Soulful Bowl

Have you heard the distinctive tone of a singing bowl? The resonant, gong chimes both familiar and foreign, hauntingly calling toward realms beyond sight and cozily anchoring to the here and now. With each bowl’s unique sound, listeners often hear the call with their soul as well as their ears. As a yoga student, I love to wake from the complete relaxation at the end of class to the throaty and shimmery tones of a singing bowl.

My singing bowl.

When I started teaching, I wanted to offer my students the same gentle call, but found that there were no local places to purchase a bowl. After consulting my super-shopper mother, I found that my father had received one as a gift some years ago. Unsure of what to do with it, he was happy to let me use it for my classes.

Now, my students enjoy the sonorous call back to awareness in the body. Some philosophies consider that during the savasana period of a yoga class, the spirit/awareness wanders through the astral realms finding the whole expanse of the universe within the confines of the body. The sounding of the singing bowl serves as the knock at the door drawing the spirit back to its home in the physical body.

Each Tibetan singing bowl creates a unique sound or tone. At first, I would strike the bowl to create a gong or chime-like peal with extraordinary resonance. Three taps on the bowl, provide a gentle conclusion to savasana, meditation, or sleep.

Playing a singing bowl by stroking the rim.

One day when substituting for another yoga teacher across town, one of the students in class, Sarah, kindly showed me how to coax a more sustained tone by stroking around the rim of the bowl. While requiring more skill, technique, and practice, the sustained resonant droning quickly calls the mind into focus drowning out or smoothing away conscious thought and creating a smooth and easy path to a still mind prepared for meditation.

The process of making a singing bowl strives to create a bowl of mystical powers. Each metal produces its own distinct tone and each bowl has its own particular combination of metals. While the metals are forged a priest chants healing mantras — sounds with great mystical power — to endow the metal of the bowl with healing energy. Listening to the song of a bowl is as though you were receiving the prayers of the ancient priest.

The blessed metal is shaped into a bowl, which is useful as a container. The value of an ordinary bowl comes in the space it contains, which can be filled with cereal, rice, or flowers. The space of a singing bowl is perfect for holding vibrations, which become sound. A Tibetan singing bowl creates a unique buzz or hum as it sings. This sound comes as the vibrations of the metal sides crisscross and ricochet off the edges of the bowl.

When used specifically for healing, multiple sized bowls may be played — usually by striking. A series of bowls corresponding to energy centers called chakras may be used by sound healers. The bowl may also be placed on the body and struck as a very powerful way to clear an energy channel. From a seated position one seeking a grounding energy or clearing from head to seat can hold the bowl with the feet. A person looking to clear from the seat to the head can wear the bowl hat like and with a soft mallet strike the bowl. I was recently invited to share my singing bowl with a group learning Reiki. They were eager to try both approaches. Only one student had a head sufficiently small to try the hat version, but she was very pleased with the results. All agreed that holding the bowl with the feet was very effective.

Not only is the bowl shape essential to create the signature buzz or hum, but it is also useful to the meditating mind as it illustrates well the Buddhist principle of the the void — where there is space, something will come to fill it. If there is a hole in the ground, water will fill it. If there is a emptiness in the heart, love will come to fill it. Hence the bowl itself reminds a meditator that an empty mind can expect to be filled with light or inspiration.

Tibetan singing bowls have been around for over 2,500 years. Recognizable singing bowls — bowls producing two different tones when struck in different spots — can be dated to 1100 B.C. The bowls are prized for their ability to create focus in the mind and harmonize energies of the body. Many who hear the song of the bowl feel that it speaks to their souls.

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