vibrating sample of water. Oh what
I'm not describing a psychic excursion to the lofty realms of cosmic
consciousness. These are but a few of the fascinating experiments in the
field of Cymatics, the study of wave phenomena, pioneered in the
1950's by the late Swiss scientist Dr. Hans Jenny. Following the
work of German physicist and acoustician, Ernst F. F. Chladni, who,
toward the end of the 18th Century, created intricate sand patterns by
vibrating a steel plate with a violin bow, Dr. Jenny employed the modern
technology of the day to carry out more precisely replicable
experiments. Using a sine wave generator and a speaker to vibrate
various powders, pastes and liquids, Jenny succeeded in making visible
the subtle power through which sound structures matter.
Imagine hearing a tone, and watching as sound waves involute an inert
blob of kaolin paste, animating it through various phases in a nearly
perfect replica of cellular division. Or watching as a pile of sand is
transformed into life-like flowing patterns, mirroring symmetrical
geometric forms found in nature, simply by audible vibration. Perhaps
the most striking image is that of a snake slithering along, as if its
vertebrae were being viewed by x-ray cinematography the result of light
reflecting off the wave trains created in a thin film of glycerin spread
upon a vibrating membrane.
This intimate glimpse into creation, seen in such graphic detail in Dr.
Jenny's films, evokes visions of the Dance of Shiva in all its
majesty. These phenomena vividly reveal certain universal principles
which lend credence to the proliferation of sound therapies that are
rapidly emerging at the forefront of the holistic health movement. Might
this be yet another example of the blending of the wisdom of ancient
traditions with the discoveries and practical applications of modern
In the video Of Sound Mind and Body: Music and Vibrational Healing,
biologist Rupert Sheldrake describes our bodies as "nested
hierarchies of vibrational frequencies" which appear as discreet
systems functioning within larger more complicated systems, which
themselves are contained within even larger and more complex vibrational
structures. In fact, you can view the whole universe in this way, from
sub-atomic particles, to the most intricate life forms, to the nebulae
and galaxies themselves - all are resonating fields of pulsating energy
in constant interaction with one another.
If you accept this viewpoint, it becomes quite plausible that externally
imposed vibration can have quite an influence on our physiology. We've
all experienced this phenomenon of entrainment, but we are
usually unaware of it. Say you're sitting in your kitchen balancing your
checkbook and you begin to notice that your shoulders are hunched up and
your back is tighter than normal. Suddenly the refrigerator shuts off
and you heave a sigh of relief. Your shoulders drop, your back loosens
up, and your whole breathing pattern changes. Well, what just happened?
Could it be that certain biological rhythms had unconsciously entrained
to the 60 cycle hum of the refrigerator motor?
This process was first articulated in 1656 when Dutch mathematician,
physicist, and astronomer, Christian Huygens, performed an unusual
series of experiments. He found that randomly swinging pendula of
similar lengths would begin to swing in unison after a period of time.
After extensive observation, he formulated the principle of entrainment
to describe this phenomenon where weaker pulsations come under the
influence of stronger ones.
Some three hundred years later, a British physician, Dr. Peter Guy
Manners, applied this same principle to treat a variety of physiological
conditions. Positing that every form, with its unique shape, size and
density, vibrates within its own specific range of frequencies, Manners
correlated the resonant frequencies of healthy tissues and organs. He
devised a way to project these vibrations via sound waves, directly into
distressed areas which were no longer "sound", or resonating
at their proper, healthy frequencies. Through a process called sympathetic
resonance, the tissues are then guided back to their optimal
frequency patterns, while releasing the tension which they had been
the advent of neurological monitoring devices such as EEG and EKG, it
became possible to examine the entraining potential of audible sound
frequencies on brainwaves. In the 1960's Robert Monroe pioneered a
process in which he used specific sound frequencies to modulate
brainwave states. Through headphones, he would introduce slightly
different audible frequencies into each ear. Subjects reported that as
the frequencies converged, they no longer heard separate tones, but
rather an oscillation, like what you hear when you tune a guitar. As the
strings approach the same pitch you hear a "wawawawa"
pulsation, the "beat" of which being the difference between
the two frequencies.
Monroe Institute in Faber, Virginia, spent many years experimenting with
these binaural beat frequencies, developing precise formulations to
evoke a frequency following response, or an entraining effect on
brainwaves. An extensive body of research documents the ability of
specific frequency differentials to entrain brainwaves in such a way
that a dynamic state of balance is achieved between the left and right
hemispheres of the neocortex. Specific HemiSync? beat frequencies are
then encoded into musical compositions which are further engineered to
assist the listener to reach desired "brain states" ranging
from relaxed or meditative states, to those of increased mental clarity
Over the past decade or so, a variety of sophisticated machines have
been developed to the point where contemporary light and sound devices
combine binaural beat frequencies with pulsating LED visual stimulation.
The user can modulate these frequencies to experience a wide range of
powerfully entraining effects. Yet as compelling as these technologies
may be, there are well-established practices which require no
sophisticated equipment other than our own nervous system. For example,
the beat frequencies associated with states of deep meditation are quite
prevalent in such ancient ritual instruments as Tibetan "singing
bowls". These pulsations tend to quiet brainwave activity from our
more normally active Beta states (around 14 - 20 Hz.) to the Theta and
Delta states where predominant brainwave activity may drop to a range
from 8 Hz. to as low as 0.5 Hz. in deepest meditative states.
Listening To The World Within
From time immemorial, spiritual traditions have imparted various
esoteric disciplines to help the student achieve these profound states
of mental stillness. Their common objective is to bring one's attention
inward, away from the attractions and distractions of the outer world.
As anyone who has really delved into this process may attest, it is no
simple matter to still the mind! While modulating ones brainwaves may
provide a momentary sensation or experience, I believe that real,
lasting effects will only take hold when such qualities as
self-knowledge, dedication and devotion to inner unfoldment, a strong
yearning for transcendence over one's conditioning, and the desire for
liberation from the tyranny of one's own mind, are assiduously
It is a very humbling experience to try to subjugate one's mind. This is
where the power and skill of a teacher is paramount. In a sense, the
teacher provides the entraining frequency, the "perfect pitch"
through which one may allow oneself to be drawn into harmonization with
the Universal Tone. So this is not a simple process of entrainment, so
much as true individuation - with the objective not merely to be drawn
like an iron filing to a magnet, (nor a moth to a flame), but to offer
oneself as a bell to be rung, an instrument to be played.
These sonorous similes, like the Cymatics experiments themselves,
are actually more than poetic imagery. I perceive them as living
metaphors, embodying universal truths in a way that may be immediately
perceptible to the astute listener. Throughout the ages, various
esoteric traditions known as the Light and Sound teachings, have
proffered a simple contemplative process of "deep listening",
where one may actually begin to hear the subtle "inner sounds"
at play within our nervous system.
In our normal active (Beta) state, the sensory currents flow throughout
our body and out into the world gathering perceptions. We process these
physical, mental, and emotional sensations and navigate our environment
accordingly, totally unaware of this subtle energy outflow. Yet these
sensory currents are the very avenues through which most of our life
force is diffused into the outer world. The Light and Sound paths teach
that through controlling the play of the sensory currents, rather than
trying to dominate the kundalini energy, one may begin to reclaim
this spiritual elixir and consolidate these energies at the third eye
center. When sufficient energy has accumulated therein, it begins to
rise into the higher chakras. It is through these centers that one may
begin to hear these subtle sounds.
Yet hearing the sounds is not the objective, nor is simply stilling the
mind. These are but effects of concentralizing ones sensory currents and
allowing the energy to ascend to the higher, non-physical energetic
vortices within the cranium. While these sounds are not heard with the
outer ears, they may seem as if they are "out there somewhere"
beckoning our attention. The sounds are very particular; each one
denotes the level of consciousness where we presently reside. At first,
faint buzzing or electrical-sounding noises may be heard, analogous to
the static received when tuning a radio or when coming "on
line" with your modem. If your attention remains focused, perhaps
through chanting a mantra to help entrain the mind, you might begin to
hear the humming of bees, then the chirping of crickets. These are the
various "elemental sounds" produced as what is known
esoterically as the Audible Life Stream, or the Sound Current, or Nada,
interacts with the five subtle elements within our nervous system.
time, as one masters the ability to sustain focused attention at the
third eye, the sounds become clearer and more powerful: a resounding
bell being struck, a conch shell being blown, the beating of a large
drum, the playing of harps, the flute and finally a sound similar to
bagpipes. It is interesting to note that human cultures the world over
have created musical instruments which mimic these subtle sounds,
perhaps as archetypal symbols serving to remind us from whence we have
come, and as guideposts for our long journey back home.
is the same path that has been navigated by the great masters, saints
and teachers from all sacred traditions throughout the ages. In the Sufi
lineage, it has been described in detail in the poems of Rumi, and the
writings of Kabir and Hafiz. In the Western mystery schools it was
revealed by Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, to name but a few. These
teachings describe a pathway that is laid out within the template of our
own bodies, and is therefore universal in scope and application. It
represents a precise science of sacred sound which is absolutely
I am greatly heartened by the burgeoning interest in the various fields
of sound therapy, and in the more esoteric practices of Sacred
me, this is a clear indication of the spiritual renaissance which is
accelerating as humankind moves through this millennial portal in our
Jeff Volk is a poet,
video artist and publisher. He recently re-published Dr. Hans Jenny's
books Cymatics, Vol. I & II. Jenny's cymatic images are used
by Gregg Braden, Jonathan Goldman, Tom Kenyon and many others because
they scientifically demonstrate how audible sound creates harmonic,
geometric patterns similar to those frequently found in mandalas and
crop circles. In 1992, Jeff Volk's video Of Sound Mind and
Body: Music and Vibrational Healing won the Hartley Film Award
through the Institute of Noetic Sciences. For the next six years he
produced the International Sound Colloquium, a conference exploring the
power of sacred sound and healing music. He is currently completing Sounding
the Psyche: Attuning the Bodymind, a video which examines many of
the themes outlined in this article.
by permission of the author.
This article, Sound Insights, was written by
Jeff Volk for the 15th Anniversary issue of Kindred Spirit Magazine,
www.kindredspirit.co.uk,published in the UK.
Jeff Volk occasionally offers multimedia
using Cymatics and related material to illustrate the
universal principles which are at play in our lives.