For centuries, healers have intuitively used the therapeutic powers of sound. In the native traditions of ancient cultures, examples of sound and vibration — as elemental in creation and to wholeness — abound. Whales, for example, are clairaudient: they can hear both very low and very high frequencies, and can communicate through complex vibrational patterns. In some Native American traditional stories, whale medicine people are said to have the ability to tap into a universal conscious-ness, accessing a source akin to the shaman’s use of a drum beat to connect with the rhythm of a “universal heartbeat.” Sound is a powerful, primitive force. Today, a growing number of modern practitioners are rediscovering sound as a tool for healing and realignment. One place where this kind of healing is being explored and refined is the Kairos Institute of Sound Healing in Seattle, Wash.
Seeing Sound as Medicine
The Kairos Institute was the vision of Donna Carey and Marjorie de Myunck, who combined, have more than 25 years of experience in the healing and creative arts. Carey is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, educator and poet, while de Myunck is a musician, composer, and a massage practitioner with extensive experience in Shiatsu, cranial sacral, Jin Shin Do, myofascial release and reiki. Both women are passionate in their belief that sound therapy is the medicine of the future.
When I first met Carey and de Myunck, I knew little about sound and its healing properties. I knew even less about sound’s profound connection between spirit and life force. It wasn’t that I didn’t love sound. I had enthusiastically attended two shamanic workshops, I owned a Huichol Indian rattle and eventually would purchase an Australian-made didgeridoo. I knew I loved music and rhythm, but eventually I learned sound is more than simply musical — it is the root of all melodies.
During those first meetings, I thought of sound therapy and harmonic medicine as “ethereal” concepts, but knew these two practitioners were somehow using them to correct physical, as well as spiritual disharmony. I couldn’t help wondering how a seemingly intangible mix of musical tools and bodywork could result in healing that would be more than temporary or superficial. Now, more than a year and dozens of sound therapy treatments later, my physical and spiritual bodies — which I hadn’t previously seen as separated — have begun to unite. Today, grounding my energy (always a challenge for me) is easier; physical and emotional issues seem fewer. This is the kind of balance Carey and de Myunck aim for within the field of healing they call Acutonics and Harmonic Medicineâ„¢.
Acutonics and Harmonic Medicine, as taught at the Kairos Institute, helps unite healing and the arts in our present-day world. Using a shamanic approach, sound waves and vibrations are used in a “sound temple” to carry the receiver to other realms where healing can begin. The Kairos Institute’s sound temple is a specially-built room with a bodywork table in the center, representing an altar. Lying there, eyes closed, I’ve often been able to sense the traditionally ancient instruments around me. Many of these tools have been used since the beginning of time to create music, and to aid healing: planetary gongs and Tibetan bowls, didgeridoos, rattles and drums. Other, more modern sound therapy tools are also used — tuning forks, chimes, resonator plates and sound discs. All play an important role in healing.
A Sound Healing
Kairos, a Greek word defined in scholarly terms as “a critical time when opportunity and action intersect,” can also be defined loosely as “God’s time” or open time. The Institute, which evolved primarily in response to an increasing need for a different way to help people with modern-day physical and spiritual problems, was named Kairos to denote space and time. I’d been going to the Institute regularly for months before I thought to ask what the name meant. The explanation of “open time” made sense for me, since I typically seemed to emerge feeling more receptive and able to cope with anything that might come up during the rest of my day or week. Personally, I tend toward a relatively open-minded approach to concepts, the opinions of others, even unusual behavior, but I can also be distrustful of people unless I feel I can accurately analyze their motivation. One benefit of my treatments at Kairos, in addition to helping me physically, has been to aid me in opening to the life process. For example, I’m better able to relax and accept behavior and events at face value. For me, “open time” equates to a calmer outlook.
My hour-long sessions at Kairos generally began with a short discussion of physical and emotional symptoms, and sometimes included questions about my diet, issues at work or aspects of my personal life. At the start of my initial sound healing treatment, I was asked about my comfort level with the use of the Institute’s large, pounded-metal gongs. Strikingly beautiful to look at, each resonates a noticeably different tone. A different planetary symbol is burnished onto the center of each, indicating its astrological sign and sound. My sound therapist explained that each gong has a specific healing attribute based on its planetary archetype and vibration. I’ve noted they are sometimes used in combination to create what is called a “healing interval.” Carey and de Myunck each draw on years of bodywork and healing, as well as astrological study and musical experience to determine which gongs to sound and how loudly.
Stretched comfortably on a full-length bodywork table, covered loosely in a sheet or a light blanket, the dimly-lit treatment room has the feeling of a temple. Symbolic, shamanic objects are scattered throughout the space, with walls painted a deep earthen-clay color. Drums line the wall just outside the room; Tibetan bowls sit on a low windowsill flanked by candles. The gongs surround me. A hawk’s tail feather, found in the wild, is visible. Sensitive since childhood to what I think of as “place vibes,” this room immediately encloses me with an intense feeling of security.
As my sound healer enters the room, I’m already relaxing. Treatments may begin with relaxing touch or with applying tuning forks to various points on my body and tapping them lightly to induce vibration. At times, two forks are used simultaneously. The vibrations are pleasant-sounding, but after a few sessions, I begin to realize much more is happening. For one thing, my ongoing chronic neck pain finally begins to show improvement. Even as a teenager, I’d been prone to pain in areas around my joints and, in my 20s, had been diagnosed twice with bursitis. For me, sound therapy has proven to be a preventive measure, as well as a reparative treatment.
As the practitioner moves quietly around the table, I try to concentrate on my breathing — slow and steady. At times, a chime is struck, or a vibrating Tibetan singing bowl is placed on my torso near my heart. Surprisingly, during my first treatment, none of this startled me. In later sessions, I am so calm I can occasionally drift into a dreamy, near-sleep state.
The goal here, in short, is putting the body’s rhythms back in order. According to Carey and de Myunck, our bodies have lost connection to the power and the magic of the inner cycles and the great cycles of the universe that inform it. Imbalance and disease of the body occur when the systems within it, which are holographic reflections of the cycles, patterns and pulses in the universe, are in a state of disharmony. The harmony in our body is a sacred balance between the world of the soma, psyche and soul and finds power and rhythm within the continuous cycles of the universe.
Harmonic Attunement and Acutonics
Based on a centuries-old practice, specially calibrated tuning forks are being used in innovative ways during a session, and are integrated into the practice as a substitute for acupuncture needles. This blend of new and old healing techniques is one Carey and de Myunck hope to continue exploring in their work.
They named this needleless, non-invasive system the Acutonicsâ„¢ Healing System. Placed with precision on the body’s acupressure points, the tuning forks access meridian and chakra energies in the body, as well as generate healing. The Acutonics healing system is a complementary, but distinct method of healing within harmonic medicine and refers specifically to the use of tuning forks as healing tools.
Acupuncture and acupressure points have been known and used in medicine since early physicians in Asia discovered a system of cyclic energy flowing along particular pathways — meridians — in the human body. A specific physiological system and internal organ is associated with each pathway. Ancient healers also realized disease may result from an imbalance or blocking of energy in these pathways and their associated organic system. These energy meridians connect to the body’s surface at certain locations on the skin, called points or gateways. To open up the healing potential of each point, the resonating tuning fork is applied on or over the area to correct specific imbalances. Traditional acupuncture and acupressure each help heal and balance the body using these concepts. Acutonics adds other pieces — exploration of “world harmonies,” sound imprinting and the potential of the human body as a sound resonator within the realm of healing.
The term “resonance” can be defined as the vibration set up by contact with an object sympathetic to a frequency. With harmonic medicine, a belief that the body is a natural sound resonator means our physical forms are sympathetic to — perhaps even “recognize” on a cellular level — particular frequencies or vibrations created by tapping the tuning fork, applying it to energy points on the body and potentially resetting the cellular memory. Tuning forks are also used, on occasion, in a variation on a traditional shamanic mediumistic practice for space healing. Many people are familiar with the burning of sage to cleanse a room. By using the forks in a ritualistic manner for clearing a physical space of negative energies, a “sick” or imbalanced space can be reharmonized.
Harmonic Attunement is the phrase Carey and de Myunck use to describe the comprehensive system they have developed which incorporates all the healing tools I’ve experienced at the Institute. The tones of the tuning forks and gongs are based on natural harmonies associated with the orbital properties of the planets, particularly the Earth, Moon and Sun. By connecting with the body’s natural frequencies, the resonance and vibrations experienced when using the instruments in a healing session help bring body and spirit into alignment with natural cosmic cycles. These planetary cycles and frequencies have been known since ancient times as “the music of the spheres.” In 6th century Egypt, Pythagoras — considered the “father” of mathematics — investigated musical theory of the time and eventually used sound theory to teach purification of the soul. He challenged his students to “come nearer to the gods,” to find salvation by uniting with the “Divine Cosmos” and by studying cosmic order through the music of the spheres.
The theory underlying Harmonic Attunement, then, is that it connects the individual with the source of original harmony, providing access and communication to spiritual harmony, peace and balance, and sonically resetting negative cellular patterns in the body – a concept known as “sound imprinting.” In shamanic practice, music and sounds such as drumming, rattling and incantations often induce dreams and visions of creation. For several years, de Myunck has participated in serious study and ritual practice with an Indian shaman in the Seattle area. She experiences how intense sound, music and ceremony can be in helping participants connect with their own spiritual harmony and source of creation. Drumming, in particular, has been used nearly universally in religious and healing practice by shamans of many cultures. The repetitive, percussive beats aid a transition from one state of consciousness to another.
Harmonic Attunement and Acutonics treat neurological, gastrointestinal, respiratory and chronic gynecological ailments. As an overall approach it has been successfully used to improve emotional and psychological issues, as well as readjust psychospiritual energy. These systems are grounded in the wisdom of 5,000-year-old healing practices based on cyclic energy flowing throughout the body’s pathways.
During my first healing session, as I concentrated on the tones while certain gongs were gently struck, an unexpected, though vivid image came to mind. I saw myself dressed in a white draping garment, best described as a flowing robe. In the middle of some vast expanse of “wilderness” — an open area with no foliage — I saw myself pass gracefully through a large, arched gate of stone. Since I was unfamiliar with the terminology of harmonic medicine at that time, the image of a “gateway” didn’t impress me as significant. When I later described the image to Carey and de Myunck, their response was positive and accepting — but not particularly surprised. “There are many examples of scientifically-proven theories that show sound takes form…it can move into form and take shape,” said Carey. “People tell us of seeing forms, colors, shapes and other visions during a treatment, and it’s not unusual. It does suggest they’ve entered a different healing state of consciousness.”
Other Kairos clients, I’m told, have reported a variety of sensations during treatments. Geometric shapes, simple and complex, are frequently mentioned, as well as lights and colors. In one case, while de Myunck played a didgeridoo during a session, the female client described an image of an old woman playing a didgeridoo, whom she “knew” to be an Aborigine elder-woman.
A more recent reminder of the potential for this kind of healing imagery in conjunction with sound healing was a brief vision I experienced near the end of a treatment. Vaguely aware my therapist had quietly left the room, I continued to lie on the “altar” and wait, as I always do, for a return to my normal conscious state. With my eyes still closed, I was slightly surprised to notice two seemingly-disembodied hand shapes silhouetted and hovering over my face. Colored a purple-blue, the hands gave me the sense of a protective, positive presence. Once I opened my eyes, they disappeared. Although I can certainly be analytical and disbelieving at times, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the “hands” had offered me some sort of mystical bonus, especially since that day’s treatment had focused extensively on areas around my neck and face.
Through the Gateway
Modern science has shown that in the human body, auditory nerves are linked to our sense of proportion and balance, and have the power to shift our energy to the “center,” bringing about a feeling of connection and serenity. Long ago, the human nervous system was not fully understood — but with intuitive wisdom, healers and shamans of many cultures correctly sensed that listening to vibrational sound helps us access these auditory nerves in a way which may increase receptivity to healing energy. They knew sounds and music could induce trance states to help identify illness, and even open gateways for new healing energy to flow through. Healers of old, as of today, were concerned with body, mind or soul. The more enlightened of them worked to integrate all three.
Centuries later, at Seattle’s Kairos Institute of Sound Healing, a new approach to physical and spiritual realignment comes from a unique fusion of specially-pitched tuning forks and traditional spiritual healing tools, supported by music theory, shamanic ritual and Oriental medicine, and supplemented by several bodywork techniques. The primitive powers of sound for healing are being rediscovered there as a means to heal body, mind and spirit and re-establish healthier patterns for wholeness. For those who choose to cross through the “gateway” to healing, the result can be one of health and balance.
By Karen Lynch a freelance writer, in Seattle, Wash. In her personal life, she has spent the past four years exploring a variety of spiritual and psychological philosophies. She has been a Kairos Institute client for more than two years and can be contacted via e-mail at karen.lynch@ ci.seattle.wa.us. For more information about harmonic medicine at the Kairos Institute, visit their website at http://www.kairos-institute.com. In addition to workshops, Carey and de Myunck also offer consulting to anyone with an interest in using sound to harmonize a workspace or a home.
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, August/September 2002. Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.