If you’ve ever cringed at the sound of nails scratching against a chalkboard, a blaring car alarm or perhaps, the voice of someone you find super annoying, you know how certain sounds can affect your mood negatively. So what if there were sounds on the other side of the spectrum that could do the exact opposite?
Turns out, there are. Through sound meditation (via singing bowls and gongs), you can actually put your brain in another state of mind—including theta, the dream-like state associated with greater intuition, creativity and relaxation. It’s no wonder that more and more people in Hong Kong are turning to sound meditation to help deal with the stresses of daily life, as evidenced by all the singing bowl and gong sessions popping up in the city.
See also: Good vibrations: Where to find gong baths and singing bowls in Hong Kong
We sat down with one of Hong Kong’s most well-known sound meditation experts, Malbert Lee (or Mal, for short), at SharedSpace to ask a few FAQs on sound meditation, singing bowls and gongs.
What were you doing before this?
I was a flight attendant, and as you know, being on the plane is nothing but uncomfortable. It’s noisy, the humidity is dry, and it really disrupts your body rhythm. That’s why after flying, I usually listen to the singing bowl, put it on my body, and it instantly changes my well-being—energetically, physically and emotionally.
What’s the difference between singing bowls and gongs?
The singing bowl, which is where I first started, is accessible and affordable. As for crystal bowls, they’re very angelic and can fill up a room easily with just one bowl and without any microphones.
The Tibetan bowl is great for putting on the body and introducing sound vibration to the body. It’s very good for an up-close and personal experience.
As for gongs, they’re a lot bigger, a lot heavier and a lot more expensive, which may not be so affordable/accessible for many. However, this is the only instrument that can take the human mind from beta to theta state, a deep state of meditation between being awake and asleep. After just 45 minutes, many people feel well-rested, recharged and rejuvenated, as if you’ve had a really good rest.
Which would you say is best?
I would say, try different things and find something you like. A gong bath is like an energetic wash. The sound wave is very powerful and it will wash all your stresses away, since the human body stores trauma and emotions deep inside at a cellular level and the gong can shake those things out.
The gong is quite amazing for those who want to relax, or to meditate, and you normally feel a lot lighter after the session. It brings out different kinds of feelings and emotions, so you’re more aware of what’s going on in your body. Just one hit and you can feel the energy go straight through your body to your heart.
Crystal singing bowls may not take you as deep as theta–maybe to alpha. Sometimes, people want something less intense, something that’s very gentle, so crystal bowls and Tibetan bowls are great for this and you can also put them on your body for sound massage.
Do you use any other sounds in your sessions?
I usually use other instruments like wind chimes to create a different soundscape and feeling. There’s an intro and outro so there’s a nice transition. Different sounds can bring out different emotions, so I like to use a lot of different instruments.
Do you consider yourself a musician?
Not really, because this is not music. The reason why we call it sound is that we can’t replicate what we’ve done in the process since the sound vibration will always create different sounds.
For example, if I play two singing bowls together, they make a “crystal baby” (laughs), like another layer of sound, another wave and another wave. With gongs, all the different points you hit creates a different sound.
I don’t control the gong—I let it sing for itself, and every time it’s different. That’s why it’s sound therapy rather than music. We simply cannot replicate the experience. It’s not like a piano or violin.
What’s your all-time favourite sound (that’s not a singing bowl or gong)?
I like the cat’s purr. I used to have cats so when they start purring, I just love it. It’s very soothing and calming.
And your least favourite?
Hmm, probably the siren—it’s quite disruptive to your body and in your face. Even if it’s far away, it can wake you up because it’s the sound of an alarm. Nothing nice is usually associated with sirens.
Is it okay to sleep during a sound meditation session?
There’s no right or wrong. If your body really needs to rest, you’ll naturally fall asleep, and sometimes you’ll be awake the whole time. There’s no goal for sound baths except that you allow the sound to flow through your body as if you’re not in the room. Your body will take that energy and do whatever it needs to do.
Some people like to be awake, some people like to sit up and meditate the whole time, and that’s fine too. You actually get the benefits either way by receiving the sound vibration, which includes better circulation, detoxification and a clearer mind.
What about people who snore?
A little bit of light snoring and heavy breath is fine. I always encourage people to tune out the sound of what other people make, but it takes time to practice. But if someone is really snoring like the “God of Thunder”, I’ll usually gently touch their shoulder and get them to lean on their side, and the snoring will usually go away.
How often should someone do a gong bath/sound meditation?
Every other day maximum, because your body needs one day of rest to settle itself, and then you can really feel its effect. But some people like to do it every day at home for themselves—there’s no right or wrong. For myself, I do it every day, because I have a gong at home.
Check out Malbert in action below:
Malbert teaches regularly at studios including The Yoga Room, Enhale, SharedSpace and more, and will also be at the upcoming IRIS x Ngong Ping 360 event on Dec 2.
Find out more at malbertlee.com
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