Sound Healing

One of my favorite healing modalities is sound therapy, since everyone who is not deaf has a cornucopia of experiences with sound. Perhaps, it was the sound of a kind voice, birds chirping, music from their teen years, lullabies, the ebb and flow of the ocean, sacred music, a baby’s laugh, or a lover’s whispers, each carries emotional resonance. The merest reminder of these sounds can trigger a well of feelings and memories. Like a Möbius strip, it becomes impossible to find a beginning or end, since music can be such a synesthetic experience, blending the senses to the point that you actually feel the music physically in your cells or experience it as color. Some synesthetes have been known to even smell or taste sounds.

There are many types of sound healing, and they can be divided into two main groups: passive and active. Passive sound healing involves listening while active sound healing uses the voice.

Today’s foray into sound healing will focus on a technique called Toning that uses the body as an instrument. (Other methods using the voice include chanting, humming, certain types of yogic breath work, like bee breath, and singing.)

Toning was first developed by Laurel Elizabeth Keyes, an author, lecturer and counselor, who died in 1983. Her book, Toning, was published ten years earlier.

Ms. Keyes became convinced of the power of sound as she used it to maintain her own health and that of others, even those far away who didn’t know she was toning for them (a practice similar to intercessory prayer.)

Ms. Keyes was intrigued and inspired by Dorothy Retallack’s famous study of the effects of different types of music on plant movement. When rock music played, the plants leaned away from it at an 80º angle, their root structures became shallow and they produced no flowers. Conversely, plants exposed to classical music actually wrapped their vines around the radio, their roots were strong and plentiful, and their foliage luxuriant. While we are not plants, plants and people are made up of a large portion of water. It may be the water molecules reacting to sound in this manner. (If anyone has seen the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know,” you may recall the amazing photographs of water molecules that had been exposed to different types of sound from rock music to yelling, to classical music.) It seems quite probable that music, voice, or noise can have a salutary or deleterious effect on the listener. From there, it’s only a baby step to harnessing the power of sound to heal physically and emotionally. Ms. Keyes called this sonar acupuncture.

Ms. Keyes also talked about the beneficial effects of groaning on pain relief. Perhaps, you have experienced this yourself when you had a stomachache or a sprained ankle? Groaning, or cursing, can actually release tension. It’s bad enough to experience pain, but when we respond by tensing our muscles, we only make it worse. Toning, moaning, or groaning lets out extra energy and stimulates circulation (especially, when the sound is directed toward a painful part of the body) and may release some muscular tension.

We are all made of molecules moving at various rates of speed, depending on whether they are the air in our lungs, the cells of our bones, blood, muscles, skin, brain matter, etc. Movement produces vibration. Think of a bee’s wings moving so rapidly they produce an audible buzz. It is possible that all the molecules in our body produce sound but they are inaudible to the human ear. By creating sound through groans and tones, we can mobilize our cells into more harmony or dissonance, depending on the sound and the intention behind it.

Here are some basic instructions on Toning:

1. Relax the body while standing, sitting or lying down. It helps to let yourself breathe deeply into the diaphragm, relax the shoulders, and allow the jaw to drop a little as the tongue settles.

2. Groan, allow the sound to rise, and let go. The sound can meander wherever it wants to, until it manifests as a high, flawless note. You may need to experiment with different sounds (groaning, moaning, humming), and raising or lowering the note until it stabilizes.

3. You may want to experiment with the vowel sounds: AAh, Oh, Ooh, and Eee while you notice where in your body you feel the tones resonate. Yogis have been using Om or Aum for millennia. Try a few rounds of it at various notes to experience an oasis of deep calm. Om is said to be the sound of everything on earth.

Ms. Keyes liked to think of Toning as an “inner cleansing.” She suggested practicing every morning.

You may also enjoy “Awakening Through Sound” by Chloe Goodchild. It’s an excellent CD course on the transformative power of sound and voice. You can find it as a download from If you add your name to their mailing list they will send you emails with great savings opportunities.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.