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12 Exercises for Building More Sensitive Ears using Hearing Exercises

I have consulted a number of sources, including audiologists, who say it is impossible to regain your ability to hear better. The vast majority of them - well nigh all of them - say that hearing loss is permanent.

However having suffered hearing loss when I was a child, and regaining some of my hearing over the past 22 years, I must affirm that I think the scientific community is WRONG when they say it is impossible to regain some measurement of hearing.

To explain this I will be doing two things: 1. I will be trying to be as scientific as I can when explaining my ideas; 2. Some of my explanations will be based on conjecture and hypothesis, so I saying this now as an informal disclaimer so that people understand that some of my ideas may not scientifically accurate, but are instead based on my first hand experience. I was also be basing some of my exercises further below upon my research into zen and yoga techniques designed to improve hearing.

When I was 12 years old a shotgun shell went by my left ear and was so loud it caused hearing damage. I was temporarily deafened in my left ear. (There is a long story about how this happened, but I will spare you the details.)

I am now 34 and during that the last 22 years I have had my hearing slowly improve over time. Initially it was very quick. I went from being temporarily deafened to simply "severe hearing loss" / almost deaf in my left ear.

By the time I reached university in 1999 my hearing had improved somewhat, to the extent that combined with my perfect hearing in my right ear I was able to function most of the time. I would regularly need to ask people to repeat themselves because of my hearing difficulties, but I was able to cope 99% of the time.

Since graduating in 2003 my hearing has continued to improve over time, to the point that I would now describe myself as having only moderate to light hearing damage in my left ear.

However several questions remain... Did my ears physically heal over the past 22 years, or did my brain simply get better at interpreting the sounds it was receiving? I think it is a bit of both. I believe there was some initial healing process, wherein part of the damage to my ears was permanent - and the other part was simply temporary. It was the temporary aspect which healed up more quickly. After that had healed however I believe my brain has learned to compensate and use what little hearing I have in my left ear and has slowly improved with time.

Which brings me to why I think audiologists are wrong when they say it is impossible to improve your hearing using hearing exercises. They are only thinking in terms of permanent hearing damage - they are completely ignoring temporary hearing damage, and they are completely ignoring the possibility that the brain can learn over time to compensate and "hear better" based on what data it is receiving from the ears.

So yes, based on my personal experience you can improve your hearing over time - the trick is to heal any temporary damage to your ears, and to attune your mind so the hearing ability you do have is used to its full potential.

12 Hearing Exercises for Building More Sensitive Ears

Note: The first three are really more maintenance issues, so you don't cause further damage to your ears over time.

#1. Routinely check for a build-up of earwax.

Some hearing loss can be caused by excess wax in your ear canal. Snap a photo of your ear with a camera, or have a friend look into your ear with a flashlight. If you see impacted wax, do not touch it. Trying to dig it out yourself will only make it worse.

If the blockage isn't severe, try to wash it out yourself. (Note: Only do this if your eardrums don't have tubes or holes in them.) Use an eyedropper to put a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide in your ear to "soften" the wax. After a day or two, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently put warm water into your ear. Tip your head to the other side to let the water (and wax) drain out.

If the blockage is severe, call your doctor or audiologist and make an appointment to have it removed.

#2. Make sure you don't have an ear infection.

If your ears are in extreme pain, see a doctor immediately to make sure you don't have an ear infection or ruptured ear drum. If these conditions are left untreated, they can permanently damage the hearing in your inner ear.

#3. Take measures to stop any further hearing deterioration.

Reduce your exposure to loud, sustained noises. If noisiness like this is part of your job try wearing specialty ear plugs or changing jobs. If you wear earbuds or headphones to listen to music, keep the volume low or moderately low. When encountering loud sustained noises protect your ears with your hands and move further away from the source of the noise. Try to reduce your exposure to high volumes overall, and you'll reduce future hearing loss.

#4. Don't talk so loudly.

If you have lost a significant portion of your hearing, speak in a slightly softer tone than you think you need to. It's common to overcompensate and talk loudly if you can't hear your own voice very well, but if other people can't hear you, they'll tell you to speak up.

#5. Use your hearing more.

Your brain's pathways are like rocky trails, gravel roads and highways. If you use part of your brain more often the extra activity (traffic) on those mental pathways will strengthen and expand. This is why blind people often have very acute hearing and sense of touch - they have been forced to use their hearing more and thus their mental pathways controlling the interpretation of sound has been rapidly expanded.

This is not going to turn you into some kind of superhuman listener (like the blind comic book hero Daredevil), but it will allow you to improve your ability to hear things - even despite minor or moderate hearing damage.

#6. Learn to identify sounds / Auditory Indexing.

According to Zen monks learning to identify sounds is one of the first steps in learning to better control your sense of hearing. The practice is known as "Auditory Indexing". Without identification a person can become confused, overwhelmed or frightened by the sounds they are hearing. By learning to identify which sounds are which they can hear the sounds, but tune out those sounds they recognize as being too far away, not a threat, of little interest, etc.

An hearing exercise you can do at home is to listen for sounds you cannot identify, and once you find a sound that you don't recognize go and see what it is. Memorize that sound. Start over again and listen for other sounds you don't recognize.

#7. Learn to control your mind and avoid distractions.

A person who is distracted by random thoughts will not notice sounds that are nearby them. Learning to control distracting thoughts is a complex process and first requires a person to let go of their mind before they can learn to control it. I strongly recommend reading the book "The Unfettered Mind", which is a small collection of essays / letters by the Zen monk Takuan Soho and deals directly and indirectly with the topic of how to control your mind. In the book Takuan Soho references Japanese swordplay (kendo), but that can be used as a metaphor for any task.

#8. Listen for your own heartbeat.

This is difficult for even people with perfect hearing to do, but it can be done. The sound of heartbeat is there, but it is being muffled by numerous other sounds. Late at night, in a quiet room it is a much easier task to hear your own heartbeat - but with practice a person can listen for their heartbeat even in a crowded room.

If you get bored of listening to your heartbeat you can also listen to your breathing, your stomach/digestive organs, and even the sound of yourself blinking. If that seems like too much of a challenge try making very quiet sounds with your feet or fingers - such as rubbing your fingers together - and listening / concentrating on that sound.

#9. Extended Hearing Exercise.

This exercise has its source in tantric yoga. To do this sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Imagine a series of circular ring emanating around you at fixed distances.

First listen to all sound coming from within a 3 feet radius of you. Identify each sound that is closest to you. Ignore sounds that are further away, even if they are louder, so that they become background noises. Each time you concentrate on a new sound briefly identify what it is. Footsteps, conversations, mechanical noises, the rustle of leaves, the buzz of insects, the sound of running water, the distant roar of the city.

Next expand your hearing range to 10 feet and concentrate on the sounds found within this range. Continue expanding in circles around you to include the surrounding room, the building, your neighbourhood and the distant sounds of the world beyond.

#10. Listen to music.

When listening to music - such as an orchestra - identify which musical instruments are making what sounds. Learn to tune out the sounds of the other instruments and only listen to the one instrument. Challenge yourself to try and listen to only one of the musicians at a time.

#11. Test your limits.

The human eardrum can hear sounds anywhere between 16 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Extremely low (bass) sounds or extremely high pitched sounds cannot be heard by the human ear.  High pitched sounds like a dog whistle can only be heard by a variety of animals because the frequency is so high its beyond the range of human hearing - but that doesn't mean you cannot attempt to hear similar high pitched sounds.

Testing the limits of your hearing may require the help of an audiologist doctor, in which case I can recommend an audiologist in Vaughan who gives free hearing tests.

#12. Hypnosis.

According to a variety of researchers people in a state hypnosis can hear sounds from extreme distances, such as the case wherein a hypnotized person could hear a constant hissing sound at 230 yards (0.21 km), whereas a non-hypnotized people typically could not detect the same hissing sound until they were within 30 yards of the source.

This suggests that experimentation with hypnosis and hearing could prove to be highly beneficial for someone who wants to retrain their brain to hear noises more acutely.

BONUS: Audio Calibration!

During this exercise the listening person stands in the middle of a room and imagines him or herself to be at the centre of a clock face: directly to the front would be Twelve O'clock, directly behind is Six O'clock, ninety degrees to the right is Three O'clock and so on.

A second person moves about stopping at random and calling out “Now”. The listener must then guess the direction and distance. So for example, if the second person is standing six feet directly behind them the correct answer would be; “Six O'clock/six feet”. When a correct answer is a point is scored, if incorrect, the second person says the correct answer so that the listener can associate the correct answer with the immediate auditory experience.

Once the listener can get 9 points out of 10 then they go to the next level of difficulty, for which the listener and second person come up with a slightly more difficult task - possibly by changing the volume of the sound, the distance to the speaker, the preciseness of the distance, adding extra background noises, etc.

CONCLUSIONS

Don't listen to what the audiologists are saying that you cannot improve your hearing. If you have only minor or moderate damage to your ears then there are plenty of ways to rewire your brain so you can function without full hearing capabilities. I managed to do it and my hearing only seems to be getting better the older I get.

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