Stress, Brainwaves and ....Sound?

The first thing I wanted to do after my experience with anxiety, was to read, and try to ground myself in some concrete knowledge that could help my understand what was going on in my mind.  Many of the mind states I was cycling through were downright psychedelic and I needed a healthy dose of "reality" (whatever that is...hah)  One of the first books I read was called the "Stress Answer". One section of the book in particular really clicked. The section was talking about the different brainwave states and how stressed states could actually be measured in hertz. Well "hertz" were something I had been working with for a long time. As a musician (and sometimes sound engineer, by default) I frequently worked with the idea of hertz ranges. The hertz produced by the brain, however, are much lower than what I normally worked with in music. In stressful states the brain functions at around a range of 30 hz. More relaxed states would probably be around 12-15 hz or lower. This is far below the range of human hearing. This started me thinking about the brain waves in a different way (that related them to music) and my curiosity eventually led me to the concept of brainwave entrainment and binaural beats.

What are binaural beats?

Binaural Beats are a way of syncing the brainwaves to a desired frequency range. For example, if I was in a stressed state and wanting to bring my brainwaves down to a more relaxed range, listening to binaural beats could help me to achieve this.

How do Binaural Beats (and other types of Brainwave synchronization) work?

Our brains have a frequency following response. This means that when we are exposed to repetitive beats our brainwaves naturally attempt to sync to them. Imagine yourself listing to the repetitive sounds of a passing train or as a child sleeping to the repetitive sound in the car. Binaural Beats and other types of entrainment work in a similar way.

Binaural Beats help us achieve the lower subsonic states by using two slightly differing tones (in headphones). The brain attempts to sync to the difference of the two tones with each tone panned in each ear of the headphones. For example if your left ear heard 100hz and your right ear heard 105hz, the difference would be 5hz. Then, the brain would attempt to sync to 5hz. This basically sounds like vibrato on a stringed instrument or the "wah wah" sound of a tibetan bowl.

For me this, has turned out to be a great tool for relaxation and meditation. Also, I feel that the more I have gotten used to the feel of different brainwave states, they are much easier to access later. Kind of like tuning in to a certain "radio station".

Here are basic descriptions of some of the brain states.

Brainwave ranges:

Beta - 30hz-13hz - your normal awake state, in higher ranges or above 30hz you may be experiencing stress. In this case, you gotta relax!

Alpha - 13z-8hz - a relaxed and reflective state

Theta - 8hz-4hz - a very meditative state or getting drowsy and drifting off, if your sleepy)

Delta - 4hz and below - deep sleep or a very deep meditative state. Buddhist Monk's brainwaves have also been measured in this state during meditation.

So is this the holy grail to solve all stress problems? For me, no, but it has been a major piece of the puzzle and an extremely effective tool. Other great tools for me also include yoga, meditation and diet and exercise.

Here is an article from Wikipedia about Brainwave Entrainment:

The brainwave states (Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta) are listed on this page (scroll down to the table)

Here are some Binaural Beats with nature sounds I created on SoundCloud.

(Follow me on SoundCloud or join the mailing list via this blog and I'll send a notice as I add new tracks.)

For sound downloads click here.

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