Placebos, sound baths and the best new tools for relaxation

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Not unlike Star Wars, or Jazz, the votaries of most unconventional methods of treating anxiety have a tendency to turn off the people peeking through the window.

Few would argue that crystal healing,  is on its own, unbearable. Of course, there is no evidence to suggest that chakras or energy grids actually exist, but even if there was the vapid culture vulture that alerted you to them would ensure you died never knowing. It’s the same way I’m unable to get through Infinite Jest because my brain reads every line with the voice of the ex that let me borrow it. If I had the willpower to segment the content of the novel and my associations with the person that proselytized it, I might stand a lot to gain.


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It’s unfortunate that all of these rebooted spiritual vehicles get charged with the same disgrace because some of the “pseudosciences” have actually yielded some promising results.  As it stands, however, any academic literature published in defense of any of them becomes indistinguishable from the overreported generational fanaticism that privileges astrology over astronomy.  If it’s true that there are too many millennials that believe in witchcraft, it’s also true that older generations are overeager to dismiss the abstract.

It seems, that in our irreligion, young people have supplanted deities with an ala cart approach to their teachings: taking the core bits of the ten commandments, sprinkling some disciplines from Vendas, and a dash of Theravada philosophy for good measure.  The strength of the end result is psychologically circumstantial.

Does sodalite actually stimulate the pineal gland? Doubtful. But is an anxious person more likely to feel at ease, if they’re told sodalite has been studied to make people feel at ease? Probably.

The science of relaxation

Placebos and nocebos are both extraordinarily powerful. A recent study went so far as to claim that they can be just as effective as traditional medicine. Historically, “sugar pills” were employed to survey the effectiveness of actual medication, they have proved very useful in this way for millennia, but little research had been done toward filling in the neurobiological gaps. The healing merits of suggestion are very real; very measurable.  Professor Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has been studying the placebo effect for some time, adding, 

“Everything from increases in feel-good neurotransmitters, like endorphins and dopamine, to greater activity in certain brain regions linked to moods, emotional reactions, and self-awareness. All of it can have therapeutic benefit. “The placebo effect is a way for your brain to tell the body what it needs to feel better.” A broader interpretation thinks ill of those that dismiss modes of spirituality by reason of the age or impression of its practitioners.

Alice Hu is the founder of the Woo Woo company, based out of Washington DC. The company’s self-appointed summation: “A community for skeptical hippies” is an homage to Hu’s initial ambivalence in the face of wellness disciplines practiced by her friends and colleagues.

“There’s a lot of apprehension about these topics because people don’t understand them. It seems outside their realm of experience,” says Hu. “[Woo Woo Company] is bringing something that is unfamiliar in a familiar way so people aren’t afraid.”

One of the more popular offerings at the Woo Company is sound baths, which are currently headling the ethereal circus.  Their introduction into western society mirrors all of the other spiritual trends that came before it. As early as the fifth century, ancient Tibetans would excite bowls wrought of a bronze alloy containing copper, tin, zinc, iron, silver, gold and nickel, causing them to “sing.”  Back in 2011, the journal Nonlinearity attempted to map the physics of auditory frequency, specifically when enacted via the ceremonial Hymilian singing bowls.

Senior author Professor John Bush explains, “Although our system represents an example of fluid-solid interactions, it was motivated more by curiosity than engineering applications. We are satisfied with the results of our investigation, which we feel has elucidated the basic physics of the system. Nevertheless, one might find further surprises by changing the bowl or fluid properties.” The peoples of the Hymilians would use these bowls in the service of divination. Today, the binaural sound waves are employed to reduce stress, by massaging the mind and nervous system.

Unlike crystal healing, tarot cards and witchcraft, the devotees of the modern incarnation of singing bowls or sound baths have espoused categorical science with a series of numinous claims that can’t really be substantiated.  Each note emitted by the sound bath is purported to correspond with one’s energy center. If you requested a fight over the calming effects of a sound bath you could get one, but I’d be much more eager to do so over the pathology. In any case, the limited research conducted on the subject has nothing but handsome words for the fundamental selling points. The more open you are to the experience the more profound the effect.

On a new study published in the journal Anesthesia, wellness reporter, Cheryl S. Grant adds,  “Researchers used binaural beats, which is the combination of two sub-audible frequencies that target the right and the left hemispheres of the brain, creating a single frequency that the brain tunes into. This allows us to reach a deep state of meditation, leading to relaxation and calm. The use of sound waves has even been found to lower blood pressure.”

Sometimes while engaging with a person that is very passionate about new-age wellness techniques, they do the old authenticated research, blog cowboy switch mid-argument. The important thing to remember is the objective of wellness, is a piece of mind, a quality this is both subjective and conditional.