Meditation is the practice of calming the mind and tuning down the number of random thoughts that pass through it. A regular meditation practice has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, slow down the rate of brain aging and memory loss, promote emotional health, and lengthen attention span. Practicing meditation regularly can be quite difficult, so people have looked to technology for help.
Cory Allen [b. 1982] is a composer and mastering engineer living in Austin, Texas. His work focuses on the cultivation of human perception with the intent of altering the listener's state of consciousness. Allen's music is deep, patient, meditative, highly-conceptual and often composed by implementing self-organizing structures, rule-based performances, set pitch classes and a wide variety of instruments.
I was not looking forward to returning back to my house as I live on my own so was very pleased to see that the “equisync” CDs had arrived in my absence. Ever since I have been back I put a CD on each evening and the change has been totally fantastic. The meditation is unbelievably calming and soothing, the inner-voice has been silenced and quite often I just put it on to drop off to sleep with the sound of gently falling rain. I can feel each day starting calmly and things like organising the memorial service have not been the strain and upset I would normally have expected. I could wax lyrical for hours because the benefits are truly and utterly fantastic. Never did I think I would find anything that would lift my spirits, clear my mind, calm the inner space but Equi-Sync has done that, and more.
Entrainment is a term originally derived from complex systems theory, and denotes the way that two or more independent, autonomous oscillators with differing rhythms or frequencies, when situated in a context and at a proximity where they can interact for long enough, influence each other mutually, to a degree dependent on coupling force, such that they adjust until both oscillate with the same frequency. Examples include the mechanical entrainment or cyclic synchronization of two electric clothes dryers placed in close proximity, and the biological entrainment evident in the synchronized illumination of fireflies.
We’ve all wished at one time or another that we could simply manipulate the rates at which our brains function; “Slow down, it’s time for bed” or “Wake up! Pay attention!” And now we’ve got some good news: thanks to some relatively new technology, and a few relatively old traditions, there actually is a way to manipulate the frequencies of brain waves to help you relax, sleep, meditate, or solve problems.
Slow Wave Sleep or SWS, is the deepest of sleep states and it plays a vital role in health and well being. During this phase of the sleep cycle, the brain begins producing very slow, large Delta waves. Even if your lifestyle doesn’t allow for the luxury of a full eight hours of sleep, a few hours of Slow Wave Sleep will trick your brain into thinking it’s had all the restorative sleep it needs.
When blended with musical sounds, brainwave entrainment frequencies induce specific states of mind, which are the result of those brainwaves, delivering them in pleasing and relaxing audio tracts for use with and without stereo headphones. For example, alpha and theta waves, because they exist at the borders between conscious and unconscious thought, are especially rich and useful for tapping into and stimulating subconscious processes.
Despite the lack of solid evidence of the effectiveness of binaural beats in producing brainwave changes, and that those changes can be effective in altering our conscious states, there do exist hours of recorded binaural beat videos available on YouTube. Some of these are just straight beats designed to ease the listener into various states by gradually varying the frequencies of the beats. A nice example of this can be found in a 90-minute video by Jody Hatton. Others embed the beats into a musical score, which some people find easier to listen to. Spotify has a whole playlist devoted to binaural beats. You can try these and many others to see if this is something that may be helpful to you. The soothing nature of the sounds may be what really helps, but that’s fine if you just want to relax and drift off to sleep. You can also find quite a few apps that generate binaural beats at your phone’s app store. If you want to relax and sleep just be sure to set the frequency in the theta range (4 – 7 Hz). Patients have reported to me that they felt energized or even anxious after listening to a few minutes of the beats, but this was usually because they were set to a high frequency like beta (13 – 16 Hz). Be sure to try listening to the beats for a short time and if they have a negative effect, just stop listening. If you find them helpful, that’s great, and you have a new technique that can be used to promote relaxation, something most of us can use.
Let’s say you’re listening to a sound in your left ear that’s at a frequency of 132 Hertz (Hz). And in your right ear, you’re listening to a sound that’s at a frequency of 121 Hz. Your brain, however, gradually falls into synchrony with the difference — or 11 Hz. Instead of hearing two different tones, you instead hear a tone at 11 Hz (in addition to the two tones given to each ear).
By the 1980s, entrainment technology had merged with advancements in microelectronics technology, making it possible to develop even more sophisticated audio and visual brainwave entrainment products for the marketplace. In the last two decades, a number of scientific studies have reported brainwave entrainment as an effective remedy for ADD, academic learning problems, and improving memory and cognition.
There were no significant differences between the experimental and control conditions in any of the EEG measures. There was an increase of the Profile of Mood States depression subscale in the experimental condition relative to the control condition (p = 0.02). There was also a significant decrease in immediate verbal memory recall (p = 0.03) in the experimental condition compared to control condition.
Other research by Paul Ekman, of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, suggests that meditation and mindfulness can tame the amygdala, an area of the brain which is the hub of fear memory. Ekman discovered that experienced Buddhists were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry as other people. Flanagan believes that if the findings of the studies can be confirmed they could be of major importance.
The review by Cahn also notes findings describing a heightened emotional state of meditators. A more complex study, conducted in 2008 by Lutz et al., focused on emotional response during meditation. This investigation involved the creation of a “compassion meditation” state by novice and experienced meditators and testing the meditators response to emotionally charged sounds. fMRI results indicated heightened activity in the cingulate cortex but also in the amygdala, temporo-parietal junction, and right posterior superior temporal sulcus in response to the emotional sounds. The authors of this study believe this indicates greater sensitivity to emotional expression and positive emotion due to the neural circuitry activated.
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.
If you search the Internet for "binaural beats" you'll quickly find there's a whole industry built on the idea that listening to binaural beats can produce all kinds of desired effects in your brain. It can alter your mood, help you follow a diet or stop smoking, get you pumped up for a competition, calm you down, put you to sleep, enhance your memory, act as an aphrodisiac, cure headaches, and even balance your chakra. Binaural-Beats.com offers a $30 CD that they call the world's first "digital drug". They claim it can get you drunk without the side effects. I-Doser.com offers a range of music tracks that they say simulates a variety of actual pharmaceuticals, such as Demerol, Oxycontin, and Vicodin. Suffice it to say that no matter what superpower you're looking for, someone on the Internet sells a binaural beat audio file claimed to provide it.