Journey Arts in Woodstock, NY, Uses Sound Therapy to Heal, Relax
A form of healing that uses sound vibrations is gaining a following in the Valley
When I was a child, my mother sang to me every night before I went to sleep. It was often just a simple song she made up, but there was nothing more soothing to me than the gentle tone of her voice. Now, holistic practitioners are realizing the calming and healing effect of soft resonance and positive thought patterns by using sound therapy.
Also known as sound healing, this therapy has been growing in popularity as more people are looking to alternative forms of health care, such as Reiki and other energy healing specialties.
There are several well-regarded sound therapy practitioners in the area and most have a promising page of testimonials on their Web sites, citing everything from asthma relief to decreased hip pain. I myself have dealt with chronic, stress-related neck pain on and off for years, and as a musician (or at least a person who makes a lot of noise on musical instruments), I was naturally curious about sound therapy. So I made an appointment for a healing session with Terri Guest and Marcus Lindner of Journey Arts in Woodstock, who have a sound studio/healing space tucked away in the woods near the renowned Maverick Concert Hall.
Shelves display a variety of percussion and wind instruments used during healing sessions
“Sound healing has seen a gradual rise in popularity, like yoga has. Over the years there’s been a blossoming of awareness,” says Guest, who is also a licensed massage therapist and aesthetician. “It makes sense that sound would be a healing tool; it’s always been one, but we’re just becoming more aware of its capabilities.”
Sound healing works in two ways. First, there is the simple notion that the sound itself — which is often created by percussive instruments, tuning forks, and other objects — can guide the body into a deep meditative state. The second factor deals with the vibrations caused by these sounds; each carefully chosen instrument creates a different vibration that has been shown to have positive effects on the mind and body, including aiding in stress and pain relief. During a sound healing session, emphasis is placed on entrainment — the process of projecting the rhythmic vibrations of one object onto another — and intention.
“It’s aligning and attuning with your own energy field. We are often out of synch with ourselves — for a variety of reasons such as life in the city, or what we eat,” says Lindner. “You know that phrase ‘Change your mind, change your life?’ Well, we usually open our sessions with a conversation and suggest that you may want to have an intention for your session, because energy follows thought. If you put the intention out there, energy will follow it.”
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Good vibrations: Sound practitioner Terri Guest plays chakra-balancing chimes for Journey Arts founder Marcus Lindner
Lindner, who lived in Woodstock in the ’60s before relocating to sunny Florida, founded Journey Arts in 1993. He and Guest — a fashion-industry veteran originally from London, who had been a Manhattanite for the last 26 years — met through a mutual friend while on a retreat in the Druid forests near Provence. “We decided to visit Woodstock, and as soon as I arrived here I felt like I was home again,” says Lindner. “Then we discovered there were other sound-healing practitioners here too, and we decided to bring Journey Arts to Woodstock. We’ve been here for about a year.”
The fee for a 90-minute session is $130; $200 for a 90-minute session with both practitioners. Inside Journey Arts, the airy space has large windows that overlook a deck surrounded by lush trees and foliage. On the floor sit a variety of instruments, including Tibetan singing bowls, a rain stick, and chimes. Tuning forks of varying sizes are laid out across a table, and on the opposite side of the room, enormous chimes like thin telephone poles hang suspended above the ground. Along one wall, a spectrum of colored scarves add a splash of vibrancy to the space; Lindner and Guest actually use these silk cloths as part of the process. “The scarves are dyed to specific frequency levels and are used for their vibratory effects,” says Guest. “Color has a visual effect on us, but I’ve worked with color-blind clients who have been positively affected. Color is light, and light is vibration.”
In the same vein, because sound healing is based on vibration, one doesn’t need to be able to hear in order to receive benefits. “It can help the deaf; they still feel the vibration,” Guest says. “I haven’t worked with a deaf client, but I’ve worked with those with hearing issues and some have even stated that their hearing improved. There is a logic to how we use the instruments with different areas of the body. I’m not playing to what you hear, I’m playing to what I’ve detected and how that’s going to affect the body.
“There’s a treatment we do that is hugely helpful for spinal pain, backaches, and headaches, using the tuning forks along the meridian points on either side of the spine,” says Guest, but it can help with other ailments and diseases. Lindner adds: “Terri has done work with multiple sclerosis patients, and we’ve seen positive interactions with autistic children. There was a pediatric clinic across the driveway from my sound studio in Florida that saw many autistic kids. Often they would come over, hop on the monochord table, and enjoy feeling the vibration. It settled them because it was something they could feel that they didn’t have to express, they could just enjoy it.”
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Tuning forks — small, steel instruments that make a pure tonal sound when struck — are often used to transfer resonance
While studies about the benefits of vibrational and sound healing are ongoing, some of the most surprising work has been performed by Japanese alternative medicine specialist Dr. Masaru Emoto, who researched cymatics (the study of wave phenomena) in frozen water crystals using sound and intention. Because about three-quarters of the human body is water, his theories show how sound can possibly affect the body: “Dr. Emoto’s first book was on sound — when he chanted or spoke nicely at the crystals, they would open up. If he aggressively said ‘I hate you,’ they would collapse,” explains Lindner. “His second book was on intention — he just thought the phrases and the crystals did the same thing.” Although there are many people who criticize his experiments, referring to them as biased or too open to human error, his findings have been a major boon to spreading the word about sound healing.
Either way, I was ready to ease my water crystals. My main goal for my session was relaxation. At the time, I had just moved to a new upstate town, and between trying to organize the new place (“Where’d I put that box with that thing in it?”), configuring my morning routine with the new extended commute to work (hello there, a.m. Thruway traffic), and other tedious things, I felt I could use a little help with finding balance and harmony.
During my session I laid down (fully clothed, without shoes) and a soft pillow covered my eyes. Lindner and Guest measured my vibratory status, which included checking acupressure points and consulting the Chinese Five Element theory, which interprets the relationship between the human body and the natural environment.
Guest later told me that research has shown it takes the body 24 minutes to reach full relaxation mode, but I was already feeling peaceful within a few minutes. Soon the sounds started — the ting of tuning forks, the sharp ring of singing bowls, the beaded sounds of a rain stick passing from side to side. I became completely relaxed until the end of the session when Guest’s soft voice told me to begin moving my hands and feet to slowly come out of the meditation. I was actually in such a relaxed state that I couldn’t move my feet at first, but as I slowly came back down to Earth, my body began waking up. While my neck pain didn’t magically disappear (perhaps a few more sessions would help), I felt completely energized and recharged. Most importantly, my mind was clear — not running through the ever-expanding to-do list.
This is why Lindner and Guest prefer not to refer to themselves as healers. As Lindner says, “It’s you who does the healing, we just create the environment for your body to do its work. A large percentage of healing is relaxation, maybe another small percent is from the person who creates the environment, and the rest of it is all between you and God or whatever you call the force that brings you back into harmony. Referring to Dr. Emoto: If we’re 80 percent water, and water’s cellular structure changes when it’s harmonized through sound, then we’re really harmonizing the body.”
“And everything’s connected,” Guest chimes in. “Even if it’s hearing a sound or a song you like, you feel uplifted. That has an effect on your serotonin level and shifts your whole biochemistry.”
Even if that sound is just a simple song made by a loved one.