Binaural beats are used in a lot of different self help and personal development projects, including a number of meditation downloads. The claims are that they can shift the state of your brainwaves purely from you listening to a CD or MP3 with these beats on them. Below, we’ll examine what binaural beats are, how they work with your brain and whether or not the claims that they will help with your regular meditation have any validity.
What are binaural beats?
Wikipedia calls them “auditory processing artifacts” which leaves most people none the wiser.
They were discovered in 1839 but the technology to use them in products wasn’t really good enough until late last century.
Binaural beats work by playing two slightly different tones, one in each ear. Which means that they will only work properly if you wear headphones.
Because the tones are close together, the brain will actually react as though a much lower tone was being played and will adjust its state accordingly. For instance, if you wanted to get your brain into an Alpha state, which is where REM sleep and dreams typically occur, you would play two tones that were approximately 10 Hz different from each other.
On their own, binaural beats sound as though someone is rapidly switching them on and off. So most commercial tracks will disguise this fairly irritating noise with a soundtrack. This can be something like rain fall or it could be a new age track to get you in a relaxed mood.
So how do they work with our brain?
Essentially, the beats work by inducing the desired state in our brain. It tries to resolve the difference between the beats and, in the process, takes itself down to that particular level.
Our brain has a range of different frequencies that it operates at according to what we are doing at the time. So when we are sleeping, it will be relaxed and generally quiet although there is some variation in frequency between a light sleep which is where we dream and a deep sleep (the Delta state) where our brain is doing the absolute minimum necessary.
By contrast, when you’re being creative your mind is literally buzzing. It’s working at a much higher frequency, either Beta or Gamma depending on exactly how buzzing it is.
The Greek description letters don’t go through in alphabetical order because the different brain states weren’t all discovered at once, so extra letters were added in the newly found gaps.
Do they help with meditation?
Part of the process of meditation is to relax your mind.
Traditionally, this would take years of practice to get to the correct state. Zen monks take most of their lifetime to perfect the process but Westerners like us don’t have the luxury of being able to just concentrate on meditation for the majority of our life, so we need a shortcut.
Various scientists have measured the brain wave frequencies of deep meditators and, since they knew about the ability of binaural beats, decided to experiment.
What they found was that binaural beats could indeed bring about the same meditative state as years of meditation practice. So we’ve got something close to a Western “I want it now” solution.
Some of the original binaural beats meditation systems still took years to get the full benefits but several newer processes have cut that down to six months or less, making them ideal for our often hectic modern life style and still giving us the benefits of meditation.