By Utsahi Nérée St-Amand
When I first heard the sound of a Tibetan bowl, some 25 years ago, I was truly amazed! I could not believe that the sounds coming out of these little bowls could be so haunting and so powerful, yet so pure and simple. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to understand that the different metals they are composed of can produce such an array of tones (called harmonics).
Vibrations produced by Tibetan Bowls (also called singing bowls or healing bowls) are unique, elevating and healing. Singing bowls have the reputation of aligning our chakras, healing our energy centres, reducing stress, providing pain relief. They are also of tremendous assistance in our daily life of yoga and meditation.
A few years ago, I was using a singing bowl while offering a meditation workshop. A middle-aged man, who had stood behind, restlessly, throughout the first part of the session, came to me, in awe: from the first sound of a singing bowl that I used to start the meditation exercise, the constant pain he had had for years following a major whiplash accident immediately disappeared! He even had to abandon his job because of the pain; for all those years, he could hardly sleep, always with the aid of medication. He still could hardly drive his car. And then, during the workshop, upon hearing the sound of the bowl, his pain immediately disappeared! He could not believe what happened. He came into our store, a week later; his pain had come back, but upon hearing the bowls again, pain disappeared, miraculously!
A social-worker colleague of mine, dealing with traumatic situations in her daily work, starts her therapy sessions without words but she plays a singing bowl that she always carries with her. While she plays the bowl in silence, some people cry while others experience a sense of peace amidst difficult and intense moments like the loss of a dear one, an untimely separation, an accident.
How is this all possible? How can the simple sounds of a bowl have such a great impact on people of all ages and cultures? Science is still new at explaining the healing powers of the singing bowls. Other cultures, not so preoccupied with rational explanations, have been using the Tibetan bowls for centuries, even millennia. Rightfully called healing bowls, they have been used in ceremonies, temples and as part of daily activities in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan as well as some parts of India, Japan and China.
Bowls come in different sizes and weight; each has a unique range of harmonics that resonate mainly with one or two chakras. Some are machine-made, others hand-beaten. Most have two tones, called the male and female tones. Generally, they are not very difficult to play: either one can hit the rim with a felt or a suede stick or a hammer to create one sound or one can rub the outside of the bowl, preferably clockwise, with a suede or wood stick to create a harmony of sounds. A few-minutes training can suffice for a novice to get some sounds out of a bowl. Smaller bowls are a little more difficult to produce a sustained tone while larger bowls are usually easier to play. Most bowls are composed of seven elements; antique bowls have more and some modern ones have less, with a minimum of three. Some bowls are signed by the artisans while others have intricate art work including Buddhas or other deities chiselled inside.
Every morning, to start my meditation, I use a few antique bowls that I selected in my yearly pilgrimage to Nepal. It helps me create silence within; the purity of their sounds is quite elevating. Listening to the haunting sounds of the bowl brings my mind to silence and my heart to peace. I am reminded that civilizations have used singing bowls for many centuries, for religious or spiritual purposes. In many parts of the world the sound of gongs, bells and tingshas are part of temple prayers, daily prayers and spiritual ceremonies. They all evoke the same effect: calmness, serenity, harmony and inner focus on silence.
A few decades ago, the bowls have made their way to the West, much to the amazement of yoga teachers, healers, physiotherapists, singing groups and anyone practicing meditation. Many teachers, from kindergarten to high school, use the bowls and bells to start their daily activities. Some have told me that starting their classes with the sound of a bowl creates immediate peace and harmony. Bowls can be used to purify food, liquids and jewellery as well.
We have only started to explore the rich potential and uses of the amazing singing bowls. Their healing capacities, either at the physical, emotional or spiritual level, remains to be discovered! And appreciated! Our gratitude goes to the artisans of such an art, who, long before metallurgy was formally a science, could come up with a combination of metals that do resonate so beautifully to our minds, hearts and souls and facilitate our communication with the worlds of the Beyond!
About the Author
Utsahi Nérée St-Amand, professor at the School of Social Work, University of Ottawa in Canada and is also the owner of The Garden of Light in Ottawa. Utsahi is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Ottawa and regularly offers Tibetan bowl and meditation workshops, free of charge, to the community at large. With two friends, Sukhdev and Vidura, he is preparing a CD featuring singing bowls and bells that will be released in the northern spring of 2011. The group, Heaven and Earth, have been offering interpretations of Sri Chinmoy’s music in Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto for a number of years.