You’ve seen them in yoga studios, spas, and meditation centers. What are singing bowls, and why are they so popular? 

Here, we’ll briefly go over what singing bowls are, where they come from, and what they’re used for. We’ll also talk about where to get your own and how to start playing it. 

Quick Links

What Is a Singing Bowl?

A singing bowl is a bowl-shaped standing bell. It’s played with a wooden mallet by either striking it on the side or rubbing the mallet in a circular motion along the rim of the bowl. Both of these actions cause the bowl to vibrate and produce a rich, deep tone. 

Singing bowls come in many different shapes and sizes. They’re typically made from bronze—a metal alloy composed of copper and tin, sometimes containing trace amounts of other elements. The size of the bowl, as well as its composition, affects its pitch and tonal quality. 

When circling the rim of the bowl with the mallet, you can hear the vibrations in the sound, and if you hold the bowl in your hand or against your body, you can even feel it vibrating. 

singing bowls
Source: unsplash
Singing bowls typically come with a mallet and a cushion. 

What Is a Singing Bowl Used For?

Singing bowls are often used in sound therapy and meditation. The sound they emit is believed to be helpful for relaxation, stress relief, and cultivating a sense of balance and well-being.  

Proponents of using singing bowls for healing attribute their powers to their ability to influence the frequency of our brain waves. The neurons in our brains communicate with each other at certain frequencies, and these frequencies change depending on what we’re doing. For example, we operate at a high frequency during activities that require lots of concentration and operate at a low frequency when we’re relaxing or sleeping. 

It is believed that hearing the sound of a singing bowl can help tune your brain to a lower frequency and help you fall into a meditative, relaxed state. For some, it can even reduce feelings of anger, distress, unease, anxiety, and depression. 

The Origin of Singing Bowls

The history of singing bowls hasn’t been well documented. They’re commonly known as Tibetan singing bowls, but there’s no hard evidence that the bowls actually come from Tibet. Some sources suggest that they may have originated in Nepal, Northern India, or the surrounding areas, which is why they’re often called Himalayan singing bowls. 

Singing bowls have been around for thousands of years. That being said, they were likely originally used as vessels for food, and maybe eventually in religious and ceremonial contexts, but it’s not clear when exactly their purpose became therapeutic. Some researchers go as far as to claim that the use of singing bowls for sound therapy is largely a Western phenomenon and didn’t come into practice until they arrived in the West in the early 1970s. 

Singing bowls have skyrocketed in popularity in the West in the last few decades. Unfortunately, this means that these days, it’s possible that the truth about their original uses is exaggerated for marketing purposes.

Despite the ambiguity surrounding the origins and history of singing bowls, most people who use them for therapeutic purposes do see their benefits, so don’t let this dissuade you from trying one and experiencing its enchanting effects for yourself.

How to Use a Singing Bowl

There are two ways to play a singing bowl:

  1. With the bowl resting in the palm of your hand, on a cushion, or a firm surface, strike the side of the bowl with the wooden mallet. This should produce a resonant, but relatively short sound. 
  1. With the bowl resting in the palm of your hand, glide the side of the mallet along the outside rim of the bowl in a smooth, consistent motion. This should produce a sustained note. Play around with the speed at which you move the mallet around the bowl—the faster you move, the louder it should get. 

The second method of playing can be quite challenging, and you may not hear anything the first few times you try. Here are a few tips that might help:

  • Make sure your fingers aren’t touching the sides of the bowl. The only part of the bowl that should come into contact with anything is the flat bottom. If anything touches the sides, it will mute the vibrations of the bowl. 
  • If you’re having trouble keeping the bowl steady in the palm of your hand, practice first with the bowl on a firm, non-slip surface. This will help you get a feel for how much pressure you need to apply with the mallet.
  • When gliding the mallet along the circumference of the bowl, try to move your whole arm, rather than just your wrist. Keep your grip relaxed and your movements steady.
  • Try striking the side of the bowl with the mallet first, then immediately start the circular motion. This will help kickstart the vibrations and make it easier for the bowl to start “singing.” 
  • Keep practicing until you get it right. Getting the bowl to “sing” is a bit like riding a bicycle—once you know what it feels like, it will be very hard to forget. 
using singing bowl
Source: pexels
Hold the mallet perpendicular to the bowl and apply even pressure while moving it in a circular motion around the rim. 

Where to Find Singing Bowls

Thanks to the popularity of singing bowls, they’re quite easy to find. Look for them at fair-trade artisan markets, meditation and sound therapy centers, yoga studios, or even online. 

We’re very fortunate that singing bowls and their benefits are readily available to us, but with that comes a responsibility to respect and support the people that introduced them to us. Ideally, we would all travel East and purchase them from local artisans, but of course, that’s not always possible. At the very least, when you come across a singing bowl you’d like to purchase, be sure to inquire about where the bowls come from and how the artisans who crafted them get compensated. 

Can Anyone Use a Singing Bowl?

Singing bowls are generally considered safe. However, very little research has been done on their effects on pregnant women, people with epilepsy, and people prone to headaches. 

It’s also worth noting that singing bowls should never be used as the only therapy for serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Sound therapy can definitely be beneficial, but practicing it is not a valid reason to postpone seeking professional help. 

using singing bowl
Source: unsplash
Singing bowls can be used for mediation, relaxation, or stress relief. 

Find Your Zen

Meditation, with or without a singing bowl, can do wonders for your mental health, ability to focus, and your overall sense of well-being. If you’re new to meditation, be sure to check out one of these Skillshare classes to learn the basics. Once you start practicing, you’ll be well on your way to a calmer, more mindful state.

Learn How to Meditate

Modern Meditation: Discover Your Potential, Power & Purpose

Written by:

Sayana Lam