You Are What You Hear

An initiation into the world of Tomatis and phono-psychology

A 6 minute read

This post is personal, intensely so given the intimate nature of the discoveries. I want to write about it in this way because it may prove to be important in my journey into sound and healing. It is all the more exciting because it was wholly unexpected. It seems to be just another one of those experiences that are happening to me lately without my fully understanding how.

The flowing curves of the Auroville Language Lab, by architects Castelino Marchese

Auroville in Tamil Nadu, India, is home to the Auroville Language Lab, an architecturally impressively series of white circular rooms that give the impression of being cellular in design.

I arrived early on in my stay in India for Tamil lessons, and had been intrigued by their unique method of tuition - the Tomatis Method - invented by a French ENT specialist with special application for music and musicians, that was now used in all sorts of different educational and socio-cultural applications.

I was disappointed to find out that the Language Lab didn’t yet have a Tomatis Method for learning Tamil, but would I like to come to have a Tomatis test anyway to see what it was all about?

And so the next day I turned up at a nondescript house in the village of Kuilyapallam outside Auroville, and was shown into an office with a desk and an old-fashioned-looking medical machine with a large pair of hi-fi headphones.

The wonderful and bonkers meditation centre at the heart of Auroville, the Matrimandir

The session consisted of two parts: firstly, I sat in front of this machine and was played beeps at various frequencies at varying volumes, and raised my hand when I could hear a sound. Bearing in mind the significance of when I raised my hand (keep reading), you would have thought they would have bothered to build their office further away from a noisy main road, or else designed beeps that sounded less like trucks reversing. But Mr Tomatis back in wartime France didn’t know that trucks reversing would have that sound. Or that it would be used in a cosmic township in Tamil Nadu with a Soviet era monument to golf balls (the Matrimandir) as its centrepiece. At any rate, this test is conducted twice on each ear, once with normal headphones (for air convection) and once with headphones that rest on the bone outside the ear. The machine operator draws a pretty curve in red and blue of your frequency responses. And then hands the diagram over for the second part.

At this point an Indian lady called Mita with short hair, kindly and empathetic, replaces the operator at the desk in the small office, strokes her dog on the sofa, and smiles as she looks at the diagrams. It turns out that I am an interesting case: there is lots to talk about. It’s probably the same feeling a shrink has when they find out that their client went to a convent school. “Relax,” I hear her thinking, “ we may be here a while.”

A Tomatis listening test: blue is for air conduction, red is for bone

As she looked at my hearing chart, she told me several stunning things. Remember that I was a) totally unprepared for this and b) sitting off a main road in a cosmic township whose main building is a gargantuan meditation centre in the shape of a golf ball. From my listening patterns, she told me that I have a deep, longterm trauma that affects everything I do. She told me that I seek to block out women in my life (I was raised by my mum and my sister and have a wife and daughter - enough said). That noises can keep me awake at nights. That I might have grown up in a house with a lot of shouting. And a whole host of other, intimate things besides.

I didn’t intend to go for a therapy session at all. I went for a hearing test. It was like going to the optician’s, reading those little letters on the chart, and being told that you have anger management issues and fear of the dark.

The revelations kept coming thick and fast. It was so accurate that it was frightening. It turns out that, according to the Tomatis method, we choose what we listen to. So that by analysing which frequencies we do and don’t hear, it is possible to understand what we are blocking out, and why. This is something well below our conscious mind. What do we crave and reject in our lives, and is there a frequency associated with it?

Cyrano de Bergerac himself waxing lyrical about his Tomatis experience

This is the world of phono-psychology, where you can diagnose psychological conditions by analysing how you listen, and through a course of treatment that boosts the frequencies you cannot hear and retrains the ear to notice them, can radically improve wellbeing.

Stunned by this experience, I now hope to work with the Tomatis Centre to help them create a method for learning the Tamil language. And if I’m lucky, I may be able to overcome my fear of women.

See here for more information on the astonishing Tomatis Method and its application for musicians.

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