Tuesday, April 23, 2024

How to Choose a Tibetan Bowl

Tibetan bowls seem to be all the rage these days. Many people are tuning into their healing capabilities and learning how to use them. The two questions I get all the time are: 'How do I choose a good bowl" and 'How do I know which bowl is good for a specific chakra'.  People also call to obtain a bowl with a certain musical note.  My answers to these questions are founded in the Eastern philosophy rather than from a Western mindset, because this better reflects the nature of the instruments as they were intended. Bear in mind that many bowls are being made now that look old and are not. They have neither the metals, tones, history nor spiritual inheritance of the really old instruments that make the ancient ones so unique Reiki.

Choosing a good bowl requires a few things.

Quality: Educating yourself on the look and sound of an good bowl and learning from  someone who knows. Many people sell bowls and most are new and machine made to look old. Most people will not be able to tell the difference between an antique and a good reproduction. Just because someone sells a bowl or is Tibetan doesn’t mean they are knowledgeable. It takes a trained eye and ear. In the US old can mean 50 years. That is new by my standards. A real old bowl will be at least 100 years old and more often hundreds of years old.  There are several signs of age in a bowl including the shape, the markings inside and out, the thickness of the metal especially on the bottom (thinner is usually older), and the tone. Also, not all old bowls are good bowls. Tone, vibrations, harmonics, awakenness, warmth and longevity of sound all come into play. Bowls were made in a variety of regions of Tibet and their shape and markings are telling.  Some of the bowls have consciousness transformation as their primary intention, and some have physical healing.  This can be determined by their shape.  A high quality, ancient bowl is an investment with a price range from $110 for a very small bowl to thousands of $$ for a huge bowl. If it is inexpensive and old, then it was probably obtained in a less than honorable manner- or not of good quality.


On the other side of the coin is the seller who hikes up the price claiming that a bowl is from the 16th or 17th century. If you really want to determine the exact age of a bowl, you have to carbonize it-melt it down thereby destroying it. Ask where and who authenticates the bowls and how the age was determined and tune into your intuition about the story you are being told. Find out where they come from.. Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, India. Find out how long the supplier has been purchasing bowls and how they get them.


 In Asia, the only way to establish a good and trustworthy relationship with a supplier is over a number of years, and eyeball to eyeball. So the few people who go over themselves to select instruments over a period of years will get the best bowls.


Usage: It is useful to determine what you will use the bowl for: ie meditation, grounding, physical healing ? Do you want to integrate a few bowls into an existent modality or use them with other instruments in a musical vain, or become a sound healer? Do you wish to use them in yoga classes for the relaxation at the end? Are you a nurse and wanting to use them with patients during your rounds? Is this a way for you to call meetings to order in the corporate setting? The answers to these questions will also impact on your choices. It is a good idea to know what you will use them for before you purchase. Collecting bowls is also an organic process. If you obtain one good quality bowl and take the time to really play it until you know its many possible voices and tones, then obtaining another others is a matter of choosing those that harmonize easily with the first one in the context of how they will be used..  There are many types of mallets ie: wood, suede covered, felt covered and each is available in fat or thin, heavy and light versions. Each mallet has will produce a different sound from the bowl when used properly. Remember that both the bowls and the mallets need ‘breaking in time” and that can only happen thorough playing them. The more you play, the richer the sounds you will hear. Just like any other instrument, the bowls respond differently when the metals are warmed up. As the mallets develop grooves and texture they will also deliver better textures of sound from the bowls.


Tone: A bowl should hold its vibration and linger for quite some time when struck producing several layers of tones and overlaying harmonics and overtones. If the vibration and the volume of a bowl piddles out quickly, it is not of high quality. Equally, if it has a singular tone or sounds tinny it is also of substandard quality. Always strike a bowl with the padded portion of a stick rather than wood or suede to produce a soft expansive sound..


When you sing a bowl (rub the rim with the wooden or leather part of a stick) there are several things to consider. How ‘awake’ the bowl is: some bowls sing right away, and some need to be played for a while and ‘broken back in’. This is neither good nor bad but it is important to know so you don’t dismiss a potentially great instrument just because it doesn’t sing right away. Remember also that you can never “get” a bowl to sing..you can only invite the sound and wait for it to come up.   When you hear a bowl, listen to your body. If it opens your heart, or moves you deeply in some manner; if you feel tingling all over, or the tone directly impacts one area of your body or grounds you- these are all good signs. Bowls were created for consciousness transformation and healing. You should feel their effect on you.


If you have more than one bowl then it is good to play them together so that their tones harmonize. Eventually, they will anyway, because that is their nature and magic, but why not help the process by starting with bowls that sound great together right away? Note that with several bowls, playing them in one pattern may sound very good and another pattern may not! \



How a bowl looks is also part of the selection process. Its size, shape and personality should be attractive to you.  Since there are many types of bowls, each with its own history and shape, it is a good idea to spend some time just looking to see if there is one that attracts you more than others.  When you place it in your hand it should feel wonderful-  like it belongs there. It should not be too heavy for you or too tiny for the size of your hands.  There are some bowls that have deep  hammer marks and some that have a shiner patina. Some have sanscrit mantras and others  have symbols enscribed on them. All of these things should be taken into consideration when you seek a bowl.

Bowls and Chakras.  In the west we work with seven chakras.  The Tibetans work with five regions of the body. The bowls were created to bring us back to our experience of the interrelationship of all things; thus they are not calibrated to work on any one chakra to the exclusion of the rest. Their very nature encompasses our wholeness.  In this way they are very different instruments then the western counterparts- tuning forks and crystal bowls.  However there are some bowls whose tone and size lend themselves more naturally to certain areas of the body. ( ie.Lower tones for grounding, largest bowls by the feet, soothing mid tones around the head, and higher tones and small bowls over the 3rd eye, etc.  Bowls on the heart, solar plexus and sacrum are good to have in a descending tonal pattern from heart to sacrum.) Every bowl will also respond to intention.   Having many bowls is wonderful but understand that even if you have only ONE bowl, it will impact all of you, and not just one chakra. 


In the west, we are preoccupied with assigning a certain note to a certain area of the body. This works well with some modalities but since the Tibetan bowls produce harmonics, and since they are created to reflect wholeness, it is not necessary to choose a bowl for its note. This does not dismiss the more western approach of choosing specific bowls for their notes and correspondences to areas of the body, but gives you a wider perspective from which to choose.

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