Sound feeling

Good vibrations during hypnotic session with Argentinian sound-healer

Emiliano Jimenez-Cornejo builds most of his own instruments, including didgeridoos, which he crafts with wood from cedar and pine trees.

Emiliano Jimenez-Cornejo builds most of his own instruments, including didgeridoos, which he crafts with wood from cedar and pine trees.


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Of the three people lying flat on their backs in the dark, I was most closely positioned to the mouth of the didgeridoo—so closely I could feel the deepest tones in my chest. Over the next hour or so, the didgeridoo was complemented by singing bowls, rattles and other instruments.

Emiliano Jimenez-Cornejo—the guy on the other end of the didgeridoo—was leading the sound healing session at the Yoga Center of Chico. He says that he avoids using instruments like guitar, which listeners absorb on an intellectual, rather than physical, level. So that feeling deep in my chest was part of the point.

“The instruments I use produce really low vibrations; you can feel the sound,” he said. “Even though the didgeridoo can play a melody, it has a more trance-y quality.”

Chico Sound Healing sessions, which Jimenez-Cornejo offers for groups—of usually at least 10 people—at rotating venues and privately at his home by appointment, have a hypnotic effect. His goal is for participants to “relax mindfully,” he says. As in, not dozing or letting thoughts wander to work, relationships or solving problems, but rather continually checking in on the body, releasing tension and otherwise focusing only on the sounds.

Jimenez-Cornejo was born and raised in Argentina, and while he speaks clear and articulate English, he has a distinct accent.

His path to Chico began several years ago when he met Abigail Rasmussen, current co-owner of Live Life Juice Co., while on vacation in Hawaii. Originally intending to stay for a few months, the couple ended up living together there for nearly a year, and then moved to Argentina so Jimenez-Cornejo could continue pursuing his education in economics. They came to Chico a little more than two years ago.

Though he plays a wide array of exotic instruments, Jimenez-Cornejo doesn’t consider himself a musician. He started playing guitar at age 15 and understands the nature of harmonic structures and scales, but he’s received very little formal training.

It was a years-long process to become a sound healer. He first saw a didgeridoo played at a fair in Argentina, and was drawn to the instrument simply because it sounded cool. A few months later, he bought one and began playing it without knowing anything about its therapeutic applications. It took several years before he appreciated the instrument’s relaxing effects.

“I always assumed it was relaxing because of the breathing,” he said. “Then I realized it happened to other people in the room; it was like, hypnotic. Then I started experimenting with Abby, friends and family, just sitting in a chair and playing the didgeridoo.”

Eventually, he began incorporating singing bowls and a gong. In 2010, he started conducting group therapy sessions in Argentina.

The sounds are improvised but always have intention, Jimenez-Cornejo said. He considers a session an hour-long composition with peaks and valleys of intensity. “I’m very careful about every little detail,” he said.

He’s just as particular about what participants don’t hear. He wears socks so he can move around the room soundlessly, taking his time to interact fluidly with different instruments. Otherwise, he might break the spell. “I want the sound to be a presence without me,” he said. “If something falls, it immediately brings you back into the room and what I’m doing.”

Before our session began, I turned to the older gentleman on my left and asked him whether he uses sound healing to treat a specific condition.

He shook his head. “I just get an intense feeling of well-being,” he said. “It takes me to a place I can’t get to any other way.”

To kick off the session, Jimenez-Cornejo led the three of us in 15 minutes of deep breathing exercises to get everyone, including himself, in a similar state of mind.

By contrast, he’ll skip the breathing exercises and jump right into making sounds during a one-on-one session because “I can connect with them right away. Just by seeing how a person moves and talks, it gives you an idea of how you’re going to approach the session.

“If you have a very nervous person, someone who is stressed and tense, you don’t want to give them the impression of being super relaxed,” he continued. “There will be resistance. You try to match their energy level and where they are in that moment, so the music starts with that tension and they can identify with the sound. They let the music come in, and then you slowly start bringing it down.”

He instructed us to lie on our backs, close our eyes and resist the urge to turn around and watch him. It was sound advice as Jimenez-Cornejo proceeded to make way more noise than I expected from one musician. At one point I envisioned him playing the crystal singing bowls with his toes.

Setting the metronome was a heartbeat played through a small set of speakers. The other noises came on gradually, first with the pure, airy singing bowls and then the didgeridoo’s far more intense tones. The music felt mostly unstructured, but at times fell into more rhythmic patterns. (I couldn’t help laughing a little when, unexpectedly, Jimenez-Cornejo shook a rattle a couple inches above my face—but I kept my eyes closed.)

When the last notes rang out and the lights came up, the three of us laid there for about five minutes, stuck in the trance. Then I walked home tension-free, smiling for no apparent reason.