As part of my ongoing search for the most zen experiences in Sussex, I recently took part in a sound bath hosted by Jez Smith of Ancient Sacred Sounds. I turned up with no expectations and little idea what to expect as I had booked it on a whim some time before and then promptly forgotten about it.
As it turns out, the experience was phenomenal.
The sound bathing experience
I arrived at the Cowdray Hall in Easebourne near Midhurst in my usual state of stress and dishevelment, to be met by an all-pervasive sense of calm. Before the event gets underway, you lie down in the dark with a blanket and cushion as Jez introduces the session. He invited us to set an intention (this is voluntary but interesting) and then he explains how to get the most out of the event.
And then the music begins. Although, despite the definite musicality to it, music isn’t the right word. It is in fact what it says on the tin … a complete immersion in sound. A sound bath. Powerful, intense, soothing, vibrating, moving and beautiful sound. It’s like no noise I’ve ever heard before and it’s almost addictive.
The changing sound of the gongs washes over you and pulses and vibrates through you with varying levels of intensity. You can hear it of course, but it’s also almost tangible and you can feel it. And the effect is both profoundly moving and uplifting but at the same time, very relaxing. I didn’t want it to end. This was peculiar pleasure for pleasure’s sake, and I wanted to go deeper and deeper into the moment. And that has to be an hour well spent.
The theory behind the experience
I was pretty certain that there was a level of science behind Jez’s sound bathing experience which I didn’t understand and couldn’t articulate, so I collared him later to find out more. He explained that sound bathing operates on three levels: a physical level (or the science bit), a creative level and a spiritual level. And this perfectly explained what my mind was struggling to decipher. Now, I only hope I can do Jez’s very erudite explanation justice.
Sound bathing works on both the mind and body. In terms of the mind, as you relax into the sound, you drop from an active wakeful level of consciousness to a much more relaxed state of consciousness, much like the moments just before you go to sleep. This is a very regenerative state which we often pass through quickly at night. So by putting ourselves into a prolonged state of this relaxation, we are giving our mind and our body a much-needed rest and a chance to recuperate.
From a more physical perspective, there is also quantum physics at work here, as the vibrations from the gongs recalibrate the natural vibration of the body’s atoms. Jez explains how the demands of life can upset the rhythm of our body’s natural vibrations. The powerful vibrations of the gongs help you rebalance, so much so that people can report improvements in their health, with pain and with their immune systems.
Creativity and spirituality
Then there’s the way the sound operates on the brain. It’s an unusual noise the like of which I had never heard before and this sparks curiosity in the left side of our brain (the side responsible for analytics and logic) as it tries to figure the sound out. But it can’t, so in the end, it has to give up and give way to the right side of the brain … the creative side. And what that does is to give the left side of your brain a much-needed break. It allows you to be just in the moment which again is physically and mentally regenerative and can help with stress, anxiety and more.
From my point of view, this is where my brain went off on what I can best describe as a joyful frolic which I found very uplifting. The logical side of my brain that often says “you can’t” backed off allowing me to get creative with my intention (no I’m not going to tell you what it was) and I started coming up with interesting ideas and renewed confidence and belief.
Apart from all of the above, I found the sound bath inescapably spiritual. Was it the venue, the sound, the darkness, all of the above? I don’t know. But it was special.
The man behind the experience
Jez has an impressive CV. He’s been a musician for over 35 years and he’s being playing historical instruments for 20 years. Think lute, lute guitar, gittern, vihuela, hurdy gurdies, nyckelharpa and Renaissance style bagpipes. But he is also a qualified museum professional (Museum Masters Degree) with a background in Archaeology (Degree) and Sociology (BA Hons Degree) and has worked in the museum sector in the roles of education, interpretation and accessibility.
Most of importantly, Jez is also a qualified sound therapist with diplomas from both the British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST) and the College of Sound Healing (COSH), and has been playing the gongs for over 10 years.
He has the most incredible aura of calm and remarkably he also has hearing loss. Far from this becoming a hindrance, he explained that the gongs are such a multi-sensory experience that he is able to play via the resonance and by sensing the sound through his nervous system. This blows my mind. What’s more, the sound I had heard was so perfect in its composition that I presumed that he played to a carefully choreographed script. But no, he plays intuitively. My mind is blown some more. When you hear him, you’ll understand why.
It really doesn’t matter what you’re looking for. Sound bathing with Jez is definitely at the top of my list of most zen and most unusual Sussex experiences. It is enjoyment on so many levels, and in so many ways, and if you get the chance, pack up any scepticism, and give it a go. It will be an hour well spent.
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