As I walked up the winding pathway to the Danville Yoga & Wellness Center, a lot of doubt and skepticism flooded my mind. I’d worked through lunch, held tension between my shoulderblades for as long as I could remember, and fought through rainy post-work traffic to get there on time, so I wasn’t exactly feeling relaxed. Whatever happens, I thought, at least it’s an interesting new experience.
The opportunity to spend an hour meditating and being present isn’t one that typically presents itself; between work life, home life, and attempts at having a social life, there doesn’t seem to be any room for doing nothing—especially with seven other people in a candle-lit room located 15 minutes from your house. But with New Year’s resolutions still lingering in my mind, I set aside my reservations and decided to give it a chance.
With as much of an open mind as I could muster on a Thursday evening, I took a deep breath, dodged the falling raindrops, and approached the holistic wellness sanctuary. As much as I don’t like to admit it, for me, there is a lot of fear and anxiety associated with these kinds of experiences. I begin to wonder if people will ask me about my (nonexistent) yoga practice, judge me for not being a pescetarian, or tilt their heads at me in the way that says, Oh honey, we know this is your first time. So while I’d love to cultivate a healthy, holistic wellness practice, there is nothing healthy about the stress it creates. But luckily, my worries began to fade as I removed my shoes and stepped inside the inviting studio.
Owner Maria Haswell was running barefoot between her office and the studio, but she stopped to greet me and introduce me to her husband, Mark, before setting up for class. Even from this short interaction, I could tell that there was no judgement—only joy. As I put my things down and looked around at the space, Mark began to explain what sound bowls were made of and how they related to the chakras. He told me that he hadn’t experienced a sound bath until Maria had spontaneously purchased the bowls, and he alluded to her interesting story without giving anything away.
More intrigued than ever about what I’d gotten myself into, I wandered around for a moment, checking out how the mats were set up. Yoga mats were placed in a semi-circle; a long, rounded cushion was placed at the back of each mat; a wooden block stood on its long edge at the front, with a long purple cushion propped up on it; and a blanket rested on the top of the purple cushion, with a purple yoga block laid on either side.
I settled on a green mat with a green rounded cushion because there was something soothing about its color coordination. After sitting down, I realized that I, too, matched the mat with my green color-blocked tights and began to wonder if it was meant to be.
As the other attendees trickled in, I tried to feel at home. Maria lit seven candles and placed them in a V in front of the bowls before smudging the room. The class was filled with seven other participants, including a new chiropractor, a middle-aged couple, two old friends, an empty nester, and a pregnant woman—all looking for something different out of the class. Class began with an explanation of the bowls and how they connect to the chakras. Then, we went around the room stating our names and intentions for the class. We mentioned everything from letting go of the stress that manifests in our bodies and accepting things as they are, to finding peace in the moment and healing and rehabilitating through holistic health.
After we got to know one another, class really started. Sitting down, we got comfortable and closed our eyes as Maria began playing the bowls. At first, it was hard to relax; only foreign things surrounded me, and my mind was running 1,000 miles per minute. Work stress, the tension in my back, what I’m going to have for dinner, weekend plans, and everything I’ve ever worried about found its way into my thoughts.
Soon, the sounds of the bowls pulsated through my ears—reminding me of surround sound as the notes were heard in one ear and then the other, back and forth until they faded out. Eventually, I noticed that I was breathing slower and my heart had stopped racing, but my mind was still in multiple places. Then, as the sounds started to take over and my muscles started tingling along with the vibrations, I was taken out of this unusual meditative state. My foot was asleep, and every ounce of my being was trying to be quiet as I wiggled my toes and uncrossed my legs, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t wake it up.
Luckily, the class was broken into two sections, and soon enough we were laying on the ground, and the tingling stopped. The tension still lingered between my shoulderblades and distracted me as I tried to get comfortable. For the first few minutes, I was squirming but trying my best to let my breathing pattern and the guided meditation capture my attention—and finally find success.
As Maria instructed us to let each muscle relax, starting with the crown of the head and working down to the toes, I found that I could feel them letting go individually. My fingertips tingled as they gave in to the relaxation; I could feel the vibrations of the bowls deeply; and my thoughts invited peace instead of chaos. Raindrops fell on the roof, and the combination of sounds and release of stress makes me feel like I’m floating. We’re told to picture a peaceful place towards the end of the sound bath meditation, and my thoughts take me to South Lake Tahoe, where the lake and a make-believe waterfall soothe my spirits.
The hour passed all too quickly, and as I sat up after the sound bath, I was surprised to find that the tension I had been feeling for months was gone. I wondered if it was the placebo effect, but after a few days, I’m relieved to know that it’s really disappeared. I’m still not sure how or why the sound bath helped me heal; I’m just grateful that Maria and the Danville Yoga & Wellness Center came into my life.
How Maria Haswell Started Teaching Sound Baths
After the class, I spoke with Maria to learn about her journey to becoming a sound bath instructor. This is her story, in her own words.
I went to a sacred ceremony in Sebastopol. It was just a one-day retreat kind of thing, and it was one of those long days. It was about three years ago. After that ceremony, I just wanted to go home and not do anything. [I thought], I’m going to veg for like two days, and nobody bother me. So after the ceremony, I decided I was taking Sunday or Monday off. I said, “OK, I’m taking Monday off—I’m not doing anything. I’m going to stay home, wear pajamas, and just process.”
And then I woke up and got this message: A spirit was like, “You’re going to Mountain View today,” and I’m like, “No I’m not. I’m going to be wearing my pajamas all day today.” And it kept saying, “You’re going to Mountain View.” [I was like,] “What’s in Mountain View? The only place I know that’s in Mountain View is East West Bookshop.” I thought, Well, Spirit, if you want me to buy a book, just tell me the book, I’ll Amazon it. What is it? And [the spirit] was like, “No, you’re going to Mountain View.” I was like, Okay, that’s the only store I know.
So I got dressed up, I went downstairs, and Mark was like, “I thought you were going to stay home.” And I was like, “Look, Spirit said I’m going to Mountain View today,” and he was like, “Why?” I said, “I don’t know. I think I’m going to go shopping and maybe I’m supposed to buy a book.” He goes, “Well, just don’t spend too much,” and I said, “Believe me, I’m only thinking 10 to 15 bucks.” Because I’m thinking of a book.
So, I go. I drive all the way over to Mountain View—and it’s a drive from San Ramon—but I get there, and all of a sudden, it’s like silence. No voice. I’m like, Okay, great. I’m now here and I’m looking very suspicious in this small store. I’m looking around as if I’m staking the place, and I’m still waiting like, Hello? I just felt like a crazy person waiting for that sign or that intuition. Then, the sales guy was like, “Can I help you?” I said, “Oh, I’m just looking,” and so I’m walking, and then I heard, “Look to the left.” So, I looked to the left and saw one crystal bowl, and I’m like, Okay, what about it? I had no interest in it; I didn’t even know how to play it. I’m like, Well, what? And [the spirit is] like, “It’s right there,” and I’m like, Okay. So I went over there, and I kept hearing, “You’re buying that bowl.” It’s not really a voice—it’s just that knowing.
I looked at [the bowl], and the little sticker inside said heart. A lot of my teachings are heart-centered, so I was like, Okay, that’s interesting. But it also said Virgo, and I’m a Virgo. And I thought, Okay, but how much is this thing? It was like $300 for this one small bowl, and I thought, I was just expecting [to pay] $10 to $15. I didn’t really know what to do with that.
I kept thinking: If I don’t buy this, I’m not going to hear the end of it. So, I looked in my wallet to see if I had a credit card or something, and the crazy thing is—even now Mark and I don’t get it—I open it, and there are three crisp $100 bills.
Now, I just came from a retreat, so I know for sure I didn’t have any cash because I don’t carry any. But somehow, there were three crisp bills—still stuck together, as if they were newly printed. I call Mark and I’m like, “Babe, did you put $300 in my wallet?” and he was like, “Why would I do that?” Then I’m like, “You’re right. Look, I just found $300 in my wallet, unaccounted for. I’m buying [the bowl].”
Then the [sales] guy goes, “I have three more upstairs. You’re buying that [one] so I have to go get them anyway.” He brings the three other bowls, and Spirit’s like, “You’re getting them all.” And I’m like, No I’m not. What am I going to tell my husband? I don’t even know how to use the first bowl. So I tell the guy I’m going to buy all of them, “But what’s your return policy?” I just wanted to keep the heart one.
It’s a couple thousand, I pay for them, I bring them home, and my husband’s like, “What did you do?” I said, “Don’t worry, I’m returning the other three.” Then I’m like: Since I have them here, I’m just going to clean them up. Since they’re in my house, I’m going to make sure to charge them with positive energy. Then I’m like, Oh man, they’re so pretty. So, I took a picture and posted it on Facebook.
A couple of my [integrated energy healing and intuitive guidance] students and friends saw it and said, “I’ve been looking to buy you a bowl.” And I’m like, “What? But I’ve never asked for it; I don’t even have any interest in it, really.” And they’re like, “I don’t know. Something was telling me to buy you a bowl, but I’ve been looking and I couldn’t think of one.” Three people were telling me they were looking to buy a bowl and surprise me. None of them talked to each other, and it was just weird.
They all said, “You’re missing three. There should be seven for the seven chakras.” And I’m like, “I’m actually returning the other three. I’m keeping the heart [one].” And they were like, “No, you can’t do that. I think they’re meant for you to have.” So, three or four people all put their money together and paid for the whole thing. Now I had seven bowls and was like, What do I do with them?
I’m meditating on it. Praying on it. And Spirit was like, “You’re going to offer this in class,” and I was like, Who’s going to show up? All I got was, “All you need to do is hit the bowls; we’ll do the rest.” I was like, Don’t fail me. I’m also a certified hypnotherapist, so that’s how I know how to write scripts. That’s where I connected with it. Now, I have to write these scripts and play the bowls at the same time, but somehow, there’s some magic and miracles that surround that and I’m able to play. I’m self-taught and feel like Spirit just kind of leads me to play the bowls, and my intention is always for the highest good for my students—and that heals them.
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