The art of healing: Musical duo maintain gong bath meditation offerings in Dubuque


Owners Trisha Oyen (left) and Melissa Culbertson at One. Sound Meditation Studio in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Trisha Oyen plays a large gong at One. Sound Meditation Studio. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Trisha Oyen plays a crystal singing bowl as participants relax during a sound meditation class. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Melissa Culbertson plays a crystal singing bowl. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Owners Trisha Oyen (left) and Melissa Culbertson at One. Sound Meditation Studio in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Trisha Oyen plays a large gong at One. Sound Meditation Studio. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Trisha Oyen plays a crystal singing bowl as participants relax during a sound meditation class. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Melissa Culbertson plays a crystal singing bowl. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Owners Trisha Oyen (left) and Melissa Culbertson at One. Sound Meditation Studio in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Trisha Oyen plays a large gong at One. Sound Meditation Studio. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Trisha Oyen plays a crystal singing bowl as participants relax during a sound meditation class. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald


Melissa Culbertson plays a crystal singing bowl. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman Telegraph Herald

Within a dimly lit room, the soft singing of a Tibetan crystal bowl begins to resonate as it’s gently struck by a mallet.

The sound begins sweetly — short and soft — then grows into a steady ring as the mallet encircles the rim.

Soon, a crescendo from the deep undertone of a large gong begins to rumble beneath the silvery and bell-like sounds, filling the room with vibrations rushing like waves over the bodies of the listeners as they lie in complete stillness.

Referred to as sound meditation, or a gong bath, it’s an experience Melissa Culbertson first encountered a decade ago and one she said offered her a profound awakening.

“The word it brought to mind was peace,” she said. “It opened up a deep internal peace within me — a sense of healing.”

Culbertson, of Dubuque, and Trisha Oyen, of Hazel Green, Wis., are bringing that experience to the tri-state community, having recently co-founded One. Sound Meditation Studio, a new space derived from the remnants of Center of I Am, which shuttered in June.

In addition to a retail outlet that catered to wellness and the metaphysical, the former center located at 3220 Dodge St. included gong baths as part of its offerings, of which Culbertson and Oyen regularly took part after meeting two years ago.

When Center of I Am closed, it left a void, as well its three large gongs, a collection of singing bowls and other percussive instruments frequently used in the practice.

“It was so impactful, we both found we really missed it when it went away,” Culbertson said. “There were a lot of places that offered sound meditation through singing bowls, but I think what made the center really unique was the use of the gongs.”

Culbertson and Oyen approached Doug Mills, who previously owned the center, about continuing the gong baths at a different location.

One. Sound Meditation Studio, located at 2223 Key Way Drive and named for the notion that each individual has the power of positive impact, began offering gong baths in August. Classes take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m. Saturdays. Additionally, a combination class of yoga and gong baths also is offered at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

Yoga mats, as well as a limited number of chairs, are provided, in addition to bolsters, blankets and pillows. Some merchandise also is available.

The cost of each one-hour session is $10 and can be booked through the studio’s website. Proceeds support the purchase of the Paiste gongs — one measuring 40 inches and another 50 inches in diameter. The largest gong, ringing in at 60 inches, is one of 95 of its kind in the world, Culbertson said.

“We want to give a special thank you to Doug Mills,” she said. “We are very proud to continue carrying the torch that he lit, and we hope to spread the light as far as we can.”

While called a gong bath, the practice doesn’t involve water or a tub, as some participants have discovered.

“We’ve had people show up with a swimsuit to change into,” Culbertson said, with a laugh. “There isn’t actually any physical bathing that takes place. What you’re doing is bathing in the healing vibrations from the sound.”

The use of gongs as a means for meditation dates to ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times. However, modern day practitioners and guides say it can aid relaxation, sleep and be beneficial when addressing issues like stress and complications from PTSD.

“We’ve offered free sessions to veterans, and some are now among our regulars,” Oyen said. “At our core, we’re all made up of energy. The idea is that the vibrations, the frequencies, and the combination of sounds and tones help the listener relax, releasing stress and allowing energy to flow more freely.”

While Culbertson and Oyen received certification in leading and playing for gong baths, the two also bring with them a musical background.

Culbertson, a flutist, is a former member of the Dubuque Colt Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps. Oyen grew up in a musical family.

The two said they rely on that instinct and “heightened musical awareness” when it comes to guiding listeners through their instrumental meditation.

“It’s very intuitive,” Oyen said. “It’s finding rhythmic patterns, notes and sound frequencies that work well with one another. You can usually tell by reading the room how people are responding to it and what they need more or less of. It’s about taking them on a journey.”

She and Culbertson said attendance has been strong in its first months, perhaps speaking to more individuals dedicating time to consistent self-care, and health and wellness practices following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two hope to eventually grow the studio into a larger space, in addition to participating in community outreach opportunities through the business.

Most of all, they hope to provide participants a safe retreat, if even for 60 minutes, from the chaos of the world.

“I think the idea of mindfulness and self-care is becoming more important for a lot of people, as well as the idea of building community,” Oyen said. “People also are becoming more open to the idea of alternative therapies to help them manage their daily stress. This is a unique opportunity for people to do that through the healing power of sound.”

Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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