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About the blog

This blog is about both scientific, societal/political, and yoga-related issues - individually and considered as different aspects of the same problem/solution. A longer description is found in the first blog entry, and all old posts are found in a structured way here. The blog is an extension of my main home pages yoga-link.se and isbgroup.eu. Twitter: @gunnarcedersund

Pratyahara and Nada yoga as tools to deal with tinnitus

yoga: theory and materialPosted by yoga-link.se May 08, 2013 18:48
Jaws is one of the most well-known blockbuster horror/thriller movies. One of the key characteristics is that you actually see the terrible shark only very rarely in the movie. In other words, it is mostly sensed as a scary presence, e.g. through the background music. This illustrates how much of the scare effect in a horrible monster depends on not looking at him directly, and how sounds and vibrations can contribute both for the good and for the bad in improving your mode. In this blog post, I talk about how our inner sounds, nada sounds, can be used to release tensions, and how the yoga acceptance principle of Pratyahara has been rediscovered scientifically when investigating successful treatments of tinnitus.

Picture from Wikipedia.

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Nada yoga is a branch within yoga that works with the inner sounds - the nada sounds - that all of us hears from time to time, even though many people don't think so much about them. You most often hear these sounds late at night or early mornings, and they are also activated by certain types of activities, like running, standing on the head, taking a sauna, etc. Most importantly, perhaps, these sounds are an important gateway to meditative states, and when you start to go deeper, these sounds often appear - and you can then also use these sounds to go even deeper, to go into mental states that detaches you more and more from the physical dimension, i.e. into the Inner Space, also called Chidakasha. To listen to these sounds is also beneficial in many other ways, and can be used to release physical pain and imbalances. The most remarkable thing with this Nada yoga tradition is perhaps that it requires very little of your physical position (you can basically be in any position, as long as you hear the sounds) and because the techniques tend to let you bypass many of the "unpleasant" thoughts that you otherwise have to pass through and see before you can release them: you here simply change your state and "vibrate" the thoughts away in a much more subtle way.

However, there is one type of inner sound that nada yoga does not deal with, and shouldn't be confused with, and that is the sounds that you hear in tinnitus. Even though both tinnitus sounds and nada sounds can be activated by the listening to loud music, there is an important distinction: nada sounds are normal, healthy and beneficial, whereas tinnitus sounds are the result of an injury to your hearing apparatus. You can also know which sound is which, from the physical position from which the sounds originate: if the sounds come from the top of the back of the head, or some more diffuse place in the inner space, they are nada sounds, and if they come from one of your two ears, they are tinnitus sounds. With this said, I should anyway say that nada sounds can be used as a treatment to tinnitus. Some people who have tinnitus can listen to them in a nada way, and then make them blend into the nada sounds, and in that way release the problematic feeling associated to them.

This latter tinnitus treatment aspect is also the main reason why I am writing this blog post. A few weeks ago, a Ph.D. thesis was defended here in Linköping, which dealt with treatment of tinnitus. A recent press release from LiU stated the following statements:

"Thus it appears that conscious efforts to control a sound like tinnitus have the opposite effect – we become more disturbed by the noise – and this can be counteracted with an alternative inner approach that emphasises acceptance of the experience.

In a number of other studies, Hesser and his colleagues have shown that a modern form of CBT treatments built on acceptance (ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) works well on those who suffer from tinnitus and can potentially be a valuable alternative treatment for people demonstrating a high level of experiential avoidance.

“The basic idea is simple,” says Hesser. Avoidance leads to more suffering and the remedy is to avoid avoidance. There is much indicating that people who use a lot of control and avoidance strategies both suffer more and derive greater benefit from training in acceptance strategies.

These statements are remarkably close to yogic statements. In particular, there is a technique within yoga that is called Pratyahara. This technique is based on the acceptance of problems (tensions, thoughts, etc that you deem to be problematic), and where this acceptance allows you to release the problematic feeling. A scary thing that you see head-on loses its fear, and a tension that is observed starts almost automatically to release and transform into something else. This is useful both when it comes to physical tensions and pain associated to yoga poses, and when it comes to the handling of disturbances, such as noise and pain in the knee when meditating in the lotus pose. And - as the research above has chosen - the technique of Pratyahara also seems to help many patients with tinnitus.

I like when yoga principles are re-discovered in a scientific setting, and I am looking much forward to myself doing research on yoga in the years to come.


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