62 to K6 and HT7 were shown to be significantly more effective in this regard, providing information that acupuncturists can use to achieve better results with waking insomnia and anxiety.


• A 2014 study in China showed that electroacupuncture stimulation at the points ST36 and GB34 downregulated expression of CRF type 2 receptors and upregulated expression of CRF type 1 receptors in the amygdala of laboratory animals. This not only achieved pain relief, but also had positive effects on the animal affect, or mood. This same imbalance of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) receptor types is seen in chronic use of benzodiazepines, showing that this treatment could potentially aid in benzo withdrawal over time.


• A 2010 study at Shanghai Medical College of Fudan University, in China, also found that electroacupuncture to ST36 and SP6 improved the measurable disorder in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) of laboratory animals with induced traumatic stress, and normalized the balance of CRF receptor types and UCN 1 expression (urocortin). Since these imbalances are found to be at the heart of the pathology of benzodiazepine withdrawal and rebound syndromes, such study shows the potential of electroacupuncture in the holistc treatment regimen.


• A 2015 study in China showed that acupuncture stimulation at the points DU20 and PC6 every other day for 28 days significantly reduced inflammatory and oxidant stress in the hippocampus of laboratory animals, reducing depression. Such studies demonstrate the potential for acupuncture stimulation to help restore these key areas of mood control in the brain, integrated with a more holistic protocol.


• A 2015 human clinical study with functional MRI in China found that electroacupuncture stimulation at the points DU20 and DU24, along with acupuncture at Sishencong and GB20, performed 3 times a week for 12 weeks, significantly restored connectivity between the hippocampus and parietal lobe in patients with PTSD, and inhibiting excess activity between the hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and amygdala, relieving symptoms.

Goldsby, Tamara L., Michael E. Goldsby, Mary McWalters, and Paul J. Mills. Effects of singing bowl sound meditation on mood, tension, and well-being: An observational study. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine 22, no. 3 (2017): 401-406.

Inácio, Octávio, Luís L. Henrique, and José Antunes. The dynamics of Tibetan singing bowls. Acta acustica united with acustica 92, no. 4 (2006): 637-653.

 Inácio, Octávio, Luís Enrique, José Antunes, and Rua da Alegria. The physics of tibetan singing bowls. (2003).

Inácio, Octávio, Luís Henrique, and José Antunes. The physics of Tibetan singing bowls part 1: theoretical model.

Institute of Physics. Researchers map the physics of Tibetan singing bowls. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 July 2011. 

 How to Heal with Singing Bowls: Traditional Tibetan Healing Methods Expanded and Revised by Suren Shrestha.

 Terwagne, Denis, and John WM Bush. Tibetan singing bowls. Nonlinearity 24, no. 8 (2011): R51.

 Wepner, Florian, Julia Hahne, Angelika Teichmann, Gertraud Berka-Schmid, Annette Hördinger, and Martin Friedrich. Treatment with crystal singing bowls for chronic spinal pain and chronobiologic activities-a randomized controlled trial. Forschende Komplementarmedizin (2006) 15, no. 3 (2008): 130-137. (Abstract)

 Young D, Essl G, HyperPuja: A Tibetan Singing Bowl Controller, Proceedings of the Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-03), Montreal, Canada (2003).

Watching Tibetan Bowls Sing

Singing Bowl Playing Instructions

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