Ten ways to have a great soundbath

I shall never forget my first experience of the gong:

Chaperoning a friend at a Yoga and Dance festival, when I was profoundly incompetent at both, I spent much time studying the program; searching for something 'interesting' to go to, that involved neither. There were a few events called 'gong sound baths' which sounded completely bizarre so I thought I would give it a go.

Nothing could have prepared me for the inner experiences that I went through at that first session. At the time I had been diligently following the Mahayana Buddhist tradition which brought me many deep insights and times of 'connection'. But in that first gong session I felt as if I had been gifted 5 years worth of meditation in one effortless experience - and I hadn't even needed to get up at 5.00 a.m. to do it!! I could not believe what had happened.

From there I was completely hooked; I squeezed into every session that was running and vowed that the minute I got home I would do whatever it took to share that incredible experience as widely as I could. I am not sure if it is fair to say that my first gong experience was life changing. But without a shadow of doubt, since making that commitment my life has changed profoundly and throughout those years of transformation, even when my old life was crashing and burning around me, my gong work has remained central, flowing on a stream of endless synchronicity and unexpected opportunities.

Not everyone's first experience of the gong is the same. At the other end of the scale I remember working on a retreat, early on in my practice, where one of the attendees was completely repulsed by the gong sound and refused to be anywhere near the building when I was playing... But fortunately that is extraordinarily uncommon. Most people find the experience interesting, many find it unexpectedly moving and some are profoundly touched in the same way that I was.

So if you haven't heard the gongs before what can you do to get the most from the experience?

I have thought about this question a lot over the years with respect to how to introduce people to our regular public sessions.

Below you will find 10 pointers that will help you have a great time...

1. Come into the room in the right space...

In the GongSpace we tend to hold our public sessions on a Friday or Saturday evening. One of the main reasons being that these are typically the times when people allow themselves to step aside from the business of their working week and domestic chores.

If you want to get the most from your gong session then try to go to it feeling open and calm, with as still a mind as you are able to generate. This means getting to the session on time, not rushing because you are late. Leave the phone alone for an hour or two before your session if you can, and turning it off well before the session starts - ideally leave it in the car and make sure you are not expecting any outstanding calls - deal with them first.

If you are coming with other people, try to resist babbling about trivialities and listening to controversial conversations or loud, aggressive music, instead encourage one another to relax - deep breathe, listen to calming music, hum a tune, sing a mantra, whatever works for you. If you have any form of meditation or relaxation practice, get to the venue early and spend time alone going through your routine. Avoid taking alcohol or any other substance that will stifle your creativity for at least 8 hours before the session starts.

Remember this is your unique session and the more time you spend making yourself still and receptive before it starts the more you will be able to consciously experience the remarkable energies that the gong is offering to you.

People enjoying gong soundbath at Beech Hill Memorial Hall in Reading
Make sure you have something comfy to lie on at your first gong soundbath.

2. Make sure you are comfortable.

If your gong bath goes well you will most likely be spending an hour or so in a state somewhere between meditation and dreaming sleep. Some people also notice the effects of the gong in their body, perhaps feeling a tingling or burning sensation at the site of old wounds.

So you are going to want to do everything you can to make your body warm and comfortable for the duration. Typically people will bring along a thick, squidgy yoga mat, the kind that is useless for doing yoga but very comfy to lie on. You'll also want a soft pillow or cushion for you head and, if you have lower back pain, then it might be worth considering a bolster to raise your knees. If that isn't going to work for you then a nice comfortable folding chair might do the trick, or a beanbag.

I have seen some die hard meditators use a meditation stool or cushion to sit on, if that's you and you can stay in meditation pose for an hour without your body interfering that's great.

Regardless of what position you are in, unless it is baking hot you are going to want to keep warm; the body cools down very rapidly when in a state of deep relaxation, so bring along a warm blanket, perhaps some woolly socks and if your session is in daylight, and you like the dark, then you might want to bring along an eye mask to keep out the light.

Most practitioners will bring along the odd spare mat and blanket but really you need to take responsibility for your own comfort and bring along all the things that you think you might need, including, perhaps, a bottle of water. Take it from me, at some sessions, no matter how much spare equipment we take along it's all gone as soon as the first few guests arrive!

3. Manage your expectations.

Sound healing and gong baths are becoming increasingly 'in vogue'. Certainly many people do have extraordinary and unexpected experiences when they take their journey. But don't get too sucked up in the hype. If you take a look at our 'Effects of the Gong' page you'll see a pretty balanced appraisal of how people respond to the gong and how these instruments fit into the world of health and well-being.

So don't expect too much of the experience. Some people fall asleep, some simply find the experience relaxing, some are given the creative insight to solve problems, some have colourful abstract visions, some spend time trying to analyse what is going on, some feel overwhelmed or agitated, some feel very little at all and some feel a combination of any and/or all of the above!

Don't expect too much of yourself either:

At the start of most of my sessions I usually explain to people that they have two minds, we all know the busy little mind that kicks off when we wake up and keeps going, churning away, all day long - the Buddhist 'monkey mind'. But sometimes we also know a calmer, bigger mind; an observer that feels more connected to the earth and to nature, more at peace in the moment.

I explain that the busy little mind may stay active throughout the gong session; analysing the experience, thinking about what has been going on that day or what will be happening later, but that doesn't matter, you don't need to beat yourself up for not 'going some