Tucked into the woods just off Route 3 between Saranac Lake and Bloomingdale, the long, steep driveway gives an immediate impression that you have arrived somewhere special and wholely tucked away from the world. Despite its location just off the main road and just a few minutes outside of the town of Saranac Lake, there's a wonderfully remote and isolated feeling.
Andrea Lisette Villiere welcomes you warmly outside the Doctor's Inn and ushers you into her Sacred Sounds studio. There are cushions and couches and blankets and tapestries, playfully colored quartz crystal singing bowls and subtle glints of metallic light glancing off substantial bronze and brass gongs and chimes, the rich wood paneling and rope lighting give off a soothing amber glow. It's a cozy and inviting space with a sense of ambiance matched perfectly with your expectations and leaves you positively snuggled for your experience.
A Mental Handbrake
Laying on lowered massage tables or yoga mats, you're invited to close your eyes, and relax. For someone with ADHD, like me, that's easier said than done. I've been trying to close my eyes and relax for 35 years and it usually just results in rearranging my DVD collection at 3 AM. But I'm always willing to try, so I closed my eyes and let out a deep breath and I'll be honest with you, almost as soon as the familiar hum of the singing bowl started something clicked. I'm well acquainted with singing bowls from desperately seeking insomnia remedies at 4:00 AM, but this was very different; like the breakneck speed that my mind usually travelled, taking thoughts at 90-miles an hour on two wheels, somehow got the other two wheels on the road and I was seatbelted in to my own consciousness for the first time ever.
At first, the sense of security and calm in my mind was a little unsettling, not unlike the moment you realize the person teaching you to ride a bike is no longer running next to you. And like everything that was to come it was entirely enveloping.
Sound in the Physical World
What we experience as sound is actually a pressure wave made when an object moves, pushing and pulling the surrounding air. In animals with eardrums, this pressure wave bounces off the tympanic membrane where it is translated further passing data into our brains. While our ears are evolved to hear this pressure wave, it can be experienced in other ways as well. It might seem like a David Copperfield illusion or something out of a comic book, but the phenomenon is firmly rooted in science, for example, the below demonstration of acoustic levitation (using sound waves to suspend objects in air) in the video by the Argonne National Laboratory.
It's the vibration of soundwaves gives the participants the feeling of being bathed in sound.
Andrea began with the familiar sound of the Tibetan singing bowl. With my eyes closed I couldn't see her, but although my hearing loss makes telling distance by sound difficult I could tell when she was closer or farther away from the way my hair follicles seemed almost energized with electric current. Not thinking it would be of any consequence, I hadn't told her about the hole in my eardrum (the result of infant swimming lessons in an over-chlorinated pool) but as she came round my head it was like the sound waves emanating from the metal bowl was seeking this spot out; my ear lit up like the Griswold House on Christmas. It felt like if the sound waves couldn't make my eardrum vibrate they would make every millimeter of my ear canal resonate.
Whether as a solo instrument or in combination with others, each sound is carefully choreographed to produce a precise amplification or frequency. Rather than a haphazard cacophony of noises competing with each other (imagine a cat playing with a wind chime) Andrea carefully arranges instruments and tones that will harmonize together and flow so that nothing jars you during the experience. The result is a kind of full body massage that is both physical and mental. As affecting as the physical impression of the sound bath was, perhaps my most tangible memory of the experience was when Andrea began to play the Indian Shruti box and Koshi chimes.
As a classically trained singer from a large family of traditional Irish musicians, of course, I love the delicate melancholy of the Irish flute, the clear confidence of a Steinway piano, the graceful swoon of an oboe, and the precision finger work of classical guitar but if I had to pick my most interesting tones, they would have to be warming hum of bellows instruments - accordion, concertina, and bagpipes. When I heard the drone of the Indian Shruti box I smiled and red and orange and gold embers glowed warmly behind my eyelids. Music has always been visual for me - I see notes and melody as constantly morphing and evolving abstract art, each change taking on a new shape and color (the term for it is chromesthesia) and during the sound bath, it was amplified - almost tactile. When Andrea added a layer of Koshi chimes over the Shruti drone a cloud of chalky, royal purple smoke tumbled over my mind's sunset canvas and where I normally only saw the music, during the sound bath I was walking through it, like being fully present and awake in a dream.
Like getting up from a massage, by the end of the sound bath I was left in a dreamy, calm and centered state and it took a moment to get my bearings again and the feeling of relaxed contemplation lasted into the afternoon and evening (and night, it was the first good sleep I'd had in a long time). Even a few weeks later I find it easier to find that place of reflection, easier to take a deep breathe, more prepared to face a challenge from a proactive and confident place. I would imagine the effects of a sound bath is different for everyone, but if you're looking to have some "me time" while you're in Lake Placid, I can't think of a better evening than following a sound bath with room service and a great night's deep sleep.