Toning: using vocalizations for self healing

Toning involves the use of pure vocal sound to resolve tension, release emotion and activate the body’s own healing process. In his book, Sounds of Healing, Mitchell Gaynor lays out stellar literature review on the benefits of toning. Each of the authors cited by Gaynor describes toning differently, but each clearly are speaking of the same concept.

In her book, The Healing Voice, Joy Gardner-Gordon describes the use of screaming to release terror and or trauma from the body, allowing for physical healing to occur.

Laurel Elizabeth Keys in the early 1960s pioneered a process of using toning as a healing heart. However, as she explains in her book, The Creative Power of the Voice, toning is a very ancient method of healing and a time-honored healing art. The idea behind toning, is to use vocal vibrations to restore harmony to the body.

According to Lach Maggie Garfield in Sound Medicine, toning is a system of healing that utilizes vowel sounds to alter vibrations in every molecule and cell in the body.

In his book the Roar of Silence, Don Campbell describes toning as an audible sound, prolonged long enough to be identified.

Toning is the conscious elongation of a sound using the breath and voice

Don Campbell- The Roar of Silence

According to Randall McClellan in The Healing Forces of Music, describes toning as the sustained vocalization of individual pitches for the purpose of resonating specific body areas to which the voice is directed.

John Beaulieu in his book, Music and Sound in the Healing Arts describes toning as the process of making vocal sounds for the purpose of balance.

Toning sounds are sounds of expression and do not have precise meaning

John Beaulieu – Music and Sound in Healing Arts

Steven Halpern in Tuning the Human Instrument describes tuning as an “Activity that releases and allows the natural flow of energy to move through one’s body

Jonathan Goldman, in Healing Sounds describes Toning as “the use of the voice to express sounds for the purpose of release and relief.”

While each of these authors describes the idea in a slightly different way, we have come to understand through this literature review that toning is the use of vocalizations to vibrate our biological systems at the cellular level. Using the breath to move sustained vocalizations and intention to direct the vibrating energy to specific places with in the body, this movement serves to release whatever memory or trauma has been held there. Trauma can be physical, emotional or spiritual in nature. As a result of modern warfare, much more research in recent years has been dedicated to trauma and its impact on the human biology and psychology since the writing of this book, but clearly Dr Gaynor was onto something long before it’s time.

Dr Gaynor describes a Fundamental Toning Practice, the below description is adapted from his description:

  • Inhale deeply through the nose
  • Exhale using one long sustained sound until you expel all of your air
  • When you have run out of breath, in hale again through your nose and exhale through your mouth again while making one long sustained sound (repeat several times)
  • Sit or Stand straight ensuring your diaphragm and abdomen are unobstructed
  • Relax your jaw and imagine that you are pulling your breath up from the earth, through feet and draw the sound through the body to your audible exhale, allow the jaw to hang open
  • Choose a vowel sound and audibly sound it while exhaling for as long as your voice will allow (repeat several times)
  • Tone your vowel on a different note
  • Tone a syllable on the same note (Om/LAM/HU) (repeat several times)
  • Tone the syllable on a different note (repeat several times)
  • Find a syllable and note combination that resonates with you and tone it over and over again and again, allowing the vibrations to fill you

The idea here is to play with vowels and syllables until you find something that moves you from within. Experiment with sound, free your voice and allow it to express itself in any way that it wishes. Experiment further by directing your intention and breath to something in your body. I suggest you try a stiff muscle somewhere, breathe deeply and imagine pushing the sound and breath to the stuff muscle. Experiment and see what happens. Some things must be experienced to be explained. Gaynor goes on to provide some specific toning exercises which he adapted for specific toning exercises and I have adopted again below:

  • Cleansing and Releasing – Moaning and groaning are cleansing sounds the body releases naturally when aches and pains are released. High pitched sounds, such as an ear-piercing scream can help break up energy blockages

While using my foam roller to release some tension in my back, I tried this moaning and groaning technique, rather than stifling the groans my body felt like releasing, I let them rip. Audibly releasing my moans and groans and allowing my breath to emphasize them and forcibly move the air to the stiff muscles. I found that this exercise helped me to eliminate the stiff muscle more easily.

Have you ever heard a weightlifter who makes loud grunts and groans when he lifts past his ability?

Try using audible toning to cleanse and release stuck energy, stiff muscles, even stuck emotions. Gaynor suggests trying a scream to move past the calcified emotional blocks that may result from years of suppression I certainly have experienced the kind of stressful day where a scream was in order. Sometimes, on the way home from work, or even after pulling into my driveway at the end of a long and stressful day, I just let out a long scream until all that emotional energy is removed from my cells. Often, this is followed by a round of crying, even sobbing, but it is always extremely cathartic just to release all those stress hormones in a scream. After the tears wash away what remains, I feel the familiar cathartic glow of emotional release and freedom. Try screaming! Let it rip.

Imagine the joyous liberating experience that may come from finally releasing a scream that has been held in for years, or decades. Go to the beach, go the mountains, fund the place that reminds you that you belong to something bigger than yourself Find your place and let that scream rip, let it go, scream! The earth can handle it, the ocean, the trees, the sky… let it out, scream and cry!

  • Soothing and Relaxing –Humming can provide a soothing environment for tension release. Humming helps calm the nervous system and regulate the breath. Trust the urge to hum. Trust the urge to break out into song

We have all witnessed a mother turn to humming to sooth her agitated infant, to comfort her ailing child, to lull her children safely off to sleep. Humming is something we just naturally turn to for soothing the vulnerable and weak.

How many of us pay attention to the use of humming to self soothe? The next time you spontaneously break out into humming or song.

I recently observed my own reaction to stressful situations and was astonished to notice how often in my stressful job, I naturally start humming and making audible sounds like clicking, clucking, audible exhalations and other sounds when I am trying to bite my tongue and withhold my true thoughts about a person or situation. It turns out my body physically revolts against the politically correctness of my environment. I imagine myself exhaling my day to release the stress ass I kick off my shoes. All the ways I use sound to assist me in release of stress, and sooth myself when my thoughts and feelings are incongruent with my actions. I certainly find myself using sound to soothe myself.

Try it for yourself. Next time you break out into spontaneous song or start humming, clicking, sighing or other audible sounding off, pay attention to what you are feeling. Is your body attempting to tell you to slow down, calm down, breathe? Even a yawn, sneeze or other audible sound counts. Does your body use sound to soothe? Were you aware this was self soothing? Does new found awareness changes anything for you?

  • Toning to ease Pain- Inhale through your nose and allow the breath to travel deep into your belly. Allow the breath to travel from the belly to wherever you are feeling pain. the exhale to be filled with any sound the body feels called to express. This could be a sound, an audible exhale, a cough, crying, screaming, chanting, humming, clicking, clucking, sneezing, laughing.

Women often tap into this power of toning while in labor. whether or not they really this is what they are doing.

Personally, I recall breathing into the contractions, sending my breath and awareness deep within the pain where it had all of my energy, focus and attention. Upon exhale, I allowed my breath to be a moan, a grunt, a scream, a growl, whatever the breath summoned. My contractions began to flow rhythmically with my breath, while I was deep in my own labor process.

Breathe deeply, send the breath deep inside to your places of pain (physical or emotional), send your breath deep into your tension, your places of tightness, anywhere you feel stuck. Consciously breathe into your pain, feel it, acknowledge it As you exhale, give sound to the feeling, whatever the feeling is, whatever the sound is, let it rip. If the feeling doesn’t sound spontaneously, try toning, make vowel sounds and syllabic sounds and allow them to vibrate in to the pain, circulate the vibrations with the breath, continue making the sounds until you feel the cathartic release. It may feel as if you have just given yourself a massage. Repeat this process for every pain or discomfort in your body.

Sounds of Healing – Mitchell Gaynor

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To read my full review of Dr Gaynor’s book, Sounds of Healing, check out my Goodreads review

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