Many of us know that favorite songs or types of music give us joy, set a mood, or bring back memories. But what about helping relieve a pain in the knee?
The practice of sound healing is one that dates back to antiquity—but it’s also offered locally thanks to Natalie Brown, owner of Cedar Rapids-based Sounds Heal Studio.
Brown, a multi-instrumentalist who is certified through the Sound Healing Academy, provides individual and group sessions to help clients with everything from emotional blockages and depleted energy to physical ailments ranging from tinnitus to arthritis and back pain. In one method, Brown facilitates deep-tissue massage, stimulation, and acupressure through the use of weighted tuning forks.
“When we are off, whether because of illness, injury, or emotional difficulties, we are out of tune,” said Brown. “Our natural vibrations have gone out of sync. The sound-healing process tends to reduce stress, alleviate tension, and allow for many physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits.”
For those who may be curious but aren’t ready to undergo individual sound-healing sessions, an opening into the experience can be a group sound-healing meditation, which Brown has offered at area yoga studios. These events also provide participants with an opportunity to be moved, stirred, or calmed by Brown’s signature sound: her violin.
Brown begins these events by asking participants to set an intention. As she plays, people can sit or lie on the floor and simply listen, letting the music and sounds wash over them.
“I think the number one benefit I hear is how relaxing a sound session or meditation is,” Brown said. “It creates a space that allows people to slow down, quiet the chatter in their mind. Stress, multitasking, being scattered is such a huge part of how we operate. So one of the most common benefits is allowing this time to just let go, focus on sounds, space, silence, and good intentions.”
Brown’s journey to becoming a sound healer began after decades as a public school instructor, scholar, and professional musician. She taught at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids from 2004 to 2017, a role that included directing two string orchestras and a full symphony orchestra, as well as teaching group lessons at two middle schools. She grew up immersed in music, beginning violin lessons at age four at the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City, which she attended all the way through high school. She took piano lessons as well, and over the course of her life has learned to play viola, cello, bass, guitar, mandolin, and accordion. That’s in addition to training on all wind instruments, orchestral percussion, and playing a bit of sitar, banjo, and many other instruments.
Brown studied violin performance at the University of Iowa and later, while teaching full time, earned a master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa. Following a lifelong interest in world music, she traveled to Rishikesh, India, where she completed nada yoga training and received classical Indian music training.
But it was in Scotland, where Brown was studying for a master’s degree in ethnology and folklore from the University of Aberdeen, that she first heard the term “sound healing.”
“I began to look into what that meant,” she said. “And I realized, Oh yeah, sound healing, of course! Sound had been healing me my whole life. In fact, it has been what drives me, and has led me to every choice in my life’s passions. I remember how shy I was when I was young, but when I had that violin in my hands—confidence! When I needed to express something, the violin was my voice, and my way to meditate.”
Brown began to read and research the field, which led her to the Sound Healing Academy, through which, during her last few years of public school teaching, she completed a certification and diploma.
One of the most rewarding experiences in her now full-time role as a sound healer has been working with residents at a local nursing home, where, in the advanced dementia wing, Brown sees an “amazing transformation” when she begins to play.
“When I arrive, they are in their own world, some sleeping or slumped over, perhaps staring at the TV,” she said. “But after a few moments of me playing the violin, they will gather around, look at each other, smile, tap their toes, clap their hands, encourage each other to sing along.
“So from seeing them seemingly isolated, confused, frustrated, and lethargic when I arrive, by the time I leave, I see this clarity, positivity, movement. Sometimes they dance with their caretakers.”
In addition to her own practice of healing others, Brown is training new practitioners by offering workshops, information about which can be found on her website and Facebook page.
“Not only do I love learning, but I love teaching,” she said. “To me, it goes hand in hand.”
While many of her workshops, locally and nationally, have had to be postponed due to the coronavirus, Brown has offered sound healing sessions on her Facebook page, and hopes that it will be possible to offer the sound healing class planned for November. In addition to training new healers, Brown has created a podcast, which over the past year has featured leaders in the field, from sound healers and therapists to musicians, composers, educators, inventors, and physicists.
“I’m grateful for how limitless I feel my path is now, and the path for others getting into the field of sound healing,” she said. “There are so many ways to apply the benefits of sound, the question is: Who do you want to help? How do you want to be of service?
“I do think I probably started this journey for my own transformation, and once things did set in and shift in my life, I couldn’t imagine not then offering these tools and helping bring these powerful and practical sound and wellness practices to others.”