By Richard S. Gubbe
Tibetan singing bowls have been gaining attention in the Western world as Americans discover their potential for healing through sound therapy and music therapy.
The name Tibetan singing bowls has become a generic term for what are actually musical instruments created in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, India and Nepal. They are also called Himalayan healing bowls.
Because they are made of copper and zinc to give them a brassy color, they look like a musical instrument. They are composed of five or six metals that are forged into a bowl and then hand-pounded to achieve the exact tones intended. Those six metals can also include gold, silver and iron, along with tin. Older singing bowls are classified as antiques, and their age can be anywhere from 50 to 400 years old — or even older.
Tibetan singing bowls commonly are used in meditation, to open and close ceremonies, to use in chanting, and for clearing a room of negative energy. Recently, however, there has been a shift to healing bowls to provide the proper tones or frequencies the body can use to help heal itself.
Using pleasing tones to heal the body is nothing new, and dates back to ancient cultures. The use of melodic music found in orchestral and symphonic works can be soothing, and everyone enjoys a good melody every now and then. But the intense bombardment of one, two or three frequencies at once has been known to relieve anxiety, depression, anger and stress. Sound therapists also are discovering that certain notes and the harmonic notes that augment or support them can have an effect on other serious issues relating to diseases, disorders and even trauma.
Often, bowls are placed on the body during therapy treatments. The sound can be felt and heard immediately. The energy is received in portals around the body, not just through the ear canal.
An antique or older bowl has no intricate markings or symbols; those that do have been manufactured or produced in modern times and made from inferior materials. Only a line or a dot can appear on an antique bowl, and in rare occasion, a signature or marking can be found.
There are many different types of bowls, but those most frequently found include jambata bowls that are large, manipuri bowls that are wide and low, and thadobati bowls that are smaller and play high-pitched sounds. These bowls are rated both in sound and in appearance from AA, A+, A, A-, B+, B and B-. Any rating lower than that and the bowl has no value. Most bowl enthusiasts go by sound and not the look of the bowl.
Bowls are played in a variety of ways, including striking the bowl near the rim, swirling a wooden stick around the rim of the bowl in a clockwise manner, and spinning a stick with felt around the rim to produce a deeper, vibratory sound. Large jambata bowls are used in temples and meditation rooms and can produce low tones, including the “Ohm” chant. The thinner a large bowl, the deeper the tone produced.
Most bowls fit the owner, just like a pet. The bowl plays differently for each individual, and everyone resonates with certain pitches and vibrations. Tingshaws, two small, cylindrical disks with alike tones struck together, are used to open and close ceremonies and to clear a room of energy. Ghanta Bells can be rung with a clapper, played with a stick or struck with a dorje stick to create a different tone in the same scale as a bowl. There are also expensive chalices and gongs that can be used in sound therapy. Both are made on remnants of singing bowls.
Bowls also have been known to react to humidity and barometric pressure. They must be kept dry, unless spinning water inside for a different sound.
The longer the song emitted from a bowl can mean it is more expensive as well as the cosmetic look of the bowl. Bowls that are antique can play three or more notes at one time, and the sound can fluctuate or change phases by changing the way the stick is used to “play” the bowl.
When a large number of bowls are played consecutively or at once, the event is called a sound bath. Many people are offering sound baths around the area.
Bowls are generally imported through Nepal, India and China. While they were considered to be plentiful, fewer artisans are making them because they take time to mature before they can reach their full potential for sound.
Prices of antique bowls can vary from $100 and up for a good thadobati bowl, $150 and up for a good manipuri bowl, and $200 and up for a good jambata bowl. Large bowls that look pristine and perform well can cost up to $10,000 each. A set of bowls with seven tones playing one of seven notes in a music key can cost from $1,200 or more.
Bowls purchased on the Internet can be risky, and many are not antique and are often worthless. Bowls in a big city tend to cost more, but it can be played before purchase. Finding a private supplier is best for both quality and price.
One of the most respected authors on the subject is Emile de Leon, who wrote The Mastery Book of Himalayan Singing Bowls: A Musical, Spiritual, and Healing Perspective, from Temple Sounds Publishing.
According to one importer who travels to India and Nepal to purchase hundreds of antique bowls annually, the availability of high-quality bowls is growing less and less each year.
Rock Valley College has a Tibetan Bowls class at 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Bell School Road campus.
For more about where to find bowls or attend a sound bath locally, contact email@example.com.
Richard Gubbe teaches health-related classes at Rock Valley College. He has been in the energy healing profession since 1985.
From the July 9-15, 2014, issue