Nourishing the Ears to Calm Vata
The Ether or Space element is related to the ears and the sense of hearing. Sound is vibrational energy in its purest form, and the ears and ear canals are empty spaces for sound waves to travel through.
We hear because of a complicated series of events that allows the ear to convert sound waves into electrical signals and then sends nerve impulses to the brain to be interpreted as sound.
With all this Ether element and the involvement of the nervous system, the ears are considered a Vata organ. Therefore during Fall, which is the Vata season, they are more prone to exacerbation of conditions related to Vata disturbance ~ which include things like tinnitus, hearing loss, TMJ, and neck or shoulder pain, to name a few.
It is important to have practices that support and nourish the ears. Because they are designed to be constantly open to the outer world, they have a high chance of vulnerability and overstimulation. They do not get a break from the external environment unless we intentionally give them one.
Also, Prana, our lifeforce, is a subdosha of Vata and it is highly sensitive to what sounds we take in, so the health of our ears and our sense of hearing can significantly affect our ability to balance the flow of Prana and to settle the nervous system, both of which help us maintain a sense of peace and calm.
One way to support the ears is with nourishing sounds like those found in nature, as they have the ability to trigger the release of healing chemicals throughout the body and send signals of harmony and coherence to the deepest levels of our mind/body system. Nature is the quintessential balancer and the sounds of nature are in alignment with our circadian rhythms. Rainfall, the waves at the beach, wind through the trees, the birds chirping - these are primordial sounds that have a profound healing effect on all levels of our being.
Conversely, sounds that are chaotic, disruptive, and not pleasing to the ears (i.e. traffic, machines, car horns) can disturb our Prana and bring us into imbalance. So the antidote is to regularly spend ample time outside in nature away from modern life noises.
Another easy way to support the ears, and essentially buffer them from all the external noise for a true break is to cultivate a regular practice of applying warm, nourishing, and grounding oil to the ears. This practice is called Karna Purana in Ayurveda. You can do this any time of the day, but I find doing this right before bedtime is the most practical. There are 2 different methods I want to share.
Lying Down Method
For the more lengthy, thorough method, have your pillow ready and cover it with a towel in case oil drips on it. Lie down on one side, put 2-4 drops of lightly warmed oil into your ear. Gently massage the mastoid bones, and rest for a few minutes to let it seep in. You will feel the oil slide down the ear canal. Then roll over to the other side, repeat the process and rest again before lifting your head up.
This is great to do right before you crawl into bed. You could even put a couple of cotton balls in the ears overnight to avoid dripping oil on your pillow and to further buffer your ears from any sounds.
Sitting Up Method
Another, quicker way to get oil in the ears is to put some oil on your pinky and rub it inside and around the ear passages. I do this one when I haven’t made time for the slower technique. I feel even this helps protect the ears from sound and nourishes them overnight, although it doesn’t give you the full effect as the longer technique because you’re not reaching the deeper ear canal. But it's still better than no oil!
Benefits of Ear Oiling
The heavy, unctuous quality of oil provides a buffering effect to the light, airy, and dry Vata dosha, but all doshas can benefit from this practice, especially during the colder months of Fall and Winter when all will likely have a higher amount of Vata energy. Applying a few drops of oil to the ears can lubricate and dislodge any accumulated wax, helping you hear better, and it lubricates the channels of the ear adding strength to these structures. Ear Oiling is also great for loosening the jaw, as the oil brings in a softening, releasing and, grounding energy. All of this is superb for tinnitus, hearing issues, dryness & itching of the ears, headaches and simply for calming down Vata energy.
Regarding oil choices, Vata dominant types do best with the warmer, heavier qualities of sesame or mahanarayana oil. Pitta does well with a lighter, cooler oil like sunflower or olive oil. Kapha also does well with a warmer oil like sesame.
There are some wonderful Ayurvedic ear formulas available that are enriched with herbs including Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Neem, or Garlic, but also know that just plain oil is truly healing and medicinal all on its own.
PLEASE NOTE: If there is an infection in the ear or perforated eardrums, this practice is contraindicated.