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.
Words could be great stress relievers. One technique to quell sudden stress is to repeat a phrase from which you draw power and strength. “Think positively about releasing what is bothering you by repeating a positive mantra that uplifts you such as, ‘I am at peace,’ ‘All is well,’ ‘I choose to think thoughts that serve me,’ or ‘I love and believe in myself fully,’” says Carol Whitaker, life transformation expert and the author of Ridiculously Happy! The Secret to Manifesting the Life and Body of Your Dreams. “This too shall pass” is another good one. Repeating a mantra is actually a type of meditation that can make you more resilient to stress—some studies show it can actually alter your brain’s neural pathways. You can place reminders of your mantras near the places you tend to get stressed, like your work space. “I actually keep a file on my computer of great quotes and inspiring sayings. So when I’m feeling overwhelmed by life’s struggles, I clip them to my screensaver, post them on my social media, and even print them out to put on my refrigerator or desk,” Dr. Serani says.
Some research suggests that the benefits from brainwave entrainment can last a lot longer, and still be seen for some time after you've stopped using it. Study participants have still maintained improved test scores a few weeks after the stimulation had ceased. Research on the long-term benefits has so far been minimal though, so how long the effects last is still up for debate.
There are many advantages and disadvantages with binaural beats. One of the major advantages is hemispheric synchronization. Since both hemispheres are required to create the beat within the brain, this method is an excellent way to create greater harmony between areas of the mind typically functioning independently. Binaural beats are also known to have effective hypnotic and relaxing effects.
The final suggestion I have to offer is that you make your practice a regular, consistent habit. You don’t have to be perfect but you do need consistency. Like any other skill, entering meditation will develop in direct proportion to the consistency of your practice. Missing a session occasionally is not going to derail all your progress. But frequently skipping or blowing insincerely through practice is not going to produce any noteworthy results. There isn’t any hard and fast rule from frequency of practice that always applies to everyone, but most of us will instinctively know whether or not we’re giving our practice the time and effort it requires.
Recently developed entrainment software has been designed to correct specific imbalances in hemispheric activity associated with undesirable mind-states. For example, people suffering with depression often have more activity in the right hemisphere, and specially designed brainwave music decreases this activity while increasing activity in the left hemisphere, reducing depression.
“Like the pulses of vibration that produce sound on a guitar string, your brain also creates pulses of vibrations. These vibrations are electrical impulses,” continues Naik. “Their activity can be measured by using an EEG (electroencephalogram), which measures the frequency of these pulses [which is measured in Hertz]. Your brain actually has a predominant frequency at which it operates in any given moment; this can be associated with your state of mind.”
Yoga has been shown to have similar benefits, reinforcing the “mind-body connection,” improving how people (especially women) feel about their bodies, helping with sleep and controlling anxiety. A review of over 35 clinical trials that tested the effects of regular yoga on stress levels and health found that, overall, yoga offers significant improvements in various physical and psychological health markers for the majority of people. (3)
These are just a few examples. This silly list literally goes on for pages and pages, and it is pure hogwash almost without exception. Unfortunately there are many people dealing with personal problems that read nonsense like this and want very badly for it to be true. Perhaps they don’t believe every word, but they believe or hope that at least some of it is accurate information. These hopes and beliefs contribute to the generation of false expectations, so that when listening to an entrainment frequency of 10.3Hz doesn’t clear up their stuffy sinuses they conclude entrainment doesn’t work. The digestion of such foolishness is an impediment to realizing the true value of entrainment.
You don't have to buy one, though. It's not too hard to make your own binaural beat, and free software is widely available to do just that. The one that I used to make that little sample is an open-source program called Gnaural, available on the Sourceforge website. It's pretty easy to use, though it takes some practice before you can generate some of the really cool, more professional sounding beats. A binaural beat consists of two simple tones, and most people add that background pink noise. Nothing special.
Because the mind and body are a single system, changing our brainwaves and spending more time in harmonious, relaxed, and restorative mind-states also affects our physical health. Physical health then reinforces our mental-state, and a feedback loop of either positive or negative processes becomes established. Research studies have shown beneficial effects of using brainwave entrainment for treating migraine headaches, premenstrual syndrome, and for managing physical pain.
Many people exercise to control weight and get in better physical condition to become more healthy or physically attractive, but exercise and stress management are also closely linked. Exercise provides a distraction from stressful situations, as well as an outlet for frustrations, and gives you a lift via endorphins as well. This article can tell you more about the stress management benefits of exercise, and help you get more active in your daily life.
Changes in neural oscillations, demonstrable through electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements, are precipitated by listening to music, which can modulate autonomic arousal ergotropically and trophotropically, increasing and decreasing arousal respectively. Musical auditory stimulation has also been demonstrated to improve immune function, facilitate relaxation, improve mood, and contribute to the alleviation of stress. These findings have contributed to the development of neurologic music therapy, which uses music and song as an active and receptive intervention, to contribute to the treatment and management of disorders characterized by impairment to parts of the brain and central nervous system, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer's disease, and autism.