D.A. Wiley on the Ancient Practice of Sound Healing

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Interview by Sarah Clark, LAc.

Last week, I sat down with D.A. Wiley, LAc at Kwan Yin Healing Arts. She told me about how the ancient practice of sound healing can reach deeply into the heart in a way that no other form of healing can, how obsidian stones can help us to ground, and how she treats with acupuncture. Here is what she had to say.


Sarah: How does sound healing inform your practice as an acupuncturist?


Wiley: Sound healing really came into my practice because I’m a musician. I have this big love of music and sound and how that really calms and balances me.


Sarah: What instrument do you play?


Wiley: I play guitar. Gypsy jazz mostly. And I’ve played a variety of instruments all my life. People laugh at the musical instruments in my closets: saxophones and flutes and udu drums and congas. You know, all kinds of stuff. So I was so amazed when I actually found out more about sound healing–through qigong practice, through colleagues and friends who were studying sound healing. I thought, “Wow, this will really take my practice to a whole new level.” When patients hear a singing bowl or a tuning fork, that sound moves through the body. It really calms them down, and the rest of the treatment moves beautifully.


Sarah: What kinds of tools do you use in sound healing?


Wiley: Tuning forks I tend to use more specifically on extraordinary meridian points to open up blocked areas. You just use them a little bit. You don’t need to use them a lot. One of the things I’ve seen people do is overuse tuning forks. They’re pretty powerful. So a gentle approach is really important. Just like with acupuncture, a lot of times I want to move out the stagnation first, and then tonify. So after using the tuning forks I might come back with a larger singing bowl and ring it over the body or under the table–at the feet or the head–to tonify or perhaps move more. Based on my objective, I’ll go for notes that harmonize or notes that conflict. Notes that conflict and are more dissonant are going to be more moving. Say I have a bowl that’s a low D and a bowl that’s a high D. That’s going to be an octave, so it’s going to be very tonifying and harmonizing.


Sarah: How do you know what kind of sound healing your patients need?


Wiley: Well a lot of it is based on the pulse and its strength or deficiency. If it’s weak, then I know the patient will need tonifying. If it’s agitated, then I know they need movement. A lot of it for women is based on the moon cycle. I use the moon cycle to help women balance their hormones.


Sarah: How can sound healing help women balance their hormones?


Wiley: If it’s the first part of their cycle, I’m going to tonify more. In the second half of the cycle, I’m going to move more. Just like with acupuncture. And I just find people receive things differently. Some people want just acupuncture, and other people will want both sound healing and acupuncture. So my job is to style that in. What does this patient need on that day? I’ve treated some patients for ten years. Sometimes we’ll do one modality for a couple of years and then switch to another. If there’s an emotional block, sound healing is better. And treating the emotions is going to help their immune system, their digestion, their insomnia, their migraines and everything else.


Sarah: Can you say more specifically how sound healing touches in with the spiritual and emotional in your patients?


Wiley: It’s ancient medicine. Ancient medicine helps us go to this deeper place–ancestral perhaps. When it comes to qigong or the beginnings of our medicine, music was always a part of it, sound was always a part of it. The Native Americans always use sound as part of healing. The Peruvian shamans I’ve studied with, they always use drums and rattles as part of deep healing. Sound is part of all the biggest ceremonies in life–death, birth, weddings, joyous unions and partings. That vibration can go into the cells and really speak to us through entrainment. Vibrations connect with one another. A bowl may vibrate really deeply into a patient’s heart to connect with a place in them that can’t be reached in any other way. Therapists will sometimes say, “I have a patient I want you to see, because they’ve just sort of plateaued. Talk therapy is just not quite doing it right now. Will you do a session or two and send them back to me?” So, I’ve done that some.


Sarah: Because sound reaches beyond the conceptual.


Wiley: Yeah, it’s not really better, but it is beyond language. It is very Taoist–very much a part of nature and of who we really are.


Sarah: Can you say more about the kind of acupuncture you practice?


Wiley: I’m often working on unblocking the pulse when I feel blocks in the pulse. I might be using a Five Element protocol and adding in the sound as well. I have other things I use. I have stones and feathers. I may put healing heart stones on their chest for the heart element–especially at the end of a treatment. I might use my rattle to help unblock them. And then go back and do maybe moxa, heart stones, eagle feathers along the abdomen. I use intuition. What’s going to be more earthy? These earth stones on their belly. What’s going to be more grounding? These beautiful heavy-duty obsidian stones at their feet. One of my mentors in Peru would do a similar thing, sometimes putting sacred objects in the patient’s hands as they’re lying there, using the different stones to speak to each of the elements.


Sarah: So you studied in Peru.


Wiley: I did. I studied with people here first, and then I went there to travel and do ceremony with the shamans. I thought that was important if I was going to actually bring that into my practice as well. A lot of the stones I use I collected in Peru, or the shaman would give them to me and say, “Here’s a condor stone for you to use.” When I went to Alaska with David Ford, I also found stones there.


Sarah: Can you speak to how qigong informs your practice?


Wiley: Qigong gives people a way to meditate without sitting. I’ll teach them very basic breathing in the colors of the organs and then focusing on an energy that helps enter that organ. I just go around the five element circle and do basic qigong reading. I have occasionally taught a cleansing breath that’s a little bit more vigorous. I teach people how to do exercises like shaking. We’ll do qigong breathing a lot when they’re on the table–breathing in through the pores of the skin and bringing in a certain color. And then there may be sound added to that. Occasionally the chakras get involved in the treatment as well. But I try to keep it super basic and simple. I’ll ask them to do basic qigong breathing into the heart space and tell them, “Here’s what it might feel like. Please use your own color if you need to but these are the colors that tend to go with the heart.” So I guide my patients in the process. I ask them to do a home practice and to keep a journal and tell me about it later.


Sarah: Tell me about assigning patients homework.


Wiley: I’ll ask them to have a daily practice of 5 to 15 minutes of using what they’ve learned in the treatment room. And then they tell me about it when we next see each other. All of us need some level of accountability in order to get things done. I’ve struggled with that as well. And it depends on the patient. Some people need to take baby steps. Others are able to do more. Something very simple would be the qigong breath. But if there are a lot of physical symptoms I might ask them to do hot and cold compresses on the problem area, or to walk in Hoyt Arboretum among the bamboo if they’re having a lot of muscle pain. Just walk there quietly. Feel the bottoms of their feet. Really connect with the earth. Sometimes it’s just go out and be in nature as much as possible.


Sarah: You have so many tools. How do you know what to use when someone comes in with pain?


Wiley: Sometimes it’s intuitive. It depends on how much acupuncture they’ve had, if there’s fear around acupuncture, and just who they are a person. I do a lot of straight-up acupuncture techniques for acute and chronic pain. I love treating acute in particular. I use acupuncture with electro-stimulation, with cupping. I used tuina or shiatsu–Japanese or Chinese massage. I’m going to go gentle with people who are really sensitive. I always do palpation first. Patients will say “This is really, really painful. My pain is 9 or 10 out of 10.” I’m not going to do a whole lot that first time. Gentle massage maybe. I’m not going to do heavy-duty cupping. If I’m seeing a 20 year old guy who’s really strong, I’m going to pull out all the stops. His pulse is really strong. He can take that.


Sarah: What do you do for fun?


Wiley: I go out in nature a lot. Nature informs my practice, so I take “spirit of the point” walks. I love hiking and light backpacking and playing music. I play a ton of music. It’s my other job and a big part of my life. And all of those things tend to go together pretty well, I think. I think fun is super important. I’m not going to waste a lot of my time on drama. I laugh a lot. And I dance.




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