Sound Bath Meditation: An Interview with Jo Miller

We recently caught up with Jo Miller, Sound Therapist and Artist at Solasta Sounds. Jo has been frequenting the Park in preparation for her Sound Bath Meditation sessions, running during Deal Music & Arts at Betteshanger on Sunday 30 June.

But what is Sound Bath Meditation? How can it help us reconnect with nature? Why should you try it out?

Read on as Jo reveals the secrets of sound.

What is Sound Bath Meditation?

A sound bath meditation is not a bath in its traditional sense (and it’s probably worth mentioning also that people are fully clothed). The term ‘bath’ comes from the sensory experience of feeling like you are being bathed and washed in sound.

Using sound in therapy isn’t a new concept. We have a long history with sound, dating back almost 40,000 years ago, when the aboriginals were first recorded to have used sound this way – playing digeridoos and using those very earthy tones to heal.

Since then, there have been examples of sound therapy being used by Greeks, Tibetans and many other cultures throughout history.

One thing that I love about Sound Bath Meditation is that it’s so nurturing. You don’t have to do anything but listen. People come into the space, they lie down and get washed over with sound.

I use Alchemy Crystal Bowls and my redwood healing harp – these are the instruments that best resonate with me, but different practitioners use different things.

There’ll be an invitation to follow a deep listening meditation. You don’t need to have done this before, and it’s only ever an invitation – the beauty is you can just lay there. After a short meditation, the sounds of the bowls will begin. They’re not musical, the sound isn’t constructed in a way that’s musical. Which means our brains aren’t trying to follow any particular tones or rhythms – and that can be very relaxing.

It’s a really good opportunity, not to check out, but to check back in. There’s nothing to process, there are no pressures, there are no expectations – it really is a simple hour gift to oneself.

What inspired you to begin practising Sound Bath Meditation?

I’ve always been sensitive to sound. Sound carries a lot of different types of information on a felt sense, from the way that somebody speaks to the sounds of your surroundings. A friend of mine started to use sound therapeutically. At the time I had a little marketing agency and I was falling out of love with my work so I decided to take some time off. My friend suggested I buy a singing bowl and I considered it, thinking it might be a nice, therapeutic thing for me to do.

Not long after, I sat down to watch a video by Carly Grace, who now supplies my bowls. She was using her voice to produce overtones that worked alongside the bowls. The minute I saw that, I dropped into this place of deep understanding.

It took me back to a time about six or seven years before, when my Grandma was on her deathbed. She was terrified of dying.

On the third day by her bedside, we all knew the end was coming – she’d been crying and she was scared. I didn’t understand where it came from, but this sound, this chant came from my mouth. I just kept on singing and chanting and she responded well to it. I think it really eased her last moments.

It was a very real, moving moment – so seeing Carly in this video, using her voice brought all these memories flooding back. I didn’t think I’d do this with groups of others when I started. I felt that it would just be something therapeutic for me – but people heard me and asked me to practice at yoga studios and in private sessions – my practice grew from there.

What are the benefits of meditating outdoors, and why should people try Sound Bath Meditation?

Being outdoors is a sonic tonic in itself – connecting to the more primal sounds that we understand and that our body understands on a somatic level. When you are in nature, it’s not the same as the compressed sounds that you get from something digital. You lose some of that finer detail, the juice of the sound and the soundscape. Listening to things that are real life is a more wholesome, full body experience. You experience a finer detail and appreciation of what’s happening.

Meditation slows down our fight / flight response time. By adding sound it becomes this very full body experience.

Listening to birdsong is truly beautiful and beneficial to us on a wellbeing level. It goes back 1,000’s of years when we lived in tribes. We coexisted with nature and part of that involved an understanding of what was happening around us.

Birds flee at the first sign of trouble. So we know at a very deep cellular level that when the birds are singing, all is well. Our bodies respond to that. When the birds stop singing, on this deep subconscious level, we know something’s wrong.

What most excites you about running a Sound Bath Meditation session at Betteshanger?

The beautiful, ever-changing bird song – I’ve been visiting the Park regularly and I really notice the change in the soundscape on every visit.

We cannot predict the experience we will have on the day. It’s the gift that nature is providing us, and that excites me. I love the canopy that we’ll be based under, and it actually breathes – it’s beautiful. Following the breathes, watching it, it’s like meditation. I love the way that the sun comes in and mottles. I love the sounds.

We’re not creating this transcending experience, we’re appreciating the space we have – and there’s nothing more wonderful that the sound of a child going past on a bike. We don’t need to block anything out. It’s about bringing the sounds in. And the history of the place – my dad was a coal miner so I find that I’m drawn to spending time here. It’s wonderful that this place has been re-naturalised.

You‘re running a soundscape alongside the meditation session. Can you tell us a how you’ve collected the sounds and where they are from?

Yes, I have been collecting sounds. Sometimes I’m picking up the sounds of children playing or groundsmen doing work or maybe the scuttling of squirrels up the trees. A lot of the time I’ve spent searching for the sounds we might not pick up on – the beetles scurrying under the leaves, the rushes moving in the water at the lake. There’s an element of man’s sound over time. I want to draw on some of the archive poems – that’s part of the next creative process.

Some of my inspiration for the soundscape comes from Lee Patterson who I did a workshop with in Margate. It’s a slight nod to his work. I want to make it something that’s inviting and meaningful and connective.

The soundscape will run in between the sessions. People can enjoy walking through the woodland area and they’re welcome to meditate – I’ll leave the yoga mats out between sessions so people can do that.

What can people expect from the experience and how should they prepare?

Please aim to arrive at least 5 minutes before we begin, so you have plenty of time to get settled. We don’t want to disrupt other people’s experiences so we may have to turn away people who arrive late.

There will be a yoga mat provided and wear clothes that are comfortable to lay in. Think cosy – what’s cosy for you? Perhaps bring a pillow. I will provide blankets, but you’re welcome to bring your own. We don’t want to get chilly.

You don’t have to lie down but I do think it’s a better experience when you do as it’s easier for the body to relax. Don’t worry if you fall asleep – snoring is just part of the soundscape! Your body will naturally wake as the session comes to an end.

The session will not be suitable for anyone with a pacemaker or who is pregnant (between 0-12 weeks).

Bonus Question: What’s your favourite sound of nature?

Birds, for all the reasons I have given. Most of my diary entries start with what wakes me. I like to keep a journal of sounds that I hear, and often it’s birds. That relationship is something special. My practice always leans more towards birds because that’s where my home is.

I do also like the sound of the sea – the sound of the waves reminds of the womb. Our brain doesn’t try to work it out so we just relax.

Time to try it for yourself

Jo is running 3 Sound Bath Meditation sessions at Betteshanger on 30 June as part of Deal Music & Arts. The sessions are free but spaces are limited so we recommend booking in advance.