Tamara L. Goldsby, PhD, Michael E. Goldsby, PhD, Mary McWalters, BA, …

First Published September 30, 2016 Research Article 

Poor mood and elevated anxiety are linked to increased incidence of disease. This study examined the effects of sound meditation, specifically Tibetan singing bowl meditation, on mood, anxiety, pain, and spiritual well-being. Sixty-two women and men (mean age 49.7 years) participated. Following the sound meditation participants reported significantly less tension, anger, fatigue, and depressed mood. Additionally, participants who were previously naïve to this type of meditation experienced a significantly greater reduction in tension compared with participants experienced in this meditation. Feeling of spiritual well-being significantly increased across all participants. Tibetan singing bowl meditation may be a feasible low-cost low technology intervention for reducing feelings of tension, anxiety, and depression, and increasing spiritual well-being. This meditation type may be especially useful in decreasing tension in individuals who have not previously practiced this form of meditation.

Heart disease, diabetes, addiction, and mental health issues have all been linked to stress and tension. Meditation, including systems such as mindfulness-based meditations, has shown promise in inducing the relaxation response and helping alleviate anxiety and improve well-being. The relaxation response is the body’s physiological response in relaxation, including lowered blood pressure to counter the fight-or-flight response and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.



A convenience sample of 62 individuals participated (age range, 21-77 years; mean age = 49.7 years, SD = 13.0; 9 males and 53 females). The study was conducted at 3 locations: the Seaside Center for Spiritual Living in Encinitas, California (17 participants), the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California (39 participants), and the California Institute for Human Science (CIHS) in Encinitas, California (6 subjects). All participants provided written informed consent. The study was approved by the University of California, San Diego Institutional Review Board.

Sound Meditation Protocol

Participants were instructed to bring yoga mats on which to lie down and if desired, a pillow and/or blanket for the sound meditation. Participants were asked to lie down in a half-circle or an oblong-shaped configuration (depending on the size of the room and number of participants) around the room with their heads pointed toward the musical instruments, which were placed on the floor near their heads.

The musical instruments consisted of Tibetan singing bowls, crystal singing bowls, gongs, Ting-shas (tiny cymbals), dorges (bells), didgeridoos, and other small bells. The majority of the Tibetan singing bowls (approximately 90%) consisted of large-sized Jambati bowls (bells), which ranged in size from 9 to 12 inches and ranged in weight from 3 to 5 lbs. Approximately 5% of singing bowls were very small Thadobati bowls, approximately 4.5 inches in size and weighing 0.5 lbs. The remaining 5% of singing bowls were very large Jambati bowls, ranging from 12 to 14 inches in size and weighing 6 to 8 lbs.

The singing bowls (bells) were the primary instrument played during the meditations, played for approximately 95% of the time, while the additional instruments were played for approximately 5% of the meditation session. The major method of creating sound and vibration from the singing bowls was by tapping or striking the bowls with a mallet, which was utilized approximately 95% of the time.

Between 30 and 80 Tibetan bowls, 2 and 3 crystal bowls, and 2 and 6 gongs were used depending on the number of participants. Thus, participants at CIHS and the Chopra Center listened to approximately 25 Tibetan bowls, 2 crystal bowls, and 2 gongs while participants at the Seaside Center listened to approximately 80 Tibetan bowls, 6 crystal bowls, and 6 gongs. Each participant had at least 2 Tibetan bowls near his or her head. The bowls were struck with a cloth-covered wooden mallet called a puja stick. The instruments were all played in a regular sequence: tingshas, Tibetan bowls, bells, crystal bowls, gongs, and more Tibetan bowls, then the sequence was repeated. The duration of the sound meditation was approximately 60 minutes.

Additionally, Tibetan (metal) bowls were placed in the center (or near-center) of the room and the bowls were in turn struck by the mallet or rubbed along the rim of the bowls, creating a distinctive sound, which was allowed to trail off. Additionally, several quartz crystal bowls were placed near the center of the room and were played by rubbing the rim with a felt cloth-covered mallet and the sound trailed off after playing the bowl.

At the beginning of the sound healing meditation, the lead musician spoke to participants in a soothing tone. He instructed participants to lie down and if they wished to fall asleep, they were allowed to do so. He then told them to merely observe any sensations they felt in the body during the meditation without judging them and to simply relax and enjoy the meditation. Then the sound meditation began.

At the conclusion of the meditation, the lead musician instructed participants to gently become aware of their surroundings. Participants were also instructed to take their time in readjusting to a state of awareness.


In order to assess any potential effects of the sound meditations on participants’ levels of physical pain, participants were asked if they were experiencing pain prior to and following the meditation. Twenty-nine participants reported experiencing physical pain pre-meditation. If experiencing pain, they were asked to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 representing “very slight discomfort” and 5 representing “extremely painful”) and describe the pain and location on the body. Participants aged 40 to 59 years showed the most significant effects from the meditation, with a reduction (or elimination) of feelings of physical pain post-meditation, with a baseline mean pain rating of 2.00 and a posttreatment mean pain rating of 0.79.

Ethical Approval
The study was approved by the University of California, San Diego Institutional Review Board. All participants provided written informed consent.

Reference from the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine


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