I don’t know about you, but my eyes are tired. Tired of staring at a screen. Tired of scrolling through hundreds of pictures of strangers’ lives. Tired of staying open for longer every single year. My eyes are burned out. Weary. Fatigued to the point of no longer even fully digesting what’s in front of them: Netflix, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube…. they feel assaulted by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ to look at. In the kitchen. On the train. Sat on the toilet. Anytime, anywhere, my eyes are working overtime.
My ears however… now they are a different story. My ears are ready to help take over some of that sensory overload.
Which is exactly why I was intrigued when I heard about Cheryl ‘Cherub’ Sanson, one of the world’s most respected sound artists operating out of a red brick building in London’s Maida Vale. Cherub is a teeny tiny fairy of a person, delicate and pretty with small, pale hands that perform magic on the hundreds of clients she has been treating since she started practising sound healing over a decade ago.
You might have heard about sound therapy. Gwyneth gave it headline space at her last Goop convention. Spas and five-star hotels have started offering it alongside yoga lessons and massages. And every other person seems to be fitting a sound bath into their already heaving wellness schedule.
Sound healing occupies a space somewhere between reiki and meditation. Yes, there’s a spiritual element (the use of crystal bowls and talk of bodily vibrations might make the cynics roll their eyes) but there’s also an increasing volume of science to support the health claims behind the practice. Namely that it’s as effective as meditation at reducing stress and anxiety as well as boosting endorphins.
Cherub used to call herself a ‘sound healer’ she tells me in her wonderfully broad, flat Northern tones. But it sounded too spiritual, she says. A bit crunchy granola. It can put people off. To that end she has introduced a completely new take on the practice - the sonic massage, combining a luxurious, hands-on massage with an aural odyssey that includes everything from gong banging, tuning forks held close to the body and the occasional Mexican death whistle thrown in for good measure.
‘We are designed to receive, create and heal with sounds,’ she says. ‘When you’re in the womb, sound is the first sensation we receive. And the first sound we respond to is the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat. So, we are born into a rhythm. That’s something we connect with very early on.’
As I step into her practice room a warm bed awaits me. I undress and look round. In the gloaming of the room, I can see flutes, xylophones, a keyboard, small rattle-like things and dozens of tuning forks. It’s like being in the school music room, except you’re in your bra and pants.
I close my eyes and music starts to drift around me. It’s hard to tell what it is exactly…opera? Some sort of bossa nova? Bach? From out of nowhere a gong sounds, thick and heavy. My body feels grounded. It sounds again. I feel weighted, as though my groin is sinking into the bed. As I start to drift in and out of consciousness, I feel hands upon me, nimble and soft, exploring pressure points and stroking tired, unloved places.
A strange, not unpleasant vibration starts to pulse through my head (I later realise Cherub has held a struck tuning fork and held it centimetres away from my temple). I feel snuggly and deliciously dazed, as though tucked up in blanket of noise. New sounds- the ting of a triangle or perhaps it’s the light whistle of a flute, I’m not sure, break the heaviness. Ironically the best massages of my life usually involve me falling asleep halfway through. This is different. Sleep never quite takes hold. Instead, you bob along, in the manner of a lucid dream.
‘Some call sound therapy the "lazy person’s meditation", explains Cherub. ‘That’s because you can achieve all the benefits of meditation simply by laying down and receiving the frequencies of the gongs, the tuning forks and the sounds. It releases beta endorphins and helps to rebalance the nervous system.’
Most human beings’ natural frequency is in line with nature at around 7.8 hertz. The natural energy of a city however tends to vibrate at around 60 hertz, due to everything from the electricity in our walls, to our fridges and WIFI. When you meditate you get to about 7.8 hertz cycles per second, which is why you feel so at peace. It’s also why, after time spent out in nature, you start to feel more relaxed.
‘Human beings are naturally in beta phase most of the time,’ explains Cherub. Beta brainwaves operate anywhere between 12-35 hertz and are characteristic of a strongly engaged and active mind, a state most of us now spend the majority of our time in. ‘You need that for the intellect and to get things done. But sometimes too much time in those high functioning brain wave states means we end up running on the adrenals all the time.’ The result: we feel disconnected from the natural rhythm. What sound therapy does is help move you into theta phase, a phase most commonly associated with relaxation and sleep. ‘Theta is when you are primed to receive ideas, so it’s also good for creativity.’
Cherub works with a sea of different frequencies, of which the most important are the gongs. But there are 13 different crystal bowls infused with quartz and tuning forks she has specially made in Sheffield. (And which you can buy from her website for quick-fix self-administration. Simply strike them on a hockey puck and place on the third eye, the crown of the head or a few centimetres away from your head). She will play the flute as you drift in and out of consciousness, or maybe shake a rattle, depending on your needs.
I know, I know. It all sounds terribly dippy and trippy (well, actually it is rather trippy) but the end result is, well, incredible. I have meditated on and off most of my life, with varying degrees of success. In the end, the concentration required to get even momentary peace kind of negates the entire experience. Here, though, is something truly radical. A massage that heals the body through touch, but most importantly sets the mind and soul free.
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