Tuning Forks, Singing Bowls, and Sound Baths: Where to Try Sonic Therapy in the USA
Noise can stress us out—but if used right, it can also ground us (and make for a memorable experience while on the road). Here are six places around the USA to have an auditory experience.
Blaring car horns, shouty TV ads, New York Times alerts blowing up our mobiles—it’s enough environmental noise to drive an otherwise sane person mad. But used correctly, sound can be a beautiful and soothing thing. Aural healers, scientists, and techies across the country are experimenting with tools ancient (singing bowls, gongs) and new (Space Odyssey–esque meditation pods) to help their clients find inner peace. Here are six to explore on the road.
A Sacred Sound Experience
Ojo Caliente, New Mexico
Visionary artist Ra Paulette first entered the public eye as the subject of the 2014 Academy Award–nominated documentary Cavedigger. To date, the 78-year-old artist has transformed more than 20 sandstone mesas throughout northern New Mexico into ornately carved subterranean cathedrals. Most are squirreled away on private property or buried deep in the high desert—their locations known by just a handful of locals.
One notable exception is Paulette’s exquisite “Windows of the Earth” cave sculpture, housed on the 145-acre private property of Origin at Rancho de San Juan, a wellness retreat 38 miles from Santa Fe. Origin owner Jill Marie Inanna leads yoga and meditation sessions inside Paulette’s cave sanctuary, but her unique 2.5-hour guided sound experience ($87) combines silent meditation and gazing into mirror pools with chanting, drumming, and an orchestra of quartz crystal singing bowls. The cave’s 20-foot-tall glass windows and curvaceous sandstone folds bounce sound around in a mystical way; Inanna likens the “transformative acoustic experience” to hearing Gregorian chant in a cathedral. Tours are by reservation only but non-resort guests are welcome.
Somadome’s shiny futuristic meditation pods are all the rage with tech and finance bros in California and New York, but they’ve also popped up in more unexpected places like Louisville, Kentucky, and Dayton, Ohio. The mood-altering chambers-for-one are fashioned from “energy-healing” microcrystalline tiles, purported to block cell phone signals and other electronic device emissions. Meditation sessions last 20 minutes and combine LED color therapy with binaural beat meditation (tones played at different frequencies in each ear). The ambient soundtrack depends on your goal for the session—to get focused, recharge a stress-frazzled mind, or simply chill—and whether you want the meditation to be guided or unguided. The sound and light are so tranquilizing, some podsters fall asleep inside their cocoons; others report slipping into a transcendental state and walking away with a greater sense of inner peace and mental clarity. Installing a pod at home would cost $35,000, but one-off sessions range from $25 to $60 and are bookable at high-end spas from San Francisco to Dubai.
Imagine a place so quiet, you can hear your joints click and your lungs inflate. Those are just some of the disorienting noises you might hear inside the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis. The multi-disciplinary lab, founded by scientist Steven Orfield, has been offering design, research, and testing services to corporate and architectural clients since the early 1970s. Its anechoic chamber—which completely absorbs sound waves—is so silent, in fact, the sound is measured in negative decibels; it even holds the 2005 and 2013 Guinness World Record for being the quietest place on Earth. Visitors who’ve been inside the chamber say it “resets” their brains and offers a much-needed respite from a noisy and distracting world.
The chamber isn’t pitched as a wellness retreat, but Orfield has been conducting long-term research about how a space like this could help people suffering from PTSD, autism, and anxiety disorders. Because the chamber was primarily designed to test products, visitors are not permitted to enter alone. Sessions are by reservation only and always supervised. Tours range in price from $125 for a one-hour tour of the lab (with a two-person minimum) to $250 for a two-hour experience during which visitors can experience both an anechoic and sensory deprivation chamber.
Alex Schechter knows firsthand how transformative sound can be: The yoga instructor, Level 3–certified Acutonics sound therapist, and AFAR contributor is also a classically trained pianist. “Sound is an elemental force,” says Schechter. “It gets you out of your head and immediately into your heart.” At Still Yoga studio in Silverlake, Schechter uses guided breath, vocalization, and vibration to tune his clients’ energy into what he calls the “harmonic patterns of the cosmos.” During 50-minute solo sessions ($60), planetary tuning forks, which are tuned to the frequencies of the sun and planets, are used to tap into key acupressure points along the body. The good vibrations tango with your natural meridians, or energy channels, to produce a pleasant tingling sensation. This is followed by a period of silent meditation. “There is hardly any physical movement during a session,” says Schechter. “It’s less about targeting the specific muscle/pain area and more about helping a person tune into their own life force.”
For a more immersive experience, sign up for Schechter’s “Find Your Inner Heart Song” workshop ($250), which combines tuning forks with guided meditation, vocalization, journaling, and instrumentation (typically piano or drumming) to craft a melodic two- or three-line mantra that resonates with your soul on a subconscious level.
New York City
Woom Center, a holistic meditation and yoga center, is all about helping “the high vibrational people of New York City” reach higher states of consciousness (or at least relax enough to get a decent night’s sleep). The studio offers several paths to aural enlightenment. Gong meditation sessions ($25) last 60 minutes and are rooted in ancient sound-based vibrational therapies. Hour-long Spatial Sound sessions ($25) layer traditional sound meditation instruments with electro beats from the studio’s custom sound system.
A two-hour Super WOOM Yoga session ($30) combines vinyasa practice with vocal toning and instrumentation to aid in the alignment of your asanas. But WOOM’s most extensive “sonic journey” is the three-hour Sound Experience ($40-$45), which is broken into five chapters: Talk, Vocal Meditation, Breathwork, Sound, and Connecting. The Sound section, in particular, incorporates gongs, Himalayan singing bowls, tuning forks, bells, and chimes.
The Integratron Sound Bath
The Integratron is the mothership of high-desert sonic healing. The 38-foot-tall dome was erected in 1959 by aeronautical engineer and UFO believer George Van Tassel, who based its design on Moses’ Tabernacle, the work of Nikola Tesla, and detailed instructions from aliens (yes, really). He built it atop a “powerful geomagnetic vortex” in the Mojave Desert, 20 minutes north of Joshua Tree and three miles from Giant Rock (where he famously hosted UFO conventions). Van Tassel passed away in 1978; for the past 30 years, the Integratron has been run by a trio of sisters who fixed up the place and opened it to the public.
The signature experience is a 60-minute sound bath, which, despite its name, is a solely aural experience—no nudity required. During the bath, guests lay on their backs on mats inside the sound chamber; scents of palo santo and rosemary oil hang in the air. A brief introduction is followed by 30 minutes of singing crystal bowls, each one tuned to a different chakra. Ambient music closes out the sonic sessions, which healers say lowers the heart rate, relaxes hyperactive brain waves, and alleviates stress and anxiety. Public sound baths cost $35-$40 per person; advance reservations are essential. Private sound baths start at $300 for one to four guests (Wednesdays through Fridays only) and cost $1,300 for weekend sessions (up to 30 guests).