The Integratron Sound Bath
Source: Courtesy: Jessie Eastland/Wikimedia Commons
I come from a family that consists of many doctors who have medical degrees and believe in the power of western medicine. I have never had a guru or an out of body experience or spiritual awakening. I have never talked to my plants asking them to grow or been comfortable reading horoscopes unless they’ve come from a fortune cooking I’m eating. All those things have never been my thing, as they say.
So when a friend of mine suggested we buy tickets to the most famous sound bath in the country as part of a girls getaway weekend, the skeptic inside me rolled her eyes. Really? Isn’t this just another fad? Well, apparently it’s a fad that’s thousands of years old.
Not familiar with a sound bath? A quick overview: in an article for the Washington Post, reporter Megan McDonough describes it as “an ancient sound healing practice” that studies have shown to decrease stress and anxiety. The famous sound bath in question, the Integratron, located in Landers, CA, outside Joshua Tree is described on its Wikipedia page as a tourist attraction where “groups of people are ‘exposed to harmonic sound frequencies’ produced by quartz bowls, claimed to have a deep calming effect.”
Researching the place and its purported healing properties, it seemed to me like the same effects could be achieved with the help of a long hot shower or perhaps a trip to one of the locations of the gym I belong to, where a steam room was recently installed. On the other hand, without any reports of negative side effects there wasn’t much to lose in going other than being disappointed by the pilgrimage. I unrolled my eyes. We signed up to go.
Everyone I told about this little adventure was thrilled and oftentimes jealous. This particular location was very hard to book and the more people I told about it, the more I looked forward to going and reporting back on what it was like inside.
The description on the Integratron’s website explained that during my sixty-minute experience resting comfortably in the deeply resonant, multi-wave sound chamber, a sequence of quartz crystal singing bowls would be played, “each one keyed to the energy centers or chakras of the body, where sound is nutrition for the nervous system. The results are waves of peace, heightened awareness, and relaxation of the mind and body.” My friend and I prepared the bodies that were about to become peace temples by enjoying a delicious lunch at In & Out. Bring it on crystal bowls. Let the healing begin!
When we arrived for our session, the first thing we were instructed to do was leave our shoes and our phones in a cubby below the sound chamber. There were about 20 or 30 people in the group and one by one we ascended a wooden ladder, one person on the ladder at a time, into the chambered dome above us. When I reached the top I was told to go into the center of the dome and say a word loudly that made me happy. As a lifelong fan of following directions carefully, I did as I was told and, when I reached the middle of room, exclaimed “Puppies!” The entire room echoed with my joyful voice and I couldn’t help but smile as I walked to one of the many mats arranged in a semicircle around the room. So far, so good.
Once each person had exclaimed their joyous word and chosen a mat, a gentleman greeted us and explained that he would be guiding us through the experience and playing crystal bowls for thirty minutes followed by a recording of sounds that would resonate with different frequencies than those emitted by the crystal bowls in concert. Everyone in the room was also warned that if we started to feel like we were levitating above our own bodies, there was nothing to worry about; it was very common. We were also expressly prohibited from snoring during the sound bath. This all reminded me a bit like the attendant before most movies calling out the pertinent details and rules of conduct before a film. Was this really all that different from an entertainment experience? I was about to find out.
Most people, myself included, got underneath our blanket and put our heads on the pillows placed on our mats. I decided to close my eyes before the show started and when the bowls started playing, the sound began to fill up the room like water, but more specifically like a whirlpool of intense sound. As I lay there, the sound was definitely wavelike in the way it traveled around the room and very quickly, each time the sound felt closest to me, the right side of my back became very uncomfortable. Painful isn’t accurate, but the sensation was more like the feeling of a masseuse pressing a knot out of a muscle very quickly and then taking their hands off again and again. I tried to adjust my back, thinking something was pressing a nerve to make me that uncomfortable, but the feeling wouldn’t go away.
I started to breath very deeply keeping my eyes closed and suddenly I held a memory in my head of a nurse tapping that side of my back, a memory from more than ten years earlier. The nurse was asking me if that side of my back hurt, which it most certainly did at the time due to a terrible kidney infection developing that ended up leaving me hospitalized for days (something I’ve written about in detail here). As I recalled this memory, the level of discomfort in my side began to dissipate until it disappeared completely. No sooner had I recovered from this odd mind body sensation, then the crystal bowl sounds vibrated down to a different part of my body making it pulse and surge with the same uncomfortable throbbing. It was my right knee, the knee where I have a seven-inch scar on my leg from childhood knee surgery. The same thing happened again. I recalled the experience in my mind when I hurt my knee and the subsequent process of leaving the hospital and tending to my scar. Slowly the discomfort faded.
Once the crystal bowls section of the sound bath ended, the discomfort was replaced by calm and the melodic recorded sound played over the speaker were peaceful and soothing. No one snored. I did not levitate over my body. When the sounds came to an end many people stayed on their mats, while others or practiced yoga poses. There was a couple that lay touching each other’s faces and staring wistfully into one another eyes looking almost grotesquely in love. My friend and I giggled and communally rolled our eyes at those two.
After we gathered our things and walked back to the car, I bashfully recounted to my friend what took place for me during the experience and she gleefully replied that the exact same thing had happened to her: discomfort in a part of the body impacted by physical and emotional trauma had been tensed, massaged and then soothed. We marveled at how similar our experiences had been in the sound bath.
I’m still on the western medicine bandwagon. I don’t have a reiki teacher, and I certainly didn’t buy any crystals from the Integratron gift shop to wear around my neck, but I would happily go back to experience a sound bath again and see what might take place in my mind or body or both. Now, I’m telling everyone I know that it’s totally worth it to give a sound bath a try.