Elian Zach wants to you to listen—for your own benefit.
The onetime theater actress fell hard for yoga, which led to a deep exploration of meditation and spirituality. But it was when she was introduced to world-renowned ethnomusicologist, Alexandre Tannous, that she found her core calling: sound.
Ultimately, after training with master teachers in multiple disciplines from yoga to breathwork, she and her partner, David Shemesh, founded Woom Center, New York's first multi-sensory yoga and meditation studio based primarily on the therapeutic and psychedelic properties of sound vibration. There, they facilitate and host practitioners from around the world.
Outside the center itself, the couple has led sound experiences for small private gatherings, as well as larger groups at Flavorpill’s Quiet Mornings at The MoMA and Burning Man. They’ve traveled the globe—from Costa Rica to Hong Kong—to share their expertise.
Here, Elian Zach shares her thoughts on the power of true engagement with sound:
Live The Process: As a child and young adult, what did sound mean to you?
Elian Zach: As a child and young adult, I was fascinated by the voice, by accents and the versatile uses of the human instrument to produce various intonations and pronunciations. I loved trying to mimic people’s speech as accurately as I could. It was entertaining, but, back then, I didn’t know there is also a connection between this fascination with sound and deep listening. I spent a lot of time around live orchestras, powerful loudspeakers and musical instruments. My voice was different than other girls my age; it wasn’t very girly and it made me self-conscious. Only later in life did I begin to appreciate it as a gift.
Music was always a huge part of my life, and I spent a lot of my time in rehearsals and on stage as a singer and an actor—starting when I was 5 years old. The energy of transformation is what drew me to theater. Both the cast and the audience would go through a journey each night and would be transformed in some way. Theater is like entering a different state of a consciousness, an altered reality that shapes our perception. This is still what draws me to the work I do today.
LTP: How did you come to discover yoga and meditation and make them your life’s work?
EZ: Thirteen years ago, an ex-boyfriend told me that he was practicing yoga. Because we were in a long-distance relationship, I was so eager to do anything that would make me feel closer to him. I went to my first yoga class at a gym, and something about transitioning through the shapes felt familiar. I felt as if I was remembering, rather than learning them for the first time. That long-distance relationship ended, but my relationship with yoga just grew stronger and stronger.
Physically, it was the combination of effort and grace that continuously drew me back to the practice; it made me feel both powerful and elegant. I had never engaged in a physical activity that allowed me to feel so at home in my own skin before.
On the mental and emotional levels, I couldn’t deny the shift. I felt so calm, happy and content. This was also the seed of my spiritual exploration. Before even diving into the esoteric teachings, yoga asana brought with it a newfound hunger for learning the secrets of the universe.
When I met Francesca Bove, Woom’s yoga director, I knew I had found my teacher. We work so beautifully together and enrich each other in the most magical ways. We learn from each other and constantly seek to immerse in the wisdom of our elders; we frequently practice together with Katonah Yoga founder Nevine Michaan, The Studio founder Abbie Galvin and Yoga Shanti founders Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee.
My interest in the therapeutic and psychedelic properties of sound was what drew me to meditation. A friend introduced me to ethnomusicologist, sound researcher and practitioner, Alexandre Tannous, and my first experience under his expert guidance sent me off on this lifelong quest for self-exploration. Alexandre then became my teacher and friend, and I am forever grateful for his guidance and wisdom.
LTP: When did you open Woom Center? And what is the power of sound?
EZ: Woom soft-opened in June 2016 after a development period of about a year. A variety of experiences with unordinary states of consciousness were the seed of inspiration for it.
My husband and partner, David and I, visit the dusty grounds of Burning Man every year, where art, consciousness and community unite in a really powerful way. Our experiences there, as well as our experiences with breathwork, yoga, various plant-teachers and compounds, inspired us to make this exploration available for everyone, every day. We wanted to create a perfect container for those who are interested in this kind of deep work to do so safely and naturally. WOOM offers both movement and meditation experiences, with sound being the primary tool.
What is the power of sound? Sheesh, that’s a hard one to answer. It is so mysterious and it keeps unfolding itself to me. Albert Einstein said, “Everything in life is vibration,” and in deep listening experiences I personally get a glimpse of this fact. All spiritual traditions have a prominent sound component to them—whether it is mantra chanting, a call for prayer, hymns, etc. And though I don’t align completely with any particular religion or tradition, I am most interested in what they all have in common.
The opening verse in The Gospel of John is, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, or language, is sound. It has creative energy; it shapes our reality, whether spoken aloud or reverberated in the mind. This is also why we are careful with the way we present ourselves and the work. We call it “Sound Journey, Experience or Meditation,” and favor those expressions over terms like “sound bath” or “sound healing” because we feel that the latter two disempower the receiver. Though there is definitely an opportunity for healing to take place within the context of a sound journey, we are not healers. We seek to empower the receivers of the sound to take responsibility for their own experiences, which could only be done through presence and deep listening. There’s nothing wrong with bathing in vibration, but taking a nap and expecting something to miraculously shift is counterproductive. Through intentional engagement with the sound, we have a golden opportunity to transform on the deepest levels, bring to awareness all that is dormant, cleanse and truly begin the healing process, which is a lifelong journey.
LTP: Are there any products, practices or rituals (aside from your own) that keep you feeling balanced and healthy?
EZ: I am a very proud vegan and have been one for nearly two years. I stopped eating animal products for ethical reasons, which was a really hard process. I loved meat, cheese and eggs. I soon discovered it was also a smart health choice. I feel strong and very at peace with this decision, and my doctor is happy about it too. I think current education on the subject of consuming and exploiting animals isn’t good enough, and we’ve been conditioned to believe that it is the only way to receive protein, calcium, omegas, etc. It is absolutely not true. The truth is out there and it takes courage to open our eyes and make the shift. It was really difficult for me, so I genuinely sympathize with those who struggle with crossing over.
I use an all natural face oil created by Michelle Gagnon. I really care about the kind of products that I use, and this boutique essential oil blend, though on the pricier side, is so worth it. Skincare products seep into our pores and are absorbed in our bloodstream. I think it's really important to consume healthy products, as they blend with our chemistry and have the capacity to change it.
I read about five books at any given moment. Right now, I’m reading Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch, A Course In Miracles by Helen Schucman, Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith, Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza, and Nada Brahma and The World is Sound: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness by Joachim-Ernst Berendt—all incredible, illuminating texts!
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
EZ: Happiness to me is contentment. Being in the center of my sphere, able to observe everything inside me and around me, without the constant need to compare and control.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
EZ: “Living the process” to me means staying present and being grateful for both the good times and the challenging times equally, knowing with absolute certainty that all experiences are opportunities for growth, curated specifically for me and all of us. Living the process is witnessing my evolution, and everyone’s evolutions, with kind and compassionate eyes. It is both the capacity to take action, and the capacity to surrender and let go.
Photo by @wafai___