My birthday was last week, and my mom and sister gave me a very special present: an antique Tibetan singing bowl, dating back to the 18th century . . . just old enough to have accumulated some layers of use and history. My interest in Tibetan singing bowls began about two years ago, which prompted me to purchase a CD by Benjamin Iobst called Seven Metals: Singing Bowls of Tibet. After many repeat listenings to the calming sounds and varying tones of these bowls, I decided that I wanted to purchase my own bowl and came upon a great Web store that sells new and antique bowls: http://www.himalayanbowls.com/. On this site you can listen to different bowls to see which sound fits your style. Not many sites offer this feature. And if you are not familiar with the sound of singing bowls, I recommend you listen to a few just for fun. Very calming and centering.
Traditional Tibetan (or Himalayan) bowls are made from seven metals: gold, silver, mercury, copper, tin, lead, and iron. Sometimes iron would be replaced with meteorites found on the Himalayan mountaintops, often called "sky-iron" or "metal from the heavens". The combination of different metals is what makes them multiphonic instruments, which means they produce multiple harmonic overtones at the same time. Each metal produces its own overtone, resulting in a beautiful and sacred sound. As a singing bowl ages, it is gifted with richer tones and warmer, mellower sounds. The antique ones are worth spending more money on compared to the newer, cheaper, machine made varieties . . . which can sound good, but they lack the richness of sound that only time can produce--and they lack the hand-hammered, prayed-over qualities bestowed on by either monks or village craftsmen in days long gone.
The sound vibrations and harmonic frequencies of the bowls can stimulate the natural harmonic frequencies of different parts of the human body, putting physical, emotional, and spiritual energies back into alignment and providing a perfect environment for healing (a form of sound healing or sound therapy used by many holistic practitioners today). The multiple harmonic overtones have the ability to activate alpha brain waves, thus inducing relaxation, concentration, and meditation. The one simple goal, though, according to Tibetan monks, is to pay attention to what the bowl teaches you, through sound, about EMPTINESS (as the bowl is empty)--emptying our minds and going into our inner silence, the void, where our soul is waiting to reconnect with our whole being. Sound vibration affects not only the person using the singing bowl; it also affects the surrounding area, clearing negative energies and promoting inner wellness to those receptive to its teachings of emptiness. The sound and vibration carries far, even when we can't hear it anymore.
My bowl is only about five inches in diameter, but it has a beautiful sound. There are two ways to play it. One way is to just strike it on the rim or the inside with a wooden mallet or a wool covered mallet. The other way to play it is a true other-worldly experience: to circle the outer edge of the rim with the wood mallet in a steady rhythm until the sound starts to build, and then it resonates in a way that is so full and tonal, it envelopes your whole being and takes over your sense of sound for a moment. This way is called making the bowl "sing".
I guess I love this meditative experience because I love anything that involves heightened senses and subtleties. There is something so spiritual and sacred in this sound healing meditation that can only be understood through experience . . . even the CD does not do the bowls justice, though it is wonderful to listen to. Having a bowl to use is a beautiful ritual utilizing sound and vibrations to promote healing on so many levels. It's also special to use before prayer to help center yourself and rid the mind of the racing thoughts that often clutter our prayers.