How to Use a Singing Bowl
We use singing bowls in our meditation center, at groups we lead, and in our own practice. They’re a beautiful tool for a meditation practice, and can be a wonderful addition to anyone’s existing sitting habits. However, many people ask us how to use them, so we thought we’d offer a little bit about singing bowls, how to play them, and why it can be beneficial to use one!
How to Play a Singing Bowl
Singing bowls can be played a number of ways. We will go through a few different ways to use a bowl, and the video below demonstrates each of these methods.
The Gentle Strike
First, there’s the gentle strike of the singing bowl. This is often used to signify the beginning or end of a meditation session. There are different uses in different traditions, with the bowl sometimes being struck once and sometimes being struck three times. In some Zen traditions, the bowls are also struck during the meditation period to bring you back to the present moment.
To use the singing bowl like this, gently tap the bowl on the side with a striker. You may find that it is best to have a striker with some felt on it to soften the sound of impact. To ring a singing bowl, it shouldn’t be an abrasive hit. Instead, gently strike the bowl just below the rim. Try tapping the bowl in different spots, as individual ones will have different “sweet spots.”
Making it Sing
Making the singing bowl actually sing can be a bit more difficult. You can start by striking it gently to get the vibration moving. It helps if you have the bowl on a cushion or in your hand. If it’s flat on the table or a hard surface, the vibration against the table may make a funny noise.
Gently trace the outside of the rim with the striker. Keep full contact, and move slowly. A sound may not erupt at first, but be patient. Try to keep the striker in contact with the bowl, but don’t press too hard. You can experiment with the speed at which you are moving; some bowls require different strengths and speeds to get the optimal singing going.
The Oscillating Sound
Once you learn how to make the bowl sing, you can make some oscillating sounds, sometimes referred to as the “wah-wah” sound. Most singing bowls have a natural ability to create this sound, and you can hear it as you make it sing. There’s a subtle oscillation of tone back and forth as the vibrations travel around the bowl and interact with one another.
You can actually induce this sound in a few different ways. First, you can try tilting the bowl back and forth as it is singing. This can create a change in the way the sound waves interact and an interesting fluctuation of noise.
The more popular way to make this “wah-wah” sound is to use your mouth. Once you have the bowl singing, you can put your mouth up to the opening at the rim. Open and close it as if you are saying “wah-wah,” but don’t actually make any noise. This opening and closing of the mouth can change the path of the sound waves and the way they echo back, creating an oscillating noise. It takes some practice, but can create quite the interesting sound!
The History of Bowls in Buddhism
The history of singing bowls is a bit confusing, with many different opinions coming forth. Many traditions and websites claim that Tibetan singing bowls date back to the times before the Buddha. This is supported by ancient accounts of ringing, singing, and sounds in Tibetan music and rituals. However, no specific mention of the singing bowls actually exists.
Many historians and anthropologists believe the singing bowls to be a more modern phenomenon, likely originating in China. Although singing bowls have been used for almost a thousand years, their popularity has grown substantially since the 20th century. In the 1970’s, singing bowls were used in music, sparking a huge market for the ritualistic bowls in the West. Today, many meditation centers in many traditions utilize some form of singing bowl to signify the beginning and/or end of a period of meditation practice.
The Benefits of Using a Meditation Bowl
There are of course benefits of meditating in general, but a singing bowl may actually help as well. As we talk about in our guide on meditating for beginners, regularity can help greatly. When we practice consistently, it helps us train the mind.
Using a singing bowl to start your meditations regularly can help build this consistency. We use a singing bowl at the end of every meditation with our Daily Guided Meditation Emails, and use a bell in our own practice for this reason. The sound of the bowl becomes a bit like an auditory signal to be mindful. When you hear the noise, your mind and body associate it with your practice, and can fall more easily into your meditation period.
For some, singing bowls can be immensely relaxing. The practice of mindful listening can be a beautiful one. Instead of focusing on the breath or with general open awareness, we can use the sound of the singing bowls to focus our attention.
Singing Bowl Meditation
There are many forms of meditation utilizing singing bowls. Some traditions have sound healings, which are a beautiful practice in allowing crystal bowls to ring while students listen in a state of relaxation. Enter your email address below to get a free singing bowl meditation emailed to you!