Alternative healing has got a shot in the arm with the introduction of the concept of Tibetan Singing bowl meditation. Yoga expert Shameem Akhtar has been conducting 30 minute sessions in suburban Bandra since February, and encourages everyone to try it atleast once. We met up with her to learn more.
How did you find out about the concept of Tibetan Singing bowl meditation?
I have been collecting bowls even before I started doing yoga. I collected them for their designs. Actually, it was in the Bandra restaurant Lemon Grass that one of the waiters showed me how to make the bowl "sing" (they use the bowls for placing the bill/payment at each table. And my curiosity was piqued because I did not know that bowls could sing. Since then I wanted to learn the practice. I started looking up courses online, and discovered that some people in Kolkata are teaching it, but I also chanced upon another place in Kathmandu, Nepal which was offering it.
Coincidentally, it was being organised through the brother Sabin Thapa of a yoga instructor who had also trained at the same Sivananda ashram as I. But that I found out only after landing in Nepal! Though I applied for the course the teacher Shree Krishna Shahi was travelling internationally. He has trained many of the internationally well -known names in Singing bowl meditation in the West, and I could connect back only six months later. So, that's how I landed up in Kathmandu to learn the bowl.
Tell us more about your experience
When I landed in Nepal I had no clue how well-known my teacher was. I found out only the next day after the lessons started. For me, it was all just a matter of instinct, and taking a chance and follow my heart. it worked perfectly because Shree (as my teacher likes to be called) is really one of the most intuitive teachers I have known. He has a "connection" to the bowls, and treats them as living things. He introduced me to the magic of the bowls, their soul and their healing in a way that worked for me. It was a one-on-one course, and spread over a few days of intense practice, learning and training.
Is it recommended for everyone?
Yes, it is for everybody. Pregnant women, of course, most things have to be modified, so you can leave them out of it, for "strong" chakra massages. The vibration may be too intense for the baby in the womb. That aspect has to be really modified and toned down, and that is best left to the master, like Shree. Otherwise, it is a powerful relaxation, a meditative experience which heals, de-stresses. I have this book Healing Power of Sound, by Mitchell Gaynor, an oncologist, who gives his own experience as a medical practitioner who has used this method to heal, control terminal illness. I have known people to start actually snoring in the first few rounds after I start the session, indicating how powerful it is, even more so than hand-manipulated or touch massages.
Benefits of this therapy
It is used to heal/control any known ailment. If you put your hand beside a struck bowl, you will feel the power of its vibration. Since the body is composed of fluid/water, this responds to the vibration. It is quantum healing. It works on the seven chakras, which if you must be scientific, can be said to be aligned with the endocrine map of the body. Thus the vibrations work on the glands, and brings those who are in a state of disharmony, back to a state of balance and homeostasis. It is used in pain management, arthritis of all nature, most chronic ailments and pain. It is very similar to nada yoga -- the special branch of yoga of music and sound healing. And for me, it aligns with yoga in the chakra harmony and aura cleansing. Meditative relaxation shuts down the reticulating activating system of the nervous system (the highly active static of the brain) and induces an alpha brain wave pattern (where the brain wave pattern enters an electrical activity that is both restful and alert). In this state the body-mind is both rested, rejuvenated and healed.
More about the singing bowls
I bought the bowls from my teacher. It was a set that he selected specially for me. Each bowl is tuned to a particular note (of the seven in both western and Indian classical music). These are said to align with the seven chakras. Each bowl must also be in a state of balance with each other. So, it is a very difficult thing to get a seven-set bowl with such tuning. They are different from the bowls you find in online stores or ethnic craft shops. The sound quality is also different. For meditation the bowls must have many overtones. Usually an expert ear, used to bowls, can actually locate the note/chakra by hearing these overtones. These overtones are what add to the meditative aspect of the bowls inging -- Tibetan Rinpoches say the bowls sing the sound of the cosmic void. Its connection is hugely spiritual for serious meditators. But others, not spiritually inclined, it is a sound massage with immense potential to heal. The tradition of the bowls predate Buddhist history, though it is currently strongly associated with all cultures that are Buddhist. Its history takes it along the Himalayan belt though it is currently largely referred to as the Tibetan bowls. But most bowls are made in the north-east, Himalayan, West Bengal villages. It is also common in Indonesia, Malayasia, Japan, China, etc, though with different traditions and styles in bowl-making and use, striking, sequences of striking thebowl,etc. Materials used are also different. Bell metal is also being used, though traditional and antique bowls are believed to be made of seven metals representing the seven planets. These metals include gold, silver, tin, mercury etc. Some ancient bowls are said to contain material from meteorites also. There is a lot of lore, but not sufficient compliation of the bowls and their history. There has been a tremendous revival of interest, particularly in the west, especially Europe where another aspect of the bowls, gongs, are also used in healing.
How much does a singing bowl session cost?
I am charging Rs 750 per session for a 30 minute duration.
About the session
For someone who is restless and impatient shutting out the world to meditate can be the toughest challenge you pose. However, keeping reservations at bay, I decided to venture ahead, and experience this unique healing session. Lying on my back like a corpse with seven bowls placed around me was both awkward and interesting. Shameem explained that she needed me to surrender to the sounds of the bowl, shutting out the outside world. Easier said than done. However, bracing up to the challenge I lied on my back and let Shameem took over. She used a gong and a mallet to produce these soothing sounds from the seven bowls placed around me, and I began feeling more relaxed and calm. The session also pique my curiosity so I got Shameem to share some details about it, and this is what she had to say.
Did you know?
Each bowl corresponds with a particular musical note. Note B corresponds to the Crown chakra, E to eyebrow center, A to the throat, D to the heart chakra, G to the navel center/chakra, C to the sacral center and F to the base or root chakra.