Can Tibetan Singing Bowls Help Relieve Stress?
Also known as singing bowls or Himalayan bowls, Tibetan singing bowls are said to promote relaxation and offer powerful healing properties including stress relief. A Tibetan singing bowl is a type of bowl that vibrates and produces a rich, deep tone when played.
Buddhist monks have long used Tibetan singing bowls in meditation practice. In addition, some wellness practitioners (including music therapists, massage therapists, and yoga therapists) use Tibetan singing bowls during treatment.
This article discusses how Tibetan singing bowls are used and their purported benefits. It also covers what you should consider before you try using this type of treatment.
History of Tibetan Singing Bowls
There is debate about the exact origins of the Tibetan singing bowl, although there is some evidence that it may have originated in China sometime around the 16th century BC. Traditional bowls were made of a variety of metals including mercury, lead, silver, iron, gold, and copper.
During the 1970s, people began importing the bowls to North America and Europe. They grew in popularity in the 1990s as a complementary and alternative treatment for a variety of ailments.
Tibetan signing bowls have a history that dates back thousands of years, but they only became popular in the U.S. starting in the 1970s.
Uses for Tibetan Singing Bowls
Very few scientific studies have examined the potential benefits of Tibetan singing bowls, despite their long history of use. But some people do report that using the bowls help them feel more relaxed.
Uses for singing bowl therapy include:
- Stress relief: Some research supports the use of Tibetan singing bowls as a way to promote relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety.1
- Improving sleep: Because singing bowl therapy has been linked to decreased anxiety and tension, it may be helpful for improving sleep. Further research is needed to support this.
- Lowering blood pressure: A preliminary study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion in 2014 examined the benefits of starting a directed relaxation session with 12 minutes of singing bowl sounds. It found a greater reduction in systolic blood pressure and heart rate compared to silence before the session.2
- Reducing depression: One study linked singing bowl therapy to improvements in mood and suggested that this approach may be a low-cost way to help reduce symptoms of depression.1
- Stimulating the immune system: Some also claim that Tibetan singing bowls can stimulate the immune system and produce beneficial changes in brain waves.
- Pain relief: One study looking at chronic spinal pain found that people treated with singing bowl therapy experienced significantly decreased pain intensity as well as decreased stress.3 However, placebo treatment had the same effects, so the study’s authors concluded that singing bowl therapy’s effectiveness for pain relief could not be confirmed.
- Balancing and harmonizing the body: Many proponents claim that the vibrations of a singing bowl can produce beneficial changes in the body by “harmonizing” the cells and “balancing the body’s energy system.”
- Enhancing other healing practices: Some people use the bowls in combination with other healing practices, such as meditation and deep breathing.
Do Singing Bowls Work?
It is important to note that while Tibetan singing bowls are often used for these purposes, research is still needed to determine what impact they actually have. Proponents may suggest that they have these benefits, but that does not mean that they actually work. Some of the claims don’t have a clear scientific basis.
How to Use Tibetan Singing Bowls
During singing bowl treatment, you will lie on the floor while the bowls are placed in different configurations. For example, they might be placed around your body, on your body, or in different locations around the room.
Once positioned, the practitioner will use mallets to strike the bowls in a sequence in order to produce sounds and vibrations. In some cases, your practitioner may also include a guided meditation.
To use a singing bowl yourself, firmly press the accompanying mallet in a circular motion against the bowl’s outside edge or rim. When you hear a bright, clear tone, you can slow down the motion. Use your full arm to make the motion, rather than just rotating your wrist.
You can also make the same circular motion against the outside belly of the bowl. Additionally, you can gently strike the bowl before beginning the circular motion.
Impact of Tibetan Singing Bowls
A few different theories have been proposed to explain why Tibetan singing bowls might be beneficial. Such theories suggest that:
- The vibrations that the bowls produce may affect the mind and body.
- The sounds the bowls create may impact brain waves in order to induce relaxation.
- They may induce the same psychological effects and benefits as listening to music.
The benefits of listening to the bowls may be related to the ancient practice of sound therapy.1 Often used by Indigenous cultures throughout the world, sound therapy involves pulsing sounds, clapping, drumming, and singing for ceremonial, spiritual, and health purposes.
For example, singing bowls are often used during sound baths, a meditative experience in which people meditate while listening to resonant sounds. Research has found that sound baths can have a variety of beneficial effects, including improving positive moods,4 reducing anxiety,5 and decreasing pain.6
A 2020 review of the existing research concluded that there was not enough current evidence to recommend the use of singing bowl therapies. However, the authors of the study noted that there was evidence indicating that this type of treatment had some positive effects that warrant further investigation.7
While proponents suggest that Tibetan singing bowls can have a variety of positive effects such as reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and helping with pain relief, more research is needed.
Tips for Buying a Tibetan Singing Bowl
If you are interested in trying Tibetan singing bowls, there are a number of places where you can find them. Some sources include:
- Online retailers
- Meditation centers
- Yoga studios
- Music shops
- Stores that specialize in new age products
Experts suggest that higher-quality bowls tend to produce more resonant sounds.
Smaller to medium-sized bowls are often more appropriate for beginners. Larger singing bowls may be suited to more advanced users. There are a number of good-quality singing bowls available that are small enough to be comfortable for beginning users but still produce quality sounds.
Look for a high quality bowl that is able to produce a variety of resonant tones. Some experts suggest purchasing a hand-hammered bowl as opposed to a machine-made one in order to obtain a more resonant tone.
Is It OK to Use a Singing Bowl?
While using Tibetan singing bowls is generally regarded as safe, there is not a great deal of research on using them as a type of treatment. People who may want to avoid singing bowl therapy include those who:
- Are prone to headaches: Some people report experiencing headaches as a result of the noise and vibrations that the singing bowls produce.
- Are pregnant: Because the effects on pregnancy are not known, you might want to avoid this type of therapy if you are currently pregnant.
- Have epilepsy: In some instances, noise and vibrations may trigger seizures.
Tibetan singing bowls are believed to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and produce other healing effects. Originating in China thousands of years ago, these bowls have become increasingly popular in other countries over the last few decades.
Purported benefits include improving sleep, reducing depression, relieving pain, and increasing immunity. However, current evidence cannot substantiate these benefits. While there appear to be some positive effects, more research is needed to determine how and when singing bowls are best used.
Tibetan singing bowls may have some benefits, but more research is needed to support their use as a treatment for stress, anxiety, and other concerns. Some research does indicate that these singing bowls can enhance meditation and deep breathing, which may help maximize the stress-relieving benefits of those practices.