Any activity that helps you slow down the pace of the active mind and brings you into a calm and peaceful state can be meditation. Whether it be a yoga practice, guided meditation, or walking outdoors to breathe fresh air. The key is to be present and mindful of all the actions you are taking.
The Use of Sound in Meditation
Using sound in meditation is a nice way to signal the opening and closing of your meditation practice. Whether you use a bell, chime, or Tibetan singing bowl, beginning with a sound helps you quiet your mind in preparation for the journey inward. Closing with a sound does the opposite: brings you back to the present moment to end your meditation.
Immerse yourself in the sound of singing bowls, chimes, and bells before or after learning more about them and how they can help your meditation practice.
The Origins of Meditation
We have all heard of meditation and you may have even practiced it in some form. But what are the origins of meditation? Where did it begin and how did it spread all over the world as it has today.
In the Beginning
Meditation can be traced back through history to around 5,000 BCE in India. It is during this period we begin to see the pose of meditation that we recognize today: seated, legs crossed, eyes closed, hands held together. However, we don’t see any written reference to meditation until nearly three and a half thousand years later, around 1,500 BCE in the Vedas scriptures. This significant gap can only be explained by the religious teachings of gurus during this time in India. They taught their students by word of mouth and shared practice, therefore, there is very little information written by them during this time. But even this reference is fleeting and is merely shown as contemplation rather than the full practice.
During the 6th and 5th centuries BCE we can see more and more references to meditation through Buddhist India and Taoist China. But it is much later in Pi Canon, the foundation of Theravada Buddhism containing teachings, disciplines, and sermons. It is in the Pi Canon where we can see the origins of meditation that we are familiar with. It tells us the path to salvation is through observing and following the rules of morality. How contemplative thought concentration can provide not only knowledge but also liberation.
The Teaching of Zen
Fast forward a few hundred years and Buddhism is spreading and with it begins the evolution of meditation into what we know as Zen. The literal meaning of the word Zen is “meditation” and it is within the practice of Zen that we can see the forms of meditation that are practiced all over the world today. Buddhism and Zen were spread through Asian countries via the Silk Road. It is along its path that Buddhist monks entered China.
We can also see the meditational practices were woven into Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: the contemplativeness that is encouraged, the repeating of verses or prayers, breathing techniques, and even the way prayers are made. It was not until the 20th century and onwards that we see meditation begin to lose its religious connotations. Up until this point, meditation was used in conjunction with a religion such as Buddhism or Hinduism, and while it is still seen as a religious act to many, you can also find it practiced in a secular environment such as workplaces, hospitals, and in meditational retreats.
Past is Present
As you can see, the origin of meditation spans back thousands of years, and it is argued by many scholars that it dates back even further, we just don’t have the physical evidence to confirm this. And while it has spread through the world and over the years been molded and shaped to conform to the doctrines of that time and place, the principles are exactly the same as they were more than 7,000 years ago.
Our brains are dynamic by nature, built to be adaptable and resilient. Science calls this quality neuroplasticity. This is the reason why stroke patients can relearn skills. Our brains actively grow and rewire themselves in response to new learning and stimulation. For this reason, many people use brain training to help them remember people’s names and generally keep their brains healthy.
The Science Behind Meditation
Meditation for Mental Fitness
Scientists believe that physical exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which helps improve neuroplasticity. Now, a recent study indicates that meditation has positive effects on neuroplasticity. Many long-term benefits of meditation are backed by science, including managing chronic health conditions, improving focus and concentration, and improving mood. This one explores which areas of the brain were affected by different types of meditation.
More specifically, the study found that different types of meditation affect different parts of the brain, from increasing attention span to making a person more empathetic, lowering stress levels to helping a person deal with pressure.
In addition, the study indicates that practicing different types of meditation results in different parts of the brain going through structural changes, giving us impressive evidence that brief, concentrated meditation can improve neuroplasticity in adults.
Details of the Study
The study included a sample size of 300 people divided into three different groups. Each group practiced a different type of meditation. The researchers collected longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data during the nine months of mental training through meditation.
Group 1: Breathing Meditation and Body Scan
The first group practiced a body scan meditation that focused on the sensations of breathing and various parts of the body, while also focusing on the sensations occurring in these body parts. The participants also practiced walking meditation and meditations focusing on sound, vision, and taste.
These practices required mindfulness in everything and a careful focus on moment-to-moment experience, noticing distractions, and reorienting to the meditation’s focus object.
Group 2: Loving-Kindness Meditation
The second group of participants practiced Loving-Kindness Meditation. This involved introducing them to ways of connecting with feelings of love and care and then directing those feelings toward themselves and others.
To sustain these feelings, participants were asked to repeat phrases like “May you be healthy,” “May you be happy,” and “May you be safe.”
Group 3: The Affect Dyad
Group 3 tried “The Affect Dyad.” This is a partner exercise where two people sit facing each other and take turns discussing difficult situations for which they were grateful. This exercise helps cultivate empathic listening, observing painful, complex feelings, and developing gratitude.
Results of the Study
The researchers collected data with MRI brain scans, behavior tests, and psychosocial brain tests. Upon analyzing the data, different areas of the brain noticed changes based on the type of meditation.
For instance, researchers found changes in the cortex of participants who practiced mindfulness meditation. These changes were related to executive functioning and attention. In contrast, researchers found changes in the limbic systems, an area of the brain associated with emotion. All the groups reported a reduction in stress in their lives, and their cortisol levels dropped up to 51 percent.
The second two groups also showed selective behavioral improvements in compassion and perspective. These behavioral changes correspond with the degree of structural brain plasticity in regions in the cortex that supports these emotions.
While many regular meditators believe in the positive effects of meditation and have seen them in themselves, it’s nice to know that there is science to back it up. This study shows that all forms of meditation have a positive benefit on mental wellbeing. And that meditation may be the ultimate brain training practice. The results of this study can help you choose the type of meditation you’d like to practice.
The Benefits of Meditation
Here are some benefits meditation has on our brains, just to prove my point:
- Helps preserve the aging brain.
- Reduces activity on the brain’s default mode network.
- Fights depression and anxiety as well as antidepressants.
- Helps with addiction and self-control.
Key Benefit #1: Using Meditation as Brain Training Improves Concentration
Concentration issues are not children-only. Adults are also diagnosed and struggle with ADD. Not surprisingly, using meditation can help improve meditation and reduce symptoms of ADD or ADHD. One study found that meditation helped the participant’s focus and memory. Based on the review, one could say that meditation improves people’s cognitive skills. However, more research is needed to prove that one.
Key Benefit #2: Keeps Anxiety Under Control
Most people start meditation to control their stress levels, and just considering the breathing aspect of meditation, we can see how this might be true. However, some studies believe using meditation for anxiety can be successful. The study noted that people reaped the benefits years after starting a meditation practice.
In particular, studies mention mindful meditation has unique effects on reducing anxiety. More studies are linking mindful meditation with social anxiety disorders, proving effective at controlling symptoms.
Key Benefit #3: Meditation Unlocks Your Learning Power
If meditation helps improve concentration, it should come as no surprise that it can boost our ability to learn. When we meditate, our brain enters a state of “super learning,” which results from an increase in Alpha brainwaves, the state our brain goes to when studying or learning something new. Not to mention, meditation also triggers our left and right brain to work in harmony, which means you can tap into more brainpower altogether.
Sound and Meditation
Sound meditation is the practice of using sound to deepen the meditative state. For thousands of years, ancient culture has used sound to ease anxiety and promote a sense of wellbeing. Many cultures and religions have recognized the power of music to induce relaxation and meditation.
There are many forms of meditation you can use to help reduce stress, from guided meditations to transcendental meditation to mindfulness meditation. One of the simplest and most pleasurable is to use one of these instruments to take a sound bath. A sound bath is a meditation intentionally using sound to bring about the restorative benefit of meditation.
Tibetan Singing Bowls
An ancient Tibetan meditation tool, the Tibetan or Himalayan singing bowl, makes pure sounds when the mallet rubs the rim. This sound is said to bring the brain into a meditative state. The vibrations have the same wavelength found in the brainwaves that make us feel relaxed. These days singing bowls are used throughout the world both with or without spiritual traditions for meditation, relaxation, trance induction, healthcare, personal wellbeing, and religious practices.
Meditation chimes are made of two rods that are tuned to nearly the same pitch, but not quite. When they are struck at the same time, they make an acoustical phenomenon called “beating.” They seem to be ringing with the same pitch, but you’ll hear a distinct rhythm or pulsation about 12 beats per second.
To clear the mind, focus, and reset your breathing, strike the chime and inhale, then as the echo fades, strike the chime to exhale. After inhaling and exhaling, start meditating.
Tingsha bells look like two cymbals attached by a rope or cord. That’s where the resemblance begins and ends. They often have 8 auspicious symbols on them, called the Ashtamangala. They are much thicker than cymbals, and they are not banged together like cymbals. Their beautiful cleansing sound is made by hitting the two edges together and allowing them to move apart from each other. The sound they make reverberates for approximately 15 seconds and gradually fades.
What Is a Sound Bath?
A sound bath is when you are immersed in the sound of bells, chimes, and sound singing bowls to provide relaxation and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The sounds offer a break from the relentless churning of the mind and can complement a yoga or meditation practice. It’s not surprising that these practices are often used together. Let’s explore the benefits of using bells, chimes, and singing bowls when practicing meditation.
The Power of Sound in Meditation
Meditation has long had a relationship with sound, mainly in the form of meditation mantras or meditation chants. When we say a mantra or chant during meditation, we’re using the vibrations of the sound to influence the energies of the subtle body. According to the yogic tradition, this is an unseen network of chakras and channels through which our deepest energies and consciousness move.
According to the tradition, sound at vibrations that our ears can’t hear are heard by our body, even if we don’t consciously register it. The smallest particles of reality move in a way that can’t be seen, but that is there. These highest vibrations appear to us as solid, still, and quiet.
The Benefits of Bells, Chimes, and Singing Bowls in Meditation
According to science, the long-term benefits of meditation include managing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, mental health disorders, addiction, chronic pain, insomnia, and headaches, to name just a few. Anything we can do to reduce the stress in our lives can help not only our mental health but also our physical health.
Meditation contributes to a greater sense of ease and reduces stress. But meditation with sound may have even more benefits. One theory suggests that sound calms the mind by teaching the brain’s electrical impulses to copy the ones we have in a meditative state, deep concentration, or relaxation.
The idea that music may be able to influence brain waves started with 20th-century otolaryngologist Alfred A. Tomatis. It became popular by Don Campbell’s book, the Mozart Effect. The book focused on music’s power to make us smarter and concentrate better.
Some suggest that listening to a singing bowl guides our minds towards theta brain wave activity. This is the same type of brain activity that occurs during REM sleep, creativity, and meditation. The theory is that when we’re meditating or in deep concentration, our minds move towards the frontal midline.
Studies support the theory that music, especially music we enjoy, alters our brain’s bio-electric oscillations, mainly in the range of alpha and beta frequencies. While sounds help us relax, we need more research to show that they target the same areas of the brain that meditation does.
No matter what the underlying reason for why it works, for those who find the sounds of bells, chimes, and singing bowls relaxing, spending time meditating with these sounds is a joyous activity that helps us deeply relax and destress.
Best Meditation Apps to Download
If you are brand new to meditation, there are many meditation apps that can help you get started. Let’s have a look at some of the apps to decide which is the best meditation app and also learn a little bit about what they have to offer.
This was actually the top-rated meditation app back in 2017 and it’s still as popular today. As soon as you open the app, you will be hit with an instant sense of calm due to the relaxing sounds including falling rain and the gentle tweeting of birds. Calm is jam packed full of different guided meditation practices. Whether you are looking for a long session or are strapped for time and just want a quick five-minute meditation, the app has it all. While you will need to pay for some features on the app, there are several free sessions, including the very popular “7 Days of Sleep”.
This is a cool meditation app that connects users all over the world to each other on a spiritual journey. Five million people from all over the world are using this app and when you open up the app, you will actually be told how many of those are meditating right now. There are so many different teachers on this app and there are meditation/mindfulness practices on everything that you can think of. Whether you want to improve your mental health, your relationships, stress or more – there are many different options to choose from. Insight Timer recently launched courses which are $4.99 each but these are definitely worth the money if there is something in particular that you want to work on.
In this more traditional meditation app, you can have live sessions with a licensed psychologist. Here you will be guided through ten days of meditation, designed to help you improve a number of things and all of these are centered around you learning to manage your breath. There is a “discover” series on the app which has a number of different useful practices. Meditation Studio is known to be very effective but is geared more towards individuals who have at least some experience with meditation.
Perfect for newbies and really hot right now is the app called Headspace. This is all guided and you can practice different things depending on how you feel on a day to day basis. There is a free 10-day trial so you can decide if you like it before you commit to a subscription
These are just some of the meditation apps available to download online, but you will discover so many more if you do your research. Meditation can have such a positive impact on your life and it’s perfect if you have been feeling lost lately. Try some of these for yourself and you will instantly feel a positive shift in yourself.
If you’re ready to give meditation a try, consider subscribing to our meditation section for advice on how to become a GR8 meditator.