For thousands of years, various cultures have used sound as a tool for healing. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak with Ben Brown, founder of HND + TMPL Massage Therapy, about how sound affects the body, mind, and spirit, insight into what a sound offering consists of, and how different instruments play different roles during a massage session.
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0:00:53.1 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.
0:00:54.1 Kristin Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly.
0:00:55.3 DB: And welcome to The ABMP Podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Ben Brown. Ben is the founder of Hand and Temple Massage Therapy, a New York state-licensed massage therapist and educator, a sound practitioner, and a former Gyrotonic instructor. His practice is based on the wisdom of the body to find its way back to health. He strives through conscious touch to create space and awareness of the body in its present state. Learn more at handandtemple.com. Hello, Ben, and hello, Kristin.
0:01:27.3 Ben Brown: Hey, how are you today?
0:01:28.7 KC: We are great because we're here talking to you. We're so excited to have you with us to talk about sound and your experience as a sound practitioner, so let's jump in. And let's start by talking about how you got started working with sound and the terms that you prefer to use to describe what you do. So I notice you use the term sound offering, while many of our listeners might be familiar with the term sound healing. I've also heard the terms sound bath and sound therapy used by other practitioners. So wide scope there. So let's dial in a little bit. Please tell us what drew you to sound and your use of the term sound offering, which is beautiful, by the way.
0:02:05.8 BB: I've always been drawn to music. Music has always been sort of a passion for me. It's the way I sort of cope with life. And at some point when I became a bodyworker, it was really important to me how music was being presented in my massage sessions and how certain pieces of music could actually affect people in terms of their brain waves, in terms of how they were receiving the work, using things like binaural beats. And I was really, at the beginning, very much, again, specifically having the traditional spa music, so I was always looking for things that were different. And so I started really diving into different ways of using music, like world music, using tribal drumming and even like neoclassical pieces. So the whole thing for me was this idea of how we could use music to influence the experience that people were having to really enhance that. And over time, what I found was that I wanted to actually then bring that experience into more of a physical application, so bringing in actual instruments, sound instruments into it. So tuning forks was my initial foray into bringing sound into the bodywork where I was actually controlling it and making it happen at the time. And so I started bringing and tuning forks into the work, and then from there, it's kind of gradually expanded and moved to other instruments and what have you.
0:03:22.0 BB: Initially... You asked about the definition between sound offering, sound bath, sound healing. Initially, I shied away from the healing point just because I feel like that I was making space for people to find their way. It wasn't that I was healing them. I have now sort of settled in the idea that sound healing is totally acceptable because of what sound does to the body and how it affects the mind, and the fact that sound actually does affect the molecules, but I still choose offering better because I think that offering to me, gives people space to find their way and decide whether or not... What their experience is gonna be.
0:03:58.8 DB: So Ben, that's perfect. You've brought it up there a little bit, so let's just dive a little deeper. How does sound affect the body, mind, and spirit?
0:04:06.1 BB: So a number of different things happen. One of the things that sound does is it slows down your brain waves. So we're generally operating in sort of like a beta. In our day-to-day life, we're in beta. And as you start to move and use sound as a way to slow down the brainwaves, you move to an alpha, which is sort of like this liminal space between waking and dreaming, and then you move to theta, where it is more of a dream state. And the thing about it is that there is this place there where a couple of things happen, you creativity, you become more creative in those spaces. It's kind of like Einstein. I don't know if you've heard this, but Einstein used to actually take naps when he felt like he had a problem he couldn't solve. He would actually sit down and he would think about the problem and then he would take a nap, and he would wake up and come up with a solution. Sound can do that to you. So by putting the brain into the theta state, you can actually become more creative. You can be more problem-solving. It also sort of activates our parasympathetic nervous system. As everything slows down, your respiration is gonna slow down, your heartbeat is gonna slow down, and that's gonna put the body into a state of rest, which is gonna, again, allow for more repair. And I guess that actually lends to the idea of where healing is possible, 'cause if we're activating our own immune system, our own body, then those things are happening as well.
0:05:21.5 BB: So those are like two really simple ways of looking at how sound affects the body and allows that space. I think that we are in a hyper-stressful situation right now in terms of life. We've gone through the pandemic, then we have just our day-to-day stresses, and so having a way to mitigate that, to find ways to actually slow the brain down, slow down some of the thoughts and the feelings that we're having to then just sort of be present, like in the present moment, everything is okay. If you're actually breathing, if you're here, no matter what's going on, if you can get to the present moment, you're gonna be okay. And so I think that that's one of the things that sound really does, and lending that to bodywork is really helpful too. For me, what I find is that once the body starts to decelerate as people start to slow down on the table with the sound, then along with the heart rate and the breathing, you also start to lose some of that tenacity in the body. So that tension that people are holding on to that is just existent because of the stressors that they're not even really paying attention to, once that starts dissipate, they start to lose that. And so you can actually do really deep work without having to do deep work, because the body is not fighting you and it's in a complete relaxed state. So that's a couple of ways in how sound can affect body, affects the mind.
0:06:42.9 BB: And then as far as the spirit, I think one of the things is that people often, on the way out of a sound bath, will talk about how relieved or how light they feel, that they feel that their spirit has been lifted. And it's not a guarantee for every experience, I'm not gonna say that, but overall, the vast majority of people who go to attend a sound bath, that is their experience.
0:07:07.2 KC: Ben, I'd love for you to describe a sound offering session for us. And then I'm curious, can you talk a little bit about how you incorporate sound offerings into your massage sessions? Do you offer them separately? Both? Which do you prefer? So kind of give us a little bit of a sense of how you work with a client in a sound offering space.
0:07:26.9 BB: Yeah, and I think that's really important, so I appreciate you asking that because I didn't specify that in the beginning. There are differences between the sound bath and then the sound offerings that I do as a bodyworker. And I do both, so I facilitate private events for people one on one, I do group, I do corporate, and then I also do stuff where I'm incorporating sound at the bodywork, and there is a difference in those aspects. So what a session would look like with me is that we would actually usually start... And it depends, 'cause I always sort of like look to see how the person is, how they're moving in the space, like when they enter the room, what's going on. When they're on the table, what does it look like? How we're gonna start. So a session can start with just a series of small instruments coming in, so like Tibetan or metal bowls, crystal bowls or tuning forks. And what I'll do is I'll use those to sort of create a soundscape and to attune that person's body and they're listening so that they're actually paying attention to the present moment again by getting them back into the room, getting them back into their bodies.
0:08:28.9 BB: And then from there, depending on how things are going, I may actually place the bowl on the body and we can work with chakras or we can just work in terms of energy, like when you're working with the body where you can feel or you see tension in their shoulder. So if like the shoulder's lifted, what I could do is take one of like a large bowl and maybe like a D and sent to that on the shoulder, strike then and allow those vibrations to come through into the shoulder, into the scapula and let that sort of dissipate. At the same time that that vibration is going through the body, which the person can actually feel, there's also the other aspect where they're listening to it, so they're getting this, again, slowing down in their brainwaves at the same time. And so what I'll do is I'll use a combination at some point, and I start to shift to where I'm using a combination of sound in the room or on the body, and then gradually bringing in actual hands-on manipulation, like traditional bodyworks, Swedish massage, and kind of flow with that, and then the whole session will work with that sort of aspect of moving in between applications of instruments in the room or on the body and bodywork and just kind of working through it bit by bit as if I didn't have an instruments and it was just my hands.
0:09:36.4 BB: And I often like to use... I also bring in soundscapes, so I'll bring in natural waters or recordings of breezes and trees and leaves and things like that. And sometimes those are just great foundational pieces, so I'll use them to create this layer of a drone so that the mind can then settle on those things, and then after the drone is sort of going through, then you can bring other instruments through and kind of go back to that.
0:10:01.8 DB: So there is a continuous sound that's going on, and then you're adding to that intermittently throughout the session, right?
0:10:09.7 BB: It can be. It can be. Some sessions are not, it really depends, but the idea is to always bring people to the present moment or to create a soundscape. So yeah, it started out initially with the idea of just, How do I get people present? And one thing that I think is really important as much as we're talking about sound is actually silence. We are not used to being in a silent space, and so a lot of times I'll start my sessions with nothing. Even before I started doing sound, like sound healing work, I started my sessions with nothing. And the first five minutes would be just me touching people, compressing, really kind of feeling their body and letting them get comfortable on the table, letting them see what's happening, let them realize that they're here and then bringing in the music, because we're so attuned to all these different things and we don't pay attention to the sound, and so we sort of just like throw it away.
0:11:01.1 BB: And so what I wanna do is I actually want people to be more aware of what's happening, to be more present. So by doing that, the first thing to do is actually create a silent space. And people are really uncomfortable with silence, and so the idea of helping us realize that it's not a scary thing, that it's an opportunity to kinda check in with your own thoughts, your own body, your own self, and so that's a really important part of the thing, is that actually there should be some points of silence. And I even do that with my bodywork. Sometimes we've been taught as massage therapists that you're like, "Don't ever break contact. You have to be completely engaged the entire time," and I actually will break contact a lot of time because I want the person to almost have that physical silence of no connection that they can kind of be in their own body and see who they are, what's happening. "Oh, did something change? Did that work? Oh, this feels a little bit better." But if I'm constantly touching them, they don't have that space to kinda check in with themselves and see what their experience has happened... What's happening to them at that moment.
0:12:00.0 KC: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.
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0:12:30.6 KC: And now, can you tell us a little bit about a sound bath? So that was sound offering. What's the sound bath then?
0:12:37.6 BB: A sound bath... Generally, when you go to a sound bath, you're going to choose a comfortable position. It's usually lying down, like shavasana if you would take a yoga class. Generally, it's good thing to know 'cause most people don't notice. You actually wanna face your head towards wherever the sound is being projected, which is a funny thing. A lot of people always turn away, but it's like you should actually turn towards. And then basically you're usually taken through some sort of an arc. I mean, every sound bath, every sound practitioner does a different thing. But in general, it's really usually meant to be a space of rest and healing, almost like yoga nidra, and you'll run through a series of instrument. Some people like to start with the voice, some people start with tuning forks or crystal bowls, and it kinda depends on the arc that person's gonna create, but it is generally, it's sort of a sound journey, which is the way I... I personally... I actually don't even use the word sound bath except for when I'm trying to explain it to people who don't understand, 'cause we know that, but I actually choose sound journey most offering. For most offerings, I choose sound journey because that's what I'm hoping to create. I'm hoping to create an experience that the person starts at A and then ends over here at B. Like they really have a journey that really takes them through something, so I prefer that over sound experience.
0:13:51.6 DB: Ben, I'm sure our listeners are super curious at this point with regards to the instruments that you choose, and then why you choose them, maybe specifically for all sessions or different sessions, and how they might have different impacts on the client. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
0:14:08.6 BB: Yeah. So I feel like, honestly, the easiest instruments for me as a practitioner are singing bowls, the metals bowls, and the tuning forks. And one of the reasons why I choose them, it's just a practical application in terms of... I'm still dealing with a massage cream and massage oil, and I would not wanna get oils on my crystal bowls, so I choose the metal for that purpose alone, but you can use whatever you want in any facility, you know, as far as facilitating that experience. But I choose tuning forks and singing bowls are my normal thing. Then I may bring in some rattles, then I may bring in drum. And the reason that I choose those particular instruments is, again, is about how do you shift people's consciousness. The rattles have a way of creating this space and this texture that we're not used to hearing, and I think that's a really important thing, again, is like how do you shake things up in a way that gives people permission to be curious and then to come back and to be really present with the moment. The drum is a really beautiful thing because that reminds us about heartbeats, the first sounds we hear of our mothers of being in the womb, and so by beating the drum, you can actually bring people back to that space of comfort, which again, when you're doing bodywork is really beautiful, because then when they start to sit in that space, there's this automatic ease and desire to be held and to be cared for.
0:15:33.3 BB: Another thing that works really well is I use various different chimes, and one of them is a Koshi, which is a great one. Usually you'll hear them in a lot of sound baths towards the end because they have this effect of almost like really like a lullaby. And so the Koshis are also a really great instrument to bring into the room when I'm doing sessions. And what's nice about it actually is that they're made out of bamboo, so again, if they get a little oil on them, I don't really worry about it, so it's good.
0:15:57.5 DB: I think you have a Koshi with you now. I think our listeners would really enjoy to hear that. Is there any... Could you exhibit that for US?
0:16:05.4 BB: Sure, that'd be great. So this one... There's four different tunings that the Koshis are made, they're made to represent the elements, so there's earth, fire, water and air. This particular one that I have in front of me is the air.
0:17:07.5 KC: Beautiful.
0:17:08.6 DB: Yeah, I went a little bit to a little hypnotic state there. [chuckle] That was pretty amazing.
0:17:13.6 KC: Absolutely. Beautiful.
0:17:15.0 BB: Well, that's the nice thing about too, is sound is one of those things that we can drop in really quickly. There isn't a whole lot of pretense or a whole lot of prep that you need to do, you just need to just sit and listen. So I appreciate that we were able to make that little offering.
0:17:28.0 KC: Thank you so much for that. Ben, I really enjoy being a participant in a sound experience and a sound bath, a group setting, and I've had a few live experiences from my local yoga studio, those are... They tend to offer those type of experiences, but now I've recently and during the pandemic, a lot shifted to online, so I've been taking some online experiences and sound, and I'm curious... I have received incredible benefit from both, but I'm curious, do you think there's an advantage to being in-person? Can we still get some great effect online through sort of an e-experience? Tell us a little bit more about your thoughts on that.
0:18:10.5 BB: Yeah, actually, I'm a big fan of the virtual space. I definitely think in person is better, I will say that, but I don't think that virtual should be precluded at all. That's actually what made me start this practice outwardly. When the pandemic hit, I had clients calling me and they were like, "Hey, I need my massage." I'm like, "Hey, I can't practice." [chuckle] And so what I answered, what I did say was like, "You know what, why don't we get on Zoom and I can play my bowls for you?" And that really is what opened it up for me, was actually virtual, and then I was able to really make things happen, and people were surprised that it was just as effective to be able to sit there in their own home in their bed or on their couch and put on their headphones and just kind of listen.
0:18:52.7 BB: So I definitely think there's a benefit. The sound itself really is going to... It's going to do what it does, it doesn't matter how it's being transmitted, and the intention behind that is also really what's gonna carry the weight of it. What people are... As a practitioner and as a receiver, how those are being delivered and intended, it really wears the power, that's the power in the actual practice. The benefit of in-person, honestly, is that you can then feel the sound, which is... That's something that is invaluable, the actual ability to actually feel like a gong wave hit you, or to have a singing bowl placed on your body. So I think there's space for both places, and I think there's benefit for both, especially in a time where we can't always connect, or you just don't have time. You just don't have time. You're like, "What can I do?" And that's one of the reasons why on my Instagram page, I do have these offerings of many meditations, many sound things because they are effective and people can use those to just take a little like 10-minute break and just like, "Hey, I'm gonna check out. I'm gonna take care of myself and then I'm gonna jump back in and go to work or take care of my kids or whatever else that I need to do."
0:20:01.6 KC: And listeners, Darren and I both did a deep dive into Ben's Instagram account, and it's incredible. So we absolutely encourage you to go there. And also I know you now have some offerings on the Ora meditation app. Is that right?
0:20:14.1 BB: That is true. Yeah, I'm actually doing that. And there is also... If you click on the link in my bio, there's like a free 30-day. You can check it out. There's plenty of things there. It's really, it's good. So that's actually a good opportunity to say that virtual work does work. [chuckle]
0:20:26.2 KC: Yeah. And I know that often the recommendation is to wear a really good headset when you're doing the virtual, but I have to be honest with you, my dog also loves when we're doing a sound class together, and so I usually sometimes just use Bluetooth speaker so she can listen as well. She's really attracted to it.
0:20:44.1 BB: Totally. Animals are really, really... They... I'll tell you. Actually, I had an experience that blew me away. I was in the backyard just practicing. I live upstate New York. And there was this one time I was out there with my drum and a couple of bowls, and all these deer came out and just sat with me. I was like, "Really?" [chuckle] I was like, "Whoa." And family of deer came out and sat on the grass and listened for a while, and then they got up and took off. But it was totally they were attracted to the sound and came. And I can't tell you how many times practicing, just in general, birds really are affected. Like birds will come by and just start chirping with the chimes or something and kind of singing with them too, which is really cool. So definitely your animals should be welcome to your sound experiences. And you don't need headphones, honestly, but you do need... Like you said, you do need good speakers. Like it doesn't sound great through computer speakers. But if you have a great home stereo system, totally, skip the headphones, 'cause then you actually... Then you can get those vibrations too, that we were talking about earlier, that you actually can get those vibrations from a big set of speakers, so.
0:21:44.5 DB: Ben at this point, I'm sure our listeners are super curious. Can you let us know how they can... Can you let us know how MTs can get started learning about the benefits of sound and incorporating sound into their sessions?
0:21:58.5 BB: Yeah, I think... I'm trying to think of what's the best. There's a couple of books I would recommend to people initially. One of the books is The 7 Secrets of Sound Healing. The other one is a book by John Beaulieu, his last name is B-E-A-U-L-I-E-U, and he teaches all about tuning forks and using tuning fork as a system of healing and working through the body, which is a really great... Those are two books, I think would be really good places for people to start. And then I'm always available, [chuckle] if people just wanna talk. I have to be honest. The article that was written, which was really beautiful, I appreciate it, I've actually had a bunch of MTs reach out, and so I've been in correspondence with people just like, "Hey, this is how you can do and getting started." So I'm totally open to people asking, and it's like, "Hey, what can I do? How can I do this?" But I think it starts with this place of curiosity, and I think it starts with the idea of an offering, that you are presenting something to really help people.
0:23:00.4 DB: And listeners, Ben is referring to the January-February issue of Massage and Bodywork Magazine, where he is the face, that issue of the phases of bodywork. So you can check out Ben on the deep inside of the back cover of the magazine. It's a beautiful image of you and just a wonderful interview too.
0:23:21.6 BB: Thank you.
0:23:22.5 DB: I wanna thank our guest today, Ben Brown. For more information about Ben and sound healing, visit handandtemple.com. Thanks Ben, and thanks, Kristin.
0:23:32.4 BB: Thank you.
0:23:33.1 KC: Ben, thank you so much for our beautiful conversation today and for the work that you do and what you bring to the world and your clients.
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