We explore the rising trend of gong therapy in our search for mental and physical nirvana.
“Once I start playing, within ten minutes this room will be filled with a vibrating plasma field. Every molecule will be vibrating, including you. It shakes things free, and if you have any tension or blockages, it releases them.”
So explains Martha Collard, the ebullient founder of Red Doors Studio, Hong Kong’s first gong meditation studio (which currently houses Asia’s largest collection of gongs), as I lie flat on the labyrinth painted onto the floors of her Wong Chuk Hang sanctuary. Within seconds, the soft jingles of chimes and bells envelop the room before a rich, deep crescendo of gong sound waves lulls me into a dreamy, lucid state—a feeling akin to floating on a calm river. Twenty minutes rush by before I wake up, oddly rejuvenated and wildly intrigued.
I’m not the only one. Over the last several years, the ancient practice of sound meditation—defined by the British Academy of Sound Therapy as “using sound, music, and specialist instruments played in therapeutic ways, combined with deep self-reflection techniques to improve health and well-being”—has re-entered the modern consciousness some 6,000 years after Tibetan monks began using metal instruments in their religious ceremonies. Classes incorporating the likes of bowls, gongs, chimes, and bells flood wellness centres, and a cursory search on Spotify or YouTube produces thousands of related playlists named evocative things like “Chakra Healing Frequencies” and “Ambient Soundscapes”. But it all makes sense. As the modern world endures more stressors than ever before, we’re increasingly turning to alternative therapies and age-old methods in search of holistic wellbeing.
When it comes to the vanguard of gong meditation in Asia, few masters are more respected than Collard, who began practising with the bronze objects, believed to have originated from China’s Shang Dynasty, nearly a decade ago. After a session in Nova Scotia, Canada helped cure Collard of her kidney stone (“That’s what did it for me—my a-ha moment!”), the long-time yoga teacher and former vice-president of group organisational wellness at Lane Crawford sought training under Don Conreaux, one of the world’s foremost Kundalini yoga and gong meditation masters, whose module Collard now teaches globally.
It was during this time that she began amassing her 39-strong gong collection—a sight to behold for anyone stepping foot into her six-year-old studio. Her first? A massive symphonic Paiste, followed by others including a sombrero-shaped Thai copper gong and a series of “planet gongs” that Collard places around the studio to replicate the positions in the night sky; each is flanked by a titanium cosmic tube and a solid copper oblong. Taking pride of place at the front is a stunning 55-inch titanium gong in kaleidoscopic shades of turquoise, custom-crafted by gong maker Martin Bläse for Collard’s performance at the 2019 Global Wellness Summit, which was met with such a fervent reception that it was compared to that of the Dalai Lama.
“Out of all therapies, gongs are one of the most powerful,” enthuses Collard, striking a gong with a mallet—first lightly, then with escalating force—to demonstrate the instrument’s all-encompassing tones that can induce theta, a deeply relaxed state of mind, in as quickly as one second. “They alter your state of consciousness. The vibrations go through you. It’s very physical.” Over the years, Collard’s gong baths have helped everyone from cancer patients (in Hong Kong, she works closely with Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre and the CancerLink Support Centre) to business leaders and professional athletes, helping to facilitate emotional clarity and, in some cases, miraculous healings. “One man had stage-four small cell prostate cancer. During the gong bath, he had pins and needles on his feet—and two weeks later he made a full recovery.”
While studies have shown that music has the power to shift brainwaves, ease physical pain, and improve neurological conditions such as dementia, there has been relatively little scientific evidence on the healing properties of ancient sound therapy techniques such as gong baths, whose vibrations penetrate our bodies via the principles of quantum physics. Collard acknowledges the challenges in reconciling the rational with the spiritual. “I’m a very left-brained, rational thinker,” she reveals. “But with gong meditation, you have to flip it and just trust it. It’s all about your intention, which when coupled with sounds, results in the benefits. If you don’t want to get better, no matter what anyone does, you’re not going to.”
Collard also refrains from calling herself a healer or a therapist who “fixes” patients, instead encourages each person to discover what works spiritually for them. “After 28 years in the corporate sector, I realised that many people just need to stop, relax, and rest,” she says. “My personal mission is to give everyone a good nap. If it changes your life, that’s fantastic.”
Looking ahead, Collard hopes to bring gong meditation to more of the city’s oft-stressed population; she plans to perform for free across Hong Kong’s 18 districts, and to one day place a gong in every school and hospital. “Somebody predicted that where yoga is today, gongs will be in 20 years—I should still be alive by then,” Collard says with a laugh. “One day, I’ll be on the main stage of Clockenflap. Watch this space!”
Originally published as "Sound of Calm" in ECHELON Issue 3.