Going with the flow
There are bubble baths whirlpool baths, steam baths and sitz baths. Bernie Madoff's clients certainly took a bath. And Annie Liebowitz once famously submerged Whoopi Goldberg in a milk bath. But have you ever taken a gong bath?
Now you can.
Tiverton's Sandywoods, an art and agricultural community that maintains a full schedule of concerts, art exhibits, classes and other events, hosts monthly gong baths — typically the last Saturday of the month — conducted by resident Deb Stevens.
Stevens, an acupuncturist with a background in public health, became interested in vibration as one avenue to wellness. "Acupuncture challenges you to look at things a little differently," says Stevens. "As you search for the source of disharmony in the body, you look at its most fundamental functions, and you reduce them to their smallest form." According to Stevens, vibration, in nature and through the human body, promotes the flow of energy and a body's own ability to regenerate. Ancient Eastern religions and practices, including Buddhism and the Kundalini yoga movement, have long used gongs to create a meditative silence and take away the mental "noise" of daily life.
Introduced to gongs in her travels, Stevens studied under noted masters Ed Mann and Don Conroe in the 1990s. Later, she was part of a gong ensemble that played throughout Rhode Island.
The gongs themselves are individual artworks, meticulously crafted with top-secret techniques and combinations of metals. Despite the gong's Asian origins, some of the finest manufacturers are European, such as Paiste, a Swiss company with a factory in Germany.
As baths go, a gong bath is every bit as relaxing as a hot bubble bath, only nudity is not needed (and likely discouraged.) The bath is in the vibrations from the gongs, and if you think "bath" is an overstatement, you haven't tried it. Think of it as part guided meditation, part semi-private percussion concert.
On a recent Saturday night at Sandywoods, the room was filled to capacity with "bathers," many on mats or blankets, horizontal in front of the array of gongs. Some participants were seated in chairs, but to receive the full benefit of the experience, you should be able to relax completely. As Stevens skillfully plays the gongs, she likewise plays her audience, building sound to a crescendo that creates a palpable, but pleasant, tension. In Stevens' hands, these are nothing like the gongs you might hear crashing in the soundtrack of a cut-rate kung fu movie. Her gongs resonate with waves of silky vibrations that build and recede. Stevens describes it as sound packing, and saturating, the room. She doesn't work off a composition, but plays according to the bathers' non-verbal feedback.
"Every participant affects sound, and created a certain harmonic resonance, depending on what they are holding. The overtones mix and create a field of sound frequencies, and they travel though us, releasing tension and facilitating flow. You have to gather the energy in the room, so at the beginning I am playing notes to feel out the audience," Stevens says. "You have to tune the audience as well as the instruments.
While Stevens' description of the process may sound decidedly new-agey to the uninitiated, there is no denying that a gong bath takes relaxation to a new level — it's transformative, even. Give it a try: the next one will be held on Saturday, May 31 at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit sandywoodsmusic.com.