In the realm of utilizing the 5 senses to obtain and maintain a great mood, listening to preferred, soothing sounds is an effective way for our ears to help us do so. Think of how you feel when you are listening to the melodic voice of the ocean and compare that with how you feel when you’re listening to construction sounds outside your window? The first, for most, is stress-relieving while the second is stress-inducing. The first caters to putting us in a good mood, while the second will irritate and aggravate us. It’s a simple example, yet one we can all relate to and one that clearly highlights the subtle yet powerful influence of sound.
A few months ago, I started listening to binaural beats as part of my personal mood-boosting routine. A colleague who specializes in alternative medicine introduced me to the world of binaural beats, and I’ve been hooked ever since. A binaural beat is a perceived sound that occurs in the brain when two sounds of different frequency are heard in each ear. The benefits of binaural beats are attributed to the entrainment of brainwaves, which, in simple terms, means when the brain perceives the frequency of the binaural beat, brainwaves will move toward that frequency.
The complex science of binaural beats is beyond the scope of this blog, but it’s important to at least have a generalized understanding of how they influence the brain. In essence, the frequency of our brain waves is measured in Hertz, or Hz for short. Our brain is more active at a higher hertz. If the brain waves’ frequency is greater than 40 Hz, we call them gamma waves. Gamma waves correlate with alertness, consciousness, and high mental activity. If the frequency measures between 12-39 Hz, we call the brainwaves, beta waves. Alpha waves measure between 7-12 Hz, a frequency at which the brain is fairly relaxed. Theta waves measure at 4-7 Hz and delta waves have a frequency of less than 4 Hz. Theta waves correlate to a very relaxed, meditative state, and delta waves correspond to a deep sleep and loss of consciousness. EEGs taken while people are meditating show a predominance of theta waves. We can have different brainwaves operating at different frequencies at the same time, however the dominant frequency will determine our state of mind. Ideally, it’s best to listen to binaural beats that induce alpha or theta brainwaves, since they will create a state of relaxation, as well as less anxiety and less stress.
There’s not a lot of solid, scientific data supporting the efficacy of binaural beats, but there are at least enough studies and anecdotal evidence to support their relaxation and anxiolytic effects. A study conducted by Dr. Tina Huang and Dr. Christine Charyton analyzed 20 peer-reviewed studies on the effectiveness of brainwave entrainment. They concluded that brainwave entrainment is very effective, and by listening to binaural beats, cognitive deficits improve, stress lowers, the sensation of pain lowers and even the symptoms of PMS can be mollified.
A pilot study conducted in Canada concluded that listening to binaural beats five times a week for a total of 4 weeks can significantly reduce one’s level of anxiety. Research conducted at the Monroe Institute showed that binaural beats can improve one’s level of focus, creativity, inspire meditation, improve sleep induction and significantly improve one’s memory. The effect of binaural beats on sleep induction is noteworthy, considering sleep problems are implicated in a variety of mental ailments, including anxiety and depression. More research and anecdotal evidence suggests that binaural beats can improve depression, help people overcome addictions, help people trying to diet or quit smoking, improve pain management, improve one’s ability to learn, and may even lower levels of cortisol, which rises under stress.
If you decide to add binaural beats to your mood-boosting arsenal, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
1) The frequency of the tones in each ear must be different.
2) The frequency of the tones must each be less than 1,000 hertz.
3) The difference between the frequencies of the two tones must be less than 30 hertz for the brain to perceive a binaural beat that induces a meditative, relaxed state. (The frequency of the binaural beat, the apparent sound, is the difference between the frequencies of the separate tones. For example, if one tone is 400 Hz and the other is 410 Hz, the binaural beat will have a frequency of 10 Hz.)
4) This entire process works much more effectively if you listen with headphones.
5) My personal recommendation is to listen to binaural beats that have a frequency of somewhere between 4 and 12 Hz, which would induce alpha or theta waves.
You can easily find samples of binaural beats on Youtube or download samples from numerous Internet sites. An example is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEY1-IIsNZ8. I don’t have a favorite site to recommend, however, I suggest listening to free samples on Youtube to see if binaural beats suit you. It’s possible you might find them utterly annoying, and each of us needs to do what’s best for our own ears and our own moods. I’ll also advise you to make sure you are listening to original, raw recordings, because otherwise the binaural beats may lose their effectiveness. Though I’ve only experienced with binaural beats, you can also research isochronic tones, which have a similar effect to binaural beats.
Tibetan Singing Bowls are also wonderful for sound therapy, especially in conjunction with some type of meditation. They are used by individuals and a wide variety of professional therapists to induce relaxation, a positive mood, attention, focus and meditation. Buddhists have utilized them in their meditative practice for years. If you have a desire for calmness in your life, I’d suggest investing in a Tibetan Singing bowl, made in Nepal, India and Japan. Singing bowls look like standing bells that rest on the ground. To experience the healing sounds and vibrations of singing bowls, one uses a mallet to strike the rim of the bowl. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests the soothing harmonics of singing bowls can help reduce stress, relieve anxiety and help cure depression. I purchased two Tibetan Singing bowls and use them during group meditations, or even when I’m by myself and craving their healing sounds.
I can’t stress enough that sound therapy, like everything else, is very personal. One sound that works in a healing way for one person may not work for you. You need to experience with different sounds and jot down what works for you and what doesn’t. Sound therapy is not limited to binaural beats or singing bowls. Get creative and write down some of your favorite healing sounds. Label them “Sound Therapy” or “Healing Sounds.” Experience with binaural beats and write down what works for you and what doesn’t. I wrote down some of my favorite healing sounds. They include wind chimes, crickets, storms, rainfalls and wolf cries. What sounds work for you? Make it as personal and creative as you want them to be. It’s your wellness journey, afterall! 🙂
Getting my Beat on! 😉
In the “Feelin’ Good” zone! 🙂