Sound Affects: Sound Therapy, Altered States of Consciousness and Improved Health and Wellbeing by Lyz Cooper MA, MSc, FICNM

Sound Therapy, the Altered States of Consciousness and Improved Health and Wellbeing

by Lyz Cooper MA, MSc, FICNM


A study using a specific method of sound therapy (Himalayan singing bowls, transitioning to Gongs, transitioning to crystal singing bowls, transitioning to therapeutic percussion) was delivered in two ways – by a live soundbath, where subjects lay on the floor and received around 35 minutes of sound, and by a recording of the same which was available online. The focus of this research was to answer the following questions.

  1. Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound and across what domains?
  2. What are the consciousness altering effects of this method and to what degree are the domains effected?
  3. What are the therapeutic benefits of sound induced ASC?

Data was analysed by a test known as a Chi Square analysis to gauge significance. Statistically significant, highly significant and extremely significant data was produced in the domains of Physical Relaxation, Imagery, Ineffability, Transcendence of Time and Space, Positive Mood, Insightfulness, Disembodiment and Unity across both live and recorded studies. These findings have far-reaching implications for the use of sound therapy, specifically sound induced altered states of consciousness (ASC) going forward.

Introduction and Context

Over a 20 year period of working with therapeutic sound using techniques developed by myself, many people receiving sound therapy treatments have received benefit from life-limiting health issues such as anxiety dis-orders, chronic pain, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome to name a few. The thousands of case studies undertaken by our students and the team at The British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST) have highlighted common experiences that individuals receiving treatments and relaxation sessions share. These include seeing colours pulsing behind closed eyes, floaty feelings and feeling deeply relaxed, reduced anxiety and muscle tension, losing a sense of time and/or having spiritual or mystical experiences, to name a few. Some of the above effects indicate that these individuals were entering an altered state of consciousness (ASC). An ASC is a natural everyday occurrence that happens when the brainwaves go into a lower frequency across many areas of the brain, resulting in day-dreamy sensations. These 􏰀screen-saver􏰁 modes that we go into during the day enable the system to rebalance and result in chemical balance and mental refreshment if we allow them to continue for long enough, however because normal everyday life does not give us opportunity to remain in this state for long enough our brain and body do not have enough time to balance.

On looking at previous studies it was shown that different relaxation methods result in different depths of ASC. A study undertaken by Dietrich (2013) showed that the depth of ASC was greater in meditation than hypnosis, p.238. Travis & Shear (2008) conducted a study using EEG which showed three different styles of meditation produced different effects. (Travis & Shear, 2008). Another study, this time focusing on Transcendental Meditation conducted by Wallace, (1970) led him to

suggest that meditation induced a fourth state of consciousness that was different from waking, dreaming and non-dreaming sleep. (Wallace, 1970; Banquet, 1973, in Deane & Shapiro p.228-231). There was very little research on sound-induced ASC and nothing which measured the depth at which an ASC is experienced and little that suggested the benefits of sound-induced ASC.

A study by MacLean et al., (2011) in McGlothlin et al., (1967, et al., 2011, p.1453) suggested that altering consciousness may help nurture a positive culture, encourage openness and result in an increased appreciation of music, the arts and nature. This was suggesting that a greater level of wellbeing was noticed in those that had altered their consciousness – the􏰂 had 􏰀ope􏰃ed thei􏰄 􏰅i􏰃ds􏰁.

The researchers in the above named research used a questionnaire which gave me the basis upon which I could create an effective way of measuring responses to the sound. I began a study which asked the following questions.

  1. Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound and across what domains?
  2. What are the consciousness altering effects of this method and to what degree are the domains effected?
  3. What are the therapeutic benefits of sound induced ASC?


To first identify whether there was a difference between live and recorded therapeutic sound two studies were undertaken – a live study comprising 15 people who received a soundbath relaxation session lasting approximately 35 minutes (I would have liked to have worked with more people but time was short). The sounds played during the soundbath session were recorded and made available online for 64 participants that volunteered to take part. Participants of the recorded study were asked to listen through headphones.

Information was gathered using a 6 point Likehart scale questionnaire which asked people to score their experience from 1 (not at all) to 6 (extremely – more than at any time). This questionnaire was an amalgamation of several questionnaires used in previous studies to measure ASC (mostly using hallucinogens). The questionnaires were a version of the OAV by Dittrich et al., (1998-2010) adapted from the original by Studerus et al (2010), the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ) Hood, (2003) Revised by MacLean et al (2012) and additional questions relating to health and wellbeing were added by myself. The 65 questions asked were grouped within the following domains. Anxiety, Positive Mood, Experience of Unity, Spiritual Experience, Insightfulness, Disembodiment, Impaired Control and Cognition, Imagery, Ineffability, Transcendence of Time and Space, Emotional Observations and Physical Relaxation.


These findings provide further understanding of the depth at which live therapeutic sound compared to a recording is experienced. On the whole the experience in a live study seemed to be more emotionally moving, with participants being able to put their experience into words and experiencing joy. This may be due to the presence of the instruments and that vibrations can be felt travelling through the body, whereas the recorded sound seemed to create deeper introspection and a deeper ASC. This is rather like comparing being at a live concert to listening to an MP3 recording – the former is more rousing, and the latter more immersive. Both groups seemed to benefit from the relaxing effect of the sound and lost their usual sense of time and space.


Question Asked

Live Study


Online Study


Experience of Unity

Everything seemed to unify into a oneness





Positive Mood

I experienced profound peace and tranquillity within




I had feelings of joy







I gained insightful knowledge that was experienced at an intuitive level






I felt as though I were floating






Complex Imagery

I saw scenes rolling by behind my closed eyes





Audio-Visual synesthesiae

Noises and sounds seemed to influence what I saw





Elemental Imagery

I saw regular patterns behind closed eyes






I saw colours behind my closed eyes





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The experience cannot be described adequately in words





I could not do justice to my experience with words







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Transcendence of time and space

I lost my usual sense of time





I lost my usual sense of space









I was in a realm with no space boundaries





page3image1441688992page3image1441687104 page3image1441549616page3image1441549280page3image1441480176page3image1441480960

Physical Relaxation

My muscles felt relaxed





Physical tension drained from my body






My breathing felt relaxed and steady





Key – BORDER = borderline
NS = not statistically significant
* = statistically significant
** = highly statistically significant
*** = extremely statistically significant


This research could be improved with a larger study, and a more balanced live-online ratio. Some ofthe 􏰆uestio􏰃s asked 􏰇ould 􏰈e 􏰄efi􏰃ed fu􏰄the􏰄, fo􏰄 e􏰉a􏰅ple the 􏰆uestio􏰃 􏰀ph􏰂si􏰇al pai􏰃 disappea􏰄ed􏰁was asked and would only apply if there was physical pain in the first place. Also some participants in the live study commented that they could not relax as much as they wanted to because they were uncomfortable laying on the floor, so this would need to be addressed in future studies.

Future Implications

I see this research as providing a useful platform for our work at The British Academy of Sound Therapy going forward. Altered State Therapy has been used in conventional healthcare setting for mental health conditions as well as drug and alcohol misuse due to the mental relaxation that an ASC creates which enables a softening to be experienced, a loosening of the boundaries and of any control related issues. This loosening was also observed on the physical level with the relaxation of muscles and the draining of physical tension being reported. I see further research being beneficial that explores stress-related imbalances and chronic pain, as well as exploring the enhanced creativity that ASC can bring – I intend to undertake more research into these areas in the near future. It would also be beneficial to test other therapeutic sound techniques, such as those for invigorating and uplifting the system for example.


Banquet (1973), Spectral analysis of the EEG in meditation, Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, v.35, 2, 1973, pp 143–151

Clarke, D (2011) Music, phenomenology, time consciousness: meditations after Husserl. In Clarke, D and Clarke, E. (2011) Music and Consciousness, philosophical, psychological and cultural perspectives. Oxford University Press: Oxford

Dietrich, A (2002) Functional neuroanatomy of altered states of consciousness: The transient hypo- frontality hypothesis. Consciousness and Cognition v.12 (2003) p.231–256

Dietrich, A. (2004), Neurocognative mechanisms underlying the experience of flow, Consciousness and Cognition, V13 (2004) p.746-761

Digman, J. (1990), Personality Structure: Emergence of the five-factor personality model, Annual Review of Psychology, V41(1990) p. 417-440

Dittrich, A. (1998), The Standardized Psychometric Assessment of Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) in Humans, Pharmacopsychiatry 1998; 31: 80-84

Dobkin de Rois, M. (2003), The role of Music in Healing with Hallucinogens: Tribal and Western Studies, Music Therapy Today Vol IV (3), June 2003

Griffiths, R. Johnson, M. Richards, A. Richards, B. McCann, U and Jesse, R (2011) Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: Psychopharmacology (2011) 218: p. 649–665

Griffiths, R. Richards, W. McCann, U and Jesse, R (2006) Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance, Psychopharmacology (2006) 187:p.268–283

Hubner, C. (2007), EnTrance: Entrance to wider worlds or mystification of mere relaxation? Music Therapy Today: Vol.viii, (2) July 2007, p.257 – 293.

Fischer, R. (1973), A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States, Leonardo: Vol 6 (1) p. 59-66

Jorg, F. (2007), Researching musc and altered states in therapy and culture, Music Therapy Today, v. (3), 2007. p 306-323.

Klein, B (2010) The 5D-ASC Test for Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness PhD student, General Psychology, Walden University [Cited 12.04.13]

Koen, B. Barz, G, Brummel-Smith, K (2008) Introduction: Confluence of Consciousness in Music, Medicine and Culture. In The Oxford Handbook of Medical Ethnomusicology. p.5 – 17. New York: Oxford University Press.

MacLean, K. Johnson, M. Griffiths, R (2011) Mystical experience occasioned by the hallucinogen psilocybin lead to increases in the personality domain of openness. Journal of Psychopharmacology: 25(11), 1453-1461

Shapiro, D. (1980) Meditation: Self Regulation Strategy and Altered State of Consciousness. Andine Publishing Group: New York.

Studerus, E. Gamma, A. Vollenweider, FX (2010) Psychometric Evaluation of the Altered States of Consciousness Rating Scale (OAV). PLoS ONE 5(8):e12412 p.1 – 19

Travis, F. Shear, J. (2008), Focussed attention, open monitoring and autonomic self-transcending: Categories to organise meditation from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions. Consciousness and Cognition, V19 (2010) p1110 – 1118


The Science and Alchemy of Sound John Beaulieu, N.D.,PH.D

This paper is based on a hypothesis that explores the ancient archetype of the Perfect Fifth, a sonic interval, and its potential importance in the applications of sound healing in modern stress science. Go directly to the paper for more info and references. 

An interval in sound is a precise space between two tones. The Perfect Fifth is a precise tonal relationship defined by a 2/3 ratio that was believed in ancient cultures to have profound healing qualities. The Perfect Fifth is also an archetype that repeats itself over and over to create a vibrational field that gives rise to everything we know. Its healing qualities, well known in the ancient times, will be presented in case histories and in a review of research in modern biochemistry and neuroscience that makes the case for the healing power of sound, strongly suggesting the need for more research.

The purpose of this paper is to learn from and be inspired by the great teachers of the past and to better understand their way of conceptualizing the universe and healing in the light of modern science. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part presents an understanding of interval of a Perfect Fifth and ancient sound healing principles. The second part presents “the Alchemy of The Perfect Fifth.” Part three presents “The Perfect Fifth and Sound Healing” and introduces case histories and scientific insights on the mechanisms by which these ancient sound healing practices work.


One must keep in mind that the great teachings and practices of the past are often expressed in metaphors and stories that have been passed down over hundreds and even thousands of years and that are very different from our modem scientific language. Often one cannot be sure who the authors are, their exact time of publication, or even if their stories have been changed during the course of history. This paper does not pretend to know “the truth” of the past. Instead, it examines literature from the past and asks how it might be understood in the light of modern evidence-based healing practices.

For example, Manly P. Hall relates a Pythagorean story in his book, The Therapeutic Value of Music.

“Ancient Story”

“A demented youth forced his way into the dwelling of a prominent judge who had recently sentenced the boy’s father to death for a criminal offense. The frenzied lad, bearing a naked sword, approached the jurist, who was dining with friends, and threatened his life. Among the guests was a Pythagorean student. Reaching over quietly, he plucked a fifth upon a lyre which had been laid aside by a musician who had been entertaining the gathering. At the sound of the fifth, the crazed young man stopped in his tracks and could not move. He was led away as though in a trance.”2

This same story could have been told again in a new modern context. In the Manly P. Hall story the person uses a lyre tuned to Pythagorean intervals. In my own story I use tuning forks tuned to Pythagorean intervals.

This story suggests that sound based on Pythagorean tuning can be used as part of a healing process. In order to better understand sound healing in the context of modern science and evidence based clinical practice, additional research is needed. It is also necessary to honor the traditions and practices of those healers who came before us.

“The Perfect Fith”

The mathematical discovery of the Perfect Fifth as an archetype based on mathematics is credited to Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician.


He used an instrument called monochord to demonstrate the relationship between sound and numbers.





   In yoga, the Perfect Fifth is the divine dance between Shiva and Shakti





In Greek astrology, the Perfect Fifth is the light of the Sun that illuminates the whole cosmos.




The Chinese philosophers, Lao Tzu referred to the Perfect Fifth as the sound of universal harmony between the forces of king and yang represented by the image of the Tao.




The Mundane Monochord by Robert Fludd, often referred to as the World Monochord, is a graphic summary of Pythagorean Universal Sound principles based on a Perfect Fifth, principles that are important to this day. The World Monochord illustrates Pythagorean harmonic principles mapped to elements, planets, angelic kingdoms, and the hand of God.



Scientific Discussion today about Sound and Vibration

Research suggests that when individuals listen to music and/or sounds that are safe and enjoyable, they will experience peripheral vasodilation, warming of the skin, a decrease in heart rate and an overwhelming sense of well-being.38 In 2003 John Beaulieu and colleagues published a peer-reviewed paper in Medical Science Monitor suggesting the physiological pathways through which sound and music work.  Specifically, it discussed how sound and music had the ability to bypass the limbic system and amygdala and go directly to the core brain resulting in the release of anandamide, an endogenous endocannabinoid, which causes the release of cNO in immune cells, neural tissues, and human vascular endothelial cells.


Representative connections among the limbic-hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, demonstrate that these centers are linked to vascular tone regulation. This pathway suggests how nitric oxide spiking may exert a level of top-down control of vasomotor activity and circulatory tone. The positive reaction to a nitric oxide wave is reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, greater pain tolerance, overall lowering of metabolism, and a greater sense of well-being and ability to adapt to stressors. Sound also plays a role in the management of stress and anxiety also through its ability to increase or decrease both cortisol and norepinephrine and by its related ability to decrease arousal due to stress. It affects the immune system by stimulating the production of IgA and NK cells.

When this happens, patients will report an experience of inner warmth and a deep sense of well- being. Psychologically, they will be more positive and better able to cope with their environments, resulting in the continued neutralization of the stressors that were inhibiting natural cNO production in immune, nerve, and endothelial cells. The patients will experience less distracting physical and emotional pain due to the release of endocannabinoids and will be more able to focus and talk about what is most important to them.

In technical terms, Nitric Oxide is a “gaseous diffusible modulator” that moves through the entire body and central nervous system in waves of gas. The release of Nitric Oxide counteracts the negative effects of the stress hormone norepinephrine. The presence of norepinephrine results in a racing heart, high blood pressure, anger, anxiety, and greater vulnerability to pain. The positive reaction to the nitric oxide wave is increased neural plasticity, reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, greater pain tolerance, and overall lowering of metabolism. Psychologically, this leads to less anger, a strong sense of purpose, and a greater sense of well-being, leading to an increased ability to adapt to stressors.

In general, when the frequencies are used with healing intention  (Acoustic Restoration Therapy™), their effect is quick and can be integrated with and will enhance every therapy.  Relaxing on our Acoustic Water Beds, just for a moment, will stimulate the above physiological and psychological processes. It is a way of shifting gears with a patient and then moving on to the next patient, knowing that the sound will serve to enhance whatever therapies the patient is receiving.

Relaxation Room at IHCNM