You don't have to buy one, though. It's not too hard to make your own binaural beat, and free software is widely available to do just that. The one that I used to make that little sample is an open-source program called Gnaural, available on the Sourceforge website. It's pretty easy to use, though it takes some practice before you can generate some of the really cool, more professional sounding beats. A binaural beat consists of two simple tones, and most people add that background pink noise. Nothing special.
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Stress levels and a proper diet are closely related. When we’re overwhelmed, we often forget to eat well and resort to using sugary, fatty snack foods as a pick-me-up. Try to avoid sugary snacks and plan ahead. Fruits and vegetables are always good, and fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress. A tuna sandwich really is brain food.
In order to understand brainwave entrainment you first have to understand something about brain waves and electroencephalograms (EEG). Neurons are cells that communicate with each other through electrical conduction. When a neuron fires it creates a small electrical and magnetic field. These fields are far too small to measure by placing electrodes on the scalp, or even on the surface of the brain. The only reason we can detect the electrical fields of the brain is because many neurons are firing together – in synchrony. All brain waves that are measured by an EEG, therefore, represent a large group of neurons firing together.
I was raised on a farm, and in my youth I dug enough fence post holes to last a dozen lifetimes. My father used to joke that he gave me that chore so that I’d have lots of practice and get good at digging fence post holes. From a pragmatic point of view, the purpose of digging all those post holes was really not so that I’d become a better post hole digger, but so that I could plant posts in them. Once you dig a post hole to the correct depth you don’t keep on digging, trying to make the hole fancier or more aesthetically pleasing. You stick a post in that sucker, tamp the earth back in around it so that the post is secure, and then move on to dig the next hole.
Stress affects your whole body, so find a pick-me-up for each of your senses. Turning on a favorite tune uses your sense of hearing for a science-backed burst of good feeling, and using aromatherapy uses your sense of smell to relax you. “Oils like lavender and lemon reduce stress,” Dr. Serani says. “Also, don’t forget that your sense of smell is the most nostalgic of all your senses,” so if you have a scent that reminds you of comfort, keep it on hand to sniff when you’re freaking out. Your sense of touch can be employed by stroking a “talisman”—a favorite or sentimental item—or even an “intention stick,” which you can hold like a wand to feel more in control. Chew gum to use your sense of taste to curb stress (scientists think it’s the lasting flavor, not just the act of chewing itself, that makes gum such a great stress reliever). Besides using your mind’s eye to visualize a happy place, you can use your sense of sight to look at calming images—cat videos on the Internet have actually been scientifically proven to lower stress.
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.
Researchers advise that people who suffer from epilepsy or seizures should ask for professional insight first before using binaural beats. Pregnant women are also advised to seek the advice of their physicians. However, I haven’t heard anything about binaural beats impacting those who have had heart attacks negatively. That being said, I encourage you to do extra research.
The studies included in the recent reviews of Tai Chi and yoga indicate that sessions between 60 and 90 minutes performed 2 to 3 days per week were effective in reducing stress and improving feelings of well-being (7,14,17). A study conducted in a worksite environment showed that 15 minutes of chair-based yoga postures was effective in reducing acute stress when assessed by self-report and with physiological measures (e.g., respiration rate and heart rate variability parameters). This finding indicates that shorter duration sessions can be effective in reducing acute stress with this type of exercise (15).
That said, I use binaural beats and isochronic tones to help me get over some hurdles, or as a pre-game to meditation. It’s far easier to go deep once my mind is operating on a certain frequency, or at least feels like it. It’s also way easier to get to that point than fighting my thoughts at times. Think of binaural beats and isochronic tones as heavy ammunition that you don’t always need, but is great to have in your arsenal when you really need it.
However, yoga and meditation take time to learn and master, and until the student becomes proficient, progress can be slow and frustrating, leading many people to abandon the effort before they see the benefits. Brainwave entrainment has the potential for helping a person enter the relaxing and rejuvenating mind-states brought about by yoga and meditation without the learning curve and time needed for mastering these other techniques. Brainwave entrainment may even facilitate learning other mindfulness methods by helping a person achieve success faster and more reliably.
Because of the way they are created, there may be a positive benefit from listening to binaural beats without considering the brainwave entrainment aspect, but I haven’t seen any research on that. I first discovered brainwave entrainment through binaural beats about 10 years ago now, but they didn’t do anything for me. So I’ve never been a regular user of them. I believe isochronic tones are a more effective way to produce hemispheric synchronisation because they produce a much stronger response in the brain
The reason this rule of thumb is so useful is because there is a huge market for simple answers. A genuine elegant solution (one that accomplishes more with less) is highly valuable in the marketplace. We are used to technology delivering new easy solutions to previously difficult tasks. While most improvements are incremental, there are occasional breakthroughs that transform our lives.
This is not to say that entrainment cannot produce some physical effects, particularly negative ones. It is possible to induce epileptic seizures using entrainment, especially visual entrainment that employs flashing lights. That’s why people with seizure disorders are uniformly told to consult with their health care provider before using entrainment if they have a seizure disorder or some other serious medical condition.
Neural oscillations are rhythmic or repetitive electrochemical activity in the brain and central nervous system. Such oscillations can be characterized by their frequency, amplitude and phase. Neural tissue can generate oscillatory activity driven by mechanisms within individual neurons, as well as by interactions between them. They may also adjust frequency to synchronize with the periodic vibration of external acoustic or visual stimuli.