Tibetan singing bowls and Native American flutes in the hands of a professional musician make for the most relaxing way imaginable to spend an afternoon. As my body relaxed, my mind and spirit followed easily. I found that even hours after my sound therapy session with Sonic Yogi Jonathan Adams, I felt calm, at ease, and completely and totally relaxed – almost “floppy” in my body. Sound therapy is so freeing, and it’s so easy to experience because all one needs to do, is lie back, get still, and stay open to receive.
I had to opportunity to interview Jonathan about his own experience with severe stress, anxiety, and depression, and how he discovered sound therapy as a tool… and is now using it in his own practice to help serve others. Following is a transcript from that interview, including links to online resources that can help YOU reduce stress in your life – right now.
Vicy: I’m here this evening with Jonathan Adams, who is a professional musician and travels all over the country playing music. We are talking to him tonight for this health and wellness series because Jonathan’s Alter Ego, I guess we could call it, is Sonic Yogi. I met him through his sister, who is rowing instructor at Greenville indoor Rowing, and I think that Jonathan’s story and his talent are amazing. I got to experience some things just this past weekend that helped me understand a little more about what he does and I wanted to share that with all of you. So Jonathan can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what your background is and your personal story that led you to sound therapy?
Sonic Yogi: Sure well as you mentioned I’m not a musician and I do that for my living and I play guitar in the group that I play with and I’ve been doing that for fifteen years or so I guess now. And so I’ve been involved in music for a long time. But in 2011, I had an experience with really intense anxiety and I had had experiences before like this with panic attacks and mild anxieties here and there. But this experience was sort of an overwhelming sort of all-encompassing experience. And it’s sort of difficult to describe, but to get through it was actually a wonderful thing and so I feel that I learned a lot about my mind and my body and how they work together and how that even sort of influences my spirit. And how I learned to kind of basically help myself. I learned to stay balanced and I learned to relax. And through that process I also discovered sound therapy, which was cool for me as a musician, and I discovered that sound itself can actually help us relax and help us better physiologically relax and also mentally relax. So I’ve been exploring that path for the last several years since then and using it for myself and as I’ve talked about this experience and in our concerts as I’m traveling around, I’ve also realized that, you know, this experience of anxiety and stress and depression, these kind of things are not isolated at all but it seems as I travel that I’m finding that there are a lot of people that are affected by this. And so also I have been enjoying the opportunity to hear the music that I make and then also you know work with people one on one.
Vicy: Absolutely! So I would definitely concur that the experience of stress and anxiety is widespread. I’m not sure that it’s more pervasive than it’s ever been but maybe we’re just more willing to admit it. I know that among my clients, both one on one coaching clients as well as business clients, that learning how to manage stress in ways that are doable and practices that can bring you to a place of calm on a regular basis is something needed regularly. That’s a huge aspect of transformational life coaching in general… That it’s [controlling stress & anxiety] really crucial to do more than just survive. So what do you think has helped you Jonathan?
Sonic Yogi: Well that’s a good question. I think I have learned a lot from a lot of different areas. I was already doing yoga before this experience and then I started meditating more after the experience and then doing sound therapy and I’ve really searched for the common links between all of those things. Because I know this, like for instance, after a yoga practice or session I would kind of have this feeling of deep relaxation and almost euphoria and you know in talking to other people, I learned that they had similar experiences… so it kind of came to down that they, you know, they’re high [feeling] after yoga or meditation… I’ve gotten to know links from meditation and sound therapy and these things and so I feel the common link between all of those things was just helping me to relax and let go of the stresses. I’ve realized that the stresses weren’t only in my mind but they were also in my body and my body was reacting to the perceptions of my mind and so I kind of had to work on it from both angles. Both my mind and my body and so I had to learn to relax my body at the same time I had to learn to change my perception and change my behavior patterns and change my physical responses to those patterns so you know… That’s easy to say you know right here and right now! It actually took me quite a while to learn all of these things and it was, you know, little lessons here, little lessons there that kind of helped me to come to a place of more balance and over time I have learned more about my own personal inner world and how that works with my body. If I find myself sort of burning the candle at both ends or getting stressed out mentally at something then I can feel that stress building up and at least now I have the awareness to break that cycle before it turns into full blown stress or anxiety.
Vicy: So I think you said a key word there that I know is the word that I use with myself a lot and I also use it with clients and that is creating an inner awareness: recognizing what your responses are to stress right now, then getting good at identifying them early so that you can kind of put up a road block to that so it doesn’t go any farther. And instead you start moving back in the other direction toward feeling relaxed and feeling at peace and feeling calm in your body and in your state of being.
Can you sort of explain to people what sound therapy is or at least what it is in how you interpret it and how you use it?
Sonic Yogi: Sure.
Well I see sound therapy has really kind of intense meditation. It’s out there for you with Tibetan bowls, which look like bowls and may sound like bells and they have a lot of overtones to them and so what I ended up doing when I’m doing this type of therapy is putting the bulls around the person and they’re all sort of tuned in a similar scale and so when I play these bowls it really just creates a wash of sound that’s very soothing. I’ve discovered it actually interacts with our own brain waves and so our brain waves create frequency waves and these frequency waves are measured in Hertz. And so sound waves, which I use all the time as a musician, are also measured in Hertz. So when I first learned about this, I wondered if there were some kind of interaction between the two. I later learned that sound waves can in fact have some effect on our brain waves and so on.
Yeah and so you know I play a certain sound waves or oscillations that can affect the brain waves and help a person come down into a lower state of brain waves and sort of relax our brain waves. Also our heart and breathing are all connected and so relaxing the brain wave patterns helps us to release stress in our entire nervous system and so that’s one aspect of it. The other aspect is that you know a lot of time the thinking mind is engaged throughout the day and so that’s just what I call it is to think in the mind and that’s the part of us always going in that mental image. It’s kind of go along to get along, and I kind of think of that as being more of a left brain right and our left brain sort of focuses on these patterns and you know we’re always looking out for our own survival so it’s in our best interest to notice these patterns… You know, notice that we need to live and notice that we need to avoid hot water or whatever it is. So we noticed these patterns. There’s another side of our brain – right brain – which kind of takes in more of the whole picture and kind of disengages from that constant pattern calculation. Calculating those patterns all the time I think can actually lead to stress especially if it’s unnecessary and it’s just out there. [Sound therapy works] Because the sounds are kind of random and flowing. There’s not really a pattern to them and so it’s relaxing to let go of the patterns in my opinion, to move a person into that right brain space much more quickly. Whereas with music in general we’re hearing the patterns and we hear the chord progressions in the scales and they can all be very beautiful and there’s nothing wrong with that but with sound therapy itself it’s kind of bypassing that whole part of the brain. So I kind of think that those two things are keys to how it works. So number one it’s just altering the brain waves and then number two it’s kind of getting outside of that thinking mind and getting it outside of those patterns to just experience the present moment.
Vicy: Yes. So that last line [you said] might be the key. You’ve mentioned the brain wave patterns, which is something that I am very familiar with, and we use a lot of different techniques to help people actively move from some high beta state, which is essentially a panic attack when you’re in a very high frequency beta and then start bringing that down and learning to induce alpha state and even theta state with a lot of experience and I notice that last weekend when you were doing the sound therapy that it was very obvious to me that I was very deep in alpha state because I was very aware of what was happening but at the same time had no real interaction with it. And it’s interesting for me hearing your theory on sort of bypassing most of the left brain because one of the things that that really resonated with me was my awareness of my internal state of being which neuroscience calls “interoception.” And it was really, REALLY acute, not only during the experience but also afterwards for several hours. I was very super aware of the internal workings of my body like even once I was sort of back. Functioning in the world and driving my car and going to the grocery store and that kind of thing. And so now that you’re you’ve told me this other part of your theory, I think that that makes a lot of sense because the right brain one of its jobs is to give us sort of the gestalt view of ourselves and give us really deep access to the energy and information flow from our bodies into our minds. So you know into our brains so… Thank you for sharing that.
Sonic Yogi: That was sort of new to me in talking to you. I have to do some thinking on that.
I’ve noticed that myself. You know I think that I’m being more aware of that…I think just the way the world works and the way we were educated and you know the job we might do better and it’s, well, outside of us. So I always look out for information outside, and that’s where our work happens, but as a result of this experience [dealing with stress and discovering sound therapy] I just echo what you said which is that I can go inwards and kind of internal sort of monitoring of my systems and kind of think about how I feel and learn to really react or not, and learn to just be aware of those things in real time.
Vicy: So it helps you stay aware of what’s actually going on INSIDE of you, but it also helps you stay in the moment which is really important. Jonathan I would love to talk to you more so maybe we can do this again and have time to share some of the sounds of sound therapy at the end? What you do is awesome and really it’s fascinating and it’s something that’s really accessible, really easy, to help people get still… and I think that’s one of the things I know I get a lot of resistance from with my clients when we kind of get to a point in coaching where they recognize they need to do something to get still and have some being time not just doing time. All of the time and the sound seemed to make it a little more approachable I think for a lot of people. So if someone was interested in what you do, how might they find you?
Sonic Yogi: Sure. Well I started a website called sonicyogi.com and samples are there. I created downloads for users and they are actually free. People can just go there and listen, stream the music there or download it and then I also have a list out to a blog where I’ve sort of been exploring some of these ideas that we’ve talked about for myself, and anybody interested in reading can check that out. I live in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and I’m also doing individual sound therapy here in my home and in Decatur, Georgia at a wellness and Healing Arts Center.
Vicy: Fantastic. So again, you can learn more about Jonathan Adams and sound therapy at his website sonicyogi.com. You can also see him in person in Lawrenceville or Decatur, Georgia. Thank you so much for taking your time to talk with us Jonathan. I really appreciate it.
Note: photos in this post were taken during a Sound Healing session at Greenville Indoor Rowing by Laura Caylor. Thank you Laura!