Doing almost any routine, repetitive activity (like vacuuming, shredding paper or knitting), or reciting a word that represents how you wish you felt (such as calm) is a quick way to achieve a Zen-like state. Studies show the effects lower blood pressure and slow heart rate and breathing. The crucial elements are to focus on a word, your breathing or a movement and to bring your attention back to your task if your mind wanders or negative thoughts intrude. Or look to your faith for a mantra: A recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that repeating phrases with spiritual meanings helped participants cope with a range of problems, from anxiety to insomnia.
Sound and light are the most popular methods to entrain the mind, yet there are a few other options in our toolbox. Using vibrational energy from sources such as magnets and electricity has been proven to help overcome addictions, depression, and even treat neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s. In this section, we cover these alternative forms of brainwave entrainment.
All brainwave frequencies are useful and beneficial at certain times – there is no brainwave that is intrinsically better than another. However, by deliberately choosing to attain a particular brainwave state, a corresponding mental state can be brought about at the same time. For example, a working person who has been in an overly alert beta brainwave pattern for many hours can quickly shift their mind and body into a relaxed state by listening to a few minutes of brainwave entrainment music for inducing alpha or theta brainwaves.
Because the brain filters and interprets reality in a split-brained way, we tend to see things as separate and opposed, rather than as connected and part of the oneness spoken of by the great spiritual teachers (and, in the last few decades, by quantum mechanical physicists). Thus, at a deep level, the dual structure of our brain, in conjunction with brain lateralization, predisposes us to see and experience ourselves as separate from, and often in opposition to, the rest of the world—instead of experiencing the elegant interconnectedness between us and everything else. Our childhood associations and programming build on this inborn tendency by training us to seek this and avoid that, to move toward pleasure and away from pain, to do good and not bad, and so on. The greater the lateralization in the brain, the greater the feelings of separation—and the greater the feelings of separation, the greater the fear, stress, anxiety, and isolation.
Well … to understand the role entrainment plays in meditation, think of a water pump. Most of you have lived in areas where you have access to city water. You turn the knob on the tap, water comes out, end of story. If you grew up like I did, on a farm with a local well, then you probably know that in order to get the water flowing from a well you must first “prime the pump”. (Those of you who remember the days when cars all had carburetors rather than fuel injectors might also remember running out of gas and needing to prime the carburetor with a little gasoline. It’s the same principle.)
While visual entrainment is more powerful than audio alone for inducing desired brainwave states, more caution is needed when using visual methods. Between 0.3 and 3 percent of the population is susceptible to having seizures from flickering light stimulation, and for other people, flickering visual stimuli simply makes them uncomfortable. People with epilepsy have a greater chance of having a seizure from exposure to flickering light stimulation.
A more extensive study of over 100 participants who were undergoing general anesthesia for a day procedure, reported a decrease in pre-operative anxiety. The participants in this study listened to 30 minutes of binaural beats before surgery, but the researchers noted that people experiencing high levels of pre-operative anxiety could listen to binaural beats for up to 1 hour before anesthesia to reduce levels of anxiety.
Alpha: Alpha brainwave patterns are associated with a state of wakeful relaxation. Slower and lower in frequency (between 9-14 hertz), alpha waves are dominant when we’re calm and relaxed, but still alert. Alpha waves are associated with states of meditation (your yoga class probably puts you in an alpha state), and also with our ability to be creative.
“Stress and sleepless nights are closely linked,” Buenaver says. “If you’re in pain, tend to worry, or are coping with a difficult situation in your life, you may have more stress hormones than usual circulating in your body. A poor night’s sleep adds even more. And those hormones may never be fully broken down. It’s like running an engine in fifth gear all the time.”
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).
Other entrainment methods sometimes used include autopan modulation that moves sound in an 180º arc to create a desired tone. Harmonic box entrainment, invented by James Mann, uses a layering of binaural and monaural tones that alternate between ears, requiring headphones. Sound modulation and filtering, amplitude modulation, and pitch panning use diverse sounds to create rhythmic pulses matched to the desired brainwave frequency.
Literally embrace whatever it is you're going through and then let it go. Try doing a tai chi exercise known as "embracing the tiger," where you take your arms, spread them wide, put your hands together and then draw them—and everything around you—toward your navel, the center of your being. Doing this allows you to take the good with the bad. Then reverse your hands and push them out, releasing your tension. When you can control stress, it can no longer control you. (Follow it with this progressive muscle relaxation technique to reduce stress.)
The exact physiological mechanisms to explain how exercise improves stress have not been delineated. Human and animal research indicates that being physically active improves the way the body handles stress because of changes in the hormone responses, and that exercise affects neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin that affect mood and behaviors (9,11). In addition to the possible physiological mechanisms, there also is the possibility that exercise serves as a time-out or break from one’s stressors. A study that tested the time-out hypothesis used a protocol that had participants exercise but did not allow a break from stress during the exercise session (5). Participants were college-aged women who reported that studying was their biggest stressor. Self-report of stress and anxiety symptoms was assessed with a standard questionnaire before and after four conditions over 4 days. The conditions were quiet rest, study, exercise, and studying while exercising. These conditions were counterbalanced across participants, and each condition was 40 minutes in duration. The “exercise only” condition had the greatest calming effect (5). When participants were not given a break from their stressor in the “studying while exercising” condition, exercise did not have the same calming effect.
So, in summary, binaural beats certainly do not work the way the sellers claim, but there's no reason to think they're any less effective than any other music track you might listen to that effects you in a way you like. If they make you sleepy (like they all do for me), use them to go to sleep. If they relax you or get you amped, use them for that. But don't expect them to be any more effective than regular music. If someone you know claims that they are, put them to the test, and bust the myth.
A study published in Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology by Paul Williams and Michael West in 1975 examined the brainwave states of people experienced in meditation while using photic stimulation, and another study by Leonard, Telch, and Harrington in 1999 examined the successful use of brainwave entrainment techniques for attaining meditative states in subjects.
The Neuro Programmer website, as is typical, is full of testimonials and vague references to research. I tried to track down the research they referenced, but could not find anything published or peer-reviewed by the authors named or on the subjects indicated. For example, they cite one study by Thomas Budzynski, but the only thing published by him that is listed on Pub Med is a small study on biofeedback published in 1969. The 1999 study they reference is not listed. Also – Budzynski has connections to another company – Theta Technologies – which sells similar technology. (The exact nature of his connection is not clear, he was at least a consultant. He is also listed as the director of research for another company, Synchromed, LLC.) This looks like just another in-house worthless study to support the marketing of a product.
Effects on cortisol: The hormone cortisol is commonly associated with stress, and when levels are higher than usual, it can have a negative impact on the body. High levels of cortisol can lead to a range of conditions, including Cushing syndrome, menstrual cycle and female libido changes, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Giampapa noted a reduction of cortisol of up to 70-80 percent in several study participants.
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.
One faulty expectation as it pertains to brainwave entrainment is that listening to an entrainment track is the same as meditating. If you’ve understood the principles so far as they’ve been laid out you understand why this idea is completely untrue. If the answer is not yet obvious to you, read the material covering these principles again and try to grasp their meaning.
There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all track or frequency range which is right for all kids while doing homework. So that does make it difficult to recommend one thing in particular, and why I have a number of tracks for studying and focus. If they have already learnt and understood the information, but are just trying to commit it to memory for a test, then I would recommend an alpha track, like the Memorization Study Aid product I have with the 10.4Hz frequency you referred to. If they are still trying to fully understand what is being taught in a workbook, then I would recommend a track that is mainly beta frequencies, like my Study Focus tracks. In the middle, I have a number of tracks which use a combination of beta and alpha wave frequencies, like Study Booster, Study Enhancer and Cognition Enhancer. The last 3 use similar frequencies but deliver the tones and brainwave entrainment effects in different ways. As we are all wired a little differently it does sometimes take a bit of trial and error, to see what method or frequency range works best for the individual. These types of tracks are made for a general audience. In an ideal world, you would hook up to an EEG and see in real time exactly what a person responds to best, depending on the goal and current state of mind.
There’s an aesthetic element to the music and there are a lot of drone-based sounds and time-stretched sounds, deep, rich bass sounds—there’s a spectrum of sounds within there—and what’s more, there’s a load of 3D processing that goes on to ensure that the mind doesn’t become habituated to them. There’s also a constant, subtle sense, a slow and gradual sense, of the sounds shifting around. And, there are layers of binaural beats.
Hi Et, In all the feedback and studies I’ve read and looked into over the years, I’ve seen lots of feedback from people talking about how they don’t like the sound of the tones, or they find them irritating in some way. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why one person likes it and the next doesn’t. It’s a bit like normal music, one person’s sweet symphony is another person pneumatic drill. It’s common for people to find it weird and maybe annoying at first, which is how I felt in the beginning. But usually after a few listens you can start to get used to it and appreciate the sound, and especially the feeling it gives you. Personally, I think it can help if you try to embrace the sound, psychologically speaking beforehand. It can also help to have the sound playing at a very low volume, to begin with, then building it up as you get more used to it.
Isochronic tones have only been proven to have an effect while you are listening to them, that’s why you won’t find me claiming anywhere that there are potentially positive long-term effects. Once the tones stop, your brainwaves are no longer being stimulated by the sound and so they stop being in sync with the tone frequency. For you to think you are still feeling the effects after all this time and from such a short time listening to them, I think it may be linked to anxiety. I know that some people who are new to this type of thing can build up a strong feeling of anxiety, after worrying about the potential effects brought on by fear of the unknown. I suspect the problem may be psychological with you worrying about the potential effects and keep repeating the experience from memory in your head. When you keep going over the same thing in your head like that and worrying about it, it’s easy to then spot other potential side-effects like how your nostrils and body temp is feeling, then making links back to that experience and labelling that as the reason. I think the best way to overcome this is to realise that the side-effects you are mentioning are completely unrelated, so there is nothing to worry about. These tracks are literally listened to for millions of hours a month on YouTube across loads of channels. If the effects lasted for a long time people would just listen for 5 minutes and come back in a couple of weeks. But people keep coming back to listen because that’s the only way to feel the benefit and effects…while you are listening to them. If you are unable to stop thinking and worrying about this on our own, I recommend that you speak to your doctor about it or a specialist in dealing with anxiety issues. I hope that helps.
It takes slightly more time to practice guided imagery, but this is a great way to leave your stress behind for a while and relax your body. Some find it easier to practice than meditation, as it allows more engagement of the conscious mind. You can focus on imagining relaxing environments you would love to visit, or on memories of your "happy place" for when you're stressed. You can play natural sounds in the background as you practice, to promote a more immersive experience.
The functional role of neural oscillations is still not fully understood; however they have been shown to correlate with emotional responses, motor control, and a number of cognitive functions including information transfer, perception, and memory. Specifically, neural oscillations, in particular theta activity, are extensively linked to memory function, and coupling between theta and gamma activity is considered to be vital for memory functions, including episodic memory.