Singing bowls are metal and crystal bowls used to deepen meditation and promote relaxation. They produce sustained sounds and vibrations when hit or circled with a mallet.
Sound therapy and guided meditations often make use of singing bowls. Bowls of varying sizes are placed around the room, around your body, or on your body. You can use them by yourself or with the help of a meditation or healing practitioner.
If you would like to hear the beautiful and relaxing sound of singing bowls, you may want to watch this video of six-time Grammy-nominated singer Jhené Aiko, who has helped bring singing bowls into mainstream music.
In addition to relaxation, people say singing bowl sound therapy can help:
Singing bowl therapy falls under the umbrella of sound therapy. Sound therapy incorporates singing, chanting, and instrumental music. It is ancient practice that has become a popular complementary treatment for many physiological and mental health conditions.
UCLA, which offers a music therapy treatment program, cites research showing that sound therapy can help improve both physiological symptoms and mental health.
Research at McGill University has explored the neurochemistry of music. The researchers noted that sound therapy is an ancient art that has migrated in the past several decades into clinical settings. Clinicians use it for
- pain management
- personal growth
It is said that Tibet and neighboring areas have used singing bowls for centuries in religious and spiritual ceremonies, as well as meditation. According to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Tibetan singing bowls first appeared around 560–480 BC.
Some historians dispute the link between singing bowls and Tibet and say singing bowl use for healing and relaxation is a modern convention. Others criticize the claim of a connection between singing bowls and Tibet as a form of cultural appropriation.
Singing bowls are made out of metal alloys, often copper and brass, similar to church bells. Some singing bowls are also made out of quartz crystal.
It’s unclear exactly why singing bowls might have positive effects on health and well-being.
Some theories include:
- The sound of the singing bowls may produce binaural beats, encouraging brain waves that help you feel relaxed, such as beta waves or trance-like theta waves. This is called entrainment, or stimulating brain waves through pulsing sound or light.
- The sound waves from the bowl act on the energy field of your body and cause you to relax.
- Singing bowls may work by their vibrations as well as sound.
There’s also some evidence that music therapy more generally can reduce your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When your levels of cortisol are lowered, you feel more relaxed.
A 2020 research review of four studies showed that singing bowl therapy resulted in improved mental and emotional health. These improvements echoed the findings of an earlier 2016 observational study. Some of these improvements include:
The study also reported improvements in physical health, including:
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- respiratory rate
- peripheral capillary oxygen saturation
A 2019 study found that Himalayan singing bowls can help induce a deep state of relaxation in a short period of time, often under 20 minutes. This level of relaxation was greater in both depth and consistency than relaxation from just lying down in silence.
A pilot study in Italy showed that Tibetan singing bowls helped relieve distress and increase a sense of well-being in people with metastatic cancer. They also helped decrease anxiety, involuntary mental activity, and stress. The researchers called for larger studies to confirm results.
A 2022 study in Germany found that singing bowl massage led to a decrease of overall EEG power, or certain brain signals, which might help create a sense of well-being. These researchers also called for larger studies to confirm results.
Makers and practitioners of singing bowls sometimes issue precautions. Some common warnings, like these from Shanti Bowl, include:
- Beginners: Start out with slow 5-minute sessions until you see how the singing bowls affect you.
- Epilepsy: Singing bowls may trigger seizures. People with epilepsy should generally avoid singing bowls.
- Metal implants: Avoid singing bowls if you have metal devices in your body, such as a pacemaker, coronary shunt, artificial heart valves, or metal pins or staples. The vibration of the singing bowl sound could possibly move the metal inside you, causing injury or malfunction of the device.
- Bodily conditions: Avoid placing singing bowls directly on or near tumors, implants, screws, or artificial joints.
- Mental health: Singing bowls often elicit deep memories, emotion, and thoughts. If you are diagnosed with a mental disorder like PTSD, anxiety, or depression, be sure to work with your doctor or therapist to make sure you can manage the thoughts and feelings that might arise.
- Skin conditions: If you have an inflammatory skin condition like psoriasis, eczema, or hives, practitioners recommend not placing bowls on your body since they could aggravate the skin condition.
- Pregnancy: In general, avoid singing bowls during pregnancy. If your doctor approves, you might try short sessions, but make sure the bowls are away from your belly and back.
- Children: Be careful to monitor your child’s use of a singing bowl. Use incorrectly, it can damage hearing.
- Surgery. After surgery, wait to place singing bowls on your body until sutures are removed and your skin is fully healed.
Lack of effective treatment for health problems
If you’re using Tibetan singing bowls as a therapy for physical health problems or mental health issues, it’s important to use them as a complementary therapy and not the only therapy.
It’s not a good idea to delay other treatment or therapy in order to use Tibetan singing bowls as a treatment. If you have a diagnosed condition, be sure to talk with your doctor about any treatment you’d like to try, including singing bowls.
During singing bowl therapy, you’ll be lying down on the floor, with the bowls in one of several configurations. They may be placed
- on different points on your body.
- around your body.
- around the room (if there are multiple people in the therapy), with at least one bowl near your head
Either you or a practitioner will tap the bowl with a mallet and then use the mallet to circle the bowl using varying pressure and speed. This will make varying sounds, often prolonged to emit different vibrational frequencies.
Singing bowls may be used with or without guided meditation.
There is a growing body of research that sound therapy using singing bowls can benefit some mental and physical conditions. The most evidence is for relaxation, especially if you use the bowls in guided meditation.
There is little evidence that Tibetan singing bowls are dangerous in any way. For most people, they likely won’t cause any negative effects. There are a number of precautions against using singing bowls in some circumstances, like during pregnancy, if you have epilepsy, or if you have metal devices in your body.
Most studies of health benefits of singing bowls have been conducted in the past decade. Researchers say larger studies are needed to confirm results of reported benefits of singing bowl therapy.