With the advent of popular mindfulness apps such as Headspace and books like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ****, more people are incorporating meditation as part of their daily routine. And why wouldn’t they? Meditation provides us with an opportunity to pause and take stock of our thoughts, to get in touch with our bodies and cultivate an awareness of who we are and what it is we care about. Medically, it’s a winner too -- it’s a proven treatment for anxiety and depression, fostering stillness and relaxation amidst the noise and disorder of everyday life.
But the path to Zen is paved with rattling windows, buzzing refrigerators, and whatever it is your neighbours are doing downstairs. Particularly as you’re learning to meditate, we recommend a nice pair of ear plugs to assist in creating an appropriate atmosphere conducive to reflection. There are a few benefits:
Ear plugs diminish external noise, while making you more conscious of the noises conducted by your body and amplified by the natural echo of your skull.
This is why your voice sounds a bit funny when you have blocked ears, you’re hearing it through vibrations, rather than through the sound waves entering the ear. When wearing a properly fitted set of ear plugs, sounds such as the breath will be amplified, allowing you to more easily trace the passage of air in and out of your nostrils.
Removing one sense heightens others.
At any one time, the brain is processing a variety of sensory phenomena: it’s taking stock of what you can see (visual), hear (aural), smell (olfactory) and feel (kinesthetic). As such, it’s easy for the brain to be overwhelmed and become less discerning in distinguishing different types of sense information. By taking one sense out of the equation, your brain is able to better focus on other senses. In this case, by wearing ear plugs during meditation, you’ll find yourself more easily focussing on the particular physical sensations associated with breath (such as air moving gently past your nostrils). Most people would close their eyes in order to meditate, by closing their ears as well, you’re getting a heightened experience.
Routine has psychological benefits for returning to a ‘meditative’ state.
The brain has a tendency to recognise certain triggers and use them as a prompt for affecting physiological changes in the body. For example, someone who showers before bed every night may notice themselves becoming sleepy whenever they shower. In this case, the brain associates the stimulus with sleeping and as a result prepares the person to snooze. In the same way, meditators are advised to follow a tape, listen to a white noise machine, or indeed, wear ear plugs, in the same way for every meditative session, as a way of training the body for the stillness and focus necessary for effective meditation. A pair of ear plugs can be a great routine aid (and let’s face it: they’re cheaper than white noise machines!)
So which ear plugs would we recommend for starting your meditation journey? There are two broad approaches: either a lower sound dampening grade (appropriate for also listening to a guided tape) or something stronger (designed for dampening out a greater degree of noise, best for those who self-direct their meditations).
Vibes have a slightly lower sound attenuation: they have an SNR of 22, which means they’re going to block out on average 22 decibels of noise. They’re optimised for concerts or for daily wear, so they’re able to filter in some external sounds (good for guided meditation) while still blocking out disruptive or distracting noise pollution. Particularly if you find your meditation disrupted by urban noises such as traffic, appliances, or your neighbours, the Vibes will do a good job of diminishing that. They’re a good multi-tool ear plug as well: you can wear them at sporting events, nightclubs or concerts, or anywhere else where you want to remain aware of your surroundings at a lower volume.
The next stage in Flare’s popular Isolate range, the Isolate2 has an SNR of 32, which means you’re expecting 32 decibels of noise blocking (a full ten points higher than the Vibes). Flare’s ear plug range are differentiated by their metal cores: the metal core works to block a wider array of sounds, and does a generally superior job with low frequency noises. The Isolate2 is thus a stronger sound dampening accessory and more appropriate for self-directed meditators looking to block out as much external noise as possible. Coming in five colours, with improved memory foam tips, the Isolate2 is very much a high-end reusable ear plug. Since it blocks to such a high degree, it’s additionally appropriate for working with power tools, motorcycling, and any situation where you’re exposed to high levels of noise.
Okay, you’ve convinced me: Where do I start?
In terms of starting your meditation journey, we’d recommend you start with a free trial of one of the popular meditation apps. For example, Headspace is available for both Android and iPhone and is priced at $19.99 per month, but you get a limited free trial period beforehand so you know what you’re getting into. For a totally free alternative, Earjobs recommends The Honest Guys, they have an entire series of free guided meditations on their YouTube channel. Start with 10 Minutes Guided Mindfulness, which is appropriate for beginners.