Music is the first place so many people turn when grieving. It can be nostalgic, like playing your wedding song. It can be relieving, like screaming it out to punk rock in your car. It can be distracting, a couple minutes of a break from the deep work of grieving caused by loss.
In fact, last August, we first published a list of songs to listen to when grieving, as recommended by more than 140 people. We found these people in grief groups across the web and the moment we asked them if they used music to help with their grief, our posts became some of the most popular in those groups.
Everyone had an opinion. Everyone had a song. Surprisingly, a lot of those songs were the same.
- Head bangers to help release the anger.
- Love songs to encourage the water works.
- Classics to feel their connection again, to relive a memory.
That article is the most popular in our resources section. In fact, the embed to the Spotify playlist we created from those songs stopped working once. Within 3 hours, someone called in –– not just emailed! –– to tell us it was broken.
There is something here. Music connects us. We know that. But is sound doing something even bigger than that?
Is Sound Helping to Heal our Grief?
Or, could it? That’s the question I set out to answer. And I started where we all do: Google. That is how I found Valerie Bachman, a sound therapist based in Austin, Texas.
Valerie noticed the power of human touch back in 1999 while living in LA. On sets, she’d help stressed out co-workers by giving shoulder massages. The before and after changes in their mood was always so incredible.
“I noticed just by relaxing somebody, easing the stress a bit, how much it shifted and they got more work done. They were kinder and they felt better.
Soon, people started saying, ‘You should get paid for this.’ I thought, ‘You know what? I should!’”
So Valerie found a massage and energy school nearby called the Institute for Psycho-Structural Balancing. It’s a body-mind massage school in LA.
She signed up and went to school for a couple years. After graduation, she worked in body-mind massage for a decade. Then, her life changed.
“I started moving around. I went to New York, and then came to Austin. I didn’t have any clients when I moved, so I ended up getting a regular job. Next, I had babies. Then, I was like, ‘I need to get back into healing. That's what I'm meant for!’ But, I knew I wanted to add something to what I already knew. I knew that every time I heard specific music or sounds or voices, monks or bells, it really moved me. I can feel it in my heart. So I just looked it up to see if that was a thing. It is definitely a thing!”
Valerie found a school in San Francisco and studied the theory of music therapy.
“That opened up all the cans,” she says. “I thought I was just going to add something new to what I already knew about healing, but there’s just so much! You've got tuning. You've got these frequencies. You've got this underlay. You've got the hemispheres of your brain. You can work with binaural beats. You can train the brain to be calm or to be studious or to be asleep. I incorporated all of that. But, I still loved working with the body –– not just the mind. So, I decided to go to yoga teacher training.”
That opened another can of worms.
There, Valerie learned all about pranayama, and trauma consciousness, and the breaths, and movement and the organs. Soon, she found herself training as a Reiki master. She needed to know where the energy was stored in the body. Anger, she soon learned, was stored in the liver, for example.
“If you're angry, you can help yourself by detoxing the liver, as well as doing other things. It’s really about combining herbs, frequencies, energy, and movement to realign the body-mind connection."
"The goal with every patient is to meet them where they are."
"Today, if you really need to move your body, let's get you strong in these parts, let's discharge here, and then refill you up and charge you back up in a healthier way. Then, you can hold that space for your emotion, understand it, heal from it.”
I needed to know more –– and I thought that you might, too. So, below is our conversation. It is Q&A style, and I hope you’ll find Valerie’s responses enlightening.
I’ve also included yet another playlist (because we love them!). This time, the songs are all at frequency 432 –– the heart frequency. You’ll learn more about why that is important in the interview below.
First things first, let’s make sure we are all on the same page with a few definitions.
What is Sound Therapy?
According to Valerie, sound therapy promotes overall well-being in mind, body, spirit and emotion. Sound understood as a force of creation is a theme found in the traditions of many cultures for thousands of years.
Everything in the universe functions through sound vibration. Every organ, bone, cell and liquid in the body has its own resonant frequency.
Together they make up a composite frequency like the instruments of an orchestra. When one part of the body is out of tune, it will affect the body as a whole.
Using sound as therapy, we can project the correct resonance towards and into any unhealthy part of ourselves, thus resulting in a healing. If you are out of tune or off balance, sound therapy can return you to a state of health and happiness.
What is vibroacoustic therapy?
Vibroacoustic Therapy (VAT) is a deep massage technique using sound frequencies and vibrations that massage down to the tissue, organ and cell levels.
According to a study from the University of Toronto in Canada, research suggests that Vibroacoustic Therapy, which uses vibrations produced by low frequency sounds to “massage” deep parts of the body, could help patients with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.
We don’t talk about VAT in this article, but if something you’d like for us to research further, send me a note –– and I’ll get on it! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can sound frequencies heal?
This depends on your definition of heal. Healing from emotional trauma is work –– and sound frequencies can certainly help by removing blockages and even making it easier for you to face certain traumas or events.
Sound Therapy Benefits for Grief: Q&A with a Sound Therapist
You’re a sound therapist. How can sound be healing for grief?
I know my website says sound therapy, but I don't really know what to call myself. I have a toolbelt full of random things from the past 20-plus years.
My main focus is in the body-mind connection, and being able to drop out of the mind and into the body to find where the trauma is stored or where there are blockages of stagnation, or emotional disturbances. Then, I help people work through that.
Sound is one of the ways you can work through that, and it's pretty profound.
We know that everything in the universe is vibrating. If something is vibrating, it's making a sound. That means that every part of us is making a sound, and when we're in harmony with ourselves and with the world, we are our own orchestra.
But when something is off, you feel it.
You might just say, "I just feel off key,” or “I'm off balance,” or “I feel out of tune.” You feel that for a reason. It's because you are off. Our frequency shifts and our vibration shifts to sadness or grief or anger or whatever the trauma does to us.
A lot of people I find are just living in fear for different reasons. That fear alone is in the root. We can't even make our way down an energetic, sound healing path unless we first heal that.
Fear sticks us in the sympathetic system, so our body becomes immobile or frozen out of fear or just sadness. Everything just shuts down. Only the autonomic system is working –– things like breathing, pooping –– all the things that we don't have to think about.
With music and with sound, by playing specific frequencies or a pure tone for certain areas, you can realign that vibration. Just like with tuning forks... if you have two tuning forks that are the same and you ring one of them, the other one starts to play.
Our bodies are like that. If we place the harmonics –– the tune that is specific to us –– and we start playing it, our body has no choice. It starts to shift and move. Eventually, it becomes harmonious again.
Are there certain sounds or frequencies that are best for healing grief?
There are certain hertz and frequencies for organs, blood, bone, everything. Of course, it will all shift a bit for each person, because they're not always the same size or shape or have the same condition.
For the heart, however, one of the best frequencies in general is 432.
Different philosophies and religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, have found that the 432 frequency works well with the heart. Love, warmth, compassion and joy are all located there, so the sound waves have a positive influence on the mental and spiritual health of the listener.
You can play music that has 432 hertz underlying it. You can play Tibetan bowls or singing bowls for the heart. You can do tuning forks that are specific to this frequency.Sometimes, it is especially moving to hear other people singing in these notes, where they've got that heart connection in their voice.
Where do you begin for your clients? How does a healing transformation through sound begin to happen for them?
It varies for each person. When a client comes in, I just meet them where they are that day, at that moment.
So we can say, "We're going to work on this today," but you show up and you're in a different place. If that’s the case, then we’ll just work from there.
But with grief, when that's involved, we want to stay in our heart spaces without bias or judgment.
We just want to stay in that compassion, even creating space for that person, holding space for the one who is no longer here.
That alone creates tears. It pulls on the heart and face connection, and empathy.
A lot of times grief needs to move out of the body, so I'll do some movement work first, whether it's yoga poses or pranayama. Doing some breath work with just a little bit of movement is a great place to start as well.
Then, we’ll go into that heart space and check in. I do everything I can to get them out of their mind and into that body part, because that is what is holding on to the grief.
Then, I incorporate the sounds. I have a bed that you lay on that vibrates. It's got low frequency speakers in it. So, your whole body vibrates to what I play. That alone, just feeling that vibration on your entire body is relaxing and it helps you get out of your mind as well.
Next, I'll do energy work. For this, I love to use the Tibetan bowls. I’ll use a D note for the heart, or I can play the 432 frequency. Overall, there will be different loving frequencies and healing frequencies on the bed.
Ultimately what happens with regard to sound therapy is that the person is able to relax and get balance. They are able to feel the emotions without hurting as much.
But, you don’t just have to do this in the office. For people are grieving really deeply and are in a deep place of hurt, I’ll give them some music. They can then put on headphones and listen to it for 20 minutes a few times a day. Even more simple work like that can be incredibly helpful
Do you see grief often accompanied with other emotions?
A lot of times, you will get grief and anger together because you're mad about what happened.
That's very natural and it's actually healthy. You just don’t want to stay in that angry mode. So the question becomes, “How do you discharge?”
Anger is just like a trigger. You get triggered by something, and then you need to release that trigger. You need to discharge it.
Movement is really the way to do that, with resistance or bioenergetics, where you're really resisting in the area. You're using your body, you're using your words, you're really pissed off –– the movement can release it.
Once we work on discharging the anger, we can then focus on the grief. You want to be very kind with grief, hearing it and being with it. Eventually, it gets moved around and dissolved throughout the body, instead of holding it all in one place.
Any thoughts or insights into why it is that memorial diamonds can be so helpful for those who are grieving?
My feeling on what you're doing is that grief often causes immobilization. So many of us don't have a chance, with the trauma of the death, to fully process or move our body through it.
I feel like with your diamond, it's letting them be a part of the process and it keeps the memorial mobile.
A mobile memorial keeps someone in that parasympathetic system where they can be present from their heart. That's where the grief lives.
So, really seeing your loved ones taken care of, turned into something beautiful, and you getting to be a part of it, it's not a goodbye. It doesn't feel so final.
If you are in a space or mindset that is looking for ways to help heal your grief, and you’ve made it this far in the article, sound therapy may be a good option for you. Valerie is also opening a wellness center in Austin, Texas where sound therapy (along with her many other skills!) will be offered.
It is fittingly called Mandala Hills [Link coming soon! Valerie is getting the site set up ASAP as her place will be open for retreats beginning this Spring!].
In the meantime, do what I did and just Google it. Find folks in your area who offer this. Or, take some classes. Or, just listen to our playlist –– for 20 minutes a day.