Good Vibrations: Sound Therapy's Growing Role in Spa
By Josh Corman

SPAS HAVE LONG CREATED TO MULTI-SENSORY experiences intended to relax and rejuvenate the guests who walk through their doors. Spa décor and lighting typically offer calming visuals. Massage and other services connect guests to their bodies through the power of touch. Aromatherapy uses scent to soothe the mind. Sound, too, can be a crucial component of a good spa visit. In some cases, sound plays its role entirely in the background in the form of the soft, slow music we’ve come to stereotypically associate with relaxation lounges and treatment rooms.

Increasingly though, sound is stepping out of the shadows to play a more central role in spa services. From ancient tools such as singing bowls to new technologies such as vibrational sound beds, ISPA members are utilizing a range of aural elements to unlock the effects of sound for guests. To learn more about the ways in which spas are integrating sound, Pulse spoke with three leaders who have found success with those efforts.

Riding the Waves
Though sound therapies may not be entirely new to the spa world, the last few years have seen them grow more popular. At Sagestone Spa at Red Mountain Resort, Director of Spa and Wellness Marci Howard-May first integrated Tibetan singing bowls in 2017. Working with the maker of a line of bowls, her team created a full, 75-minute protocol using three bowls—two of which rest on the body while the third is used as a massage tool. “The benefit of that,” Howard- May says, “is you’re getting the pressure of a sound wave pushing in through the tissue, vibrating through skin, muscle and bone. You’re also getting the meditative effect in the brain, so it’s sending you into deep relaxation really quickly. It’s nice because for guests who may not want other types of bodywork, it’s really a great option.”

Gaye Steinke, director of club and spa for Spa Anjali in Avon, Colorado, echoes Howard-May’s claims about singing bowls’ relaxing effects, which she notes can be felt even in a group setting. “This is one of the treatments [club members] will do that’s a little more calming, a little more grounding,” Steinke says. “In that group setting, we set it up so it’s really cushy and comfortable for them. We do some words of meditation and then the instructor plays the sound bowls—the sound starts and it just moves around the room and resonates. It puts the user into a meditative state—it’s not uncommon to hear snoring during the meditation!”

Spa Anjali’s Himalayan Journey—one of three categories under which the spa organizes many of its special treatments— includes multiple services where singing bowls are involved in one-on-one settings. “The private service is done in the spa—that one-on-one, it’s just very personal and very intense. I would say it’s a different state of consciousness. It helps people who can’t sleep, and it certainly helps people with high levels of anxiety. For the person who believes in the energetic state and cleansing the chakras and not having any blockages—all these sound treatments are very good for that,” says Steinke.

At a time when sleep issues and stress are among the most common threats to well-being, Steinke adds that guests are increasingly drawn to the benefits of these services. “It caught on quickly. I think people understand the value of downtime and recovery and self-healing. That’s why they gravitated to it,” she says.

Relaxing Vibes
While historical estimates place the invention of singing bowls around 6,000 years ago in Tibet, there are a number of more recent developments in the sound therapy space that spas can use to provide similar benefits to their guests. At VIBE Health Lounge, a recently opened day spa in San Luis Obispo, California, owner Christina Webster utilizes multiple such tools, one of which is a vibro-acoustic sound bed that sends waves of vibration through the user’s body as they lie on it in concert (literally) with their choice of available music or soundscapes. Guests can opt for the service as a longer, standalone treatment, but Webster has found other uses for the equipment as well. “I’m using it for pre- or post-integration of any treatment on the menu, especially if the guest has time, and they just want to relax. It helps them sink into their body a little more and opens them up to receive the massage or the facial better. Or afterwards, instead of just sending somebody out the door and getting back to reality, it’s nice to send somebody into the room and have them relax on their own with the headphones on before getting showered and back into the real world,” Webster says.

One popular experience utilizes the sounds of a thunderstorm to ease guests into a more relaxed state. “You put the headphones on, and you’re hearing the rain. Then, from the bed underneath you comes the thunder. The bed vibrates according to the sound of the thunder. It’s pretty amazing,” explains Webster. Guests can adjust the intensity and placement of the bed’s massaging vibrations, allowing for additional control. However, Webster notes that many guests prefer the highest intensity setting for a whole-body experience.

Obviously, the description of these service types differ noticeably from a traditional massage, but as Marci Howard- May points out, that’s exactly the point. “Your hand can only go so deep, whereas vibration travels through everything. So, it’s actually going to be a deeper treatment, but it is different. I wouldn’t say its for every single person, but anyone can get a very big benefit from it,” she says. “The added bonus is the deep meditative state it can put you in because of the tones actually affecting your brainwaves, which is pretty amazing. That, I think is one of the really unique things about vibration therapy is it’s the physical, and it’s the brain stimulation. It’s just so great helping bring the body and mind down.”

A Growing Trend
Gaye Steinke has been similarly impressed with the effects that both the group and one-on-one singing bowl treatments have on guests. “For a lot of people, it’s hard to quiet the mind,” she says. “I think [the singing bowls] make it easier for people to do a meditation after a yoga class, for example. It’s just that deep, deep sense of relaxation and being nurtured. It’s not recovery in the sense of sports recover, it’s a total mental recovery.”

Because of sound and vibration’s capacity to elicit that kind of impact on guests, it’s not surprising to hear Christina Webster say that she anticipates more and more spas incorporating them into their menus as either a standalone treatment or as an add-on to other services. “Not that I want to take away from that one-on-one touch experience at all, because that’s the ultimate, but people can get amazing benefits from these devices. Instead of thinking of them as the enemy, how do we incorporate them into a spa and still offer that beautiful one-on-one touch experience as well?” she asks. “You can use these tools to help guests relax so that your personal touch can be more effective.”

Marci May-Howard is also confident that the presence of sound therapy experiences in spa will only continue to grow, and she is not shy about advocating for more spas to add such services to their menus—the sooner, the better. “I can’t think of a better time. We’ve been doing it for five years, and its’ just growing in demand. If you’re thinking about it, I would absolutely hop in right away. Guests are seeking it out; if you’re on the fence, I wouldn’t be any more,” she says.

Steinke agrees: “It’s a little bit of investment for the bowls, but it’s not a difficult learning curve to learn how to offer the treatment, and the response is so good from the guests. It feels like more of a destination spa experience that you can bring in. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to bring in some sound therapy.”

Of course, adding any new service to your spa isn’t as simple as acquiring some singing bowls or a vibro-acoustic bed and dropping a description on the menu, even with guests showing a greater interest in sound therapies. Promoting the new treatment options and educating guests about their benefits will be a necessary part of the process. As Christina Webster notes, explaining the feelings and impact of sound therapy can sometimes fall short of conveying to guests what they should expect, which is why she’s thankful that the vibro-acoustic bed, for example, can easily be used to conduct quick demos that communicate far better than any menu description could. “Unless you experience it yourself, it’s really hard to write about,” she says. “If someone is interested and they hear the explanation and want to experience it, I’m just giving them demos for free. I know people just need to experience it once and then they’ll be hooked. That’s how I’m getting the word out, and within our community… people are coming in looking for that experience.”

Webster is in agreement. Once it gets started,” says Gaye Steinke, “it’s just word of mouth. And people can’t even get in the class [in our yoga studio] because it’s always full—we do it once a month and we’ve sold it out every month for two years—which just generates more demand.”

Given its relatively low up-front cost (for singing bowls, anyway; vibro-acoustic beds obviously require a more substantial investment), clear benefits and growing popularity, sound therapy presents an opportunity for spas seeking to diversify their menus, bring in additional revenue and appeal to the more inclusive wellness-focused mindsets of guests willing to try new things in search of improved wellbeing. If the experiences of these spa leaders are any indication, it’s likely to be a sound investment.