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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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The Sound of Calm in the Classroom

The Tibetan Singing Bowl gives off a sound that is very hard to describe. However, it starts out loud but pleasant sound and then as the sound gets lower so does the stress from the day. When I hear the sound, my body starts to relax starting with my mind it’s not that it shuts down, but it focuses. My eyes are closed but once they open, they seem more focused. I can feel the tenseness in my fingers and toes release.

The above excerpt describes a graduate students’ experience with starting class with the practice of meditation using a Tibetan Singing Bowl, a hand-held, metal alloy container that is struck with a wooden mallet creating a vibration. I utilized the bowl during the last two academic semesters as a prop or object of focus when introducing college students to brief meditation—or what I call ­micro-meditations­­-at the beginning of each class. Early results from my research suggest using a Tibetan bowl might be an effective way for educators to set a nurturing tone for learning, create a connected, open learning community, help students reduce stress and anxiety and reset their often-distracted minds.

In a previous blog, I articulated the benefits of starting classes with short meditations and provided some instructions. In this writing, I will focus on the bowl as an object of meditation and a possible tool to assist students in bridging their everyday mindsets with the mental state required to learn new content, ideas, and concepts.

In ancient wisdom traditions, sound has been used to facilitate meditation, affect mental and emotional states, and induce healing. Tibetan Buddhist monks have used the singing bowl for spiritual and religious ceremonies. In recent years, the singing bowl has been scientifically investigated as a secular method to create meditative states. The bowl’s theory is based on the idea of sound entrainment, where two vibrations or sounds fall into sync. Think of hitting two glasses and how they come into alignment or two tuning forks coming into vibrational alignment.      

Apparently, the sound of the bowl harmonizes with the brain’s waves, bringing into a more meditative frequency. One study, where participants simply laid out and listened to different bowls being played, reported experiencing decreased stress and anxiety. Other research suggests that the sounds of the Tibetan bowl can influence physical indicators, such as reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

Small Tibetan bowls, like the one I use for class meditation, can be purchased for $30-$40. For authentic bowls, try to determine where they are made and the materials used to construct them. You can find them online. I stumbled upon an outdoor market in Savannah, Georgia, where the vendor, Everest Imports, offers high-quality bowls made in Nepal.

My early research on using the bowl in the classroom suggests that it helps students focus their minds on the learning to come, relax and calm down, and create an atmosphere of openness. While the practice may seem odd at first, students come to enjoy the experience and the tradition of starting classroom instruction with the bowl. Here’s another reflection from a student:

I started working and doing school full-time, I felt like the world was weighing on my shoulders. Every Monday after I would have been in class all day, (course instructor’s name) class would calm me down with The Bowl. When someone would use the bell in the beginning of class, I would feel my heart rate become normal instead of pumping fast. I would hear ringing in my ear even afterwards, to help me remain calm. The Bowl helped me through a lot this semester.

I introduce the Tibetan bowl meditation during the first class of the semester, giving a little background about the item and the purpose of using it. I play the bowl and ask students to simply listen to the sound “drop off.” They can either close their eyes if it helps or keep the eyes open. In the following weeks, I invite different students to take turns playing the bowl, which becomes a sort of honor.

I encourage you to consider trying the bowl to see how it impacts the classroom and your students. During these challenging times, it may be just “the sound of calm” they need.