What is Gong Meditation
Dr. Karambir Khalsa hosting a gong meditation

Frequently-asked Questions and Misconceptions

A commonly-asked question in the field of psychology or mental health in general is, “What is gong meditation?”. Gong meditation (also, gong bath, gong wash) generally refers to the practice of playing a gong in a group setting. There are a wide variety of gongs and settings in which gong meditation may take place including: yoga classes, stand-alone sound bath, individual/private session, to name a few. Sound baths often include gongs as well as other instruments including bells, rattles, didgeridoo, harp, handpan (also known as hang drum), guitar, and voice.

Origin of the Term Gong Bath

The terms gong bath and gong wash derive from the German term Klangbad which translates literally as “sound bath”. However, the word Bad in German has numerous meanings. The meaning that is applicable in this case is “spa” which, for those who have not lived or spent time in Europe, is different than spas that might be found in an urban setting in the United States. The translation in other European languages (Fr. bain de gong, Sp. baño de gong) is similar. Thermal baths are fairly common in Europe and date back to the Romans and beyond. People going to a thermal bath go to soak in the warm water which can be both relaxing and healing. So a gong bath refers to soaking in the sounds or vibrations emanating from the gong(s). The intention remains the same (i.e., to relax and heal).

Those attending a gong bath usually experience deep relaxation and may also experience altered states of consciousness. A gong meditation as part of a sound bath can last upwards of 30 minutes during which participants rest comfortably lying down on a yoga mat. The video below provides an example of a public gong meditation event. Such events can vary widely in presentation, duration, volume, timbre and as such create a challenge for researchers. In particular, how to provide a repeatable experiment. For this reason, Dr. Khalsa uses a research design based on a single, 11-minute recording.

Gong Meditation Video Clip

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Lack of Gong Meditation Research

There are many statements about the benefits of gong meditation and/or sound bath, but few are based on more than anecdotal remarks (i.e., the equivalent of someone stating an opinion). Most research studying sound baths is qualitative in nature (i.e., using participant interviews or surveys that ask open-ended questions) or lacking a randomized/controlled design. The existing research data does not establish gong meditation as an intervention for a mental disorder such as anxiety.

Dr. Khalsa’s doctoral dissertation studied the change in trait anxiety for individuals who listened to an 11-minute recording of a 50″ Paiste gong daily for two weeks. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups (the gong treatment group, a group that listened to water sounds, or a group that went about their daily activities). Statistical analysis showed that those who listened to the gong showed statistically significant reductions in trait anxiety compared to controls. The study was too small (n = 26) for the findings to be definitive. Still, the results do suggest that gong meditation as a mental health intervention merits further study. You are encouraged to explore the information provided elsewhere on this site for more detailed information.