But the notion of changing brain waves is a very appealing one, from a marketing stand point. People can visualize brain waves and we like synchrony. Also, in the computer age, we understand the notion of “programming.” We also have been prepped for the future by movies such as The Matrix, where people could master Kung Fu in minutes by simply “downloading” the knowledge. This gives the whole notion a superficial plausibility. But the science just isn’t there.
Known as audio-visual brainwave entrainment, or AVE, this method involves the simultaneous flashing of light and audible, rhythmic tones using specialized equipment such as the Mind Machine. Also known as the Dream Machine or psycho-Walkman, this lightweight headset lets you experience a wide selection of audio and visual entrainment tracks while having complete mobility.
I am fortunate to be working with Deepak Chopra, M.D., and Dr. Rudy Tanzi, co-authors of the bestselling book Super Brain, on a technology called Brain Wave Entrainment. Deepak is very well known, but Rudy is an amazingly interesting person as well. He is the Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Vice-Chair of Neurology at Mass General Hospital. Rudy co-discovered three of the four original Alzheimer's genes and today runs the Alzheimer's Genome Project. He also plays the keyboards, including, at times, for Aerosmith. He is kind of a real life "Buckaroo Banzai."
Binaural beats change the frequency of your brainwaves, giving you control over which category you experience at any given moment. And because you’re in the driver’s seat — and producing specific frequencies to induce a specific state of mind — you can use binaural beats to boost performance, increase focus, get better sleep… the possibilities are endless. “There’s an infinite number of variations on how you could use this kind of technology,” says Bill Harris, Director of Centerpointe Research Institute and creator of auditory brainwave training program Holosync.
It is important to note that not all stress is bad. Everyone experiences a certain amount of stress on an almost daily basis, and it cannot be completely eliminated. Stress becomes a problem when too much is experienced, and it has a negative impact on behaviors, relationships, and health. The term “eustress” refers to positive stress that is associated with improved performance and productivity. “Distress” is negative stress that is associated with performance decrement and negative health consequences. The individual’s perception of the stressor and coping resources determine whether a situation is eustress or distress. College graduation is a stressor for most. The student who has a job or who has been accepted to a graduate program likely perceives the stress of graduation as eustress, whereas the student who has student loans and no immediate plans of a job or further education perceives distress.
Looking for an even more impactful way to feel the benefits of exercise? Do so while listening to uplifting music. Research findings indicate that music listening positively impacts the psycho-biological stress system, helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, improves recovery time, and has benefits for hormonal balance and brain functioning overall. (4)
Turns out, science says there is something to needing “fresh air”—even opening a window can help get more oxygen to your brain, soothing stress. “We live so much of our lives indoors, that when stress hits, one of my go-to techniques is to get outside or open a window,” Dr. Serani says. “Taking in a nice deep breath of crisp fresh air can immediately shift your neurochemistry.” If you’re overwhelmed with work, it can seem hard to take a break; but a quick step outside is even recommended by the American Psychological Association. When you come back, you’ll be recharged and ready to take on the challenge.
Summaries from recent reviews on yoga or Tai Chi clinical trial interventions indicate that these mind-body types of exercise can be effective in reducing stress (7,14,17). The authors of these reviews suggest that the results should be viewed with caution because study quality was varied (7,17). However, it should be noted that reductions in stress reported in one review were similar to or greater than reductions from other types of commonly used stress management techniques (7).
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).
Some people believe that using this stuff can be a replacement for meditation. While sitting passively and listening to something that can give you the same effect frequency-wise as meditation, there is still far more benefit to meditating than just entrainment. Meditation and mindfulness allow you to really understand yourself on a level far deeper than technology will bring you.
Working out is one of the most effective stress relievers. Researchers recently found that after spending 30 minutes on a treadmill, their subjects scored 25 percent lower on tests that measure anxiety and showed favorable changes in brain activity. If you only have time to do one thing for yourself, make it sticking to your workout routines. If you can't hit the gym or trails, even a brisk 30-minute walk at lunch or getting up several times a day to stretch and walk around will help relieve stress.
The thing about conditioning is, it doesn’t matter whether the conditioned response is pleasant or unpleasant, desirable or undesirable. The process of conditioning works just as well both ways. You went looking for any indication you were getting an effect by using entrainment and you happened to have an unpleasant experience that you focused on. To the mind it is irrelevant whether it was pleasant or unpleasant. One way works just as well as the other. But the fact remains; it was your general expectations that resulted in a specific situation of conditioning.
In a recent national survey, 44 percent of adults said stress had caused sleepless nights at least once in the previous month. All that tossing, turning and staring at the ceiling can leave you feeling tired and more stressed the next day. If you’re caught in this vicious cycle of anxiety and insomnia, there’s good news: Simple stress relief techniques can help you sleep better and feel calmer.
Consider the following analogy. Imagine a ballroom full of people dancing together. When the music changes to a faster tempo, the dancers move faster in response to this. When a slower piece of music is played, the dancers’ rhythm slows down as well. In a similar way, the frequency of your brain will change in response to the frequency of the binaural beat that it is exposed to. For example, a person who is in a state of very deep meditation may have a dominant brainwave frequency of 5 hertz, so by listening to a binaural beat with a frequency of 5 hertz you can entrain your own brainwaves to a similar state.
While the physiological and psychological processes being uncovered by brain science in the study of brainwaves is sometimes complex and still being investigated, certain basic principles are well-established, easily understood, and helpful for achieving the most effectively use of brainwave entrainment when seeking relaxation, improved sleep, lowering of anxiety, or other goals. This important background information and scientific knowledge presented here includes:
The Frequency following response (FFR), also referred to as Frequency Following Potential (FFP), is a specific response to hearing sound and music, by which neural oscillations adjust their frequency to match the rhythm of auditory stimuli. The use of sound with intent to influence cortical brainwave frequency is called auditory driving, by which frequency of neural oscillation is 'driven' to entrain with that of the rhythm of a sound source.