I was recently whisked on an adventure with Air New Zealand to discover a different side to California, one which is very much off the beaten path, especially compared to my California trip last year. This excursion led me to LA where I voyaged onward to Joshua Tree National Park, Hicksville Trailer Palace, and Anza Borrego Desert State Park as well as Two Bunch Palms. I had the chance to experience one of the few Dark Sky communities in the world, gazing up at the Milky Way and Jupiter (through a telescope) in Borrego Springs. However, the focus of this post is to share the incredible art of singing sound baths. If you’ve never tried it, it involves neither water nor nudity but instead is a mindfulness movement which took up roots in the desert at the beautiful Integratron – a somewhat quirky location 20 miles north of Joshua Tree. It’s a 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter, all-wooden dome designed to be an acoustic resonance chamber, and an electrostatic generator “for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel”. Sounds trippy? Click MORE to learn more about a totally unique experience…
The structure in which the sound bath sessions take place is a white hemispherical construction erected in 1953 by an aerospace engineer named George Van Tessel, and it somewhat resembles an observatory to the uninitiated – but rather than looking out, it’s designed to facilitate introspection. The building and its dome were formed without using nails or screws, instead, the technique involves using wood which is pieced together in a puzzle format. The reason for this is to create a perfect acoustic resonance chamber with limited escape channels for sound waves. But it is at this point scientists may wish to stop reading my account…
… for the Integratron (the name itself, seemingly sourced from a 70s science fiction TV series) aspires to be a healing gateway, purports to facilitate time travel and is said to be visited by aliens…
Be that as it may, for me the most compelling and intriguing aspect was experiencing the sound baths.
People travel from all around the world to experience the sonic intrigue of this place; a suite of people such as new age individuals, X-Files lovers and mindfulness enthusiasts such as myself. At the risk of sounding like this place is slightly off the grid of normality, I should point out that the sound baths were an absolutely amazing experience, and somewhat transcendental. Most of those in my group experienced a ‘mouth-drop moment’ when the teacher started playing the bowls.
A group of circa 20 people lie in the circular room for 60-minutes listening to the resonant vibrations emitted from the quartz-crystal sound baths. It’s not a ‘concert’ or even a sort of performance, as there are no wrong notes, and it doesn’t require your attention in the same way, by not having any real rhythm. Instead, the idea is to strip away ‘artificial’ noise and beat or structure on a random wander through sonorous space and time. The sound baths are instead used as instruments or tools to help create ‘a shift in the participant’s consciousness’. Each crystal bowl is said to represent the energy centers or ‘Chakras‘ of the body. The sound is meant to nourish (or at least ‘excite’) the nervous system and essentially allow you to switch off and relax. It is certainly soporific, I’ll say!
What does it do?
It’s meant to slow down the frequency and intensity of neural transmitter production, i.e. you produce fewer brainwaves, and shift from an active to a relaxed dreamlike state of mind. Because there’s no ‘melody’ or anything else similar, it supposedly allows the mind to just ‘switch off’. Sound baths claim to be a form physical and mental of healing, a vibrational medicine, however, I’m unable to find any scientific evidence that it actually does this, so I happily participate in it as an impressive experience, but must retain a detached skepticism about its revolutionary properties.
I have never before laid in a circular room which has perfectly arranged acoustics; we’re all audiophiles at some level, so this was an interesting experiment indeed. Not a single nail in the structure and a vast cement base, the noise literally cascades around the room as if harmonics are being amplified by the actual shape of the ceiling. Despite sound being intangible, you can actually feel it aside from just hearing it. It’s unlike any other sound because it does absolutely stimulate the mind, and conjure imagined scenes in a completely different way. After a bath session, I emerged feeling exceptionally ‘zenned’ out, rested and ready for bed. Sound baths are becoming increasingly popular in London and around the world, so given my experience, I would highly recommend giving them a go, afterward you may even feel ready to return to London life to tackle the Tube again!
Everyone’s experience was different…
Whilst several participants in the room fell asleep, I found it relaxing but moreover, uplifting. I didn’t fall asleep but it stimulated my mind to recall and access memories and emotions I hadn’t considered for a long time. In that sense, the experience simply leads the body to do what it wishes to do, with no impediments.
In conclusion, it’s a wonderful thing to try; you literally just rock up, without any expectations, to kick the tires and see how it goes. You don’t need to have practiced meditation or anything else but it’s open for every level and anyone. It is a novel experience and were it more accessible, I’d likely return more frequently, but given it was an adventure special, it should very much be on the map for any California wellness trip!
Air New Zealand flies daily from London Heathrow to LA. Return flights start from £701 in Economy and £1,558 in Premium Economy. Air New Zealand is on sale for September, for the most up to date fares please visit https://www.airnewzealand.co.uk/cheap-flights-to-los-angeles
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