Monday, May 28, 2007

How to Care for Tibetan Bowls

Tibetan bowls are made with the "seven sacred metals" of Tibet. They are made with prayers and chanting. The first time she heard one played, my mother, who knew nothing about Tibetan bowls or how they were made, said she could hear voices singing.

Originally I believe Tibetan bowls were orphaned offering bowls. That is, offering bowls come in sets of seven. Probably when one bowl was lost or broken, the whole set was replaced, and the orphaned bowls were used for meditation.

According to a Tibetan lama who used to teach a group that I belonged to, Tibetans only tap the bowls. They don't play them by rubbing a stick around the rim as we do.

The most important aspect of caring for Tibetan bowls is to treat them with respect. That means never set a bowl directly on the floor. It also means to treat them as sacred objects, not as toys.

Remember that the bowls will dent or break if dropped. Store them safely. Use a padded bag to carry them. Don't drop the bag or let it crash into things.

To me it's easier to play several bowls, along with some tengshas and bells, while sitting on the floor. So I keep my bowls wrapped in beautiful pieces of cloth that I spread out around me on the floor to set the bowls on.

Some of the decorative wooden strikers that come with Tibetan bowls these days are useless for playing. They are not shaped right for rubbing around the rim, and some are too rough.

Instead, you can use a plain wooden dowel at least an inch in diameter and about 8 to 10 inches long. I recommend buying a one-inch dowel and about a 1 1/4 or 1 1/2- inch dowel to use with different size bowls. You need the larger size for larger bowls, especially the thinner ones.

Dowels come in about 3-foot lengths. If you buy dowels at Home Depot or Lowe's, they will cut the dowels for you. Just be sure to sand the ends smooth. For striking the bowls (to get that lovely gong sound), you should lightly glue a strip of felt (about 1 1/2 inches wide) all the way around one end of each striker.

The leftover dowels can be cut into several sets of strikers. They make great claves, too. They are very inexpensive, and you can share them with friends.

Some of the best-sounding bowls appear to be new but made of the sacred metals. I suspect that they are made from old dented or broken bowls that have been melted down and reformed.

Some of the old bowls appear to have been made by hammering the metal into shape. The new bowls look to be turned on a lathe or otherwise shaped by some kind of rotary tool.

The lower the quality of the bowl, the more likely it is to tarnish. I suspect that a few of the bowls out there are not really made from all seven of the sacred metals--or maybe not quite in the right proportions. The sound does not resonate for as long as the sound of the good bowls.

You can polish them with brass and copper cleaner. To keep bowls from tarnishing (if you care about that), try covering them with a very thin layer of paste wax as people do to keep silver pieces from tarnishing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Drumming Cures Headaches?

It seems pretty counterintuitive that drumming would cure headaches, but it can. I first experienced it for myself about 15 years ago.

I had a horrible headache all day one Saturday while working. I had taken all kinds of over-the-counter sinus medicine and ibuprofen. Nothing helped.

In those days I attended Native American dances (powwows) twice a month. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. So when I left the office that day, my car turned automatically toward the gathering.

I never gave it a thought till I arrived, parked at the back of the almost-full parking lot, and stepped out of the car. The dance was held in a church gym, a big metal building. The drumming had started, and the whole building was thumping like a giant boom box.

I thought, "So, let's see now. I've had a horrible headache all day, and I'm getting ready to go inside a metal building where 10 people are beating on a huge drum? Yup, that's right!" I went inside, and in about twenty minutes the headache was gone. Completely gone!

Two years ago I wrote an article on the healing power of drumming for a local magazine. In researching it, I discovered that medical research now confirms what I experienced. Drumming can cure headaches. One woman had had terrible, unmanageable migraines for years. Then her teenaged son took up drumming, and she was cured.

Drumming can do a lot more than cure headaches. That's one of the things I'll be writing more about. Later.

Monday, May 14, 2007

It All Started with Tibetan Bowls...

Not long after I started studying spiritual healing, there was a workshop at our church. A professional musician spent a few hours trying to teach us to drum from written notation. Then he turned us loose to play with all the instruments he had brought, including several large Tibetan bowls.

As healers we all gravitated to the bowls. We took turns lying on the floor surrounded by people playing bowls at our head and feet and on our chest and abdomen. We were hooked.

That evening some of us went to a program where a touring group of Tibetan lamas and monks chanted, including some of the wonderful low, rumbling Tibetan harmonic chants. And they played cymbals and huge horns over six feet long.

It was heaven. I took teachings from the lamas all that week.

Before conducting the White Tara Initiation, the senior lama prepared himself by praying alone before the beautiful, elaborate altar. First, he chimed a tiny set of cymbals. I later learned that they were called tingsha or tengsha and were used to clear the aura and the space nearby before meditation.

Later I spent many hours in a shop, trying out every Tibetan bowl over and over, until I found one that seemed right for me (and that I could afford). I ended up going back to also buy the cheapest bowl, which no one at the shop had been able to play, but which had played for me. I guess it chose me.

The effect on people when you play Tibetan bowls for them is amazing. I began studying as much about the bowls as I could.

I learned that chiming the bowls (gently tapping with a padded wooden striker) breaks up blockages in the human energy system, and rimming the bowls (running a smooth, unpadded wooden dowel around the rim) creates a sound that aligns the subtle bodies (or auric layers) of all who hear them.

I also learned to treat them with respect.