The human body is nothing short of miraculous. It is pure magic.
There are times when I am learning about the body that I’m sure my mouth is hanging open, with a jaw-to-the-floor kind of gob-struck expression. Every cell, from our head to our toes, is intentional and beautifully designed.
Take the ear, for example. Yes… Today we are going to be talking about the ear.
We all know that the ear is the part of the body that allows us to hear. But it does so much more than just that. In fact, the ear is essential in regulating our nervous system, and as such, it can actually be used to help heal the nervous system from the effects of trauma.
About Safe and Sound Protocol
Stephen Porges, the scientist who developed the Polyvagal Theory of the nervous system, knowing this, developed a listening protocol to help people regulate their nervous system using the inner ear as the mechanism for increasing vagal tone. I want to explore the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) with you, as I am trained as a provider and beyond excited at the results my clients are seeing.
SSP is a listening intervention designed to reduce stress while enhancing social engagement and resilience. The SSP is designed to increase feelings of calm and safety, reduce sound sensitivity, support mental focus and clear thinking, and help you connect more genuinely with others.
So, the next logical question is, of course, how does it do all of this? What is this magical listening protocol all about?
The SSP uses filtered vocal music to engage the vagus nerve through stimulation of the inner ear. The vagus nerve is the part of the nervous system responsible for rest, regulation, connection, and social engagement.
When we sense threat, the inner ear muscles are less active, and lower frequency sounds (background noise or far noise) are perceived stronger than human speech.
Consider this scenario- you are sitting at home and it’s only you and your partner. All of a sudden you hear a loud THUMP upstairs. What do you do? You both freeze, then you mute the television and one of you says, “Shhhh,” while you both proceed to instinctively hone in on the far sounds coming from upstairs… only to realize it was the wind blowing a window shut.
No one has to think about doing any of this. It is instinct.
The Scientific Correlation Between Sound and Safety
This same discernment between near and far sound happens automatically within your ear every time your body senses a threat. It is an unconscious response in the body that happens whether the threat is a loud bang upstairs, or the fact that you are in a toxic relationship. This happens because the brain is on alert for danger – regardless of the source of the danger – and sends signals to the little muscles that control the ear drums, saying, ‘Danger! Danger! Be listening for any signs of threat for me!”
Chronic stress and trauma can cause the inner ear muscles to become less active, essentially becoming ‘stuck’ in the position of listening for danger. And the more time your ears spend in this slack, low pitch-perceiving state, the weaker your middle ear muscles become. Illness, severe inflammation of the ears, and aging also reduce the function of the middle ear muscles.
When the middle ear muscles work properly, the background noise is dampened and the nervous system is not activated as easily, thus preventing flight/fight/freeze as easily. The listener is able to focus and hear human speech (higher frequency) easier.
So…not just what you hear, but how you hear it, affects how the body responds to your environment. If you have a history of chronic stress or trauma, and the bones and muscles of the inner ear muscles are positioned to be listening for threat (far sounds/low pitch sounds), the ears are sending the signal of danger to your brain, and then back to the body via the nervous system, even when you aren’t in danger. Once the ears are listening out for low pitches, they don’t hear the high pitches as well. So, we miss the safety signals that should calm us down – people talking in a calm voice or soothing nature sounds, etc. We may still hear these sounds, but their meaning is lost on our brain. It can become so marked that we have trouble hearing consonants in everyday speech.
Using over the ear headphones, SSP uses filtered vocal music delivered through an app on your phone. The music has been filtered to send signals of soothing safety. Over multiple sessions, the music trains the middle ear to tune out signals of danger (low frequency sounds) and instead take in more signals of safety (high frequency sounds such as human voice). Over the course of the total 5 hour protocol, the inner ear is strengthened and trained to come back into a neutral, safe position while the vagus nerve is stimulated, leading to improved connection, communication, and a somatic feeling of safety returns to the body.
Is it science? Is it magic? Could healing really be as easy as listening to 5 hours of music?
The answer is yes.
The SSP system has multiple efficacy studies backed by years of rigorous scientific research.
And the magic is simply the human body itself, because it is so resilient and always seeking to heal itself, given the right resources. The body wants to heal. We just need to learn how to tell the body it is safe enough to do so. SSP is an amazing tool in helping us do this.
To discuss working with me through Safe and Sound Protocol, contact me today.