A writer goes on a journey of sound, mind and body.

Incense hangs in the air inside the Mystic Sisters store like a warm, fragrant cloud, insulating us from the cold, gray gloom of a Central Ohio winter. Most of the people gathered for the inaugural sound vibrational meditation class clutch yoga mats, pillows or blankets. I brought along my trusty zafu, a traditional cushion used for seated meditation—a wise choice, it turns out, as co-owner Meggin McAnally instructs us to grab a spot right on the Grandview shop’s hardwood floor and settle in for the 45-minute session.

While practiced as a part of organized religion for centuries, meditation more recently has been adopted to treat health and anxiety disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in just a five-year span, the number of adults practicing meditation tripled in the U.S. Forbes partially attributes the rise in popularity to apps like Calm—the industry leader that claims more than 50 million downloads since its introduction in 2012.

I’ve taken courses in mindfulness-based stress reduction and am a subscriber to Calm, but sound vibrational meditation—which incorporates sounds made from instruments including Tibetan singing bowls, gongs and chimes—is new to me. These “tools,” as reiki master and session leader Woody Gearhart explains, assist us in temporarily readjusting the activity in our brains to promote mental clarity and healing.

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According to Scientific American, electrical brainwaves can be separated into four categories—beta, alpha, theta and delta. The brain generates beta waves when it’s engaged in stimulating mental activities and theta waves during routine tasks. In the theta state, people are often able to mentally disengage altogether. That’s the journey—from beta to theta—Gearhart says he wants to take us on as the session begins.

It takes me a while to settle in. Gently nudging thoughts from your mind while making sure your feet don’t fall asleep is hard work. Initially, noises like the loud ringing of one of the bowls “wake” me from my meditation, but those instances become fewer. The sounds are not musical, but they are pleasant, varying in pitch, tone and intensity yet remaining nearly constant throughout the session. Eventually, the noisy outside world fades, and all I hear is the singing of the bowls and the ringing of the chimes. Eyes closed, I begin to see purple plumes of smoke alternating with flashes of white light that undulate with the singing of the quartz crystal bowl, a phenomenon I’ve never encountered during meditation before.

I’m told later by attendee Janita Ford that I was seeing auras. I have my doubts, and scientists would be skeptical, but whatever the visuals were, she saw them too.

As the session ends and Gearhart welcomes us “back,” the ambient noises I’d somehow blocked just minutes before—traffic, chatter, text alerts—slowly come back into focus. But I remain in a state of near disconnectedness from them for some time.

Attendee Shana Ivery found this session calming. “I was feeling really heavy when I got here,” she says. “I feel good now.”

It’s exactly what Gearhart hopes people take with them. “That’s what sound vibrational meditation and healing is about: being able to release anything that is not really us, which can be anger, fear, grief; it can be unworthiness. … This releases all of that, so that we can be one with ourselves again.” 

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