How Gongs, Chimes and Singing Bowls Induce Meditation

In my last post, “The Science Behind Sound Healing,” I explained how brainwaves readily synchronized with externally produced sound waves through a process called entrainment.  Using this principle, we can induce brainwaves that correlate to desirable states of consciousness such as Alpha, Theta and Delta wavelengths, which have been regularly observed in practitioners of deep meditation such as Yoga Nidra and Vedanta [1][2].



Alpha, Theta, and Delta wavelengths (0.5 Hz - 12 Hz), are inaudible to the human ear, but can be perceived in the brain using a process called binaural hearing.  When the brain is simultaneously exposed to two slightly different frequencies within a close range (for example 154 Hz and 150 Hz), a third frequency is perceived internally, expressing the difference between the two [3][4].


Binaural Hearing Example:

Externally Produced Audible Sound Frequencies

   154 Hz

– 150 Hz


       4 Hz

Internally Perceived Brain Frequency (Theta)


Ancient and traditional sound technologies such as gongs, chimes, and singing bowls were made to vibrate within a small range of frequencies, as if our ancestors were privy to the newly emerging sciences of binaural hearing and entrainment.  For example, studies on the frequencies emitted by Tibetan Buddhist chimes called Ting-Sha’s show expression of wavelengths between 4 and 8 Hz, “the range of brain waves that occurs during meditation” notes Mitchell L. Gaynor M.D., Oncologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University [5].



Gongs and singing bowls are no different.  If you listen closely to these traditional instruments, you will notice a throbbing or pulsation as they oscillate between fundamental and partial tones which have the uncanny ability to immediately clear the mind and induce a state of calm.  It’s not surprising that traditional cultures utilized these instruments to initiate meditation, observes Dr. Gaynor—“they signify the start of practice, and they can actually help to induce the state of profound relaxation that often accompanies meditation” [5].

Cited Sources

[1] Miller, Richard (February 10, 2010). Yoga Nidra (Pap/Com ed.). Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Incorporated. p. 104. ISBN 1591797586.

[2] Sharma Arvind: Sleep as a State of Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta; State University of New York Press, 2004

[3] Wahbeh, H., Calabrese, C., and Zwickey, H., Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2007, pp25-32.

[4] Becher, A. K., Höhne, M., Axmacher, N., Chaieb, L., Elger, C. E., and Fell, J., Intracranial electroencephalography power and phase synchronization changes during monaural and binaural beat stimulation. European Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2015, pp254-263.

[5] Gaynor, Mitchell L. (2002). The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice, and Music.  Shambhala: Boston & London. pp 74-75. ISBN 978-1-57062-955-6.

The Science Behind Sound Healing

You’ve felt it before.  The immediate shift in chemistry when a certain song comes on.  Music can melt away tension or elevate us into ecstasy in a matter of moments.  But how does the magic work? 

Brain signals are transmitted through frequencies, much like music through a radio.  Studies show that these signals, or “brain waves,” correlate to particular states of consciousness such as focus, relaxation, meditation, and sleep [1].  Generally speaking, slower brain waves are associated with more relaxed meditative states, while faster ones correlate to alert and active states.

Scientists are now discovering that brain waves can be modified by externally produced sound frequencies through a process called entrainment—when the frequency of one object synchronizes with the frequency of another [2].  This means sound can be used to tune brainwaves to specific frequencies and achieve desired states of mind [3].  Additionally, separate brain cells are often tuned to different frequencies resulting in chaotic and disharmonious thought patterns, but when subjected to one external frequency, such as the sound of a gong, they can synchronize to resonate in unity [4].


“As above, so below”

— Hermetic Axiom


Entrainment is actually a phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe and was first described by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens in 1673 when he observed two pendulums operating at different tempos when placed in close proximity would spontaneously begin to pulse at the same rhythm [5].  With effects extending beyond the brain, numerous studies have shown that other biological processes such as speech patterns, physical gestures and heart rate are influenced by auditory entrainment [6].  For Example, slow wave sound vibrations have been shown to exert a tranquilizing effect with a reduction in blood flow rate when applied directly to the body of vibracoustic therapy patients [7].

The healing power of sound has long been known, if only intuitively, but the emerging principle of entrainment is a fascinating concept, the implications of which scientists are only just beginning to uncover. 


“These properties of sound medicine—entrainment, harmony, and homeostasis—represent the rational and spiritual foundation for a new movement in the healing arts and sciences.” — Mitchell L. Gaynor M.D., Oncologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University


Cited Sources

[1] Will, Berg E. Neuroscience Letters. 2007 Aug 31;424 (1):55-60. Epub 2007 Aug 6. Brain wave synchronization and entrainment to periodic acoustic stimuli.

[2] Niedermeyer E. and da Silva F.L., Electroencephalography: Basic Principles, Clinical Applications, and Related Fields. Lippincot Williams & Wilkins, 2004.

[3] Burkard, R., Don, M., and Eggermont, J. J., Auditory evoked potentials: Basic principles and clinical application. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007.

[4] Wang XJ (2010). "Neurophysiological and computational principles of cortical rhythms in cognition". Physiological Reviews 90 (3): 1195–1268. doi:10.1152/physrev.00035.2008. PMC 2923921. PMID 20664082.

[5] Matthews, Michael R. (2000). Time for science education: how teaching the history and philosophy of pendulum motion can contribute to science literacy. New York: Springer. pp. 124–126. ISBN 0-306-45880-2.

[6] Gaynor, Mitchell L. (2002). The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice, and Music.  Shambhala: Boston & London. pp 69-71. ISBN 978-1-57062-955-6.

[7] Hooper, Jeff. (Nov 2 2001) An introduction to vibroacoustic therapy and an examination of its place in music therapy practice. British Journal of Music Therapy, Vol 15, pp 69-77