By Martha McDuff | Americans are stressed! According to The American Institute of Stress, one out of five Americans experience extreme stress, three out of four doctor's visits are for stress related ailments and stress related ailments cost the nation $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity. Those are alarming statistics. I think most people are familiar with the many healthy ways to deal with stress; yoga, breathing, meditation, exercising, and massage therapy (whether they partake or not), but most
are probably not familiar with gong bath meditation.
I was part of this group until late last month when I got to experience a gong bath for myself. I met Judi Hernandez, owner of Ocean Tides Massage the week before in her studio off of Ribaut Road. Ocean Tides is as calming as it sounds. I felt instantly relaxed when I walked into her studio which is painted a soothing blue and filled with pink himalayan salt lamps and other items you would expect to see in a massage studio. The gongs are what instantly caught my attention though.
She owns five of them; large, beautiful pieces of art, hand hammered metals made of mostly bronze or brass. What I found to be most interesting to learn is that no two gongs are the same. There are two places in America that sell gongs- one each in Pennsylvania and Nebraska.
While in massage school, Judi became interested in gongs. She soon found Alice Tobin, an energy worker on Hilton Head, to be her gong master. After the eight hours of required instruction, Judi was able to lead her own gong meditation. “Playing the gongs is like a dance,” Judi explained. “I become one with my gongs. I feel free.”
A gong bath meditation lasts for one hour. Participants need to call ahead to reserve space. Mats are given but participants need to bring their own blankets and pillows. Eye masks are strongly encouraged and after experiencing the bath myself, I would add socks and long sleeves to the list. The hour bath starts with soft vibrations and leads up to a crescendo of intense vibrations which is then brought back down again towards the end. During this hour, you might also experience other soothing noise makers like wind chimes, singing bowls, and a rain drum. I asked Judi what her favorite part of gong meditation is and she said, “I love to see the receivers in such a beautiful bliss during the
meditation and how they feel afterwards. Everyone glows with energy, as if the world has been lifted off their shoulders. I also love to hear how it has changed anything for
them like pain, insomnia, depression, higher energy levels, emotional releases, lower blood pressure, anxieties. I love that it helps physical,mental and emotional aspects of
Who is this type of therapy good for? “Gong bath is good for everyone especially for those who don’t like to meditate,” she said.
That caught my attention. I myself like meditation, but I have a hard time doing it on my own. I have a feeling I am not alone. Meditation, when practiced regularly, is beneficial for the human body and mind. Many studies show that it helps relieve high blood pressure, stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic pain. A recent study from Harvard University found that long term meditators have less stress, the ability to think clearly, and an increase in capacity for empathy and compassion.
How do the gongs work?
Judi had a hard time explaining and said I need to simply experience it for myself. She did tell me that everyone’s experience is different. She personally notices her back pain is relieved for a few days after gong meditation and she swears she doesn’t need her glasses afterwards. She also told me one of her clients who has cancer sleeps better after gong therapy and has a reduction in pain for several days. This intrigued me and I decided to do some research. I found an interview with Don Conreaux, Gong Master, online. “The gong sound vibrates the energy meridians in the body and brings them into balance. The gong sound waves draw the anger and negativity out of a person like a vacuum. Gongs open up your chakras and often release a lot of blocked energy much like accupuncture or massage,” he said.
Judi offers Gong Bath Mediation Wednesdays and Friday evenings from 6:30-7:30 and on Sundays from 4-5 PM. I went on a Wednesday evening with my pillow and blanket. I wore comfortable, yoga pants and a short sleeve shirt. Again, as I mentioned earlier, I should have worn a jacket and socks along with an eye mask. I brought a friend and we joined two other ladies for this myserious, gong bath experience. Before we started, Judi explained that if we feel pain or get uncomfortable we can quietly get up and go in the other room. She dimmed the lights.
I laid down as if preparing for savasana, or final relaxation pose in yoga. I started with my hands on my belly. As soon as the gongs began, I instantly felt my body go heavy and sink into my mat. My legs felt heavy. I couldn’t move them. Despite the relaxed state of my body, I was aware of what was going on. I remember being in awe of the noises the gongs were making. At one point, I moved my arms along my sides. I noticed pressure forming in my head and my feet and my legs still felt incredibly heavy. My head and neck began to relax more into my pillow and the room got very cold. Judi warned me that as the body relaxes, core body temperature decreases. Towards the end, with a lot of effort, I curled up onto my right side, covering my cold arms. The gongs got quiet. Then Judi played her wind chimes. She quietly turned the lights back on. Slowly, I opened my eyes, yawned a few times, stretched and made my way to a seated position.
I felt as if I had been asleep for days.
I drove my friend home. During our drive, we were both giddy. I felt so happy and had absolutely no cares in the world. This feeling lasted the rest of the evening. I also slept really well. The peaceful, happy, calm feelings and deep sleep are all things I expected to experience after the meditation.
What came as a surprise to me was what I experienced during my run the next morning. My three mile early morning run seemed easy. My breathing was calm and my form felt great. My time was even a little faster than normal. Perhaps the heavy feeling I felt in my body was the sound waves of the gongs breaking up blockages and opening up my airways.
I have to agree with Judi, the gongs are hard to explain but they work. See for yourself.