Renowned New York yoga instructor (one of Yoga Journal's top 21 teachers under 40), founder of The Kaivalya Yoga Method, published author and Ph.D. student Alanna Kaivalya has lived with hearing loss since childhood, but that clearly hasn’t held her back! She learned to excel in school and even explored music, despite moderate-to-severe mixed hearing loss in both ears and not being fit with hearing aids until age 21. Recently, Alanna was fitted with Starkey Halo Made for iPhone hearing aids, and she not only noticed improvement in her hearing, but she was able to use the functions of the Halo and the TruLink app to adapt her hearing needs to her lifestyle. She documented this experience and her inspirational #HaloJourney on Twitter and Instagram
Here is her remarkable story in her own words:
You’ve struggled with hearing loss since childhood; how did you learn to cope with this?
I was born with a cleft palate, which left me in pretty bad shape growing up with moderate-to-severe mixed hearing loss in both ears. Interestingly, I wasn’t really aware that I had hearing loss or that I was different from the other kids when I was young because my parents were very careful about reinforcing my ability to do everything that other children could do. Though doctors told my mom I would never be “musical,” as soon as I could sit up straight, she strapped an accordion to my chest and taught me how to play. She also put me in choir, taught me how to sing and made sure that teachers always seated me in the front of my classroom so that I would hear everything. And, if I didn’t, she always encouraged me to raise my hand, ask questions and be heard. I was a student who excelled, and I believe it was because of this firm encouragement from my mom to integrate with the rest of the world.
That said, I did develop some great coping techniques and music really helped me, like feeling the vibrations of the music and listening for sound with my body instead of just my ears. I became an expert at reading lips, but also at reading the “tone” of a conversation in order to stay in it. But it wasn’t until I was a teenager when I recognized the way that I heard was different from other people, and I was a little surprised that others didn’t have the ability to “feel” sound the way that I did. In fact, as a musician and yoga practitioner, I’ve always strived to encourage people to connect with sound in the way that I do, to give them even better access to all the great ways they can hear and experience the world.
You weren’t fitted with hearing aids until adulthood. What made you decide to get hearing aids?
I think I would have gotten hearing aids a lot younger had they been covered by insurance. It’s astonishing to me that insurance often doesn’t cover hearing aids! But when I was 21, I finally found an insurance company that covered a portion of my hearing aids and then my grandmother was generous enough to cover the rest. She went with me to get fitted and the first time I heard her say my name while standing behind me, I cried. We then went on a walk (something we often did together), and it was the first time I heard the sound of wind through leaves and the sound of my pants swishing as I walked. It was amazing, and once I had hearing aids, I couldn’t believe how much of the world’s sounds I’d missed up to that point.
Describe your Halo journey: How did you feel before and after the fitting?
This is like asking someone who has never eaten cake before how they felt before they tasted it! How do they know? Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for how powerful or awesome the Halo devices would be. There’s no way someone could have told me about the quality of sound or the ease with which they pair — not just with the iPhone, but with my life. Now I feel like the bionic woman! Everything is crisper and sharper. I had dinner with my friends last night and coolly slid the setting over to “Restaurant” and I could even hear the person who was sitting on my “bad side” with ease. The other day, I was on a plane and I listened to several hours of an audiobook for my graduate studies and could hear it over the engine noise. Today, I spent two hours on the phone for interviews about my new book, and was able to move around my house while talking, whereas before I had to be paralyzingly still in order to hear on the phone. I feeling like I’m living a bionic, blessed life with the Halos!
You are a published author, renowned yogi and musician. What has empowered you to accomplish so much?
When I was a young girl, my mother often told me that I could do anything. Every time I met or exceeded a challenge, it felt good to me and I couldn’t wait for the next one. When I realized how much I’d overcome in terms of my hearing loss, it really bolstered my confidence and showed me that even people with differences can do everything they set their hearts to. My heart is set on showing people the power of connection — to others, to self and to spirit. This has led me in some exciting pursuits and so far, I’ve published two books: Myths of the Asanas: Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition (Mandala Press, 2010) and my most recent, Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth and Meaning of Mantra and Kirtan (New World Library, 2014). The Sacred Sound book was a fantastic opportunity to share with people the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my deep connection with sound and vibration because of my hearing loss. As for the future, I’m currently pursuing my Ph.D. in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and I am working with them to develop a program that helps to bridge the practices of yoga with Depth Psychology and counseling. It is my passion to help others connect, and I think I’m never going to stop until I’ve done all I can in this regard.
What advice would you give people who struggle with hearing loss?
I would encourage them to see the loss as a gift, and start looking for all the ways in which they can hear differently, particularly through feeling. The world reveals itself not just in conversation, but also in tone, vibration and subtle sound. My belief is that those with hearing loss have access to sound on a deeper level than those with perfect hearing. We may have to work harder to sense it at first, but then it becomes second nature, and we are able to connect to our world and each other in a different way.
Other than that, obviously I would advise them to experience the amazing Starkey sound quality and go bionic with a pair of Halos. Even my hearing friends are jealous of me now!