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Singing bowls technically are a form of bell called a standing bell, in which the body of the bell makes contact with a supporting surface and sound is produced by vibrating the bell's sides. As indicated by the name, the singing bowl is shaped like a bowl, and sound usually is elicited from the singing bowl by running a mallet, made of wood, metal or even plastic, along the bowl's rim. The unique sound of a singing bowl carries numerous harmonies. Harmonies and undertones occur because of the combinations of metals used to manufacture singing bowls. Sometimes the singing bowl is struck with the mallet to produce a gong-like tone.
Also referred to as a Tibetan singing bowl or a Himalayan bowl because of their origins and continued use in these areas, the singing bowl has become popular among Western practitioners of alternative medicine and Eastern meditation. The use of singing bowls varies, but they often are used in meditative practices and in prayer rituals. It is not certain if the bowls were always used for religious purposes, but similar bells have been discovered in Tibet and other Himalayan regions dating back several hundred years. Because much of the traditions surrounding singing bowls in Tibet, China and other Eastern countries were not written down, the questions about how they originally were used might never be fully answered.
Today, the singing bowl is often used in conjunction with meditation, relaxation, healing and energy work, including work that involves opening and balancing the chakras. In some healing traditions, the tones of different sizes of singing bowls are thought to correspond to the frequencies of the various chakras, with lower tones interacting with the chakras lower in the body and higher tones attuned to chakras in the upper body. Some forms of alternative therapy assign a singing bowl to each chakra, using the unique tonal qualities to attune these energy centers of the body, improving energy flow and supposedly accomplishing energy balance through the body and assisting healing. Music from a singing bowl also can be heard in numerous New Age music pieces designed to help the listener achieve relaxation or move more deeply into a meditative state. Many Asian specialty stores carry singing bowls in various sizes and tones, and they can be readily found in New Age or holistic book stores or retailers who sell meditation aids.