In Jerusalem, where the cacophony of Hebrew, church bells and the muezzin fill the air, the hum of Tibetan bowls isn’t exactly a familiar sound. But its healing applications are gaining interest, thanks to a devoted Israeli practitioner.
A dozen years ago, a sabra named Avraham Ben-Or was touring the East when a friend in Nepal introduced him to the healing tradition of Tibetan bowls. The bowls are an ancient method — traditionally cultivated among Buddhist monks — of creating soothing sounds for body, mind and spirit. As percussive instruments, they resonate with a wide range of melodic, mesmerizing gong tones.
Ben-Or was intrigued. Fast-forward to recent months, and I was, too. Over time, Ben-Or, who is a dedicated holistic practitioner who has also studied reflexology, massage, aromatherapy, Ayurvedics and other modalities, has become an expert in utilizing the almost hypnotic sounds of Tibetan bowls for healing. These days, Ben-Or creates gatherings focused around the bowls, either as concerts or in workshops. With an extensive collection of more than 100 metal bowls, Ben-Or creates a kinesthetic experience unlike any other.
A few days later, I found myself in a community center across town in French Hill, where a crowd of men and women, mostly in their 50s and older, spread out across the floor. Most were already seated on cushy gymnastic pads facing the front of the room, where an extensive collection of 40 beautiful metals bowls awaited. They ranged in size from single-portion soup bowls to massive cauldrons larger than a typical Dutch oven. A few unusual pieces, like ornamental horns and a vertical-hanging gong, stood out among the rest.
When Ben-Or opened the session in Hebrew, he explained how he had collected the bowls on trips to Tibet, where he learned the fascinating art of playing the bowls, both as a concert and as a healing modality. He said the bowls create a unique, soothing experience and have been found to ease physical pains, and the easing of muscular pain can continue in the wake of a concert.
From his home in Gan Ner, a village on Mount Gilboa in the Jezreel Valley, near Afula, he travels the country offering concerts, workshops and private treatments in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere, on land and even in bodies of water.
In concerts, Ben-Or strolls among participants, bowls in hand, striking the rim of the bowls with a padded mallet to create tones. Rather than merely hearing the sounds, workshop participants experience the bowls up close and personal — Ben-Or plays the bowls, after placing them, one by one, on the bodies of attendees in an experience devoid of all formal religion but pregnant with a surprising sense of connection. After a brief history and explanation of the use of the bowls, Ben-Or opened our session by simultaneously placing two ornately decorated conch shells to his mouth and emitting a strong blast. Ben-Or said the horns, like the shofar, create primal sounds believed to open channels of energy in the body, known as sefirot in the kabbalistic tradition or chakras in the East. This, too, is the purpose of playing the bowls.
Once he began playing the bowls, there was never a moment of silence. For a full hour, Ben-Or filled the room with a wide variety of tones, some overlapping each other. He said he would rely on intuition as to where and when to move the bowls around the room and onto the bodies of each participant.
When, finally, it was my turn, he gently placed a large bowl, perhaps the size of a 4-quart pot, on my belly. I became keenly aware of the bowl both as Ben-Or struck it and as he played the bowls on the participants around me. I felt the vibration both in my gut and in other parts of my body; the feeling was completely new and calming. I relaxed into the mat, acutely aware of the vibrations soothing me into a sleep-like trance.
As the tones resonated at different pitches and proximity around the room, I was amazed at the sensations they created deep in my chest, stomach, knees, feet and even the crown of my head. Sometimes I noticed a tingling sensation, like the Kundalini energy of yoga, rippling through me, as if my joints were loosening and opening up, or as if my organs were going to sleep. It was a strange and delicious experience, floating in and out of conscious rest and profound relaxation.
When the session closed with the gentle sound of sweet bells, the peaceful, relaxed feeling was enough to convince me to seek a repeat performance when I return to Israel next.
Avraham Ben-Or in concert:
In a workshop on land and water:
Journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” a National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her next book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts October 2012. cooljewbook.com.