- Allison Soeung
Binaural Beats: Hack your brainwaves!
What IS a Binaural Beat? It is a sound technology that can be used to help facilitate specific brain wave states. All organs in the body vibrate at a certain frequency, and the brain is no different. The brain "pulsates" or oscillates at a certain range of frequencies that correspond to different states of consciousness. The commonly associated brain wave states are as follows:
*Gamma: 35hz+ (Concentration)
*Beta: 12hz-35hz (Active brain functioning, high focus, external attention, anxiety)
*Alpha: 8hz-12hz (Relaxed, ability to passively focus, meditative state)
*Theta: 4hz-8hz (Extremely relaxed, deep meditative states, nearing sleep)
*Delta: 0.5hz-4hz (Sleeping)
During most of our waking state, the majority of humans are in the Beta brain wave state. During Beta state, the sympathetic nervous system is typically activated (your alert state which can oftentimes active the "fight or flight" stress response). Beta activity is important for many daily activities! However, when the body gets into a habit of always being in Beta while awake, it can cause stress in the body. Ideally, the brain should transition between Gamma, Beta, and Alpha during waking states. When the brain enters Alpha brain wave states, it can begin to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body's "rest and digest" mode. This is where important bodily repair systems come online and the body can heal itself from stress it has experienced.
How can a binaural beat help us hack our brain wave state? A binaural beat simply means playing two different frequencies at the same time in a different ear. Binaural beats require a stereo audio interface, typically a pair of stereo headphones. What does "stereo" mean? It simply means that there is a left and right audio channel that can play independently of each other. When listening to a binaural beat, you hear one frequency in either the left or right ear and a slightly different frequency in the other ear. Through a process called "entrainment", the brain tries to reconcile the slight difference in frequency and over time can actually begin to oscillate at the DIFFERENCE in the two frequencies.
In the example image above, a frequency of 40 Hz is played in the left ear and a frequency of 50 Hz is played in the right. The brain hears these differences in frequency (which is 10 Hz) and wants to "reconcile" the difference by beginning to migrate it's own frequency to that difference. What is 10 Hz in brain wave states? It is the Alpha state, associated with activating the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation!
What is the experience of listening to a binaural beat like? It can actually be a little unpleasant at first. The oscillating frequencies that are slightly different can sound strange at first - it creates a "wah wah wah" effect. Many binaural beat frequencies are layered with other musical components or nature sounds and that can be more pleasant than listening to the binaural beat frequencies alone.
You can see that there are a number of ways to play around with binaural beats depending on which brain wave state you want to activate. There are a myriad of resources out there to explore this fascinating sound science! There are thousands of binaural beat videos on YouTube for many different brain wave states. There are also many apps you can download as well- one of my favorites is called BrainWave. You can also checkout my SoundCloud page for some binaural beat tracks I have created!
Have fun hacking your brain wave states! Let me know if you love binaural beats or if you have tried them before in the comments below.