The power of music can’t be denied. It can lift us out of sombre moods, invoke nostalgia, and soothe us to the point of drifting off to sleep. It can also take us to the heights of joy when dancing. Despite this, music hasn’t been taken particularly seriously as an aid to neurological health; at least that was the case until binaural beats came into being.
There has been evidence to suggest that music has positive effects on neurology before binaural beats, though. For example, during childbirth, women experienced pain relief and stress reduction thanks to well-chosen music. So perhaps music really is the food of life! With the birth of binaural beats, there is even more evidence that induced brainwave frequencies can treat neurological issues.
What are binaural beats?
The term binaural comes from Latin. The first part ‘bi’ means ‘two’, and the second part ‘aural’ means ‘in relation to the ears’. Back in 1839, a Prussian physicist and meteorologist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove made a fascinating discovery while studying the effects of sounds. He realised that if a different sound frequency was channelled into both ears, the brain responds in a curious way: it bridges the difference in frequencies to create a third one.
For example, you could channel a 15Hz sound frequency into the right ear, and a 20Hz frequency into the right. What your brain perceives is the difference between the two: a 5Hz frequency. This can be considered an auditory illusion.
The five types of brainwaves
There are five main brainwave frequencies that affect our state. Each frequency invokes a different state in our being, from hyper-alertness to deep relaxation or unconsciousness:
- Beta: ranging between 14Hz and 30Hz, these relate to our conscious state. They help us to feel alert.
Alpha: ranging between 8Hz and14Hz, relating to light relaxation and heightened awareness.
- Theta: ranging between 4Hz and 8Hz, relating to deeper relaxation, meditative states, sleep and hypnosis.
- Delta: ranging between 0.5Hz and 4Hz, relating to unconscious states and deep, dreamless sleep.
- Gamma: ranging between 25 Hz and 100 Hz, relating to peak alertness, optimal brain function and concentration.
How binaural beats work
Brainwaves happen due to billions of neurons, all constantly creating electrical activity by transmitting signals. Brainwaves fluctuate between 0.5 Hz and 100 Hz, dependent on our physical and emotional activity. If we’re asleep, our brainwaves will be in the 4 to 8Hz range, for example. If we’re anxiously active, we’re likely to be in the Gamma state, generating waves of up to 100Hz.
Binaural beats have a strong impact on the function of the brain, inducing specific brainwaves to encourage any of the states listed above. Imagine that a frequency of 110Hz is channelled into the left ear while a frequency of 100Hz is channelled into the right. The difference is 10Hz, so that’s what the brain perceives.
As 10hz is in the Alpha range, you will become gently relaxed, with heightened awareness. Frequencies resulting in a 5Hz difference would result in a Theta state, encouraging sleep or meditation, and so on. Binaural beats simply give you control over your brainwaves, allowing you to choose the most beneficial state for you at any given moment.
How binaural beats help our health
As you might imagine, triggering specific brainwaves has physical and emotional effects. For instance, if you desire to be in a deeply relaxed state, you can listen to binaural beats that invoke alpha or theta waves to completely transform your state.
Binaural beats can help with the following:
- Improved concentration
- Reduction of stress or anxiety
- Promotion of light or deep relaxation
- Sharp focus
- Increased motivation for tasks and projects
- Mental clarity
- Deeper sleep and reduction of insomnia
- An overall sense of calm
- Increased mental energy
- Reduction of depression
- Promotion of emotional balance
Note that binaural beats are very good at inducing the desired altered states, but they can’t be considered a cure for deep-rooted problems. For example, if you have a history of depression, there might be some kind of neurological imbalance or post-traumatic stress disorder behind it. In cases like these, binaural beats can act as an aid alongside other solutions. Discovering the root of the problem is almost always necessary.
Listening to binaural beats
When listening to binaural beats, it will seem as if you’re listening to just one tone, as the brain perceives this. As mentioned, there are actually two tones (a different one in each ear) but you won’t consciously notice any difference. Most binaural beats have been created with pleasant music in the background, so it’s possible that you may not even hear the tones at all. However, your brain still perceives them and the effects will be noticeable.
To listen to binaural beats, you just need a decent pair of headphones with surround sound capabilities. Then you can go and download some binaural beats from YouTube, Amazon or iTunes. There are lots of smartphone apps offering binaural beats too.
Make sure you’re sat in a quiet place, and in a comfortable position. Lay down if you plan to go into deep relaxation or sleep. Remember not to overdo it – constantly changing your brainwaves might give you a headache. As with everything, moderation is key! Finally, dedicating yourself to a regular (and sensible) practice of listening to binaural beats can improve your life in a big way. There’s only one way to find out.
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