I have no idea what to expect when I sign up for my first sound healing class. I’m someone who is ‘wellness curious’ in the sense that I’m open and willing to dabble in wellness culture, but I’m not completely sold on all of its promises; my yoga practice extends to 15-minute YouTube videos and I prioritise my comfort too much to try cold showering.
Walking into The Light Practice on a dreary Melbourne winter night feels instantly calming. I’m greeted by a lo-fi acoustic cover of La Roux’s Bulletproof, a mug of licorice peppermint tea and one of those blue galaxy projectors all over TikTok.
The two women who founded and run the studio are sound alchemist Prue Barnes and somatic healer Elisa Silbert (titles I hadn’t heard of until then). Sitting down with the duo in their plant-filled lounge area before the class, it’s instantly clear how much love and belief the two have in their work.
The Light Practice is a melting pot of yoga, chromotherapy (colour and light therapy), sound healing and breath work. It’s the only studio in Australia that has an ancient gong, too. The mixture of practices mirrors Australians' eagerness to explore alternative therapies. The 2022 MindBody Wellness Index found that 43% of us are interested in trying services that support immune health, like light therapy, vitamin drips and infrared saunas.
“We’re all made up of energy… a whole nervous system is built around electricity, we will vibrate at a similar but unique frequency.”
“It's no secret, everybody feels overwhelmed… There's not a person in the world that would say [that they’re] totally calm,” Barnes tells Refinery29 Australia. It’s why the pair are adamant that this healing is for everyone. “One of our members brought her seven and four-year-old children [today],” chimes in Silbert.
These are ancient practices that have been reimagined for a contemporary audience. It’s something that’s asserted on the studio’s site — “The principles of sound, vibration and energy flow as healing modalities have been taught in both the East and West. Western science has now proven what ancient traditions have known for centuries: sound has the power to heal,” it claims.
I have a complicated relationship with the wellness industry’s vehement use of the word ‘healing’. For one, it makes the assumption that something is broken, that it needs fixing. It’s also got ties to faux wellness icons who have spouted false messaging around cures for illness, like Australian blogger Belle Gibson who claimed her terminal brain cancer (which she never had) was cured by alternative therapies and nutrition.
But could light and sound therapy be the one thing we're all missing? While it might be easy for wellness sceptics to write off intangible instruments like light and sound, both have been backed up by Western medicine and research (and proved by the Eastern medicine world for centuries). We’ve seen Reiki therapy continue to rise in popularity, after all.
“Colour affects our nervous system [and the gong] tonifies the vagus nerve, so it affects the nervous system as well. Sound and colour are made up of frequency and so, when [this is] brought together, [it] helps us jump into a meditative state very quickly,” Prue explains, adding that this technique can be helpful for those who struggle to ‘get’ meditation or yoga.
I’m personally guilty of getting lost in thought or feeling hyper-aware of my body and surroundings when trying to practise mindfulness, so this sounded like a cheat code of sorts. Silbert explains the science behind this. “We’re all made up of energy… a whole nervous system is built around electricity, we will vibrate at a similar but unique frequency.”
“Your cells pick up on the different vibrations [of the gong], it literally is a symphony that happens inside of yourselves; gong sounds have this ability to rearrange the way your cells draw in or absorb the frequency.”
By this stage, I’ve been drawn in, as are other class members gathered around us. It sounds like magic — and I expect it to work like it, too.
I expected this to be a relaxing, soothing and potentially hypnotic experience. I was wrong.
It then comes time to experience it for ourselves. A couple dozen people (myself included) mill into the large, open space that’s fitted with neon-like lighting. Yoga mats and blocks are laid out, and we all bring a support pillow and blanket to our mats.
There’s a black hole-esque projection on the wall — Barnes tells me that it’s a “vision of a heart vortex” that she saw when she dreamt up this practice. Candles line the edges of the room and Barnes sets up in the corner where the two large gongs stand impressively.
An air of curiosity washes over the room, about half of us have never experienced a sound bath, according to a show of hands. We’re told that discomfort and uneasy emotions may arise and to check in afterwards as we may be in an altered state of consciousness.
For the next hour, we lie on our backs while Barnes guides the gongs and plays the metal instruments. I expected this to be a relaxing, soothing and potentially hypnotic experience. I was wrong.
While I was told that within 60 to 90 seconds I could drop into a deep meditative state, that wasn’t the case for me. The gongs aren’t to be underestimated, these discs are loud. Reminiscent of something that belongs in Stranger Things, the gongs produced an eerie, out-of-this-world melody, one that was slightly discordant and foreboding.
Barnes started off my walking around the room, softly stimulating the gong. As it drew closer to me, I felt the hairs stand up on my body, almost as if my insides were vibrating.
But I found myself becoming overstimulated by the sound, which in turn left me hyper-aware of my racing mind. About halfway into the class, I began to ease in — the cacophony of gongs began to fade into the background.
As someone with anxiety whose heart races at the slightest of loud noises, I was surprised to note that my heartbeat remained steady throughout the session. Barnes did tell me that she can “change the rhythm of all of [our] heartbeats in the room… to the same rhythm” — perhaps that was what it was, though there was no way for me to check.
I don’t think I hit a deep meditative state, though I did feel calm — it climaxed in the middle of the class and it felt like I was undergoing a power nap. Afterwards, I felt good but questioned whether it was great. I desperately wanted to ‘feel’ it, but the magic and spiritual pull I was looking for didn’t arrive for me.
I can say that before the session began, Barnes encouraged us all to set an intention. I set mine around the releasing of emotion — and I’m pleasantly surprised to say that it was met.
I left the studio feeling conflicted; perhaps sound bathing isn’t a supercharged healing tool. Just like with yoga or meditation, it’s ok if these therapies require time, patience and practice. Slowing down — our heart rates, our breath, our way of life — is quintessential to wellness after all.
Please note, none of the information set out in this article should be construed as medical advice. Please speak to your medical practitioner to receive advice that is specific to your condition.