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You won’t recall ever being in this state, but it’s an incredibly important brainwave for your health. In this state, you will be deeply asleep, but not actively dreaming. Your body needs this state to heal and regenerate. On a daily basis, you’ll need to achieve this state when you sleep at night to make sure your body can heal itself. When you’re feeling really sick or your body and mind are working hard, you’ll want to stay in this state a little longer.
A binaureal beat is created by playing a different tone in each ear, and the interference pattern between the slightly differing frequencies creates the illusion of a beat. It's intended to be heard through headphones, so there's no cross-channel bleed across both ears. Listen to this, I'll play a simple binaural beat, and I'll slide the pan control back and forth from one ear to the other. You can see that there isn't actually any beat, it's just an acoustic illusion:
The quickest way to relieve stress is to release endorphins through exercise. An easy way to do this is through shaking and dancing, a form of expressive meditation that loosens your joints as well as clears the mind. It’s one of our favorite techniques to teach in conflict and disaster areas, such as Haiti. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders relaxed, and shake your whole body for a few minutes (we recommend 7-8 minutes). Then, stop for a minute or two and pay attention to your breathing and physical sensations. Finally, turn on fast music – anything that gets you energized, and allow the music to move you. Don’t feel the need to follow any specific dance moves, just do whatever feels good for you in the moment (it might help to close your eyes). Dance for about 5 minutes, or until you feel satisfied.
With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. While apps and audio downloads can guide you through the process, all you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.
To use your senses to quickly relieve stress, you first need to identify the sensory experiences that work best for you. This can require some experimentation. As you employ different senses, note how quickly your stress levels drop. And be as precise as possible. What is the specific kind of sound or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find the song that instantly lifts and relaxes you.
In 1973, biophysicist Dr. Gerald Oster published a famous article in Scientific American titled “Auditory Beats in the Brain”, which found that when two pure tones of varying frequencies were combined, a third rhythmic beat was created which he called binaural or monaural beats. According to Oster, monaural beats occur when two tones are combined and sent through a loudspeaker, while binaural beats occur when stereo headphones are used to deliver each tone separately to each ear. Oster concluded that monaural beats were a more effective form of brainwave entrainment.
In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice. And while you may choose to pay for a professional massage or acupuncture session, for example, most relaxation techniques can be done on your own or with the aid of free audio downloads or inexpensive smartphone apps.
When stress attacks, it can feel like your whole world is crashing down. Remind yourself what’s good in your life with a quick gratitude round-up. “Studies show gratitude techniques like counting your blessings can be a significant stress reducer,” Dr. Serani says. “Gratitude research reports that those who utilize daily gratitude reflections have higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism, and lower levels of depression and stress.” Reminding yourself of the good things in life can put stress in perspective. “Studies show that cultivating an optimistic mindset can help you maintain a positive mood,” Whitaker says. “When you are positive and grateful, you are able to handle difficult situations better.” Just look out for these stress relievers that actually backfire.
So, in summary, binaural beats certainly do not work the way the sellers claim, but there's no reason to think they're any less effective than any other music track you might listen to that effects you in a way you like. If they make you sleepy (like they all do for me), use them to go to sleep. If they relax you or get you amped, use them for that. But don't expect them to be any more effective than regular music. If someone you know claims that they are, put them to the test, and bust the myth.
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There’s an aesthetic element to the music and there are a lot of drone-based sounds and time-stretched sounds, deep, rich bass sounds—there’s a spectrum of sounds within there—and what’s more, there’s a load of 3D processing that goes on to ensure that the mind doesn’t become habituated to them. There’s also a constant, subtle sense, a slow and gradual sense, of the sounds shifting around. And, there are layers of binaural beats.
In 1956, the famous neuroscientist W. Gray Walter published the results of studying thousands of test subjects using photic stimulation, showing their change in mental and emotional states. He also learned that photic stimulation not only altered brainwaves, but that these changes were occurring in areas of the brain outside of vision. In Walter’s words:
Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. “Create a playlist of songs or nature sounds (the ocean, a bubbling brook, birds chirping), and allow your mind to focus on the different melodies, instruments, or singers in the piece,” Benninger says. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to more upbeat tunes -- or singing at the top of your lungs!
If brainwave entrainment leaves you with unwanted side-effects (see below) or discomfort, you’re probably encouraging a range of brainwaves that are already excessive in some area of your brain. The way around this is to get a brain map to see what your brain’s strengths and weaknesses are, and see what (if any) brainwaves could use some encouragement.