Stress-Relieving Sound Therapy

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Photo by Getty Images/Bartosz Luczak

On a walk through our 35-acre property, you’ll hear and see chimes, bells, and gongs. We’ve surrounded ourselves with nature and music, and when we founded the Acutonics Institute of Integrative Medicine, we never imagined that our model for the direct application of sound vibration in all aspects of life would relocate from Seattle, Washington, to the mountains of rural northern New Mexico to better carry out that mission.

Since 1995, we’ve been involved in the development and teaching of an integrated curriculum that trains people in the applied use of specific sound vibrations to acupuncture points, trigger points, and points of pain. Our approach to working with sound is rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), psychology, Western and Eastern sciences, music, and the arts, and the sounds that we work with are calculated from the universe around us. We train others to apply tuning forks, planetary gongs, hand chimes, and Tibetan singing bowls in health care, from clinical settings to their own homes.

This practice — called Acutonics® — has broad appeal because of its interdisciplinary nature, easy access, and people’s love for sound and music. Acutonics can be used in the comfort of your own home to reduce the symptoms associated with stress, such as poor sleep, anxiety, frustration, and anger, and it demonstrates tremendous promise in the treatment of pain as part of an integrative, holistic health care model.

Music in Medicine

The historic use of music and rhythm in conjunction with healing transcends any one culture. References to the power of sound to elicit a physical response trace back to ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Greece. In the earliest Japanese and Chinese creation stories, as well as ancient Hindu scripture, sound was the energy that created the universe. Both Plato and Aristotle believed in the power of music to heal, and that healing the psyche through music would also heal the body. Drums, which many indigenous cultures liken to the heartbeat of the Earth, have been used for thousands of years to help break up stagnation in a person’s spirit or mind, or to help root energy in the body. In aboriginal Australian culture, the didgeridoo is played to help both musician and listener feel grounded and connected within their physical bodies, and to reawaken their conscious minds.

Today, there’s a growing interest in the physiological and psychological impact of music in health care. Studies from the early 1900s to the present have shown that music helps alleviate some pain and anxiety associated with surgery, decreases dental patients’ need for pharmacological analgesia, and provides other immunomodulatory effects in those experiencing medical stress.

Sound and Stress

As our practitioners have begun prescribing tools to their clients for use at home, there has been a particular focus on the potential these tools hold to combat stress. Sound, as it turns out, is deeply effective for stress reduction.

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Small amounts of stress, such as those which inspire us to take positive action, may help us to build resilience to common life changes. However, high conflict, loss, prolonged challenges, and natural disasters are serious stressors that can impact a person’s well-being. Symptoms of stress can be obvious, manifesting as palpitations, shortness of breath, panic attacks, fatigue, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, or headaches; or the stress may aggravate or trigger pre-existing conditions, such as migraines or sciatic pain. A 2012 study identified chronic stress as the key factor in glucocorticoid receptor resistance (GCR). If glucocorticoid regulation fails, the inflammatory response increases and there’s greater risk of disease. With all this in mind, it’s critical that we learn techniques to address and treat stress.

At our institute, we studied nurses from a Level 1 trauma hospital and a large regional military hospital and medical center, all of whom were experiencing stress or compassion fatigue. We taught participants a basic acupoint protocol and instructed them on how to apply tuning forks to specific acupuncture points. They practiced twice per week for a minimum of 15 minutes each session. At the conclusion of the study, 100 percent of participants reported reduction in anxiety; 71 percent spoke of feeling more centered, grounded, and having an increased ability to focus; 86 percent reported reduced anger or frustration; and 43 percent spoke of the immediacy of the observed changes.

Self-Care with Sound

We quickly realized that the applied use of sound could include the development of self-care strategies. A Tibetan singing bowl or hand chime can be sounded to open and close a meditation or yoga practice. Or, with a simple pair of tuning forks, those at home can practice our curriculum for themselves.

As you work with and explore the use of sound, we recommend starting with the Ohm frequency, which is approximately a C sharp and has a soothing, grounding quality. 

To begin your self-care session, focus your intention on reconnecting to and aligning with the natural world, and finding peace. Activate the Ohm tuning forks, hold them a few inches from your ears, and listen. Once the tuning forks stop vibrating, activate them again, and follow the points listed below in a progression. (If you don’t have sound tools, you can find a quiet place, play soothing music, and gently massage these acupuncture points.) We selected these acupuncture points for their efficacy in reducing stress. (Learn more about acupuncture below). Each point is listed by a translation of its common Chinese name, and then by its Western numerical location along its corresponding meridian. These names are made of characters that tell a visual story and provide a deeper, metaphorical explanation of the point and its usefulness.

1. Gushing Spring (Kidney 1): Located in the heart of the foot sole, when foot is bent and toes are curled. This point is used to bring energy down, to reduce hyper conditions, and to root and ground yourself. It can aid sleep and help you to come back to your center. Use this point to begin and end your session. Contraindicated during pregnancy.


Photo by Ellen F. Franklin

2. Leg Three Li (Stomach 36): Located 3 inches below the knee on the outer side of the leg and a finger’s breadth off the shinbone. This point is also known as the Lower Sea of Qi and helps to restore and move energy forward, especially when you feel stuck. It also supports the immune system. Contraindicated during pregnancy.

Photo by Ellen F. Franklin

3. Inner Pass (Pericardium 6): Located between forearm sinews, 2 inches from the crease on the underside of the wrist. This point is used to open the gate to the inner self, and the gate to the heart for unconditional love. It’s helpful for anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as motion sickness.

Photo by Ellen F. Franklin

The following points are referred to as “The Three Treasures,” and are powerful acupuncture points. They can be used to deepen your connection to the natural world. They may help you to return to your center — a place of promise, home, and hope so you can remember how it feels to live in balance, health, and harmony. They also help create a feeling of coherence that results in reduced stress. Apply the Ohm forks to each point sequentially.

4. Origins Pass (REN 4): Located about a palms-width below the navel. In TCM, this is the site known as the Life Gate Fire, and it helps to energize the entire system toward center and balance energies within the body. Contraindicated during pregnancy.


Photo by Ellen F. Franklin

5. Hundred Convergences (DU 20): Located on the top of the head, in the depression that’s in line with the apex of the ear. This point is also known as the Crown Chakra and is a powerful spiritual resource point. In TCM, it connects the microcosmos of the body with the macrocosmos of the universe.


Photo by Ellen F. Franklin

6. Original Child, Chest Center (REN 17): Located in the center of the chest, level with the fourth rib. This “palace of the heart” opens energy, releases frustration, and allows for synchronization of the heart and lung rhythms. It’s an excellent point to calm, and to reduce the anxieties that are the result of past traumas.


Photo by Ellen F. Franklin

More than 20 years after teaching our first class in Acutonics, we’re witnessing significant shifts in our patients’ health. Acutonics has spread from New Mexico into a global community of practitioners and teachers with a rich and constantly growing creative curriculum. We hope you apply these simple techniques and find your own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being enriched. 

Eurythmy: Sound Made Visible

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Austrian philosopher and father of the first organic agricultural movement — biodynamic farming — observed many unique ways humans can connect with, and benefit from, the natural world. He understood the power of music as a spiritual discipline and believed that sound opens unique communication between human experience and nature. He believed that by merging with a sound, we could connect with the whole of nature and begin to hear not only with our ears, but our souls. He called his performing practice turned therapeutic practice “eurythmy” — a word with roots in Greek that means “harmonious rhythm” — and its goal is to make speech, tones, and music visible through human movement.

The meditative movements of eurythmy involve cognitive, emotional, and volitional elements, each of which might improve breathing and posture, increase vitality and strength, connect movers to a deeper sense of self, and stimulate healing processes. In fact, an overview of scientific studies that researched eurythmy in the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal diseases, anorexia, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, chronic lower back pain, and general health showed that in all cases there were significant improvements for patients and few adverse effects.

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When performed with music, eurythmy expresses harmonies, melodies, and rhythm. It can demonstrate the key in which a musical piece is played and the interplay of voices and instruments. However, when performed with spoken text, eurythmy also expresses and differentiates vowels, consonants, poetic meter, and mood. “If we follow the successive sounds as they occur in a single word, entering into the real nature of this word as it originally arose out of the whole being of [a human],” wrote Steiner, “then we can experience all possible shades of feeling, the ecstasy of joy, the depths of despair; we can experience the ascending and descending of the whole scale of the human emotions, the whole scale of the perception of external things.” Steiner’s eurythmy is still practiced today, often as part of the Waldorf education system he established.

Similar to the way eurythmy uses sound and motion as body therapy, Acutonics encourages sound vibrations to move through TCM acupoints and meridians in order to open the body to healing. Both practices promote health, support mind-body connectivity, and make use of naturally occurring phenomena to improve human health.

The Efficacy of Acupuncture Points

While studies behind the science of acupuncture are still catching up, those treated by the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice have benefited from its efficacy for more than 2,000 years. The medical art is based on the idea of energy channels, called “meridians,” that run in patterns through the body, with each pattern defined by pairs of major internal organs thought to regulate energy flow. Acupuncture points follow these meridians; when an acupuncturist determines where in the body the energy (or qi) is blocked, they use needles to reestablish the proper flow of qi, stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal, and promote well-being.

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Acupuncture is widely practiced in Asia, as well as throughout Europe, and is rapidly gaining popularity as a complementary approach to health in the United States. One 2013 controlled study of 755 patients with moderate to severe depression showed that those who received acupuncture or counseling alongside the care of their general practitioners exhibited more improvement than those patients who received their usual care alone. A 2014 study that measured heart rate variability (a marker of stress) in hypertensive patients found that acupuncture reduced signs of stress both during treatment and over time. And a 2017 overview of a self-help method called Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) — which combines the practice of exposure and cognitive therapies with the stimulation of acupuncture points — had marked success in treating pain, anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder in military personnel.

Julie Bear Don’t Walk, a licensed acupuncturist, says that: “The most important thing to know is that bodies are wise — they want to be balanced, efficient, and healthy. Herbs and acupuncture just remind the body how to accomplish that.” Find the acupuncturist for you by investigating your local community, or visit a site such as Acupuncture Today.

Psychologist Ellen F. Franklin, PhD and acupuncturist Donna Carey, co-founded the Acutonics Institute of Integrative Medicine. Together they authored Acutonics: From Galaxies to Cells, Planetary Science, Harmony, and Medicine. Franklin and Carey can respectively be reached and

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