Surrounded by bowls made of various metals, Gail Kronberg hits a note with a wooden mallet on the edge of one of them, causing a reverberation that plunges the listener into a bath of sound.
It’s an otherworldly sound, like something out of a science fiction film.
Kronberg specializes in sound therapy, which uses soft sounds and frequencies to create balance and align energy centers, called chakras, in the body.
To achieve this effect, she uses Tibetan singing bowls, which are made of seven different metals. Each has its own vibrational frequency and tone that corresponds to a chakra.
For example, a “D” note corresponds to the heart chakra, which is the center of love, compassion and relationships.
“It’s like playing a symphony of sound,” she observes from her place on the floor, where she plays different bowls, these made of crystal and in all different colors.
She explained that Tibetan singing bowls have many uses. Aside from being involved in various types of therapies such as relaxation therapy, they can also be incorporated into massage and acupuncture, or used as part of meditation.
Bowls are often played on a person and send vibrations deep into the body. Specific therapies are based on the pattern in which the bowls are played. A hammer is used to either hit or rub the bowl, the latter method creating lower frequencies.
And sound therapy isn’t just for people with two legs. Kronberg’s 12 year old black lab, Dodger, also enjoys the singing bowls when they are played on him.
The sound makes him sleepy, which is not unusual. Kronberg explained that the sound vibrations act on the theta waves of the brain, which occur most frequently during sleep, but also dominate in deep meditation.
Elizabeth Johnson focuses her healing energy on the rescue dog Wilbur. Her practice specializes in treating animals. (Kira Erickson / Whidbey News-Times)
A change in practice
Kronberg is one of the newest healers to call Whidbey home. There are a multitude of holistic naturopaths on the island, from naturopaths to hypnotherapists, energy healers and physiotherapists who are developing and using new technologies.
The Whidbey Island Holistic Health Association lists 54 providers on its website, but it is by no means exhaustive. Lynne Donnelly, president of the association, estimated that there could be up to 250 holistic practitioners on Whidbey right now.
Donnelly started a network of practitioners almost a decade ago to connect with other healers. Until about a year ago, members of the organization had given presentations in the Sno Isle libraries.
Since the COVID-19 restrictions severely restricted the size of the gathering, practitioners had to get creative. Elizabeth Johnson, whose healing practices focus on treating horses and dogs, worked with the library system to deliver a TED talk that draws parallels between aging dogs and aging people.
In her talk, Johnson referred to an ongoing study called the Dog Aging Project, conducted by the University of Washington and Texas A&M University.
The project aims to understand how genes, lifestyle and the environment influence the aging of dogs.
Johnson spoke about helping adults age healthier by sharing their own experiences of caring for their mother with dementia.
She is in the process of writing a book on the same subject.
The TED talk was at a particularly difficult time in her life last year, but Johnson said she was glad she did.
“I knew I had to be brave enough to bring this out because I just knew it would help so many people,” she said.
Since childhood, Johnson has always been drawn to animals.
“I felt that they were less understood. People can say anything they want. These guys are a little more puzzling sometimes, ”she said, reaching for her newest rescue dog, a yellow lab called Wilbur.
For many years she has assisted in healing animals through a variety of modalities including massage, herbal and homeopathic remedies, and dentistry.
Now Johnson is making the transition from doing hands-on work to teaching others how to heal their animals using the same techniques she has been practicing.
“What I really realized is that there are many ways to heal animals or people,” she said. “And when you heal an animal, you often heal a person too, because the animals reflect so much that people act within themselves, whether emotionally, physically or mentally.”
Johnson has already taught online courses but said she would prefer to be able to teach in person.
“It’s hard to do in this climate,” she said. “You could do it online, but it’s easier when you can do it with someone practical and you can say, ‘See, feel this.'”
However, other healers are finding that online courses have become a way to teach people they have never interacted with before.
Donnelly has taught Tai Chi to people from all over the world.
“I miss having people here,” said Donnelly.
“Teaching in an empty room and trying to keep the energy going – that’s a challenge to keep people interested,” she said.
She is also able to continue her practice, which includes techniques such as allergy elimination and acupressure, a form of very light touch.
Using acupressure, she explained that only about five grams of touch, or the weight of a nickel, is applied to one point.
“People are often surprised by this kind of light touch that I can get profound changes because their bodies can’t resist,” said Donnelly.
A surge in interest
For Whidbey’s many holistic healers, the past year has changed the services they offer. For some it was a sharp drop in customers. For others, however, the increase has been dramatic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, teletherapy became a popular option for practitioners. However, since then, many have been able to meet face-to-face appointments using masking protocols and other security guidelines put in place to fight the virus.
Wendolyn Rue, a physical therapist, has seen an increase in clients coming to her Oak Harbor practice.
“With COVID, people are more willing to look inward and have more time to reconnect with their bodies,” she said.
She has been working on switching to movement-based physical therapy for years, but recently has made changes to her practice by adding mindfulness meditation and deep tissue lasers to the mix.
The laser, she explained, offers light therapy that is good for inflammation, muscles, bones, and sprains, among other things.
“There really isn’t a tissue that it doesn’t affect because it affects tissues at the cellular level,” said Rue.
It might not be for everyone, she said, but sessions with the laser can have healing effects that can last up to 24 hours. It takes about 10 minutes on each part of the body and several sessions will prolong the effects.
Physiotherapists aren’t the only ones whose services have been in demand.
Jenna Alexander, a certified hypnotherapist in Freeland, has also seen an increase in clientele. People who have fear and isolation due to the pandemic have recently used their services.
Hypnotherapy, she explained, is also a good way to counter bad habits and fears. The process may involve guided meditation and is definitely different from the image Hollywood has created of the practice.
“There’s that old stigma from the movies that you won’t be in control of yourself, which is completely wrong,” said Alexander, adding that hypnotherapy is really meant to give you more control over your life, not Less.
“As long as you are willing to be receptive to it, it really works,” she said. “The therapy part is really personal and tailored to your needs.”
A unique place
With such a density and variety of healers, no one knows exactly what attracts Whidbey, but some ventured a guess.
Susan Averett, who teaches Reiki, a healing method to touch, attributed it to the island’s creative types and openness.
Johnson said she thinks Whidbey’s beauty, peace, nature, and most importantly, water attract holistic healers. That drove her to move from Montana to the Pacific Northwest.
“The ocean is incredibly powerful,” she said. “It’s this big secret that hasn’t really been discovered. We know more about space than what is underwater. ”
Charlene Ray, who provides counseling services, summed it up like this.
“There is something in that place,” she said. “It’s a healing place.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication of The Herald.