In my last article, we looked at how music therapy can relieve stress and help beat depression. Besides the uplifting benefits of listening to music, there is also a specific type of music designed to actually guide our brains to the place we want them to go.
You may have seen CDs or MP3 tracks that promise to help you sleep, experience deep relaxation, enhance your meditation practice or think more clearly with less stress. Do they work? Both research and user testimonials suggest they do. They have for me. Some are lovely and soothing, others exhilarating, and some, to quote one online reviewer, “are just weird.” So, it may take some investigating to find what’s best for you.
First, let’s explore the scientific theories behind how brainwave music works.
A very unscientific overview of brainwaves.
You probably know at least something about brainwaves. They’re what show up on EEGs, and tell doctors what our brains are up to by the frequency of our electrical brain activity. Brainwaves fall into five categories: Beta, Alpha, Delta, Theta and Gamma.
If you suffer from anxiety, stress, or depression, knowing that how you feel is directly linked to your brainwaves can give you a step up toward changing your mood, your concentration, and your overall health.
Beta waves control our normal state of being awake and alert, as well as our feelings of emotional well-being. Too little beta activity can contribute to depression and other changes in mood.
Alpha waves allow for light relaxation, either when doing a task without feeling stressed or a little more relaxed before we fall asleep.
Delta waves are what go on in really deep sleep, when your dreams have stopped and your body truly rests.
Theta waves create our dream state, but you don’t have to be asleep to experience them. A deep relaxed, creative state, the theta state can be achieved through meditation, and has been shown to be where the greatest changes in breathing, heart rate, blood pressure occur.
Gamma waves do our heavy duty thinking, and are active in problem solving and learning new skills.
Training your brain to follow the music.
The basic concept behind brainwave music therapy is that pulses contained in specific music can guide our brains into the state we want to reach. Two pioneers of this idea, Dr. Jeffrey Thompson and Jeff Gignac, call this process “brain entrainment.”
Working in the field since the 1980s, Dr. Thompson says our brains naturally tend to follow beats of music. Using that natural tendency, our brains can be trained to align with pulses incorporated in nature sounds, or what he calls “primordial sounds,” and musical tones. The music then guides us into deep relaxation and feelings of well-being.
Gignac has also been creating brainwave music for many years, including the use of sound frequencies we can’t consciously hear. His research indicated that listening to different frequencies in each ear causes us to create a third frequency within our brains, and helps us reach brainwave states more easily.
A wall against negative thinking.
Scientific theory aside, what I find listening to brainwave music is that it allows me to gently focus on the tones instead of my rambling thoughts. This can be very helpful as a background to meditation, or when I need to calm down, and it doesn’t interfere with thinking tasks.
One way to describe it might be that it captures your attention without you really being aware of it…just enough to help still the static, and can even make you smile.
Find what sounds good to you.
No music is going to help you beat stress, anxiety or depression if you don’t like it. I recommend you listen to some clips before choosing a style you enjoy. Online retailers who have a preview function are a good place to start. There are several composers to choose from, and listening to one will generally bring up others for you to try. Your local library may also have selections in their music department.
Brainwave music therapy alone is not a cure-all. But can be a worthwhile addition to any program to relieve depression, and deal with stress. Those just learning meditation may also find it helps them clear their minds without fighting wayward thoughts. Or, you may just like how it sounds.
Want to hear more than a snippet? You can listen to or download a free MP3 album by Jeff Gignac at http://www.mindpowermp3.com/home.php.
For in-depth information on the science behind brain entrainment, visit:
http://www.neuroacoustic.com/, Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s site.
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