How Binaural Beats Work
There is real science behind binaural beats. And it’s fascinating! Here’s the scoop on how this not-so-new technology works to create a better you.
What Binaural Beats Are
In easy terms, binaural beats are a series of sounds or tones that are played separately in each ear via headphones. They work by activating various centers in the brain. Which centers are activated, and to what extent, depends upon the exact sequence of tones used.
Different sequences are said to help produce different effects, such as increased mental focus, a recreational non-drug “high,” or even actions like ESP, arthritis relief and weight loss.
Binaural Beats Work Via the Frequency Following Response
Binaural beats are arranged so that they work within your brain waves’ frequency range. The brain interprets the tones coming in via the ears as a pattern. After a short period of time, the brain should begin to follow those patterns. This is called the frequency following response.
In other words, your brainwaves begin to follow the frequency the binaural beats are playing on. That frequency is pre-set to help you achieve any one or more of a number of goals. As your brain waves begin to follow this pattern, the corresponding experience or condition is felt.
So if the tone series is set to stimulate and activate an area of the brain that focuses on creativity, your creativity should improve via your binaural therapy session. Or if the centers that process the experience of spirituality or even a “high” are stimulated, a spiritual or “high”-feeling experience should follow.
“Hearing” the Tones: is it Necessary?
Binaural beat sessions may or may not have a soundtrack overlapping them. If they don’t have such a soundtrack, you may hear various tones or a sound like white noise. If they do contain a soundtrack, this is usually ambient sound, such as rain falling or wind blowing, so that the brain can achieve and maintain an alpha (relaxed, open and meditative) state.
You may or may not hear the actual binaural beats/tones along with the ambient sound. But it is not necessary to consciously “hear” the tones. The tones are typically played in a Herz (HZ) range that falls above and/or below the conscious hearing level. However, your brain takes in these frequencies and interprets them, then eventually follows them (see “frequency following response” above).
Are Binaural Beats Always Effective?
Though the technology itself is long-standing (dating to the mid-19th century), using binaural beats to achieve specific effects for the common consumer is fairly recent. Researchers are always at work developing new and more potent binaural beat series.
There’s very good data on the general effectiveness of the science of binaural beats (here’s out of many). However, like any other form of therapy, whether drug or non-drug, binaural beats are not 100% effective for the entire population. Some users respond very well to binaural beats. Some respond slightly well, and some don’t receive the intended results at all.
Further, a consumer utilizing a binaural beats series meant for one result may not respond to that particular series, but may respond to a completely different series meant for a different result. The human brain is not only complex, it’s very individual. Everyone will respond differently to binaural beats.
Your best course of action when investigating binaural beats for your own usage is to try out a few before, say, purchasing or downloading an entire package.
Experiment with how your brain responds to binaural beats. There may be a certain type of experience you respond exceptionally well to (for example, spirituality) and another that you don’t respond to very well at all. Or, one marketer’s binaural beats may seem to “fit” your brain better than another marketer’s offerings.
Try, Try Again
There’s another consideration here. You personally may require more than one session and/or regularly spaced, frequent sessions in order to achieve the effects you desire from binaural beats.
Some users of binaural beats say they began to find a specific package effective after several uses. And some say their brains began to be “trained” to binaural beats in general after regular use.
In some cases, users say they had to learn to relax first and had to eliminate all distractions before binaural beats worked for them (see below).
Optimizing Your Binaural Beats Experience
Part of the reason for the recent popularity in binaural beats is advancement in stereo technology. In the past, very high-quality headphones were expensive. Now these can be had by almost any person, on a variety of budgets.
In order to optimize your binaural beats experience:
- Make sure you have a high-quality pair of headphones available.
- Turn the volume to a comfortable level — loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to be uncomfortable or distracting. A louder level is not necessary and in fact, has been shown scientifically to hamper the altered state experience, not help it.
- Make sure both ears of your headphones are working equally.
- Remove all distractions. This includes your cell phone — if you have it on vibrate, put it well out of your way, where you won’t feel or hear it. Turn off the television set. Doing this at a quiet time of day is best — say, after the children are in bed and your spouse is working on a hobby.
- Lie back if at all possible. If not, sit back in as comfortable a chair as you can find.
- Don’t try to “make” anything happen. Just lie there and listen idly to whatever sounds come.
- Play the entire CD or MP3 during your session. Always try for a time when you can be sure of not being interrupted.
Take a lighthearted, easygoing approach to the experience. Let the feelings come. Binaural beats can offer so much more than the experience that’s specified. They can be soothing, relaxing and good for both your body and your mind. So enjoy!