Wouldn’t it be great if you could reprogram yourself to be less grouchy, more creative, less anxious, more relaxed? A new generation of brainwave entrainment CDs promises to help you do exactly that. Here at the BrainEv Blog, we’re keen on brainwave entrainment, but there’s a lot of hype out there. In this article, we’ll try to help you get to the truth.
Let’s begin with the absolute basics: brain waves. The workings of your brain are as unique and distinctive as your fingerprints. But if you were to hook yourself up to an EEG machine while you were asleep, say, or in deep concentration, you’d find patterns of electrical activity broadly similar to those of other people doing the same things.
Early brain researchers came to recognize several such types of brain wave, and they gave Greek letters to the most familiar ones: alpha, beta, gamma and so on. Their signatures are easy to read — all you have to do is monitor the frequency of electrical activity in the brain. Familiar examples: alpha activity (8-12 Hz) is widely associated with relaxed wakefulness, delta (1-4 Hz) with deep sleep, and theta (4-8 Hz) with meditation.
Once you’ve know the kind of brain activity you want, you can try to achieve it deliberately. Researchers in the 60s and 70s worked with biofeedback, monitoring their own brain waves in the hope of learning to control them. But research carried out over the past 30 years has made entrainment the psychonaut’s tool of choice.
Entrainment relies on the frequency following response (FFR), a simple but remarkable discovery. If you stimulate the brain at the right frequency, it will tend to go into the corresponding brain wave state. In theory, you can switch into any state you like — provided you can find an effective stimulus.
Experimenters have tried various different stimuli: electrics, sound, light, and combinations of the three. We look at some of these in other articles on this site. But, for most people, sound is the best place to start. After all, you probably have access to a sound system of some kind — and a comfy sofa! All you really need is a brainwave entrainment CD, and maybe a set of headphones.
There are hundreds of CDs on the market, everything from bare-bones freeware disk images that you can download via your computer to multilevel guided-meditation products like Bill Harris’s Holosync. When you start looking at all the options that are on offer, you’ll come across some unfamiliar buzzwords — monaural, binaural (aka ‘mind stereo’), and isochronic. These refer to the ways that different CDs produce low-frequency ‘beats’ to stimulate your brain. We’ll cover those systems in more detail later — for the moment, let’s just note that you’ll need headphones to listen to a binaural CD, but the others can be played through speakers.
Whichever system you choose, take it gently. You can spend hundreds or thousands buying all the levels of a big series. That may be the best investment you ever make — but, when you’re starting out, choose a program that will at least give you a freebie disk or download.