Right now, after 18 months, what we need is deep relaxation, muscle regeneration, pain relief, digestive help, cure for Mom’s migraine, better circulation, better immune systems, elimination of toxins (too much wine and cookies), and, since everyone is now quitting their jobs, better concentration.
So it’s timely that J.F. sends me two “singing” bowls from his home altar, from his collection of Japanese standing bowls, one at 12 inches (quite large) and another at 9½ inches. They produce sounds with healing properties.
Japanese standing bowls are distinctive because of the hand-hammered (repousse) pattern of little circles and a blessing in characters around the rim. J.F. passes his altar periodically and feels all the “improvements” listed in the first paragraph. There’s a reason.
Who first discovered the healing properties of such bowls? Why have they been struck for thousands of years for both spiritual and therapeutic healing? (I bet J.F. has been “banging the gong” often these past 18 months during his forced work-at-home ordeal!)
Ancient people were aware of the healing properties of sound produced by bells 12,000 years ago, if the archaeological finds are right.
The modern theory is that sound balances both sides of the brain via vibrations of a certain frequency. Since we now have “discovered” DNA, proponents of “the sound bath” say the “ommmmmm” of the bowl/bell “awakens” DNA.
Some say the right sound can “awaken” the adrenal gland.
Terms like “DNA” were unknown back in the day. The old way of thinking was that sound could balance the astral channels (chakras).
Certain musicologists have measured the frequencies of such perfectly crafted bowls that produce frequencies about 4-6 kHz, which only those physicists among us will understand. Perhaps ancient metal workers worked from the “effects” backward and not the science forward.
Today we are told that our brains produce electromagnetic waves. In the brain’s normal conscious state, they’re called beta waves; in deep sleep, they’re delta. Yet in mediation, brains produce beneficial alpha waves.
When such bowls are tuned right and used correctly by the right brain in the right person, they can help produce alpha waves.
The study of sound in therapy was pioneered by the physician Hans Jenny (1904-1972). The field is called modal vibration studies.
Dr. Jenny discovered that when the brain hears certain types of sound, alpha waves can be seen by such diligent scientists.
Singing and striking bowls actually sing because the sound lasts longer than the strike or rub to the bowl’s rim. The classic definition of a singing bowl is a bowl where the mallet is rotated around the rim. The striking bowl is struck, and that is the difference in nomenclature.
But both vibrate (as J.F.’s dog will tell us as he cocks his head to the sound).
Among other spiritual practices, such bowls are used in Buddhist chants and meditations historically, from the sound from stuck bells (called standing or resting bells), bowl-shaped invented bells.
Originating in China, some of the oldest bronze objects are goblet shaped iron bells, found in groups of sizes (16th to 11th centuries B.C.E). These bells represent advanced technological skill in acoustics, metallurgy, etc. The spread of Buddhism in the second to seventh centuries C.E. called for larger ritual bells, similar to J.F.’s.
A struck or singing bowl is a musical instrument classified as an “struck idiophone.” That means the entire object, without any other element, is the whole instrument, as the whole of the bell vibrates. (People who play the spoons are also playing struck idiophones.)
Maximum vibration is around the rim of the bowl, which echoes around the whole of the open bow. (And that is where the engineering marvel happens when a bowl is crafted just right, which I don’t understand but you engineers probably do.)
What we know of the “Tibetan Singing Bowl” is that you can buy it online today. They apparently have no historical precedent in Tibet, as opposed to the struck bell in China and Japan. A pair of folk musicians introduced the West to the “Tibetan” singing bowl in 1972.
J.F.’s bells are made of “bell metal” — a classic alloy of copper and tin, cast as molten metal, and then hand-hammered into shape. The Japanese name for his bowls are namarin, but if the largest of the two were any bigger, up to 3 fet, it would be a temple bell called daikin.
The value of the pair is significant, as both are from the late 19th or early 20th centuries (and not ordered online as modern versions). The value is $2,800.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.