top of page

Unlocking memories: How sound therapy awakens nostalgia for healing and rediscovery

In many sound therapy classes I've led, students have expressed fascination and shared experiences of nostalgia triggered by specific sounds. For instance, one student recounted how the sound of tuning forks transported him back to his five-year-old self playing in his grandparents' garden in England. Another lady, upon hearing the sounds of the Tibetan singing bowls, vividly recalled her hometown in Indonesia and the resonant sounds of bells playing every lunch hour. These experiences underscore how sound therapy not only evokes nostalgia but also supports therapeutic benefits through the retrieval of memories and emotional healing.

What is nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a complex emotional experience characterised by a sentimental longing or affectionate reminiscence for the past. It involves a mix of emotions such as happiness, warmth, and sometimes sadness or longing when recalling memories of significant events, places, people, or periods in one's life. Nostalgia typically involves a positive view of the past, highlighting enjoyable or meaningful moments, and often involves a desire to relive or recapture those experiences.

What triggers nostalgia?

Nostalgia is often triggered by sensory stimuli such as specific smells, sounds, or sights that remind us of past experiences. These triggers can be deeply personal and vary widely from person to person. Music and familiar sounds, like the ringing of a bell or the laughter of a loved one, can evoke nostalgia by tapping into our emotional memories and transporting us back in time. Additionally, certain objects, photographs, or even weather conditions can serve as potent triggers, eliciting feelings of warmth, longing, or sentimental reflection as they connect us to cherished moments from our past.

What are the benefits of nostalgia?

Psychologically, nostalgia serves several functions: it provides emotional comfort during times of stress, helps individuals maintain a sense of continuity and identity, facilitates social bonding through shared memories, and can contribute to personal growth and resilience by reflecting on past achievements and lessons learned. Nostalgia is a universal human experience, transcending cultures and generations, and plays a role in shaping how individuals perceive themselves and their relationships with others and the world around them.

Why is nostalgia an important emotion?

Nostalgia holds significance in human experience for several reasons:

1. Emotional regulation: Nostalgia serves as a natural mechanism for regulating emotions. It allows us to reflect on past experiences, which can provide comfort and stability during times of stress or uncertainty. Revisiting positive memories from the past can uplift mood and provide a sense of emotional balance.

2. Identity formation: Nostalgia plays a role in shaping our personal identity by connecting us to our past selves and experiences. It reinforces a sense of continuity and provides a narrative thread that helps us understand who we are and how we've evolved over time.

3. Social bonding: Nostalgia fosters social connection by enabling us to share memories and experiences with others. It strengthens our interpersonal relationships and community bonds by creating a sense of shared history and mutual understanding.

4. Psychological resilience: Engaging in nostalgic reminiscence can enhance our psychological resilience. It offers a source of strength and optimism by highlighting our past achievements, overcoming challenges, and reminding us of our capacity to adapt and grow.

5. Meaning-making: Nostalgia contributes to the construction of personal meaning and purpose in our lives. Reflecting on past experiences allows us to derive lessons, find meaning in adversity, and cultivate a sense of coherence in our life stories.

6. Creativity and inspiration: Nostalgia can inspire our creativity and innovation by providing us with a rich source of inspiration from our past, cultural trends, traditions, and memories.

How does sound evoke nostalgia? 

Through various auditory stimuli that resonate with our personal memories and emotional experiences, sound has the ability to evoke feelings of nostalgia and memory recall. Here’s how it works and the benefits it can offer:

Familiarity: The use of familiar sounds from nature, traditional instruments, or culturally significant music can be used to evoke nostalgia. For example, the gentle rustling of leaves, the soothing tones of wind chimes, or the resonant vibrations of a singing bowl can evoke memories of peaceful moments in nature or cultural rituals or vacations in foreign countries.

Memory retrieval: Sound therapy can facilitate memory retrieval by activating neural pathways linked to auditory processing and memory formation. This process can bring forward memories and emotions that were previously stored but not consciously accessible. This is why every sound therapy session is going to be different, because it is a different version of us who arrives each time, with different thoughts sitting in our psyche at that specific time.

Emotional healing: Nostalgia evoked through sound therapy can promote emotional healing by allowing us to revisit and process past experiences in a safe and supportive environment. This can lead to a sense of closure, acceptance, or renewed perspective on past events. In a session you can set an intention (or Sankalpa) for what you would like to explore, this could lead to insights and resolutions to specific questions or concerns you had enquired about.

Stress reduction: Nostalgia induced by sound therapy can reduce stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation and a sense of well-being. The comforting familiarity of nostalgic sounds can create a soothing effect that calms our nervous system and reduces physiological arousal.

Enhanced mood: Revisiting positive memories through nostalgic sound therapy can uplift mood and enhance emotional resilience. It can provide a source of joy, comfort, and optimism, especially during challenging times. You may perhaps get a sense or a memory of a loved one who has died and the memory may bring you a sense of peace that they are still with you in whatever way is meaningful to you.

How does the brain trigger nostalgia?

Due to the way our brains process and store sensory information. Here are some reasons why this happens:

Associative Memory

Our brains often link sounds to specific events, places, or people. When we hear a familiar sound, it can automatically bring back memories associated with that sound. Sounds that are connected to emotionally significant events are more likely to be recalled because emotions strengthen memory encoding.

The brain’s structure

The hippocampus and amygdala regions of the brain are crucial for memory formation and emotional responses. Sounds can activate these areas, triggering vivid recollections and emotional responses. The auditory cortex processes sound and has strong connections with the hippocampus and amygdala, facilitating the link between sound, memory, and emotion.

Multi-sensory stimulation, rhythm and melody

Sounds often come paired with other sensory stimuli (like sights and smells), creating a rich, multi-sensory memory that can be triggered by hearing the sound alone. Music and rhythmic sounds can tap into deep-seated neural patterns, often tied to personal or cultural experiences, reinforcing nostalgic memories.

Emotional resonance in a therapeutic context

Certain frequencies and harmonies used in a sound therapy session can evoke specific emotions that are stored in your brain, mirroring the feelings experienced during the original event, thus recalling the associated memories. In sound therapy, the intentional use of specific sounds can help individuals access and process these memories in a controlled, supportive environment.

Evolutionary perspective

From an evolutionary standpoint, remembering past experiences triggered by certain sounds could have helped our ancestors avoid danger or seek out beneficial environments.

Can nostalgia be negative?

It's important to acknowledge that nostalgia can also bring up uncomfortable feelings, such as longing for the past and what was, and that's perfectly normal. Healing is a multifaceted process –  it can bring peace or present challenges that we need to address. The benefit of these challenges arising in a sound therapy session is that you have support of other students or from your practitioner who can help de-brief with you after the session.

Overall, sound is a powerful tool for intentionally evoking nostalgia and enhancing emotional and psychological well-being. Bringing deeply embedded or repressed memories to the surface offers therapeutic benefits, such as reducing stress, promoting emotional healing, and improving mood regulation, by allowing us to reconnect with and re-experience past memories and emotions and find peace, joy and healing.


If this article sparked your intrigue of the power of sound to evoke nostalgia and recall memories and you would like to experience a session then reach out by email. Or if you are ready, you can book immediately here.


If you enjoyed reading this article leave a comment below and share the article with others who may benefit. The more we share our collective experiences the more we help each other learn, grow and heal. Heated discussion is always welcomed, as that makes us multi-dimensional humans. Please remember to be respectful and kind at heart. 

This article was written by Nicole Sultana, she holds a Post Graduate Degree in Spiritual Care, a Bach. App. Science in Sports Science/Human Movement, is a Certified Therapeutic Sound Practitioner and a Death Doula. She is the founder of Sound Consciousness, a company who provides wellbeing strategies and therapeutic sound practices to help individuals reach peak levels of performance whether they wish to excel in their professional lives, be the best partner they can be, or wish to create the life of their dreams. 


bottom of page