There’s something very mystical about a singing bowl. It’s not just the fabulous sound (especially when echoing round a Tibetan temple…) but also the vibrations that give you the chills.
Legend has it that the bowls can be used in secret rituals, with master lamas able to achieve out of body experiences through the power of their sound.
So it only surprises me that I haven’t noticed the existence of singing bowl therapy before, and that it hasn’t yet taken the Western world of alternative medicine by storm.
Singing bowls are also known as healing bowls, and have been used for more than 4,000 years in the Himalayan region. You can cook with them, make offerings in them, play them like musical instruments, and – most commonly – sound them at crucial points in Buddhist ceremonies.
They should be made using an alloy of seven metals, each of which represents one of the celestial bodies: gold for the sun, silver for the moon, mercury for the planet Mercury, tin for Jupiter, copper for Venus, iron for Mars and lead for Saturn. Any decorative inlay or engraving is a bonus.
Mind you, as a master craftsman has to hammer out each of these bowls by hand, and you need a reasonably large one for it to be any use, adding all these different metals into the mix means you wind up with something that is pretty expensive. The cheapest I could see at any of the shops around the Bodnath stupa cost US$140.
Using the bowls as therapy is a fascinating idea. Music definitely affects the mood and perhaps also the nervous system and body chemistry as practitioners suggest. Here, the vibrations of the bowl are supposed to stimulate the body to recreate its own harmonic frequency, and to help the brain produce the alpha waves it needs for deep relaxation. The sound affects not only the person who hears it, but also apparently clears the surrounding atmosphere of negative energy.
Trying it out was quite an experience. When the bowl is actually touching your body as it is struck, the vibrations go right through you, and whilst I did not enjoy this too much when the bowl was upside down on my head, it felt very good when it was placed on my aching back. Even when the bowl is simply held a few centimetres away then tipped back and forth or moved in a circle round you, the sound and frequency change in a startling way.
This was just a taster, as the nearby clinic for a proper treatment was fully booked. That, however, would have involved more than an hour of therapy, with up to seven bowls being used, some containing water. Prices start at around US$25, which is expensive for Nepal but ridiculously cheap when compared with a lot of alternative medical treatments in the West.
Regular singing bowl therapy is supposed to promote the energy balance, reduce stress, improve creativity and imagination, and generally harmonise body, spirit and soul to give a more positive self-image, all of which sound very tempting. I was sorry not to have been able to try this properly, and it will definitely be on my list the next time I am back.