Just as stress can increase the risk for chronic diseases and other health problems, dealing with chronic conditions and poor health can increase the amount of stress one experiences. Stress also influences behaviors that affect health. Diet choices, sleep habits, and drug use are behaviors that are often negatively affected by stress (3). The APA’s 2011 survey showed that 39% percent of respondents reported overeating or eating unhealthy food because of stress, and 29% reported skipping a meal (3). In addition, 44% reported lying awake at night because of stress (3). On a positive note, 47% of respondents reported walking or exercise as a way of managing stress (3).
Today we're going to put on our headphones, kick back in the beanbag, and get mellow to the soothing sounds of the latest digital drug: binaural beats. These computer generated sound files are said to massage your brain and produce all sorts of effects, everything from psychedelic experiences to behavior modification. Let's point our skeptical eye at the science of binaural beats, and especially at some of the claims made for them.
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.
A 2008 study at Hofstra University played two different binaural beats and a control sound (a babbling brook) to patients with high blood pressure. There was no difference between the groups. In one small study from Japan that was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 2006, they played various binaural beats to nine subjects, and observed the resulting EEGs. They found great variability in the results. Their conclusion was that listening to binaural beats can produce activity on the human cerebral cortex, however the cause was more likely a conscious auditory reaction and was not correlated to the frequency of the binaural beat. However, a 2005 study published in Clinical Neurophysiology found that they were able to induce a desired frequency in the EEG matching the phantom beat frequency encoded in a binaural beat, however this was with a single subject and was neither blinded nor controlled.
Entrainment guides our brainwaves into targeted ranges, but they are ranges we go through naturally many times every day. LifeFlow 10, for example, takes the brain to a 10Hz frequency. We experience this same frequency when closing our eyes and taking a deep breath, or when consciously relaxing physical tension in the body, or when we find ourselves lost in a daydream, or when we view a beautiful sunset, or when we find ourselves caught up in an especially peaceful bit of music. If there was a cause-and-effect relationship between these 10Hz brainwaves and our face flushing, then our face should also flush when we enter that daydream, listen to that piece of music, watch that sunset, or close our eyes and relax. The same brainwave patterns are present during all those activities as they are while listening to LF-10. But these other activities don’t bring on the same face flushing.
This research investigates the brainwave entrainment process and aims to demonstrate the usefulness of such an approach within the framework of cognitive performance improvements. In the introductory part the theories regarding the neurophysiological structure and the psychological processing of the cognitive system are discussed, for each of their components that are considered to be relevant for this research. The hypothesis states that the stimulation with binaural beats and stroboscopic light, synchronized at 10.2 Hz frequency, will produce a positive change in cognition. The research variables are the cognitive performance (the dependent variable) and the brainwave entrainment (the independent variable). The brainwave entrainment program consists in the synchronized application of Alpha binaural beats and stroboscopic light, at a 10.2 Hz frequency, in a 30 minutes long session. The difference was made by the stroop effect based exercise that was used as a frame. There were 60 participants, divided into two independent samples. The two independent samples t test for the means differences was used in the statistical analysis. The obtained results by evaluations and by statistics confirmed this research's hypothesis, stating that the stimulation with binaural beats and stroboscopic light, synchronized at 10.2 Hz frequency, will produce a positive change in cognition.
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).
Yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina. Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, it’s best to learn by attending group classes, hiring a private teacher, or at least following video instructions. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your practice as you see fit.
Science shows that massages reduce stress, but you don’t have to go to the spa—you can give yourself one right now. “Learning how to self-massage your foot, head, neck, or shoulders reduces the stress hormone cortisol, boosts your immune system, and increases the feel-good hormones oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin,” Dr. Serani says. You can even use a tennis ball or cold water bottle on your feet or neck. In addition, try rubbing pressure points like the webbing between your thumb and index finger, or your inner wrist. Another technique is the EFT tapping technique, literally tapping certain points on your body such as in between your eyes, your temples, and the center of your collarbone. “Tapping brings cleansing energy to the meridian points, as your mind directs the energy to what’s unbalanced in the body,” Whitaker says. “This restores your mind and body’s natural balance, which aids in releasing stress, worry, fears, and disharmony.”
2. The other thing you cannot afford to do is evaluate whether or not a technique is having an effect based upon having (or not having) any of those superficial, irrelevant, distracting phenomena discussed above, like face flushing, seeing light swirls, having sensations of this, that or the other thing, etc. Those kinds of phenomena will just lead you down the wrong path and steer you away from the true benefits of meditation. If you’ve already fallen into the trap of this sort of conditioning, using something like the Release Technique, the Sedona Method, or even EFT can be helpful in breaking established conditioned associations.
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.
In the average person, the activity of one brain hemisphere is dominant over the other, called brain lateralization. This hemispheric imbalance leads us to experience the world in a black and white way, perceiving separation over connectedness. When brainwave entrainment is used to synchronize brainwave activity in both hemispheres simultaneously, a person can more easily integrate information from all parts of the brain and solve problems with greater intelligence and sensitivity.
^ Trost W. and Vuilleumier P., Rhythmic entrainment as a mechanism for emotion induction by music: a neurophysiological perspective. In The Emotional Power of Music: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Musical Arousal, Expression, and Social Control, Cochrane T., Fantini B., and Scherer K. R., (Eds.), Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2013, pp213–225.