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.
After you fully understand the above principles, the next source of poor results to consider arises from faulty expectations and misunderstandings about what meditation and brainwave entrainment are, and what the experience of either one of them is like. Meditation and Brainwave entrainment aren’t synonyms but the misunderstandings about them do have some overlapping areas. Some misunderstandings are common to both while some are unique to one or the other.
So using the example track above, the right ear is sent a 20Hz beat, compared to a 10Hz beat in the left ear. As the right ear receives the higher frequency of beat, this works to increase the speed of the ‘left' brain hemisphere, which can be helpful for people with conditions like ADD, who are often found to have an abundance of slow wave activity in the left brain.
There is a lot to like about this technology as a potential treatment for sleep problems. It’s low impact and non-invasive, it doesn’t rely on chemical drugs, it’s inexpensive and for most people likely easy to adopt and maintain. In this way, it’s similar to the other behavioral therapies for sleep that I like so much, including meditation and relaxation techniques, and other mind-body therapies.
From a strictly physical/emotional viewpoint, the benefits of meditation include (but are not limited to) such things as greater resistance to stress; less physical illness and improved resilience when illness does occur; better quality of sleep and increased recovery during sleep; a generally magnified sense of well-being; a sharper, clearer mind; increased capacity for learning; improved functioning in daily life; more harmonious relationships; greater control over emotional states, and more.
Theta is very subtle. It is one of the most elusive and extraordinary brain states you can explore. Theta is a state of somnolence with reduced consciousness; you are neither fully awake nor asleep yet. It is also known as the “Twilight state” or “Stage 1 Sleep” which you normally only experience fleetingly as you wake or drift off to sleep. In the Theta brain state, your senses are withdrawn from the external world and focused on signals originating from within.
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.
So, there’s the deep stuff here, and then there’s the gamma stuff, too. There’s a little bit of 80 Hz, but it’s primarily a 40-Hz gamma track, gamma frequencies that are combined with a pulse, on and off, throughout the recording. I went to some lengths to make this as rich and potent as I could, whilst blending it into the sound of the music. There are these really rich, kind of cat-purr-like vibrations that come through at times, combined with the lulling, deeply relaxing theta brain waves.
Binaural meditation music is VERY popular these days, and you might have noticed that some of the companies that sell binaural music products make rather spectacular claims about the benefits of brainwave entrainment technology. Some declare that they can make you “meditate like a zen monk at the touch of a button”, or that you will “instantly meditate like the greatest gurus”. While it is true that binaural meditation music is extremely powerful, and that it can genuinely improve the quality of your life, it is not a miracle solution or a spiritual “get rich quick” scheme. Like all things in life, positive and lasting results will still take just a little time and effort on your part. Binaural meditation music just accelerates and deepens to process.
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.
The group is loud and boisterous, cheering on their favorite team, jeering at the referees, complaining about bad calls, laughing at some of the terrible acting of the players as they writhe in agony on the ground in an attempt to get the referee to call a foul on another player, and then as soon as the call is made they spring to their feet and trot off, all memory of the agony of a moment before completely forgotten.
“In order to get into a flow state, you have to calm a part of the brain, the posterior cingulate cortex, which is the source of what brain scientists call the default state, which is the non-focused state,” says Harris. “At any rate, it turns out that Holosync [binaural beats], when you listen to it, [calms that part of the brain] and so does traditional meditation. It’s just Holosync does it faster and more easily and more effortlessly. It turns down the posterior cingulate cortex and it enhances the other part of the brain that, when it’s enhanced, you can easily go into a flow state.”
Synchronized brain waves have long been associated with meditative and hypnogogic states, and audio with embedded binaural beats has the ability to induce and improve such states of consciousness. The reason for this is physiological. Each ear is "hardwired" (so to speak) to both hemispheres of the brain (Rosenzweig, 1961). Each hemisphere has its own olivary nucleus (sound-processing center) which receives signals from each ear. In keeping with this physiological structure, when a binaural beat is perceived there are actually two standing waves of equal amplitude and frequency present, one in each hemisphere. So, there are two separate standing waves entraining portions of each hemisphere to the same frequency. The binaural beats appear to contribute to the hemispheric synchronization evidenced in meditative and hypnogogic states of consciousness. Brain function is also enhanced through the increase of cross-collosal communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Your brain operates at certain levels of activity – the normal waking, active Beta, the meditative Alpha, the asleep-and-dreaming or deep meditative Theta, and the deep sleep/unconscious Delta. Beta is characterized by one thing we all want to get away from – stress.But that brainwave state has its place. It’s the action mode, and that’s the way it should be! If we’re not alert when we’re awake, bad things can happen, right?