Chronic fatigue? Depression? Back pain? Listen, maybe it's time to face the music. Sound therapist Eileen McKusick, 39, practices what she calls "harmonic balancing" by using acoustic resonators to diagnose and treat everything from blocked tear ducts to tight shoulders to vertigo.
Born and raised in Pomfret, Connecticut, McKusick was once wound up in 100-hour work weeks - she and her siblings opened Pomfret's popular Vanilla Bean Café in 1989. But 12 years ago, McKusick switched from dinner forks to tuning forks. At first, harmonic balancing was just a hobby, something to do while she tried her hand at biodiesel and organic kettle-corn start-ups. In 2002, though, McKusick moved with her husband and two children to Vermont and began studying wellness and alternative medicine at Johnson State College.
Now, she practices harmonic balancing full-time from offices in Johnson and Stowe. Each hour-long session - McKusick suggests a minimum of two - costs $60. Recently, Seven Days tuned in to McKusick's explanation of how sound therapy works.
SEVEN DAYS: So, what exactly is harmonic balancing sound therapy?
EILEEN MCKUSICK: I use the major scale of tuning forks - C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C - to give people tune-ups. Each one of those notes resonates with one of the chakras. The person is on a massage table, fully clothed. I'll strike the fork, introduce it into the person's field and listen to what's going on. Your energy should be along the center line - that's where all the chakras live when they're in balance - but when people are subject to trauma, their energy system gets out of whack. As the tuning forks pass through the energy field, they provide acoustical feedback.
SD: OK . . .
EM: I've always been very intuitive and psychic. When I was a teenager I used to read Tarot cards and palms, so I've always had that natural gift. So I've created a map of the "acoustic anatomy." It shows that wherever you have energy out in any place in the body, it relates to something, such as guilt or grief. Guilt hangs out in the right side of the second chakra, and anger is on the left side.
In most people, especially women, the second and fifth chakras tend to be the messiest. And if people can't deal with a certain emotion or issue, they'll actually put it off their body into their field. Once I find things in the wrong places, I do a "click, drag and drop." I use intention and the sound of the forks to coax the body and return energy to the center.
SD: What are the sounds like?
EM: They play outside of the note, like a "waannhh" or a "waah" or a "woo-woo-woo," which is what fear sounds like. So if someone has a fear around expressing themselves, I'll be holding a tuning fork above the throat chakra and hear "woo-woo-woo." As I support the body in tuning itself, the tone will change and become throatier and more in the center of the pitch. That's something that people can really hear. Then we explore together what resolution of the issue might be, what their homework might be.
SD: How did you get into sound therapy?
EM: In the mid-1990s, I became interested in color, sound and healing. That whole sort of quantum reality was dawning on me about how everything is vibration and frequency. So if everything is vibration and we're vibration, then [sound therapy] seems like the most elegant way to assist in harmonizing.
On impulse, I bought a set of tuning forks from a catalogue as a hobby. Because I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs, I felt like I needed to make my living through business. I'm a little embarrassed about what I do, because not only do I use tuning forks, but I use crystals as well. I've never wanted to be perceived as a crystal-packing, New Age healer. But when my kettle corn business wasn't taking off, I thought, "Maybe my path really lies in healing arts. I know that it works beautifully, and I know that I love doing it, and I know the world needs more harmony than it does snack foods."
SD: What are people's reactions when you explain what you do?
EM: I'm a little bit shy about it, because it's outside of most people's ordinary way of thinking. If I'm at a cocktail party and I say, "Oh, I'm a sound therapist," I have to explain quantum reality. It's a really big conversation and a lot of times I don't even go there. But most people are pretty open-minded - it's Vermont. And with movies like What the Bleep Do We Know!? and The Secret, more and more people are getting that everything is vibration.
SD: And what are clients' reactions during a session?
EM: For some reason, the pure tones of tuning forks stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the body, which sends messages to the blood vessels to dilate and to the muscles to relax. It's a free-radical scavenger, so it boosts the immune system. Physically, people get very relaxed - blood pressure goes down, respiration gets more rhythmic and natural, muscles relax, and then the immune system gets a boost. A lot of people who've tripped - done mushrooms or acid - will tell me that it almost feels trippy, good trippy, that they get really high and quiet inside. Other people tell me, "I don't even have words to describe that feeling." You feel profoundly peaceful, profoundly centered, awake and alive and aware.
SD: Is there anybody you won't treat or can't treat?
EM: My children. Or even my husband. With immediate family you're better off having somebody else work on them. But what's so wonderful about sound is that it's totally noninvasive. I have yet to discover any kind of situation where there might be a contraindication.
SD: Do you listen to music to relax after work?
EM: I'm not terribly inclined towards music, actually. I don't have a music collection. I like silence.