As my colleague Minda Zetlin recently pointed out, "forest bathing" is currently hot in Japan. The trend might have a wacky name, but as Zetlin explains, the practice of spending time immersed in glorious nature is actually backed by a ton of science and seems to be effective.

Can the same be said of a new relaxation trend that's taken hold over here on the other side of the Pacific? You be the judge.

A shortcut to a clear mind

The idea is called "sound bathing," and rather than soak yourself in a soothing natural landscape, you "bathe" in a room full of soothing sound. "As the name suggests, a sound bath immerses participants in soothing sonic resonance emitted by instruments such as crystal singing bowls, tuning forks, and gongs," explains Quartz's Jenni Avins.

Purported benefits include "increased focus and clarity, decreased anxiety, and a heightened capacity for empathy," she writes. In essence, sound bathing is being sold as a shortcut to get the same calm, clear headspace produced by meditation.

But unlike the walk in the woods favored by the Japanese, the experience isn't free. Offered at meditation studios and spas, sound bathing requires a skilled practitioner to ping all those bowls and gongs at the appropriate intervals. When Avins gave it a go at a New York studio, the price tag was $35 for a one-hour session.

She claims she left a happy customer, however: "Before long, my mind slowed and dropped into a dreamlike space where I was only mildly aware of my thoughts passing by... I left feeling peaceful and refreshed - and I slept like a baby that night."

Personal tastes apparently matter though. Alvins likens choosing a "sound bathing practitioner" to choosing a yoga teacher and suggests those thinking of trying it out have a listen to a potential facilitator's Soundcloud account to see if their work strikes your fancy.

Does it work?

All of which might interest an entrepreneur looking for a relatively quick hack for increased peace of mind, but Avins' article raises one inevitable question: does it actually work? If steadily increasing hype is anything to judge by (and obviously, it often isn't), then the answer is definitely yes.

Avis also isn't the only journalist willing to testify to the calming effects of the experience. "I was entirely entranced by the music, and my mind let itself wander toward a particularly grounding trip I took to the desert once, which is as close as I'll ever get to doing peyote. And then I slipped into a dreamy, half-asleep state. Before I knew it, our hour-long session was over," writes Gabrieilla Paiella on Science of Us, describing one of her sound bath experiences.

But if you're looking for scientific verification for the idea, you're going to have to settle on a host of studies that show music in general can indeed have a profound effect on our mood and even our bodies. As far as I can find, there's no study that shows sound bathing is effective. Still, if you have $35 to spare and a mind in desperate need of quieting, it might just be worth a try.

Have you ever tried "sound bathing"? Did it live up to the hype?

Published on: Oct 31, 2016
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