Treating Tinnitus with Meditation
A few weeks ago I was drinking in my local bar when a guy whom I’d not seen for a long time came over to me and said, “Edd! That email you sent me a year ago has changed my life. My tinnitus has reduced by about 70%. It’s not completely gone, but it’s enough to make a massive difference. Thank you!” Years of playing loud gigs in a rock band had given him debilitating tinnitus, and my method was the only thing so far which had made any difference. I’ll explain the method and the ideas behind it now.
My Inverse Wave Theory of Tinnitus
In this post, I am only referring to the kind of tinnitus which is a result of prolonged exposure to loud sounds.
I believe the brain filters reality by applying phase-inverted signals to sensory input (and internal mental processing) in order to nullify it and allow attention to instead focus on what it deems “useful” information.
Phase inversion is most easily understood via sound waves. If you play a 440Hz sine wave from one speaker, and the same 440Hz sine wave from another speaker in the same room, there will be areas where the peaks overlap and make the sound louder (constructive interference) and areas where the troughs overlap with the peaks and make the sound quieter (destructive interference). If you can set the two speakers exactly half a wavelength apart, the sound waves will be exactly out of phase, and the sound waves will suffer complete destructive interference — they will nullify each other and there will be no sound.
So my idea is that the brain does something similar to unwanted, unimportant, or distracting signals — originating both externally (sensory) or internally (thoughts, feelings, pain, information processing e.g. maintaining the reality model etc.). It “prunes” unwanted signals by applying a cancelling signal, a negative of the original.
I came up with this idea after stepping onto dry land after sitting in a boat all afternoon. I could still “feel” the rocking of the waves, especially when I lay down, and, annoyingly, this lasted well into the evening. My idea is that, while in the boat, the brain applies an “inverse wave” to its sensory impression of the rocking motion of the water, in order to filter out that sensory input so it can focus on other things. You step onto land, and the sensory input of the rocking is no longer happening, but the brain’s own inverse signal it was applying to cancel that sensory input is still active. It takes a while for that inverse signal to cease.
In order for the brain to begin reducing the inverse signal, I think it needs new sensory data to create a new baseline and balance itself out. In the case of the boat, the new sensory “impression” of being on dry land is what recalibrates the brain over time. Rather than driving home and lying down, to end the inverse signal quickly I think I should’ve walked around for half an hour in order to establish the new baseline, “We are now on stable land.”
I think something similar is occurring in tinnitus brought on by loud sounds.
I used to wake up with tinnitus after nights spent at loud nightclubs. My idea is that consistent loud noise causes the brain to begin applying an inverse wave to the sound to help you filter it out.
Loud music booming from speakers consists of sound waves covering the full spectrum of audible sound (on average from 20 to 20,000 Hz in humans). The sounds in the upper register come from the harmonics of the instruments and vocals on the song. So an instrument or voice sounding a note at 1000 Hz also emits harmonics at multiples of that frequency, e.g. 2000 Hz, 5000 Hz, 16000 Hz etc. Some of those harmonics are really fucking high-pitched. And sounds that high would never occur in nature. Yet the speaker (or factory equipment, or whatever the source of the loud noise) is blasting them at you very loudly.
So, my idea why tinnitus is generally a high-pitched whine rather than a low one is as follows. You walk out the loud club, and your brain is still applying its inverse wave, so you need to re-establish a baseline via new sensory impression so it knows to stop. Talking to your friends and absorbing the general ambience of being outside away from the sound source achieves this recalibration — but only in the lower range at which “regular” sounds, e.g. talking, occur. So you quickly lose the inverse wave at those ranges. But there is nothing in nature or within the regular human experience to re-establish the baseline for the higher register. So that inverse wave persists; you get a high-pitched whine we call tinnitus. I believe the pitch of the whine is the average of the harmonics which are still playing in the inverse wave.
There already exists a machine for playing back a replica of the patient’s tinnitus (it seems someone had the same idea as me 🙂 ). In my opinion it works by either: 1) Phase-cancelling the tinnitus, or 2) Re-establishing a correct baseline for that frequency, allowing the brain’s inverse signal (locked in the “on” position) to finally recalibrate itself and turn off.
Previous treatments using white noise also had some success. I posit that this is because white noise contains all frequencies, so baselines for all frequencies can be re-established.
After a night out at a loud dance club I would typically experience tinnitus until the early afternoon the next day. I developed the following methods and found I was able to remove tinnitus entirely in a matter of minutes using either.
The first method is the one the guy used in my story at the start of the post. It’s easy to understand as I can put it in plain English. The second method however is a more emotional, right brain–based method so it’s harder to put into words, but I recommend you try both — and make up your own methods by taking your lead from my curiosity-based approach — if tinnitus is a problem for you.
Method 1: Inverse Wave
- Sit or lie comfortably in a quiet room and close your eyes.
- Focus on the tinnitus. It is usually a single note. If it’s more than one, pick the dominant (louder) note.
- Now, imagine that note playing in your mind. So, the same way you can sing a song in your head (and practise that first in order to get internal auditory creation “warmed up” if necessary), now imagine the same note you are hearing in your tinnitus, playing in your mind. So, “Ahhhhhhhh”. It might take a while for you to be able to do this, but push on with it. It might help if you sing that note out loud first, then carry on singing it in your mind. So you are creating a copy of the very same tone your tinnitus is playing at you, intentionally in your mind, over the top of it. Keep doing this for as long as possible, trying to get it to match up as perfectly as possible.
What I find is that, when I get the tones to play simultaneously (it is quite difficult and requires practice and focus), they begin to “pulse”, and sound exactly the same as if you brought two speakers playing the same tone towards each other: the waves interfere destructively and create “beats” — parts of the tone which are quieter than the rest. So instead of a consistent tone, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”, it sounds more like this: “aaaAAAaaaAAAaaa”.
Eventually, I can get it to cancel out entirely. But mine is short-term tinnitus experienced by occasional nightclub or gig attendance. The guy in my story had years-long constant tinnitus and has been able to reduce it using my method by 70%. I’m sure 100% is achievable — the brain is very plastic, and you just need to figure out how to shape it. I’d like more people to test this method and report back on whether it made a difference.
Why does this work?
The way I see it, there are two likely explanations. The first is that I’m actually creating an inverse wave to cancel out the signal. I honestly doubt that. I think the more likely explanation is that the exercise itself simply causes more of my brain to become aware of the problem, and attend to it. This is the same as one of my explanations of meditation: that attention is brought to thoughts and feelings so they are understood and viewed equanimously, which cancels out their negative effect.
Method 2: “Feel” the Tinnitus
As promised, this one is a lot harder to explain. Rather than focusing on the tinnitus as a sound, feel it as an emotion. Feel it in the body area. I can move my awareness “into” the tinnitus signal, at which point I begin to “feel” it in my abdomen. Breathing deeply and regularly while continuing to feel it allows it to dissipate. It is a bizarre sensation to have a sound in your head diminish and disappear as a result of feeling something in your body, but this is the distributed nature of consciousness across the whole body.
Why does this work?
Right-brain magic. The right brain often uses body sensation to effect change in perception. An example of this is how muscle tension patterns in the body can be manipulated to change one’s perceptions of something in real time. Using “kill signalling”, for example, I can relax areas of my body which are ordinarily tensed in specific situations in order to change my response to those situations in real time. This is an example of advanced metaprogramming, and I’ll be writing more about it soon.
When fixing my posture I found that muscle relaxing or tightening would have immediate effects on amplifying or quieting certain audio tones in my head. A muscle which had been tight for years, suddenly being lengthened back to its correct state, might suddenly quiet an audio hum in my head which I didn’t even know was playing till it was gone. Muscle tightness also causes general mental noise which can become negative thoughts or feelings. Everything is connected. Tinnitus can be treated in the body — just keep an open mind and play around with it.
Obviously two people is a very small sample set. I’d like to know whether more people can use these methods to reduce their tinnitus and improve their lives. If you are a sufferer, please give these a go — and any method you create yourself, using my open mind as a lead — and report in the comments how you got on!