I found it. Hands down most fascinating bones in the human body – the ear bones! (They break down to make 3 separate bones but who’s counting; other than my anatomy instructor; Dr. Dan!) These three bones in the human ear are called Malleus, Incus and Stapes and they happen to be the 3 smallest of all the human bones with the Stapes being the winner. Aren’t they adorable!
After learning a little about these in my anatomy & physiology class, I had to go find out more (Yes my nerd is showing). There’s so much going on with these three bones that make them so fascinating to me. Though little in size, their function is nothing less but miraculous. Here's what I learned:
Ears generally work as a pair to let us know where sounds are coming from. Our ears work all the time, 24/7, and we can never 'turn them off'. Before we use an otoscope to look inside the ears, let’s first understand sound:
Sound is a vibration. When one object strikes another, a vibration is created. An example is when a drumstick strikes a drum, causing it to vibrate. The vibration moves the surrounding air molecules away from the drum. As these molecules move, they travel outwards in all directions. This vibration is called a sound wave. Sound can travel through solids, such as metal, through liquids, such as water, and finally through gas (usually air). Our ears work best with sound travelling through air.
Our ears then catch, channel, and interpret everything we hear around us first through our Outer Ear (acoustic energy). This is the part you can see. It is attached to the sides of your head and is angled slightly forward, so it is most sensitive to sounds coming from the front of you. The outer ear collects the sound waves (acoustic energy) and funnels this energy along the ear canal to the ear drum (tympanic membrane). This acoustic energy is a physical pressure or force that will start to vibrate the ear drum.
When the sound waves hit the eardrum, the sound begins to enter the Middle Ear (mechanical energy) and this causes a vibration which causes the middle ear bones (ossicles) to move, literally vibrating, or carrying, the sound into the inner ear. It really is an air space that houses these three bones and connects the outer ear to the inner ear. Sort of like a transducer, when the acoustic energy strikes the ear drum, causing it to move or vibrate, it is converted to mechanical energy. These bones (ossicles) in the middle ear literally work in a mechanical fashion as a system of levers to increase the sound pressure from the outer ear. This mechanical energy carries vibrations to the inner ear where yet another energy transformation will take place!
The Inner Ear (hydro-mechanical energy) is also called the cochlea. It is about the size of a pea and shaped like a snail shell. Inside it is filled with fluid which begins to move when the middle ear transmits the sound from the outer ear. It is here that this hydro-mechanical energy is changed into electrical energy. A tiny electrical impulse is created when these hair cells are stimulated and then carries the signal to the brain.
That’s it! All of this goes on using these tiny little work-horse bones that never stop!
So with that said – it got me thinking. What we choose to listen to (or choose not to listen to) plays an important part in what we are feeding our brain. If sound is energy and our ears can convert that acoustic energy to mechanical then to hydro-mechanical energy and finally to electrical energy to feed into our brain; its seems to me we need to be keenly aware of not only what sounds we want to surround ourselves with but also the frequency we want to listen to them at. The hair cells I mentioned in the inner ear are the sensory cells for hearing and when stimulated generate the electrical impulse. This impulse is carried along the auditory nerve and then to the auditory pathways which travel to the hearing centers of the brain.
This is an image of normal hair cells with stereocilia intact:
This is an image of abnormal hair cells with stereocilia destroyed by loud noise:
In addition, there’s much to learn and know about noise vibrations and how they affect our body systems and well being. A 2017 study found Tibetan singing bowl meditation significantly reduced tension, anger, fatigue and depressed mood in participants. A 2013 study found that meditating with Tibetan singing bowls reduced blood pressure and heart rate than simply silent meditation alone. “Gong Baths” have recently become popular in the west and like Tibetan singing bowls can offer the same type of effect on our well being.
Everything in the universe is pulsating and vibrating – nothing is really standing still! The sound Om, when chanted, vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which is the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature.
As such Om is the basic sound of the universe; so by chanting it we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and acknowledging our connection to all other living beings, nature and the universe. In addition the vibrations and rhythmic pronunciation also have a physical affect on the body by slowing down the nervous system and calming the mind. See it for yourself!
Sound healing has a scientific basis in neuroscience and physics, but there are still many aspects that seem to defy explanation. Our minds and emotional experiences alter our physical state, and in turn, our physical state alters our emotions and mind. Yet only in the past few decades, with the advent of functional MRIs, have we been able to scientifically document that mind-body connection. So, even if the only benefit of a gong bath was relaxation, it is a scientifically valid healing modality. Dr. Gloria Oberbeck, a Harvard-educated family medicine practitioner, has been a fan of gong baths since 2003. Dr. Oberbeck says, “We know music can change the mood of a person, a group, a whole room.”
SOUND IS A TEACHER!
Special education teachers and sound therapists know that sound and music have profound effects. When nothing seems to get through to an autistic child or Alzheimer’s patient, the vibration of music has repeatedly and consistently created a breakthrough.
SOUND AFFECTS MATTER!
As early as the 18th century, German scientist and musician Ernst Chladni demonstrated that sound affects matter. Then the experiments of Dr. Hans Jenny, a Swiss medical doctor and scientist, demonstrated that sound both affects matter and also creates, alters and maintains form, and that differing frequencies produce different results.
In the early 1980s, French composer and bioenergeticist Fabien Maman, along with Helene Grimal, a biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, explored the impact of sound waves on healthy and uterine cancer cells. The human voice produced the most dramatic results—exploding cancer cells and energizing healthy ones. The sound waves of a gong being played for 21 minutes also caused the cancer cells to disintegrate or ultimately explode.
Sound is now being used as an important part of the healing process for cancer patients, as it helps calm the mind and body and assists in the management of pain. The sound of the gong cuts through mental chatter and quickly creates a meditative state and deep relaxation. Dr. Oberbeck cites research saying, “Meditative states have repeatedly alleviated or reversed many disorders and disease states. Many studies show that meditation helps relieve high blood pressure, stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic pain. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of the body are positively affected by a Gong Bath.”
Finally, the last thing I stumbled upon why researching these tiny innocent little bones was this little gem I’ll leave with you just for fun and for your reading pleasure! The great 440 Hz conspiracy