This phenomenon is best known in acoustics or music, though it can be found in any linear system: "According to the law of superposition, two tones sounding simultaneously are superimposed in a very simple way: one adds their amplitudes". If a graph is drawn to show the function corresponding to the total sound of two strings, it can be seen that maxima and minima are no longer constant as when a pure note is played, but change over time: when the two waves are nearly 180 degrees out of phase the maxima of one wave cancel the minima of the other, whereas when they are nearly in phase their maxima sum up, raising the perceived volume.
In fact just having a particular range of brainwaves running through our grey matter is also not “meditation”. Brainwaves are not the cause of the meditative state. They are only an indicator that we might be in a meditative state. And then again we might be in some other state as well. Those exact same brainwave frequencies are present during many different activities and states of consciousness, not just during meditation.
It’s not easy to remember to use your senses in the middle of a minor or not so minor crisis. At first, it will feel easier to just give into pressure and tense up. But with time, calling upon your senses will become second nature. Think of the process like learning to drive or play golf. You don’t master the skill in one lesson; you have to practice until it becomes second nature. Eventually you’ll feel like you’re forgetting something if you don’t tune into your body during challenging times. Here’s how to make it habit:
People who handle stress well tend to employ what stress experts call an "optimistic explanatory style." They don't beat themselves up when things don't work out in their favor. So instead of using statements that catastrophize an incident, like "I'm a complete failure," they might say to themselves, "I need to work on my backhand." Or they'll transfer blame to an external source. Rather than saying, "I really blew that presentation," it's, "That was a tough group to engage." Replace the word "expect" with "hope." Expectations can only be used for those things over which you have the greatest personal control. You can expect to quench your thirst with a drink of water. You cannot expect to get the job you just interviewed for. You can hope to get it.
However, very experienced practitioners of meditation are able to enter a Delta state and maintain consciousness at the same time. Yoga nidra or “yogi sleep” is a sleep-like state which yogis report during their meditations. This lucid sleeping state is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness (“super-conscious mind”). In this state, experienced yogis are able to regulate their body temperature and heart rate.
While binaural beats are the most common technique we use for producing brainwave entrainment music, we do use other brainwave entrainment techniques such as isochronic tones, monaural beats and amplitude modulation. If these techniques have been used then you will find them mentioned in the written description of the music productions that include them. If not mentioned, then you can assume that binaural beats are the only brainwave entrainment technology in use.
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?
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.
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.)
Binaural-beat perception originates in the inferior colliculus of the midbrain and the superior olivary complex of the brainstem, where auditory signals from each ear are integrated and precipitate electrical impulses along neural pathways through the reticular formation up the midbrain to the thalamus, auditory cortex, and other cortical regions.
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.
A crossover RCT of a single session of theta stimulation in four healthy adults reported no significant improvement in verbal fluency or attention associated with the intervention and a reduction in immediate recall. Controlled comparisons reported significant benefit from the intervention in all three outcomes measured. Six pre/post studies reported significant benefit from the intervention for 19 of 28 cognitive outcomes.
Deep breathing is an easy stress reliever that has numerous benefits for the body, including relaxing muscles and quieting the mind. Breathing exercises are especially helpful because you can practice them anywhere. Perhaps more importantly, they work quickly so you can de-stress in a flash. The karate breathing meditation is a great exercise to start with, and this basic breathing exercise can be done anywhere to help you reverse your stress response, get back to being more proactive (rather than reactive), and face stress with greater resilience.
Another very useful application for the Theta & Delta frequencies is to keep your eyes open while listening to the entrainment recordings. Simply pick a spot on the wall and look beyond it as if you were looking at the view beyond the wall. Keeping your eyes open while in Theta and Delta brainwave states stimulates connections between the visual information processing centers of your brain and the "dream vision" centers that normally only function with the eyes closed.
Fortunately, the recommendations for exercise in the role of stress management fit with the current health recommendations (12). The proposed physiological adaptations thought to improve the way the body handles stress and recovers from stress can occur with a regular moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise program (12,13,16), such as the recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. If an individual is using exercise as a time-out from stressors, shorter duration activity can serve the purpose, especially when lack of time or fatigue is a concern. Consider an individual who reports significant work-related stress. Breaking the exercise into two 10- to 15-minute sessions, one before work and one at lunch time when possible, can help combat stress throughout the day. Although there is not a lot of research with resistance exercise and stress management, resistance exercise can be used to provide a time-out from one’s stressors. Because resistance training produces different exercise adaptations compared with aerobic exercise, it might not affect the way the body physiologically reacts to stress as aerobic exercise does. However, the acute effect of a time-out to reduce stress can be beneficial. In addition, clients can receive the numerous health benefits associated with resistance training. The resistance exercise prescription for general health benefits of 2 to 3 days of exercise to target all of the major muscle groups performed at a moderate intensity of 8 to 12 repetitions can be recommended.
Theta waves have a frequency between 4 and 7.5 hertz, making them slower than more wakeful alpha but faster than the dreamless slumber of delta. Theta brainwaves are the frequencies of nighttime dreams and REM sleep when the brain goes through bursts of activity and eye movement. People also experience theta waves in a state of light sleep, deep relaxation, during meditation and prayer, and when daydreaming. Theta waves produce an experience of inward wakefulness where we become disengaged from the outside world while engaging in inner activity. At the lower frequencies of theta, sleeping states are experienced, and at the higher range of frequency, awake relaxed states are experienced.
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.
Resonant entrainment of oscillating systems is a well-understood principle within the physical sciences. If a tuning fork designed to produce a frequency of 440 Hz is struck (causing it to oscillate) and then brought into the vicinity of another 440 Hz tuning fork, the second tuning fork will begin to oscillate. The first tuning fork is said to have entrained the second or caused it to resonate. The physics of entrainment apply to bio-systems as well. Of interest here are the electromagnetic brain waves. The electrochemical activity of the brain results in the production of electromagnetic wave forms which can be objectively measured with sensitive equipment. Brain waves change frequencies based on neural activity within the brain. Because neural activity is electrochemical, brain function can be modified through the introduction of specific chemicals (drugs), by altering the brain's electromagnetic environment through induction, or through resonant entrainment techniques.
Another consideration of stress is whether it is acute or chronic. “Acute stress” is what an individual experiences at the time the stressor is encountered (4). The stress response is activated, and the body returns to homeostasis once the challenge of the stressor is removed or the person successfully manages the situation. For example, an individual on the way to an important meeting gets into a traffic jam and realizes she is going to be late; the stress response starts. When she calls her boss and learns that she can conference into the meeting while on the road, the stress response subsides with the resolution of the situation. When an individual experiences acute stress on a consistent basis, such as with overcommitting at work or constant worrying, it is referred to as “acute episodic stress” (4). Individuals who experience acute episodic stress often show signs and symptoms of stress (Table 1) that can negatively impact physical and psychological health. These individuals can learn how to change behaviors and manage their stress to prevent these consequences.
These brainwaves are actually a bit of a mystery. They’re the highest frequency you can achieve, but scientists are a little dumbfounded by them. Unlike the next set of brainwaves (Alpha and Beta), Gamma brainwaves don’t’ really translate to feeling active and alert. Rather, what’s been discovered is that in Gamma, neurons are firing so harmoniously, that people often feel like they are having a spiritual experience. This brainwave state has been associated with expanding consciousness and understanding the value of universal love and harmony.
That all said, we are all different and have our own different limits. So I generally advise that you just be aware of how you are feeling, and if you feel like you are getting a bit fatigued from it, it’s probably time to stop or at least take a break. When listening over long extended periods, I recommend that you keep yourself well-hydrated. Your brain needs a good supply of water to function well, especially if you are studying hard and increasing your brainwave electrical activity.
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.
Alpha (12hz – 8hz) – Awake, but deeply relaxed. Simply closing your eyes will produce alpha brainwaves. This category is associated with daydreaming, visualization, imagination, light meditation. Brainwave expert Anna Wise called the alpha range the bridge between beta and theta. (More information can be found in Wise’ book The High-Performance Mind)