I recently had the opportunity to attend a Tibetan Singing Bowl meditation with Grandmaster Abbott Franklin Wood (Tao Sifu Franklin). Some of the bowls used were over 200 years old!
This unique experience led me to put together the following in-depth post on Tibetan Singing Bowls.
Tibetan Singing Bowls for Beginners
Mindfulness meditation is well known to bring many benefits to regular practitioners. Though many seek silence in meditation to clear their minds and regain focus, many others incorporate sounds into their therapeutic practice.
Singing bowls produce multiple harmonics that bring both hemispheres of the brain into balance. The sound acts as a medium to bring the person listening into an elevated consciousness.
This guide will introduce you to Tibetan singing bowls as a means to take your practice deeper.
What is a Tibetan Singing Bowl?
Tibetan singing bowls are inverted bells that use vibration to produce rich, wonderfully deep harmonic tones that aid in reaching a deeper state of relaxation and meditation.
Also called Himalayan singing bowls, they are commonly played during yoga practices, sound therapy, and massages as a way to heal and enhance the benefits derived from these sessions.
Their use as bells can be traced back to the 8th century A.D. and are thought to have been brought to Tibet from India by the tantric master Padmasambhava.
Evidence is lacking as to their original purpose but it is believed that they were used in rituals as well as simply for food receptacles.
What Materials are Tibetan Singing Bowls Made of?
Singing bowls are metal, but the kinds of metals used depends largely on whether or not it is new or an antique.
Whether old or new, the bowls are typically made of a composite of multiple metals. This combination of different metals is thought to be the reason behind the unique and multiphonic sounds produced when played.
It is believed that the original Tibetan singing bowls were constructed of a special combination of the Seven Alchemical Metals that aligned with the seven chakras.
- Lead – 1st Chakra
- Iron – 2nd Chakra
- Tin – 3rd Chakra
- Gold – 4th Chakra
- Copper – 5th Chakra
- Silver – 6th Chakra
- Mercury – 7th Chakra
Antique bowls are usually made of top quality bronze combined with other metals such as silver or gold. In some cases, rare and highly prized meteoric iron are found in older bowls.
The Tibetans called this ore sky metal, heavenly iron, or thogcha. Thought to contain a mystical protective power, objects containing this material from meteors were closely connected to the sky above and held special significance.
Modern bowls are sometimes made of the same type of bronze alloy found in bells, which is a mixture of copper and tin.
Other materials found in new bowls include nickel, gold, silver, zinc, iron, and copper. Bowls containing copper will age beautifully as they patina.
Some new singing bowls are made of crystal. These are naturally more fragile than their metal alloy counterparts but they produce beautiful tones just the same.
What are the Benefits of Singing Bowls?
Singing bowls deliver a wide range of benefits, derived both in sound therapy applications and when played during meditation.
In meditation, a practitioner is attempting to enter into a deep state of relaxation that is free from thoughts and distractions.
The sounds produced by a Tibetan singing bowl are transformative in their ability to take you from the external to the internal. Nearly hypnotic, the sounds help set up a physical and internal atmosphere conducive to deep relaxation.
Just as we focus on the breath and acknowledge, but dismiss, thoughts that enter our minds while meditating, the harmonies singing from your Tibetan bowl provide a soothing point of focus to draw you deeper.
Stress and Anxiety Reduction
The sounds you here when a Tibetan Singing Bowl in played have an incredibly soothing quality.
In times of high stress or anxiety, listening to a singing bowl, even if only for a few minutes, can reduce your body’s state of agitation.
A randomized controlled trial published in the US National Library of Medicine found that participants who meditated with the use of a singing bowl achieved lower blood pressure and heart rate compared to participants that were led into deep relaxation in silence.
A singing bowl acts like a feather duster, gently fluttering away the noise that clogs a busy mind, leaving clarity in its vibratic wake. As the sounds wash over you, your mind becomes clear, enabling you to approach life’s demands with a renewed focus and energy.
Get in the Zone
Athletes, actors, artists, and others attempt to reach an optimal level of performance when practicing their craft or sport. In this state of mind, time seems to stop and you are one with what you are doing. It seems effortless and you produce the best possible results. Tibetan singing bowls help you get in that zone.
Our immune response becomes suppressed during times of stress. The excess cortisol coursing through our system tells our body that there is a real danger and fending that off is the most important duty. This opens us up to assault from everyday illness and in chronic cases, disease.
Lowering stress levels strengthens the immune system. A Tibetan singing bowl can help with that pursuit.
Chakras are the energy centers that run throughout our bodies. Each chakra has an associated frequency and the overtones produced by a Tibetan singing bowl match with those associated frequencies.
Thus, by listening to the music of a singing bowl you are activating each chakra, balancing and harmonizing these energy centers.
Dr. Mitchell Gaynor is the director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York. His practice integrates sound therapy, including the use of Tibetan singing bowls, as part of a holistic approach to cancer treatment.
His center is not alone in this approach. Many cancer prevention and treatment centers use sound therapy because of its promising results. Dr. Gaynor’s thoughts on the subject are best left in his own words.
“If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touchesevery part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears but through every cell in our bodies. One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes. Sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiologic functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.”
How do Tibetan Singing Bowls Work?
If you’ve ever run a wet finger around the rim of a crystal goblet to produce a sound you’ve experienced the vibrations at work that produce sounds from a singing bowl.
Tibetan singing bowls make a far wider range of tones and is easier to excite because it has a smaller resonant frequency.
Singing bowls are essentially inverted bells. When struck, the sound emitted is similar to that of a typical bell.
When the wooden mallet used to play singing bowls is rotated around the rim of the singing bowl, the rim and sides of the bowl vibrate, producing rich, layered tones.
How do You Play a Tibetan Singing Bowl?
Your singing bowl will come with a wooden or leather-wrapped mallet that will be used to play it. When you begin playing a Tibetan singing bowl with a new mallet, there is a necessary breaking in period.
Running the mallet around the rim will result in small grooves being made in the mallet. Over time, these grooves will deepen, allowing the mallet to get a better grip on the rim’s surface.
There are several techniques for playing a Tibetan singing bowl including around the rim, the wah-wah, and water techniques.
- Around the Rim
- Hold the bowl in the palm or fingertips of your non-dominant hand
- Grasp the mallet midway with fingers and palm facing down
- Strike the side of the bowl to warm it up
- Rub the mallet around the outside edge of the bowl clockwise applying even pressure
- Use your whole arm, not your wrist
- The Wah-Wah
- Use the around the rim technique to get your bowl singing
- Raise the bowl to just above your mouth about an inch away from your face
- Open and close your mouth as if you were saying wah-wah but do not actually say anything
- The sound waves will bounce in and out of your mouth and emit the wah-wah sound
- Water Techniques
- Put a small amount of water in your singing bowl, using different amounts to experiment
- Play the bowl with the around the rim technique and hear the different sound produced
- Lift the bowl up and gently tip it so that the water rises up the sides of the bowl, using different angles and positions to experiment
What do I do if My Singing Bowl Won’t Sing?
A songless singing bowl can happen for a number of reasons. Try these tips if your Tibetan singing bowl won’t sing.
- Loosen Your Grip
- Remember that the sounds are coming from vibrations. If you grip your bowl too firmly, you will stop the waves and no sound will be produced. Try using your fingertips to loosely hold the bowl.
- Adjust Your Approach
- If you are wearing jewelry it may interfere with the song of your singing bowl when it comes into contact. If you want to keep the jewelry on, change the way you hold or play the bowl to avoid discordant contact.
- Practice Patience
- Your mallet may need to be broken in or you may need to get your arm movement in a groove before your singing bowl will sing. Be patient and the song will come.
- Tense muscles and held breath will not lead to a song from your Tibetan singing bowl. Breathe, relax your shoulders, and see what sweet sounds you can produce.
- Ask for Help
- Find someone who knows how to play or watch tutorials online to gain confidence and feedback on your technique.
How much do Tibetan Singing Bowls Cost?
Prices range based on size, age, and quality. Smaller bowls can be found for around $25 and prices increase with size to $200 or more.
Antique Tibetan singing bowls can command a hefty price. You can expect to pay $500 and up.
However, you can find sets of modern bowls that run from $75-$200 depending on the number and sizes of bowls included.
What to Look for in a Singing Bowl
If shopping for an antique bowl, be sure to determine if the bowl is actually old or just designed to look old. In general, true antiques will be higher quality than new bowls.
You want a bowl that has thinner metal on the bottom of the bowl as this will produce a better sound and indicates better craftsmanship.
Smaller bowls produce higher sounds. Tones become deeper as the bowl size gets larger. Choose a size that lines up with the chakras you want to balance or tones you find the most pleasing.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. You should choose a bowl that produces a tone which pleases you.
Purchasing more than one bowl is an option if you want to introduce multiple tones into your mindfulness meditation practice.
How to Clean a Singing Bowl
Keep dust at bay by wiping the bowl inside and out with a soft, dry cloth. White vinegar can be used to remove fingerprints. If the metal of your bowl is tarnished and you want to remove that, buy a cleaner specifically formulated for the metals contained in your bowl.
Tibetan singing bowls have been used for ages to heal, ritualize, and deepen meditation practices.
If you are looking for a way to take your meditation to the next level or target imbalanced chakras, consider listening to the soothing vibrations of a Tibetan singing bowl.