• Paul Dane

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 place else' - The gongs share so much energy that your body and big mind cannot help but appreciate it regardless of what your little mind is doing.

4. Look after yourself.

Sometimes when people go to new experiences, with a group of strangers, they feel inadequate; as if everyone else knows what to do and how to behave, but they don't.

So at the start of my sessions I usually explain that the next hour is one of the very few times in their adult life when there is absolutely nothing that they need to do other than have whatever experiences they have come to have. I explain that they are in a safe space, that I will hold the space and attend to anything that needs looking after until the session finishes. I let them know that nothing is expected of them beyond being respectful of the fact that other people are in the room with them, quite possibly asleep or in a state of deep relaxation.

So all you need to do at your gong session is to look after yourself. If you get uncomfortable move around, if you need to go to the bathroom, go to the bathroom, if you need to have a drink, have a drink, if you need to cough then cough, if you want to cry then cry (yes it does happen - to both men and women). It's all OK.

If you have particularly sensitive hearing then it would make sense to position yourself as far away from the gongs as possible, the same if you are feeling overly anxious about what is to come. Otherwise your practitioner should guide you where to position yourself, if you are unsure. Generally I suggest to my clients that they lie perpendicular to the gongs, so that the sound washes evenly across both sides of their body. If there is space, I suggest that they place themselves close to the centre rather than against a side wall and not to worry too much whether they are foot or head towards the gong, just go with whatever feels right to them.

5. Don't fight it.

Most practitioners will tell you that the gongs bring you whatever you need in the moment and that the experiences that they bring change very rapidly. So let go and let it happen, even if the 'little mind' we mentioned above is resisting and starts to feel overwhelmed - trying to control the situation - things will soon change. Don't fight it, just go with it and allow yourself to surrender to the moment which, if nothing else, is a wonderful life skill that working regularly with the gongs will likely teach you.

Sometimes it is good to push your boundaries and I know a couple of devotees who don't feel satisfied unless they have been burnt away by relentless pounding and crashing. But remember that your gong session is your gift to yourself, it is not a competition, initiation rite, or endurance test - It is an unusual experience that you are willingly taking part in for the pleasure of it. So if the experience really is too much and it's pushing on you too hard then cover your ears, move to the back of the room or, if it really isn't working for you, then leave the space entirely - All of which are absolutely fine and should not lead to you being judged negatively by the practitioner or anyone else including your 'friends' or yourself.

6. Let distractions be a part of the journey...

In the same way that you are at your gong session to have your own special and unique journey, so too are all the other attendees in the room with you, and to that matter so is the practitioner!

So in the same way that you might need to shuffle around, go to the toilet, cough, splutter or do anything else distinctly human, so might they. Whilst the practitioner might do their best to make the space still for you; choosing a quiet venue, taking down ticking clocks, insisting that phones are left out of the room or turned off and turning off noisy heaters, hand dryers etc. we live in a very busy human world and you simply cannot account for airplanes, cars, burglar alarms, emergency sirens, noisy youths, grumbling tummies and that, oh so common, loud snorer right in the middle of the group!

So when these things happen, as they inevitably will, as we said in the point above, don't fight it, just go with it. Sure your 'little mind' might grasp at the distraction as a reason to start feeling irritated and hard done by, but really does it matter that much? One day it might be you giving it the big Zzzzzzzz's or sitting in that plane that has just flown overhead... The likelihood is that if a snorer becomes really intense someone will gently rouse them or they will wake themselves up anyway. All things pass and when you truly let go it is amazing how many extraneous sounds ultimately weave themselves into the experience of the moment.

7. Share as much or as little as you like.

You may well come to your gong session with friends or relatives, some of them might be keen to share their experiences straight away, either positive or negative. Some practitioners might even ask you for feedback, particularly if they are starting out. That is fine if you feel like talking and are very clear on what you have just been through. But for many of us, certainly when we are new to the gong sound, it takes time to assimilate what we have just experienced. So if you don't feel like talking because you aren't ready or don't really want to share what came up, then please don't feel obliged to do so.

Usually a simple statement like 'I don't think I am ready to talk about that yet', 'I am not sure how I feel / what I think at the moment', or 'I'll need some time to process it' is enough for people to respect your need for mental space.

Equally if you feel that your experience was particularly important to you and that you need someone to listen it can be a good idea to talk to the practitioner who will likely be very happy to support you. As with everything in life though avoid the 'expert' in the crowd who appears to have all the answers!

8. Give yourself time to re-orientate.

You will likely find that when the gong stops playing there is incredible stillness in the space. Your practitioner will be used to this and have their own way of gently rousing people back to everyday awareness. But this takes time, and when the room lights eventually do come on don't expect to be fully functional. Be gentle with yourself and take as long as you need to re-orientate, in particular don't jump into your car and drive off at full speed until you are certain that you are thinking clearly and fully alert.

If the session has been particularly long or intense, or if the particular gongs used resonate very deeply with you then you may find that you keep hearing some of their harmonics in everyday sounds, particularly things like washing machines, cars and jet engines. This is perfectly normal, your brain is just starting to recognise new patterns of sound that it has previously been oblivious to and things should return back to normal within a couple of days.

9. Be slow to judge.

The gong experience can be complex, sometimes bewildering and full of contradictions. As mentioned above, those who play inevitably believe that the gongs bring us the experiences we need in the moment and that the experience that an individual has is largely defined by what they personally bring into the session.

There is no way to predict the outcomes that you might experience: In a session that has 50 people everyone will have a completely different journey. Likewise you will probably never have the same experience with the gongs twice, even if you keep going back to the same practitioner, playing the same gong for the same amount of time.

Often it can take a lot of time to process what has gone on, some insights can be delayed for days or weeks, some can be very deep. So don't rush to conclusions as soon as the sound stops, sit with it and be slow to judge.

10. It's all about you!

If you have got this far you will know that each of your gong sessions will be unique. They will be a special time when you are safe to explore a new experience and maybe a new part of yourself. No one can tell you how to take that journey, no one will ever have the same experiences as you do and no one, other than yourself, can offer you a meaningful explanation of what you have encountered. Your gong session is all about you, it is your gift to yourself.

We hope you find it enriching and a source of great joy.