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Everything You Didn’t Know About Singing Bowls


Time to read 4 min

You’ve heard the human body is about 60% water, right? Then it stands to reason that some of the ways we manipulate water could also have effects on our bodies. Singing bowls, idiophones originally created in ancient Mesopotamia, do just that.

In a world that prioritizes hustle and can often feels rushed, frenzied, and full of to-dos and obligations, it's no surprise that many people experience high levels of stress and burnout. The negative short-term and long-term effects of such pervasive stress are well-documented, as are some of the ways to combat it. 

A key to combatting the stress that many feel in our society is to implement meaningful wellness routines. For some this may be morning yoga, stretching, listening to calming music, or spending time in nature. One of the primary tools that many turn to is the time-honored practice of meditation

One of the goals of meditation is to increase one's ability to be present in the moment and to experience a sense of peace. However, it can be difficult for many people to quiet their busy mind and achieve the state of stillness that meditation calls for. Singing bowls are a wonderful addition to many wellness practices, such as meditation, for this very reason. They also happen to be a tool that many are not yet familiar with.

What Is a Singing Bowl?

An idiophone is a musical instrument which, when struck, shaken, or scraped, produces a sound through vibration. Think of a bell or a gong: these are examples of idiophones, as is the singing bowl.

So, what exactly is a singing bowl? The singing bowl is a metal bowl often used in spiritual or religious settings to invoke meditation or relaxation through the resounding vibrations and pleasant sounds it emanates when played. These sounds can be very powerful; in fact, singing bowls can also be used in sound therapy to induce healing and treat various illnesses. 

What is it about using one that impacts humans so greatly? The sounds the singing bowls produce are said to create a kind of energy that may center the frequencies of the body, mind, and soul. Playing these bowls has also been said to cause the left and right sides of the brain to synchronize together, creating a peace and calm during meditation.

Consider how water reacts to vibrations: dancing, and moving in choreographed and often symmetrical, concentric forms. The singing bowl utilizes these acts of physics to affect the physical body, and in turn the mind and soul. We now have computer technology to be able to slow down and observe how the singing bowl specifically affects water inside it. We can study how the sound vibrations may be shifting the water elements in our bodies into creative patterns.

Singing Bowl Origins

The origins of the singing bowl are somewhat ambiguous, as much of ancient culture origins can be. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest they are the most ancient artisan craft in human existence, with the metalwork knowledge being passed from generation to generation for thousands of years.

Singing bowls originated in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago, and made their way to the regions of Tibet, Nepal and India which all have singing bowls in their history and culture dating back some 2,000 years. Today, singing bowls are still produced in these areas of the world, and both the craftsmanship and the spiritual components are closely tied to culture and tradition. Originally made of pure copper in the ancient world for medicinal purposes, they are now made most often of bronze (a combination of copper, tin and zinc) or a seven-metal medley of copper, tin, zinc, iron, lead, gold and silver—seven earth metals for the seven chakras.

Cottage Craft workshop in Nepal

Singing Bowl Production

How are singing bowls made? The artisans producing singing bowls in partnership with Ten Thousand Villages have learned the skill of singing bowl craftsmanship from relatives and apprenticeships, and share the process of singing bowl casting with us. Our artisan partners in Nepal heat the metal to red-hot malleability. Then, they’ll either sand-cast or hammer, mold, then polish the bowl before it may be etched in designs. It takes great skill, patience and collaboration between multiple artisans with different skills to complete a single singing bowl.

Unfortunately, singing bowls have found their way into mass production in many places in the West and there has been some debate about the appropriation of Eastern culture in so doing. Should Westerners without any Tibetan, Nepali or East Indian heritage profit from the sale of these cultural pieces? It is problematic for Western people to pick and choose the elements of Eastern culture that may appeal to them, while often continuing to act from a place of prejudice and internalized racism toward those same cultures. 

There’s no doubt that the benefits of the singing bowl and the rich culture inherent in them should be shared far and wide; however, that culture should be experienced with reverence and appreciation, not appropriation. We are grateful to the Nepali artisans we partner with for choosing to share their rich culture with us. Our artisan partners are always paid fair wages for their work with up-front financing.

How to Use a Singing Bowl

Singing bowls can be held gently in the open palm of your hand or balanced on fingertips. The reason you don't want to fully encompass the singing bowl in your hand or cover the sides of the bowl is that it will affect the sounds created. The accompanying mallet can be used to either strike the bowl on the outside, and/or to gently trace the outer edge of the bowl, which will create a singing-like effect. Both of these techniques can be used during one session with a singing bowl.

Found today in yoga studios, sound therapy spaces, massage therapy centers, temples, home feng shui, gardens and anywhere where people do centering work, singing bowls can be an incredible addition to a person’s wellness routines. Just remember to shop with intention and choose the fair trade option.

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