Cathy Eastburn
Category: Gong Work

Gamelan, Gongs Behind Bars and Gong Baths

For over 20 years I've been studying and performing Javanese gamelan (Indonesian bronze percussion) including gongs, metallophones, drum and voice.  In my very first class, at London’s Southbank Centre in 1996, I fell in love with the sound, and quickly became aware of the powerfully therapeutic potential of these instruments. 

Based on that realisation, in 2003 I set up Good Vibrations, a charity that runs gamelan workshops in prisons, secure hospitals and with ex-offenders and others in the community.  Good Vibrations projects are about helping people develop crucial life skills like listening, communication, and teamwork, plus reducing anger and stress, and helping people feel more connected to others.  Good Vibrations facilitators help groups of people to work together to create beautiful music and express themselves.   Through this they become positive about themselves and their prospects, and many go on to engage with other constructive activities and have improved relationships with others.

More recently, I discovered the sounds of the Western symphonic tam-tam (a kind of gong often used in therapeutic sound work) and Himalayan singing bowls.  Like the gongs and chimes of the gamelan, these instruments produce extremely resonant tones, full of complex overtones and harmonics.  I have been exploring the therapeutic potential of these instruments, and in particular discovering how their sounds can release blockages and tensions, both physical and emotional.   In addition, when played in specific ways, these instruments are brilliant at helping us drop into deep states of relaxation (similar to when we are in dream sleep, or when we're hovering on the verge of sleep, or if we meditate regularly).  This is a very useful attribute given the growing evidence for the importance of regular deep relaxation for our health and wellbeing.   

For the last three years I have been running group gong bath sessions in South West London, using my gongs, singing bowls – and also voice (overtoning and kundalini chant).  More recently, since completing my Practitioner Diploma with BAST (the British Academy of Sound Therapy – a very practical and evidence-based course) I’ve started working with people one-to-one.

In my sessions, large gongs, Himalayan singing bowls, quartz crystal singing bowls, Javanese gamelan and voice are utilised in specific ways to maximise their therapeutic potential.  Participants simply lie on yoga mats (or sit on chairs if they prefer) with their eyes closed, and enjoy the sounds.  Sometimes, for example in one-to-one sessions and in some group sessions, we start the session with a really quick and simple process of "guided observation" to help us benefit even more from the gong bath.  Sessions generally last just over an hour, although sometimes on special occasions they might last longer.  

In running these sessions, I draw upon my experience with Good Vibrations: where I learnt a huge amount about creating "safe spaces", non-verbal communication, how to facilitate people's own learning and development with gentleness, open-ness and confidence, and how to manage one's ego when doing this work so it doesn't get in the way too much.  Al these things are just as vitally important in my work now.

I find that many people, even those who may struggle with other relaxation or mindfulness techniques, respond extremely well to gong and sound baths.  People attending my sessions report improved relaxation, increased focus and energy, better coping with depression and anxiety, relief of chronic pain, and release of blockages and tensions both physical and mental.  

Alongside this “therapeutic sound” work, I continue to study and perform as a gamelan musician and singer, in both traditional gamelan ensembles (Southbank Gamelan Players, Siswå Sukrå,) and experimental gamelan-and-electronica groups (Eternity Bleeps, Augmented Gamelan).  What really interests me is where “performance” and “therapeutic sound” overlap: I think this under-explored and incredibly fertile territory and I’m enjoying exploring it and experimenting.

Cathy Eastburn, Founder of Sarasa Sound

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