The World is Sound
This overarching statement (one translation of the Hindi “Nada Brahma”) is interesting as a philosophical concept. And it may raise a smile and perhaps an interesting conversation with a theoretical physicist or two. Especially since the recent discovery of gravitational waves. But, in itself, it doesn’t really inform us too much in our everyday lives.
Dengue & Sound
I started to take it more seriously after contracting Dengue fever* whilst living in Rio de Janeiro. The fever knocked me for six. But the longest lasting and ultimately most profound effect of entertaining the Dengue virus for a couple of weeks was, strangely enough, on my ears: My sense of hearing and my understanding and experience of the world of vibration.
I developed extreme tinnitus in my right ear as soon as the tell-tale Dengue skin rash had subsided. High pitched screeching. Low pitched rumbling. Sometimes like a personal helicopter hovering low overhead. At others a jet. It was intense. And despite my sometimes masochistic delight in suffering various ailments to understand them better, even I was soon tired of these ever present high and low resonant frequencies.
I was not prepared for the profound effect on every day life. I was no longer negotiating a land-scape: my world had transformed into landscape-soundscape in equal measure.
I was unable to deal with any loud or low or high pitch sounds at all. It was not just that they were painful. (They were.) They also devastated my sense of balance, proprioception, spatial and directional awareness. In short, I became disorientated in the soundscape around me. Previously un-noticed noises became the most urgent and pressing obstacles to deal with. Simple conversations were completely disrupted trying to filter voice through the cacophony.
Sound is Energy
It forms part of our living environment just as much as the terrain and weather. It penetrates the internal environment of our bodies with impunity (and of course has deep psychological effect). This fact was known to and used by the US army in capturing General Noriega. Noriega had taken refuge and claimed asylum in the Vatican compound in Panama. The US army responded by bombarding him continuously with extremely loud Rock music and it wasn’t long before he surrendered. Who knew our rock bands were actually in the employ of the US defence force! (Take a look here for the weapons-grade playlist.)
Obviously, we perceive sound through our ears. But this is simply the most sensitive orifice. In fact, your body structures and organs are all vibrating at their own resonant frequencies. They are sensitive to and can be affected by the sounds that you are exposed to. A fact exploited in many medical applications (ultrasound, lithotripsy, etc.) and also in the development of sonic weapons.
In Acupuncture theory the Ears, and hearing in general, are connected with the Kidneys. This may sound strange, but it is a link now well established by modern medicine. Many studies confirm a clear connection between hearing loss and kidney disease. The author of this study explains:
“The link can be explained by structural and functional similarities between tissues in the inner ear and in the kidney. Additionally, toxins that accumulate in kidney failure can damage nerves, including those in the inner ear. Another reason for this connection, is that kidney disease and hearing loss share common risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and advanced age.”
Other studies have noted significant association between congenital kidney anomalies and various ear anomalies in, both in function and structure. So much so, that ear deformities or facial bone development issues in children suggest tests and potential intervention for kidney function.
Ear problems that originate from Kidney Deficiency** will manifest as tinnitus, sudden deafness, or gradual hearing loss. My teacher’s teacher describes a case where his elder brother actually broke his eardrum completely due to a severe febrile disease (perhaps not unlike Dengue!). With treatment using moxibustion to strengthen the Kidney system, the eardrum grew back and hearing returned to normal in a very short time.
Meridians, Balance & Spatial Awareness
Another piece of the puzzle in Oriental medicine are the meridians. The ears are surrounded by the meridians of the Gall Bladder and the Triple Heater. These are responsible for the sense of balance. And, acting together with the Kidney meridian they are important for spatial awareness.
The function of these meridians can be adversely affected by many causes, including febrile diseases; internal organ disfunction; chronic tightness in the neck and shoulders; etc. Ear problems involving these meridians as the primary cause are often diagnosed in western medicine as infections of either the middle or outer ear. Symptoms can include pain and dizziness and hearing impairment.
Slapping & Knocking
The easiest way to regulate the the GallBladder and Triple Heater Meridians oneself, and thus relieve such problems (or better, ensure they don’t arise!) is to slap/ knock/tap them. Its free and it feels good! And it has multiple other benefits. Please give it a try:
The Gall Bladder Meridian is located on the sides of the head and body. Using an open hand, firmly slap the opposite side of your body from under your armpit down to your hip. Then a loose fist can be used to knock firmly from the hip & gluteal area (your bum!) down the sides of your legs (along your trouser seam) all the way to your ankles. Spend a minute or two for both sides, concentrating on areas where there is some sensitivity, and experiment with how much force feels good.
The Triple Heater Meridian runs on the sides of the head along the side of the neck and along the outside of the arm and in the back of the hand. Slapping the side of the neck with the (cupped) opposite hand feels really good if done firmly but carefully. Continue across the top of your shoulder and along the surface of the arm that leads into the back of the hand. If you are tired, you can simply brush the meridians instead.
Stress & Overthinking
People who suffer from tinnitus, TMJ (painful/ tight jaw clicking) and/or dizziness often experience a worsening of their symptoms when they feel stressed. This is because these same meridians (Gall Bladder & Triple Heater) zig-zag backwards around the ear and forwards through the temples and the forehead. Precisely over the frontal & temporal lobes where stress is perceived/ generated.
And lets not forget the Kidneys connection: Stress triggers the release of cortisone by the adrenal glands which are considered part of the Kidney system in Acupuncture theory. Chronic, poorly managed stress, resulting in continuous cortisone release, depletes the Kidney/ Adrenal system which can result in hearing or ear problems as discussed above.
The slapping technique described above can be very effective in helping to reduce the effects of stress on these meridians in particular, and form part of a general stress management and reduction strategy. See WuWei – Relaxing whilst Busy for more simple ideas to manage stress.
Here is a fascinating talk about sound, your ears and your health. One of the simplest and best tips he gives: try to spend a few minutes each day in a quiet place. (Perhaps doing this). Of course, if you suffer from any of the problems outlined in this newsletter your acupuncturist should be able to help.
*Read Colds, Flu’s, Sniffles & Mosquitoes to see how acupuncture can be used to treat Dengue and other febrile diseases from ‘sniffles’ & common colds right up the scale to full blown pneumonia & tropical fevers.
**”Kidney Deficiency” is a term in Acupuncture theory to describe an energetic pattern or state of health. It does not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with your kidney function from a western medical perspective.