Entrainment is a phenomenon by which some external sensory stimulation synchronizes brainwaves differently than the native rhythm. The most obvious example of this is photic driving – during an EEG the subject will have a strobe light flashed before them at various frequencies. The purpose of this is to see if it will trigger seizure activity. In many normal subjects the brain wave rhythm in the occipital lobes, which is the visual part of the cortex, will match its frequency to the frequency of the strobe light. This specifically is called photic driving, but the phenomenon in general is called entrainment.
Cortisol is an arousal hormone, stimulating alertness and attention. Cortisol levels rise and fall in connection to circadian rhythms—cortisol levels rise to their peak levels first thing in the morning, just in time for you to be active for the day. Too-high cortisol levels are associated with insomnia, as well as more time spent in light sleep, rather than deep sleep.
Go behind the scenes of brainwave entrainment technology creation with Joseph Kao, developer of the extraordinary meditation tool Journey to the Center of the Self. Here, in an interview with John Dupuy, CEO of iAwake Technologies, Joe describes the amazing complexity of the brainwave entraining soundscape he created to both accompany his deeply inductive, 30-minute, guided meditation on the first track of Journey, and also stand alone as a music-only track that holds you in a profoundly relaxed, still, yet clear place on the theta/delta border. To find out all that went into the making of the inductive guided meditation on the first track of Journey, see A Guide to Transpersonal Meditation: Journey to the Center of the Self, part I of this interview.
However, with this integration will come upheavals as the mind is forced to integrate areas of the brain that were previously sequestered. Repressed memories and unpleasant emotions from the past will often rise to the surface of the mind to be processed and healed. This is sometimes referred to as "processing the shadow" within one's mind and emotions.
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There's no doubt that brainwave entrainment audio is a great technology for anyone who is interested in encouraging altered states of consciousness and it certainly can help people to reach deeper states of relaxation than they might normally have access to. I myself will often listen to brainwave entrainment music in order to enhance my practice of meditation. But let’s keep a balanced perspective, put all the marketing hype to one side for a moment and acknowledge that there is no brainwave entrainment technology in this world that can make you meditate like a Zen monk “at the touch of a button”, despite what some might like you to believe. The mind is NOT a machine. It moves through various states of consciousness in an organic way and at a natural pace. We certainly can guide and accelerate that process with the use of brainwave entrainment audio, but we cannot control it with the same sort of specificity and immediacy as you might control the speed of the car you drive.
Theta brainwaves occur most often in sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation. Theta is our gateway to learning, memory, and intuition. In theta, our senses are withdrawn from the external world and focused on signals originating from within. It is that twilight state which we normally only experience fleetingly as we wake or drift off to sleep. In theta we are in a dream; vivid imagery, intuition and information beyond our normal conscious awareness. It’s where we hold our ‘stuff’, our fears, troubled history, and nightmares.
Resonant entrainment of oscillating systems is a well-understood principle within the physical sciences. If a tuning fork designed to produce a frequency of 440 Hz is struck (causing it to oscillate) and then brought into the vicinity of another 440 Hz tuning fork, the second tuning fork will begin to oscillate. The first tuning fork is said to have entrained the second or caused it to resonate. The physics of entrainment apply to bio-systems as well. Of interest here are the electromagnetic brain waves. The electrochemical activity of the brain results in the production of electromagnetic wave forms which can be objectively measured with sensitive equipment. Brain waves change frequencies based on neural activity within the brain. Because neural activity is electrochemical, brain function can be modified through the introduction of specific chemicals (drugs), by altering the brain's electromagnetic environment through induction, or through resonant entrainment techniques.
You listen to binaural beats using headphones. In each ear, you receive sound at a slightly different frequency (often accompanied by some relaxing background sounds). If your left ear receives a 300-hertz tone and your right ear receives a 280-hertz tone, your brain will process and absorb a 10-hertz tone. That’s a very low-frequency soundwave—one you can’t actually hear. But you don’t need to hear the sound for your brain to be affected by it.
When you play two separate frequencies in each ear, say 140 Hz and 149 Hz, the difference in frequency is 9 Hz. Your brain compensates for this difference and a third tone of 9 Hz is experienced. This will result in your brain being lowered or raised and tuned into the desired frequency. This is how binaural beats are produced. Headphones are essential for this to work.
♥ When I learned about Binaural beats and found out how you can influence your state of mind, I utilized them for most of my college studies. I play 16Hz Beta waves behind my favorite study music. I've been using them for 3 years now and they help me stay focused longer. Just make sure you have quality headphones that can reproduce the frequencies accurately. 2Hz does make a difference with an EQ.
“The great neuroscientist W. Gray Walter carried out a series of experiments in the late forties and fifties in which he used an electronic stroboscopic device in combination with EEG equipment to send rhythmic light flashes into the eyes of the subjects at frequencies ranging from ten to twenty five flashes per second. He was startled to find that the flickering seemed to alter the brain-wave activity of the whole cortex instead of just the areas associated with vision. Wrote Walter, “The rhythmic series of flashes appear to be breaking down some of the physiologic barriers between different regions of the brain. This means the stimulus of flicker received by the visual projection area of the cortex was breaking bounds— its ripples were overflowing into other areas.”
I have seen 1.5Hz being linked to HGH, but also 4 or 5 other frequencies as well, so it’s difficult to know what may work if any. I haven’t seen any research relating to HGH and brainwave entrainment. It’s widely believed that 40Hz is the limit for achieving a brainwave entrainment effect, which is also where many believe the gamma frequency range begins. Once you get over 40Hz into gamma your brainwave activity isn’t likely to stay in sync with it. So from a brainwave entrainment perspective, I recommend high beta frequencies for increasing energy during workouts.
Beware simple answers to complex problems, or easy methods for accomplishing difficult goals. If you combine this maxim with the advice to be skeptical of any claims that are being made in order to sell you something – then ironically you have a simple method (perhaps I should call it an “elegant” method) for protecting yourself from most scams and cons. Actually the application of this combination of maxims can be complex, but what it does do is trigger doubt and skeptical analysis. (And to be clear I am not saying that all simple solutions must be wrong – you should just beware them, meaning your skeptical senses should be tingling.)
If mind-consciousness is not the brain, why then does science relate states of consciousness and mental functioning to Brainwave frequencies? And how is it that audio with embedded binaural beats alters brain waves? The first question can be answered in terms of instrumentation. There is no objective way to measure mind or consciousness with an instrument. Mind-consciousness appears to be a field phenomenon which interfaces with the body and the neurological structures of the brain (Hunt, 1995). One cannot measure this field directly with current instrumentation. On the other hand, the electrical potentials of brain waves can be measured and easily quantified. Contemporary science likes things that can be measured and quantified. The problem here lies in oversimplification of the observations. EEG patterns measured on the cortex are the result of electro-neurological activity of the brain. But the brain's electro-neurological activity is not mind-consciousness. EEG measurements then are only an indirect means of assessing the mind-consciousness interface with the neurological structures of the brain. As crude as this may seem, the EEG has been a reliable way for researchers to estimate states of consciousness based on the relative proportions of EEG frequencies. Stated another way, certain EEG patterns have been historically associated with specific states of consciousness. It is reasonable to assume, given the current EEG literature, that if a specific EEG pattern emerges it is probably accompanied by a particular state of consciousness.
Isochronic tones work just the same in delta as they do in alpha, theta and beta and they are widely used in the brainwave entrainment community to help people sleep. Like you, I’ve also seen some websites saying they don’t work in delta, but it’s a bit like the game of Chinese Whispers, where someone makes a comment and then after it gets passed around and shared a lot the message gets distorted and appears to be a fact. I don’t know of any scientific reason why they wouldn’t work in delta. I remember some people talking about this on a brainwave entrainment forum many years ago. They were saying they found isochronic tones a bit too abrupt for using to help them sleep and they preferred binaural beats, as they thought they were a more soothing sound. That was just a personal preference shared by a couple of prominent forum members at the time and some people then took that as a fact for everyone. That’s where I think that belief originated from.
Pure tones played together interfere with each other when they are close in pitch but not identical. When each tone is sent to a different ear, there will not be any physical interaction between the waves, yet your brain still creates an interference inside your head: the so-called binaural beat. In order to create a binaural beat, each ear must receive its dedicated signal. Therefore, binaural beats only work through headphones.
Although there is a general stress response pattern, there can be variations in the response according to the characteristics of the stressor (10). Individuals tend to respond differently based on the familiarity of the stressor. For example, the perceived level of stress and physiological response when giving a presentation to a group of work colleagues will likely be less than when presenting to an unfamiliar group. The stress response also varies depending on the level of perceived control one has over the stressor (10). If there is a way for one to actively cope with the stressor that is reasonable, then the individual usually perceives more control over the situation. Consider an individual who has to take a certification examination for work and has 6 months to prepare. He can adjust his schedule to accommodate study time. However, waiting for medical test results that show whether one has a serious illness does not allow a sense of control over the stressor, and the individual passively endures the stressor or may try to avoid the stressor. With this uncontrollable type of stressor, there is a more negative reaction with greater productions of cortisol, which can have damaging health effects because of the suppression of immune function (10).
That is generally where the science ends and the pseudoscience begins. A number of companies and individuals have then extrapolated from the phenomenon of entrainment to claim that altering the brain waves changes the actual functioning of the brain. There is no theoretical or empirical basis for this, however. Entrainment is a temporary effect on the synchronization of neuronal firing – it does not improve or increase brain functioning, it does not change the hardwiring, nor does it cure any neurological disorder. There is no compelling evidence for any effect beyond the period of entrainment itself.
At Gaia Meditation, most of audio programs including free relaxation music, free sleep music, free meditation music etc. use the technology of brainwave entrainment (or “brainwave synchronization”) with powerful binaural beats and isochronic tones. Our audio tracks utilize pure and precisely tuned sound frequencies which will drive your brain activity (consciousness) into your desired state: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta or Delta.
Gaia Meditation Delta programs are specifically designed to: improve sleep and healing process. Effects happen at a very deep subconscious level, ideal for powerful reprogramming. If you’re in lack of sleep because you’re a busy business man or because you have insomnia etc., a few hours of our Delta waves programs will trick your brain into thinking it had all the restorative sleep it needs.
The pitch frequency measures and describes what a beat sounds like, i.e. does the isochronic beat have a deeper bass sound, or is it high pitched and sharper sounding? The beat waveform frequency describes how many times the beat is repeating per second, i.e. how fast it is beating. You don’t really need to concern yourself about the pitch frequency, as that doesn’t have a direct influence on brainwave entrainment and doesn’t play a part on the measurement on an EEG. I only mentioned it because you were referring to humans not being able to hear below 20Hz. I change the pitch frequency just to suit the mood of the track. For tracks that are to be relaxing, for meditation or sleep, I tend to use a lower pitch frequency so it sounds deeper and more relaxing and I never have that lower than 100Hz. For an energizing, high focus track I might use a more higher pitched 200Hz isochronic tone, because that is sharper sounding and less likely to make you feel sleepy. That’s all you really need to know about the pitch frequency.
Recently developed entrainment software has been designed to correct specific imbalances in hemispheric activity associated with undesirable mind-states. For example, people suffering with depression often have more activity in the right hemisphere, and specially designed brainwave music decreases this activity while increasing activity in the left hemisphere, reducing depression.
Another common misconception is that entrainment is going to force your brain into doing something beyond its native capabilities, or at least beyond what it is accustomed to doing. This mistaken belief is often the root that leads to comments like, “When I meditate with LifeFlow my face gets flushed (or my hair vibrates or I develop x-ray vision, or any of the other things we come across). If I meditate without LifeFlow the face flushing doesn’t happen. LifeFlow must be causing it.”
Participants in the included studies were children and adults, either healthy or with conditions such as learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, migraine, stress, anxiety and myofascial pain. Interventions included single, alternating, ascending or descending frequencies of photic or auditory stimulation or audiovisual entrainment selected either by the participant or by the investigator. Nearly half the studies used single sessions and the rest used multiple sessions ranging from nine to 100. Length of session varied from 0.5 seconds to 60 minutes. Frequency of session varied from twice daily to weekly. Outcomes reported in the review included cognition (including verbal skills, performance skills, attention, memory and overall intelligence/achievement), short- and long-term stress, pain, headache/migraine, mood, behavioural problems and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).