Searching for our still points through sound

Ricarda O’Conner and gongs. (photo by Violet Snow)

Ricarda O’Conner and gongs. (photo by Violet Snow)

From the medical practice of breaking up kidney stones with ultrasound to gong bath sleepovers at a hip Brooklyn hotel, the ancient practice of sound healing is being revived and updated, according to This phenomenon is going strong in the Hudson Valley, with Sage Center for the Healing Arts in Woodstock holding frequent public sound events and local healers using Himalayan singing bowls, crystal bowls, tuning forks, and gongs as tools for enhancing health.

“I like to call it sonotherapy or vibrational medicine,” said Philippe Garnier, the founder of the  Sage Center, He offers private healing sessions as well as sound concerts, in which attendees lie down on mats, soaking up the vibrations of various bowls and forks. Garnier and visiting practitioners hold workshops, and he recently organized a four-day retreat at the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in Phoenicia, with classes on sound healing presented by eight internationally known experts, including Thomas Workman and John Beaulieu, who are both locally based.

At last year’s Menla retreat, Chichester energy healer Ricarda O’Conner first experienced the gong bath, in which she lay between two enormous gongs, played by practitioner Mitch Nur, while the sound reverberated between the two hanging disks. After a brief treatment, she felt her nervous system shift from what she called “fight or flight” to “rest and digest.” Impressed, she attended a training with Nur and decided to buy two large gongs to support her own therapeutic practice. Each of the gongs is about three feet in diameter and made of hammered metal.


“The gongs create a chamber of sound,” she explained, “a field of energy with symmetry and balance. I chose these gongs as a pair. They’re different in sound, and they play each other as I move between them. The person in the middle is also having a conversation with the gongs — your frequency interacting with the gongs’ frequencies.”

The result, she said, is a balancing of the nervous system, which enhances immune response and helps release pain and psychological patterns. Clients dealing with cancer and the side effects of chemo come to her every two to four weeks for a gong treatment that appears to diminish their symptoms. Others find the meditative experience helpful for addressing emotional issues, such as depression, which responds to what O’Conner calls the mood-stabilizing quality of the paired gongs. She has several clients who come for a monthly full-body tune-up.

I can report that lying between O’Conner’s gongs for 45 minutes was profoundly relaxing. The waves of sound rippled back and forth as she walked from one gong to the other, gently tapping them with a padded mallet. There was no rhythm, just an ever-changing landscape of deep, soothing tones that absorbed my attention. Afterwards, I was in a pleasant daze for several hours, moving slowly and deliberately, often drawn to lie down and rest in contemplation of the experience.