Healing with Sound: Notes on a workshop with Dr. Mitchell Gaynor

Most people live their entire lives with worry, frustration, concern with the future and guilt about the past. This is a form of disharmony. Disharmony is another way of saying dis-ease. All disease is a form of disharmony on the manifest level. It may be a disharmony of cells not knowing when to stop dividing, such as in cancer. Or it may be a disharmony of the endocrine system, such as in chronic stress or depression. In this case, the system pours out stress hormones that affect brain waves and cell differentiation. It is naive to believe that we can live our whole lives with worry and frustration every day without having a manifestation at some point. The real challenge, our mission in life, is to create harmony out of disharmony. When you can do that, you have attained a sense of real power. There is a Greek saying, "The hidden harmony overcomes all manifestation."

Once you have learned how to work with this subtle harmony, you will find that everything can shift in your life. Rather than brute force, it is the ability to work with this subtle energy that can give you the balance to attain what you want. The Breath (i.e., the life force that is causing the actual breath to move in and out of your body) is a way to release negative emotions in your life by changing your perspective of your infinite self. In traditional Chinese medicine it is believed that there is a life force or Qi that comes into each of us through the breath and gives us our aliveness. Deeper breathing through expanding and relaxing the belly makes you feel alive and helps you to feel your essence.

The human voice is the most powerful tool ever discovered for self-healing. Our voice is intimately linked to our breath. What is voice? It is audible breath. When you learn to use your voice through chanting and toning, you can make profound leaps in your own transformation. This idea of using of sound in healing is not new.

The foundation of Western medicine lies in Greece. In Greek mythology, Apollo is not only the god of light but also the god of music and medicine. His son, Aesclipius, was the guardian of the ancient healing centers in Greece and was also the guardian of music.

Consider the effects of sounds on the human body, mind, and spirit. Hearing is the first sense to become operational; it develops 4.5 months before a baby is born. The ability to feel vibration occurs before that because you feel with every developing cell. The human body is 70% water which is a very good conductive material for vibration. Chanting, toning, and listening to singing bowls is heard by your ears. It is also felt by every cell in your body, right down to the DNA, right down to every atom. Indeed, you could look at the body as a vessel to receive and emit vibration.

As human beings we are like stringed instruments. Our soul/essence is tuned to the infinite; the breath is a part of this aspect. Our bodies, daily lives and thoughts are connected to the finite. It is important to be able to reconnect with the harmony of our souls, the harmony that dwells within us. This vibration is subtle but powerful for healing. I have found that sound and voice is the bridge between the essence, the soul and the body. Breath is the bridge between the infinite and the finite. Other cultures are also very familiar with internal sounds and toning. Tibetan Buddhism, Vedanta Yoga chants, Sufi chants, Kaballistic Chant, Gregorian Chants — all use the same fundamental 'seed' sounds. These sounds are used universally because (whether our ears are trained to hear them or not), they elicit tones, overtones and harmonics that are very powerful. It is not so much the musical effect as the effects on your body and soul of hearing and feeling the chants.

What exactly is toning? According to Jonathan Goldman, director of the Sound Healers Association, "Toning is the use of the voice to express sounds for the purpose of release and relief. It is nonverbal sound relying primarily on vowels, though it may incorporate the use of consonants to create syllables as long as they are not utilized to create inherent meaning. Sighing, moaning and humming may also be recognized as forms of toning."

Steven Halpern, one of the most acclaimed sound healers alive today, defined toning as "an activity that releases and allows the natural flow of energy to move through one's body." That is literally what you feel. You feel these tones go through every cell in your body.

Don Campbell, a recognized authority on the transformative power of music, said "tone is simply an audible sound prolonged for long enough to be identified. Toning is the conscious elongation of the sound using the breath and the voice." While the practices of toning vary to some extent, all involve the use of pure nonverbal sound to increase the flow of breath, balance energy flow, release emotion, resolve past trauma and restore harmony to the body, mind and spirit.

In the book, The Sound of Healing, Dr. Gaynor outlines something called "energetic recreation." This involves using the harmony of musical sounds and vocal tones to transcend the conflicts and polarities that exist within you. It is about recreating a new perspective with your breath. Inspiration brings in oxygen and life energy. Expiration eliminates carbon dioxide and other poisons. With each breath you can recreate a whole new perspective and learn to create with life energy using your voice and breath. This is one of the most powerful tools of healing.

The following is an exercise in energetic recreation using toning. During the exercise, Dr. Gaynor played the crystal quartz healing bowl. As a workshop participant, I could feel the vibrations of the bowl as well as hear them. After following the direction to think of something that was bothering me, I began to breathe deeply and listen to the sound of Dr. Gaynor's voice.

"Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. As you breathe feel these affirmations coming into you. Experience infinite love, infinite light, infinite peace, infinite harmony, infinite life, infinite health. Focus your energy and awareness around your heart, just over your chest. Feel this energy as a white light, as your pure self, your pure innocence, your infinitely strong self. Feel this energy expanding to encompass your whole body in white light. Continue to breathe. Visualize the white light emanating from your heart, expanding to fill the room. Visualize this energy expanding to fill the whole earth. The whole earth is covered with the aura of white light coming from your heart. Now visualize it expanding even further past the sun, encompassing the whole solar system. Visualize it expanding even further so that it encompasses the whole universe. Your heart is literally the center and the heart of all creation.

From that perspective, look down on your heart. Look at the fear or worry that has been bothering you. Look at how guilt has clouded your awareness and constricted your heart. Look at how any guilt or regret has made you feel that you deserve to be punished, that you deserve this fear or anxiety. Feel the compassion of the universe and the infinite forgiveness and realize that all of us are here to learn, to make mistakes, and that none of us are to be condemned.

Breathe the sound WA, the deep sound of forgiveness. Notice how anger has constricted your heart. Notice your own lack of forgiveness at somebody or several people for what they have done to you, no matter how wrong or unjust. If you let that sense of injustice into you, it only hurts yourself. Realize that others are here to make mistakes also. Fundamentally, no one is able to hurt or injure the real essence of who you are, the infiniteness of who you are. Therefore feel yourself letting go of any resentment or sense of injustice that is clouding your awareness.

With that realization, breathe the sound REE. Look at any areas of resignation in your life. Look at times where you felt that life had to be a certain way, where you became resigned to the fact that life is hard, that you are only here to struggle. Look at times where you felt like giving up, where you felt like you didn't want to be here anymore. Realize that that perspective is the only thing that can ever harm you. Realize that it is never too late to open up your heart. Have gratitude for each day, for each moment. When you can cultivate that, you can never just be resigned, never feel hopeless.

With that sense of inherent hopefulness, breathe the sound SO. Feel how you have closed down when others didn't accept you and how as a child and as an adult, you acted in a way that you knew wasn't true for you because you were worried about being criticized. Notice how that need for acceptance and praise takes you out of your own power, your essence. Look at what it is you give up, yourself, to please others.

Breathe in your own strength to live from your own truth with the sound KU. Notice how your heart can be armored or closed by the need to be right, how important it is to have others accept that your ideas are right or that your point of view is right. Realize that regardless of your thoughts about that, your own soul wants one thing, freedom. Ultimately, everyone's soul is trying to find freedom. The only way that you can truly free yourself is to release all of your attachment to your own opinions and judgments.

With that assessment, breathe the sound KA. Notice your own patterns of needing to be loved and not getting the love that you needed as a child or as a teenager or as an adult and just realize that fundamental to who you are is true love.

If you have any regret or sense of deprivation, try to breathe through that sound with the sound NEE. Now feel your energy moving back around the earth into this room, into your body, into your heart. Think about whatever fear or worry you had before we began, and feel the infinite traits of your body.

Breathe the sound NA. Feel your own inner sense of truth and power. Realize that you really are free from your past. In this moment you can truly start your life over with a true sense of recreation. And each moment you can do this.

With that realization, breathe the sound REE. As you begin to come back into your state of awakened consciousness, realize that this sense of peacefulness is truly your birthright. This is how you are supposed to feel."

Following the exercise, I felt more centered and relaxed. I had a sense of warmth and peacefulness that remained with me for the rest of the night. When I held the troublesome thought in my mind during the evening, it seemed less overwhelming. Other participants in the exercise reported feelings of well being and relaxation.

During this exercise Dr. Gaynor played the Tibetan ‘sing bowl' throughout this exercise. There are a number of different types of Tibetan bowls. They are made of seven different metals, all vibrating at a different frequency. When you play them, you can hear a variety of tones and overtones. All of the notes can bring out similar vibrations in the body. You can place them around a person's body or on different chakras. It is like receiving a sound massage. There are also bowls made from quartz crystal. You can get a lot from tapes of these bowls but nothing is like hearing them. The different sounds affect different parts of your body, for example, the sound AA affects your heart. The sound EE vibrates in your head around your pineal gland.

There are several traits of your essence that responds to vibration:

Transformability — When you look at your essence as changing and transformable, you really start becoming and realizing your potential to become. So many of us are caught in our past ideas of ourselves. We are caught in a sense of guilt or of shame about where we are in our lives. The Sufis have a saying "I am that I become"...meaning I am that which I am becoming. In other words, do not be caught in your past. Breathing and toning allows you to become free of your past so that you can start again with a different momentum.

Strength — When you really begin to come from your essence you realize that everything you want in life, everything you want to become, is already within you. It is just a matter of discovering a place of strength in yourself that will say:' whatever it is that I need to do with my life, I am going to give myself permission to do'.

Harmony — Harmony is a fundamental trait of who we are. When you are living with negative emotions like worry, self-condemnation or self-doubt you are creating disharmony. If there is disharmony in your life, it is important to look at what's blocking your own inner harmony. You cannot go out and get harmony from somewhere else. You create harmony from within and toning can help this process. When your breath becomes harmonious and your thoughts becomes harmonious and your emotions become harmonious, your actions start becoming harmonious, and you start creating harmony in your life.

Authenticity — It is in discovering our own authentic self that we discover the real nature of our being. It is a matter of giving up our illusions about who we are. We often want to keep what we have in our lives because we think that whatever we know, no matter how bad, has got to be better than the unknown. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you come from your inner self, the part of you that is strong enough to say, "I am on the planet for a short time. What do I need to do with my life? What is it that I need to do?" that you discover who you really are.

The more that we look physiologically, the more evidence we find for what we know intuitively, that music, sound and tone that is harmonious relaxes us. For more information and specific citations on the following studies, refer to Sounds of Healing by Dr. Gaynor.

A 1998 study showed that people at Yale University who were having anesthesia for surgery required 43% less anesthesia and analgesics (all but general anesthesia) when they listened to music. This reflects other studies showing that pain medication is lessened when people listen to either music they choose or certain types of classical music while they undergo surgery.

In 1989, it was reported that systolic blood pressure was reduced in people listening to certain low frequency music.

A study in the Journal of Cardiac Care suggested that fifteen minutes of music intervention with cardiac surgery patients in the first post-operative day could decrease heart rate and systolic blood pressure regardless of whether someone classified themselves as noise sensitive or not.

Too much noise can increase blood pressure as much as 10%. All of us are exposed to disharmony every day (jackhammers, cars honking, etc.). It is important to retune yourself daily, just as if you were a piano, to restore harmony.

Other studies have showed that systolic and diastolic blood pressure could be lowered just by listening to classical music.

A study in Clinical Nursing Specialties tells of patients who had suffered a recent heart attack showed that respiratory rate, heart rate and anxiety could be effectively controlled with music.

A German study looked at people undergoing upper endoscopy (gastroscopy), an uncomfortable test in which a tube is going into your stomach through your mouth. The researchers found that those patients who were listening to music of their own choosing had a significantly reduced elevation in stress hormones (ACTH, cortisol) when compared to a control group.


n a study published in Heart and Lung, patients admitted to the coronary care unit and exposed to music for two days had fewer complications that those that didn't hear the music.

There are a number of studies showing that immunoglobulin levels are markedly increased 20 minutes after chanting.

When people listen to different music interleukin-1 levels are increased and cortisol levels are decreased (cortisol is an immune suppressor).

It has been found that respiratory rhythm and heart rate can become synchronized with the beat of certain music.

Another study showed that babies who fell asleep to lullabies begin to breathe in rhythm with the music that is being sung to them.

Beethoven's 5th Symphony was played for 22 college students. Noticeable changes happened in minutes to the heart rate to correlate with changes in the tempo in the first movement.

It has been shown that there is an increase in endorphin release in the brain in response to music.

Is toning for everyone? Nothing is for everybody. Some people want to use this technique, some people don't. When somebody is dealing with a serious illness, even if she is the CEO of a big company, she wants to find ways to deal with the constant fear and uncertainty. Dr. Gaynor has used toning with many of his patients. With regards to physical problems, this work can be done with people who have a variety of serious physical and neurological illnesses. These vibrations will powerfully affect even a person who has poor hearing.

Is this technique accessible? There is no way to do this wrong. Each person uses toning in a unique way. There is no rigid technique. Using this program in groups is like a shared communion. People are profoundly changed by the experience of group exercise using toning.

Does this technique work even if you don't believe it will? Whether you believe in it or don't believe in it, it doesn't matter. Nobody can hear these sounds and not be profoundly affected by their power.

There is a monthly newsletter devoted to integrative healing which includes aids for meditation, such as ESSENCE guided imagery tapes, Tibetan and crystal bowls. The newsletter, entitled The Gaynor-Hickey Health Report can be ordered by calling 1-800-777-2002.

In addition, Dr. Mitchell Gaynor's book can be found at any bookstore. It is entitled Sounds of Healing and includes a number of other resources for further information. Dr. Gaynor's recordings can be purchased through www.TheRelaxationCompany.com

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor is the Director of Integrative Medicine, the Director of Medical Oncology and the Associate Medical Director of at the String Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York. He received his medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern and the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center where he has been practicing for the past ten years. Dr. Gaynor has written two other books in addition to Sounds of Healing.

Mitchell Gaynor

Mitchell Gaynor Return to top of page

Mitchell Gaynor, MD, is a board-certified medical oncologist, internist, and hematologist. He is also a best-selling author, and has published numerous books, including Nurture Nature Nurture Health:...


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