Landmarks launches Wellness Wednesday with Skyspace Sound Bath Meditation


Celeste Olivarez and Pili Saravia

As the LED lights on the walls change colors in contrast with the rising and setting sun, sound healer Jen Vu taps her wand on the singing bowls to create calming sound waves. This frequency vibrates through the bodies of the visitors who sit either cross-legged or laying down with their focus on an oval aperture that reveals the sky.

Vu guides a weekly body-immersive listening experience using her singing song bowls for UT  Landmarks’ new wellness series hosted inside of light artist James Turrell’s Skyspace exhibit, “The Color Inside.”

To combat widespread student mental health issues, Landmarks is hosting Wellness Wednesdays during November to provide a space for healing through sound bath meditation. The Skyspace’s open hole in the ceiling allows for a point of focus in the sky for visitors to relax and meditate. The Skyspace is located on the third-level balcony of the William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center and is open to the public throughout the day but requires a reservation for sunrise and sunset viewings.

“I want to support students,” Vu said. “I want this (meditation) to be about mental health and ways to relax.”

Sound bath meditation helps students tune into ambient sounds to release stress and anxiety near the end of the semester. Jenna Harlan, an international relations and global studies junior, said she visited Skyspace’s Wellness Wednesday to escape academic stress.

“I just felt very overwhelmed and stressed this week with deadlines,” Harlan said. “But I was so focused on the light, sound and my breathing that, coming out of it, I just feel very peaceful. I’m not worried about (anything). I feel very capable of handling everything.” 

Catherine Whited, the education program coordinator for Landmarks, said the Skyspace was created based on results from a campuswide survey regarding the usage of space at the SAC. She said the study showed students are looking for a peaceful environment.

“(Students) wanted a quiet space away from campus and away from the bustle in this really large city,” Whited said. “It’s a really large campus, so that’s why James Turrell was commissioned to create one of his Skyspaces so students can access the space anytime.”

Whited said Turrell designed “The Color Inside” to elicit a meditative state, encouraging visitors to find a home within themselves.

“(Turrell’s ideology focuses) on looking inward to find the light and focusing on that meditative aspect to find a spiritual connection,” Whited said. “That’s what the space really encourages, and Jen’s sound bath and sound healing amplifies that to the nth degree.”

From a scientific angle, the sequence of sound bath instruments creates a bodily response in the parasympathetic nervous system that allows the body to relax and heal naturally, Vu said.

“Not only are you listening with your ears, you’re listening with your whole body and mind.” Vu said. “It’s like mind, body and spirit. You’re having this interaction with the vibrations, and the meditation is just noticing how the different sounds make you feel.”

Vu said sound baths make meditation easier for students through guided sound healing, allowing newcomers to simply ease into a meditative state.

“A lot of us move through life on autopilot, and (meditation) is a chance to tune back in,” Vu said.