Think of a sound bath, practitioners say, as a massage or a meditation, with sounds washing over you and running through you, sometimes feeling too big for the room.
One night, in her darkened storefront studio in Eagle Rock, Jamie Ford told eight of us to "relax and receive" what comes during the hour of sound she provides by playing 13 gongs on frames against one wall. Positioned on the floor of her studio, Sound Space, are 10 quartz crystal bowls, lighted violet from within. Ford improvises, based on her instinct about what the group needs or how we might respond.
"The sound bath gives the mind a chance to quiet because the mind doesn't know what's coming next," says Ford.
Sometimes people react with utter quiet and stillness; sometimes people fidget, she says. "Let any intense feelings be; let them go, breathe and relax," she tells clients.
El Larson, another sound practitioner, works mostly one-on-one from her Pasadena house, set up against the hills near the 210 Freeway.
She uses bowls from the Himalayas that are at least a century old, made of as many as nine metals, she says. Each can make a range of sounds and are played by either striking it with a mallet or using the mallet to touch the bowl and circle its edges.
The goal is to "get people to a subconscious state where they can really release stress," says Larson, who has taught yoga and worked as a DJ when she began to explore the uses of sound therapy. The connection is strong: Some of the sounds are often used in yoga, as well as the chanting of "om."
To those who are skeptical about this trendy new practice, which start at about $30 per person for group sessions and more for private sessions, think about the power of music — and other sounds such as breaking waves — to bring joy, inspiration, energy or even anger.
"Sound works on so many levels," Larson says. Consider the feeling of standing in front of a powerful loudspeaker, or the use of ultrasound.
Larson says she has found that a sound session can help with pain, relaxation and anxiety, sleep, energy balance and "overall awakening."
Geeta Novotny adds her voice to the crystal bowls she plays in a studio behind her Studio City home. An opera singer for 20 years and a voice coach, Novotny says, "I believe our voice is the greatest source of healing."
There are several places one can bathe in sound in L.A. now.
"Around 2011 or 2012, I saw a huge shift," Ford says. "People are looking for alternative ways to help themselves. There's so much stress and anxiety. Maybe what they've tried before isn't working."
Ford says her gongs, handmade in Germany, are perfectly tuned so that vibrations can be brought up or down on a pattern like octaves in traditional music.
Put together, Ford performs "an improvised concert that will bring up different emotions for different people," she says. "Think of it like a sonic massage."
Larson asked me to set an intention before she showed me how she works.
I said I wanted to be more willing to take risks.
I dropped quickly to a heavy state of peace and relaxation. I tried just to let the sounds do their thing. Larson played the bowls close to my body, and even balanced three on me to play. Some sounds seemed to wash over me, some to careen around my body. I do not know what might have been happening, but I recall thinking — as I almost always do when I splurge on a massage — don't let this end too soon.
Sound baths are available at several spots around Los Angeles, including:
The Sound Space with Jamie Ford, Eagle Rock, sound-bath.com
Unplug Meditation, West L.A., unplugmeditation.com
Heare Remedies with El Larson, Pasadena, http://heare.la/
Geeta Novotny's Revolution Voice, http://www.geetanovotny.com/#!sound-baths/a52xi