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GOOD VIBRATIONS: The Healing Power of Sound

Sound Science
Pop music references aside, Beaulieu can tell you all about the way that different sounds and musical intervals can affect the firing of neuron synapses in the brain, the release of theta brain waves, and a host of other effects. The tuning fork—an acoustic resonator with a U-shaped metal prong—is his medium of choice for relieving stress, breaking negative thought patterns, and various other uses grounded in neurological research in sound.
Beaulieu practices both music therapy and sound healing—yet he’s careful to make a distinction between the two. Music therapy is licensed and regulated and comes with psychiatric training, while sound healing is wide open to anyone who feels called to be of service with a crystal bowl or didgeridoo. There’s a place for both, Beaulieu believes. “I don’t think sound healing should have the same rigor as music therapy. People playing crystal bowls with the right intention can do just as good work.” Yet Beaulieu cautions that sound healers should know their limits. They might not be able to recognize when someone is depressed, or they might make bold claims that they can cure cancer. “There’s a difference between curing and healing,” says Beaulieu, who notes that to heal is to help a person feel whole and complete, with a union of mind, body, and spirit.
The world of Western medicine could use more healing practices—and thankfully it’s starting to do just that. Beaulieu mentions Dr. Mitchell L. Gaynor, an oncologist and clinical professor of medicine at the Weill-Medical College of Cornell University in New York, who supervises singing-bowl sessions in a hospital setting for cancer patients and has documented cases in which cancer treatments work better alongside these integrative practices.

Placebo effects? Bring them on. “If people believe they are going to get better, their bodies will create the chemicals necessary both to cure and heal,” says Beaulieu. “We think it’s based on a molecule called nitric oxide, a neurotransmitter. Certain tuning forks create this immediately in the brain stem.” While it’s clear that Beaulieu loves the science behind the music, he’s also wistful about letting the intellect go so the sound can do its medicine-man work. “You can never get rid of your license,” he says with a laugh.
Rhythm Doctor
“Sound healer” is a heavy mantle to put on anyone, but Philippe Garnier wears the garment with an easy grace. When I arrive for my session at Sage Center for the Healing Arts in Woodstock, which Garnier co-owns with his wife Lea, I find the French-born healer sitting in a light-filled suite of rooms with objects of beauty everywhere—crystals, feathers, drums, herbs, and clusters of Tibetan and crystal singing bowls waiting to be played.

Garnier explains that the session will begin with a sound bath—a private concert in which he serenades me with the bowls until I reach a meditative theta-brain-wave state. “The mind is shut off by the sound, and I can work on the auric field,” says Garnier. Despite years of yoga I’m a tightly wound girl, not a great candidate for hypnosis. But after several minutes of ethereal music I feel pleasantly groggy—ready for Garnier to perform his “scan.” He’s not really looking at my body; rather, he’s listening. “All disease is dissonance,” he tells me before the session. An organ can be in dissonance with the rest of the body; his job is to hear it and then, via tuning forks and other instruments, encourage the wayward sound back into harmony.
When a cough jolts me midsession, Garnier is waving a pronged, handlike instrument over my belly and striking it to produce bell-like sounds. I’m suddenly aware of how strange this is. I haven’t told him that I’m the daughter of three generations of medical doctors; I think I hear my grandfather chuckling from on high. “Your D and E notes are weak,” he says, waving a hand over my abdomen. Toward the end of the treatment, Garnier is quietly chanting mantras over me, followed by a flutter of feathers (he tells me later they’re from a condor, to “sweep my energy fields clean”). The gesture feels sweet, nurturing, and resonant of shamanism and the Peruvian rainforests, where Garnier has trained extensively with Amazonian curranderos.
Now he passes on the good vibrations to people like Robin Lane of Woodstock, an interfaith minister and psycho-spiritual counselor who started seeing Garnier after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2010. “The sounds seemed to penetrate my body and move energy, pain, discomfort, and toxins,” says Lane, who credits Garnier in large part for her healing and recovery, and continues to see him for a monthly “tuning.”
Over bagels and soup after my session, I ask Garnier what he tells skeptics. “Everyone believes in music,” he says. “But even clients who say they’re not sure the session did anything for them—even they come out with a sense of wonder and peace.” I see what he means. The thought passes over me that as a culture we’re starved for ritual and ceremony, especially when it comes to our health. In a fluorescent-lit hospital, it’s hard to make meaning and feel connected to something larger than ourselves. For Garnier, it’s about letting the mind go—including doubts—so divine sound can coalesce body, mind, and spirit.

Sound Immersions
Two upcoming events offer deeper explorations in kirtan chanting and sound healing. The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck presents “Ecstatic Chant: The Yoga of Voice,” May 6-8, with a lineup of luminaries including Sri Kirtan and Shyamdas ( And Menla Mountain Retreat in Phoenicia will play host
June 2-5 to the area’s first “Sound Healing Retreat Intensive” with Philippe Garnier, John Beaulieu, and other leaders in the field (

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