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The Healing Power of Sound?

May 24, 2010

Dome.longshot.jpgThere's a whole branch of neuroscience dedicated to exploring the healing properties of sound. Music therapy comes in many forms. One of the most fundamental takes the form of simply lying back and letting sound vibrations course through your body for a while.

The hour I spent at the Integratron over the weekend, a sonic experience based in a space-age-looking dome structure in the middle of the desert near Joshua Tree National Park in California, had somewhat of a restorative effect on my body and mind. But the experience left me thinking that sound, though a powerful form of therapy, doesn't always work its magic on the listener, especially when the environment isn't perfectly conducive to allowing the vibrations to take you over.

This is how the Integratron is described on the organization's website:

"The Integratron is the creation of George Van Tassel, and is based on the design of Moses' Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials. This one-of-a-kind building is a 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter, non-metallic structure originally designed by Van Tassel as a rejuvenation and time machine. Today, it is the only all-wood, acoustically perfect sound chamber in the U.S."

My friends and I arrived at the Integratron just in time for the public "sound bath" session, which happens just once a month. We each paid $10 and made our way into the dome. We walked up some steep wooden steps and found ourselves in a round room, brightly lit with desert light streaming through the windows. About a hundred people lay on their backs in the space, with their heads facing the center of the room. It was packed. I found a wedge of room near the leader of the experience, a middle-aged woman surrounded by several large crystal bowls. After a brief explanation about what was going to happen next, the leader started playing the bowls.

The sound was intense. It rang through my ears and I could feel the energy of the vibrations thrumming through different parts of my body. But it was hard to immerse myself completely in the experience. I was cold because the floor was cold and by the time I arrived there were no blankets left to borrow. Also, there were too many snoring, shuffling people. Finally, the music didn't go on long enough, it seemed to me. I would have needed about an hour of continuous play to really fall under the spell of the vibrations. The 20 minutes or so of music wasn't adequate, though it clearly made quite a few people in the room go beyond a state of meditation and into sleep.

If I ever end up wanting to visit the Integratron again, I think I would arrange a private session (assuming it's affordable to do this) and I would definitely wear a sweater and bring a yoga mat. As it stood, the experience was a bit like going to see a play or a concert where the air-conditioning in the room is on too high and the people behind you keep coughing and the guy in front is too tall so you only have partial view of the stage.

But I don't want to discredit the therapeutic properties of this form of healing. I think it can be very effective if experienced the right way.

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