No one knows exactly when bowls began to be used for producing sound. But when Buddhism came to Tibet that was already the practice within the existing shamanistic Bon Po culture. The practice made its way into Buddhism and there were legends of the secret use of singing bowls among the higher level lamas.
Fast forward to the present day. Singing bowls are now used for meditation and healing. Some of those bowls are metal, hand hammered in the traditional Eastern way. Some of the modern ones are cast and lathed. But now we also have crystal singing bowls created in various ways. Some are made by heating quartz crystal powder to over 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes precious metals and gems are mixed in with the quartz powder.
So how do these singing bowls work? A mallet is used to tap them near the rim or is run along the rim, like a finger on the rim of a wine glass.
The tones produced entrain the human brain into alpha and theta brain wave states. The alpha brainwave state is one of relaxed awareness as when one is daydreaming. The theta brainwave state is that borderline state where one enters or leaves sleep. The biochemistry of the alpha and theta brainwave states relax and replenish the body. The tones sounded by the singing bowls are also said to synchronize both hemispheres of the brain.
That is the scientific explanation of the singing bowls’ effects. But it is also said that the tones restore balance to the body and remove blockages, much as acupuncture is described as doing. But acupuncture involves physical contact. How could sound have a similar effect?
Dr Alfred Tomatis, an ear, nose and throat specialist, developed a type of sound therapy. In addition to the accepted functions of the ear — physical balance and hearing — Dr Tomatis added a third function: charging the cortex of the brain. This charging energizes brain and body and requires stimulation by sound. The Tomatis Method states that: “The richer the sound is in harmonic highs, the more effective it is. Sounds rich in harmonic highs stimulate a vast neural network known as the “reticular formation” which controls the overall level of cerebral activity.”
Kathleen Humphries of Loyola Marymount University points out that Western music does not have the harmonics found in Eastern music and in the tones produced by the singing bowls. Being unfamiliar to Westerners, it is theorized that these harmonics particularly affect those Westerners. The same writer notes that modern Tibetan healers through experimentation and observation, know which tones will heal a particular illness.
However, it isn’t only Eastern healers using the power of the singing bowls for healing. Some Western medical doctors are doing likewise. Dr Andrew Weil, of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona has included singing bowls in his musical series entitled Dr Andrew Weil Presents: Vibrational Sound Healing.
Even more involved with healing with singing bowls is Dr Mitchell Gaynor. Dr Gaynor is an oncologist and internist, a former director of medical oncology at the Weill-Cornell Medical Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. He has moved on to develop Gaynor Integrative Oncology. When given a Tibetan singing bowl by a patient, he began to include singing bowls as part of his practice. He was invited to the Dr Oz Show and there explained and demonstrated healing with singing bowls in the following links.
In the first segment Dr Gaynor is introduced and crystal sonic therapy is described (04:48 minutes).
In the second segment Dr Gaynor demonstrates crystal sonic therapy on Dr Oz (05:07 minutes).
Samples of Mitchell Gaynor’s music may be found here.