The Gong and The Nervous System


This blog is an excerpt from the Second Edition of Jain's book Gong Consciousness: Self-Healing Through The Power of Sound available on Amazon since August, 2023 -- offered at a discount for a time to allow previous buyers an opportunity to obtain important research updates and gong sound healing protocols and practices.  


The Gong and The Nervous System

By Jain Wells, PhD

Yogi Bhajan’s kundalini yoga teachings emphasize the positive impact of the gong on the nervous system, which is regularly over-loaded by excessive stimulation. That’s why many people turn to various forms of self-medication, including alcohol, as a solution. When natural solutions are not known, temporary, artificial and harmful solutions are often followed. The sympathetic nervous system is weakened through continued stress and reactivity. The nerves become hypersensitive through inflammation and trauma, and the adrenal glands become fatigued. The gong sound-wave vibrations serve to dissolve tension on the nerve endings.

For a variety of different reasons an individual can easily get locked into chronic-stress mode where the sympathetic nervous system (also known as flight-or-flight mode) is activated, never allowing for physical or mental relaxation, proper digestion, natural immune-response or healing to effectively occur. By artfully changing the volume when you play the gong (from soft to louder to softer again), you can reset the nervous system. In doing so, you can break an individual from remaining locked in the chronic- stress-and-freeze response of the sympathetic nervous system. Instead, through the gong sound-wave vibrations—played in a specific way—you relax and rest in the parasympathetic nervous system where the heart rate is slower; breathing is rhythmic and steady; nerves are calm; the immune system functions normally; digestion resumes; and body-mind is able to heal and regenerate itself, allowing for present moment awareness versus a state of distraction.

In general, long sustained sounds tend to activate the parasympathetic nervous system while sudden and sharp sounds activate the sympathetic nervous system. The gong is an excellent sound tool for facilitating a shift into a state of openness and relaxation. It’s important to develop how you listen and sense into the sound and feel of the gong in your body, and intuitively shift the volume when you feel it’s right.


The Gong Nervous System Reset

Begin softly striking the gong to create a steady stream of audible gong sound-wave vibrations; how you normally play for a self-healing session or for another person. You need only move the mallet-head around slightly to activate different frequency-tones for healing. After several minutes of steady audible softer playing— approximately 7–10 minutes—gradually increase the volume to feel significantly more sound-power in your body at the increased volume, and sustain this power intensity for approximately 7 minutes (or more/or less) until or when you start to feel overwhelmed or off-balance slightly, then immediately begin soft playing for the duration of your gong session; or at least another ten minutes. This increase in sound volume is intentional as it activates the sympathetic flight-or-fight response—and the shift from intense volume back to playing softly initiates the reset that aligns you with your parasympathetic state, and you feel even more deeply relaxed.

Anytime you feel ‘over-gonged’ when self-gonging or gonging others, that’s your cue to start playing softly again, not to stop playing! The reset technique can be implemented successfully for any sized group – though be mindful because those who feel stressed are more-sensitive to sound.

The changes in volume facilitate the gong reset process. With sensitivity and practice you learn to sense into the right high-volume intensity for different sized groups in different spaces. Ask participants to raise a hand during the session to let you know if they feel over-gonged; then you know it’s time to make an immediate shift to lower the volume—keeping track of timing. Long slow deep breathing also activates the parasympathetic relaxation response. In my experience, nickel-silver gongs or chau gongs at 32” or larger (with more bass tones) are well-suited for the reset.

As Gong Kundalini yoga teacher Mehtab Benton says, “It’s like the thunder before the storm and then the resulting soft sound of falling rain. That’s why if you play loudly you must also play softly, and if you play softly you must also play loudly—at least as far as the nervous system reset is involved.”

The gong relaxes you into the parasympathetic nervous system that directly influences the sympathetic nervous system functioning. For this reason, Yogi Bhajan suggested refraining from drinking water for a time after a gong session to allow this inner communication to continue. Any time spent lying down in silent meditation following a gong session provides an added benefit because all available energy and focused awareness is fully engaged in the Transformation of Self. The body ideally needs quiet time to settle to integrate the sound energy.

Here is a research study that gives insight into the loud vs soft sound on the nervous system and its effect on the relaxation response: “Female Listeners’ Autonomic Responses to Dramatic Shifts Between Loud and Soft Music/Sound Passages: A Study of Heavy Metal Songs.” (2016)

Note: The Vagus Nerve is the longest nerve in your body and facilitates the switch back and forth between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. It is an important part of the nervous system to understand if you are engaged in any type of healing work. There are many simple practices to stimulate the vagus nerve besides regulating sound volume. I recommend doing a search online to find out more as there are simple practices you can do that are hugely beneficial to quickly bring you back into balance. Search ‘vagus nerve stimulation’. Teach them to your friends, clients, family and children.

“We can only accept, believe and surrender to thoughts and ideas that are equal to our present emotional state. When we do, we program our autonomic nervous system to make the exact pharmacy of drugs and chemicals to signal certain genes that either help us or harm us ... Your nervous system is the greatest pharmacist in the world”.

—Dr. Joe Dispenza

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