I know why the Tibetan bowl sings
Yoga practitioner Shameem Akhtar’s studio at Linking Road is a doll house of sorts — there are the expected posters of Buddha, bric-a-brac of spiritual value gathered from across her travels, and semi-precious jewellery for sale in glass cases.
Shameem Akhtar also plays the bowls for small groups. Pics/Shadab Khan
But what I am here for is spread out on the floor, on a yoga mat. Seven metal bowls of different sizes are placed in what looks like a random arrangement (which, I will later find out, is not). These are the Tibetan Singing Bowls, but sans the iconography or motifs one finds on the ones often sold online.
Notes from bowls
Akhtar is experimenting with Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation, an ancient practice which believes that the sounds and vibrations emitted when the bowls are struck by a leather-wrapped mallet and/or a thick wooden wand, have healing powers. Akhtar says she had been collecting singing bowls since the past few years. Last year, when she was travelling in Kathmandu, Nepal, she signed up for a course on the Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation.
Akhtar admits she did it on a lark, and says she is no expert on diagnosing health issues of the people who want to try out this form of meditation, and neither does she offer health solutions. What she does believe in, however, is the effect that the bowls can have on people. “I am learning from my experiences with the people I practice this on. These bowls synchronise our brain waves with their resonance and since our bodies are mainly made up of water, they respond to the vibrations. Disease is caused by disharmony in our endocrine glands and the bowl’s sounds restore balance,” she explains.
Skinny on chakras
I realise it is better to try the form out for myself, and lie down as Akhtar directs me. She then explains that the seven bowls will be arranged around my body in a way that they are close to the seven main chakras. Between my feet, she places a bowl meant to affect the Root chakra, which is related to the feeling of stability. One bowl is placed near the Sacral chakra, which controls ones sexuality. The bowl near the Navel chakra is meant to affect one’s self-esteem and assertion.
The seven bowls are arranged to align with the seven chakras of the body
Akhtar places one of the smaller bowls near the Heart chakra, which deals with a person’s expression of love and kindness and another near the Throat chakra, which is related to self-expression. One bowl is placed to align with my eyebrows, where the Third Eye chakra is meant to be. The last, and the largest bowl she places near the top of my head, which is believed to be the Crown chakra that determines one’s feeling of being one with the cosmic world and wisdom.
Here, I must admit that I have never tried any form of spiritual healing, am only vaguely acquainted with the topic of chakras itself, and have meditated infrequently. I tell Akhtar I would like to try this out with a neutral mind and gauge the experience purely on the basis of how I feel feeling at the end of the 30-minute session.
Sound of music
I close my eyes and Akhtar begins playing the bowls — rather, striking them gently with the mallet and/or wand. For the first five minutes, she strikes each bowl by turn. It is almost immediately clear that no two bowls sound the same. Some bowls, when struck, emit bass-like sounds and others have higher, treble notes.
That, however, is the tangible, physical experience as I lay supine. Mentally, as I expected on my way to the studio, I wander. I think of how, ideally, I am not supposed to think. Seconds later, I think of how previous meditation stints had made me feel (blank — a welcome feeling) and whether my current experiences matches up, yada yada.
Fifteen minutes into the session, I begin to have favourites among the seven bowls. Now, I truly ‘listen’, and comprehend that I like some sounds more than the others. I also sense that Akhtar is not playing the bowls in the earlier order. I now hear less of the bowls placed near my feet and a lot more of those near my face and chest.
I begin anticipating the sound of the bowl at my Heart and Crown chakras more eagerly and wish she would stop playing the one which resonates with the Third Eye. Only this bowl’s twang seems to aggravate the dull headache I have come to the studio with. Are the two related? I dog-ear the thought to discuss it with Akhtar after. As a few more minutes trickle by, I am more rooted in my immediate surroundings — the sounds of the bowls — than tumbling through the thoughts flitting by. Of course, it is far from sublime and absolute, which, I assume, must take much practice.
After 30 minutes, Akhtar lightly taps my right foot and I sit up. I try to gauge how the session has made me feel. I am relaxed, but remember to have had a better experience when, in the past, a yoga teacher guided me through meditation sessions.
I presume Akhtar observes how a person reacts to the bowls and gauge his/her affinities, which could provide better insight into the person and the healing process. I remember my attraction to the bowls near the Heart and Crown chakras, but Akhtar says it was not pronounced and she did not notice it. Our deductions don’t really align, we gather.
Akhtar says she observed an affinity toward the bowl near the Throat chakra — which indicates I can assert myself and fare well at self-expression. I tell her about my dislike for one of the bowls, and tell her of the headache myself. Akhtar then guesses it may be due to a health issue in that area. I tell her I would like to know more about her deductions, but she says she believes in letting the bowls work for the person, which leaves me rather lost at interpreting something I know very little about.
Is Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation for me? Frankly, I’ve felt better with other forms of meditation, though one session is barely conclusive. If deep, booming sounds are your thing, give the seven bowls a chance. They might just sing for you.