If someone told you that it was possible to reduce stress and pain, improve physical health, promote inner well-being and even psychic abilities with no personal effort and an almost insignificant financial investment what would you think? Sounds too good to be true?
Meditation, ooh meditation; meditation, that’s what you need
The benefits I have sited above are all associated with the practice of meditation. But wait! I also said no personal effort. Chances are that if you’ve tried meditation that just won’t fit with your experience! Keeping the mind focussed on a single thing can be very challenging indeed! So can practices like developing loving kindness for your worst enemy. It all takes serious amounts of concentration. Add to that a particular way of sitting – probably cross legged with no back support – and you’ve got a particularly difficult experience all round. Consequently, many people expecting meditation to be a relaxing way to zone out for a bit give up the practice before they have experienced any of the benefits.
Before we get onto the ‘no effort’ bit let’s understand a bit more about what meditation does and why it it beneficial.
When we meditate we learn to move ourselves into different states of consciousness and we become aware of different things. These changes in state have associated brainwave states that can be monitored by measuring the tiny electrical impulses in the brain.
I found the following explanation on a site that sells meditation machines:
Beta waves (15-30 oscillations (or waves) per second (Hz)). This is the brain rhythm in the normal wakeful state associated with thinking, conscious problem solving and active attention directed towards the outer world. You are most likely in the “beta state” while you are reading this.
Alpha waves (9-14 Hz). When you are truly relaxed, your brain activity slows from the rapid patterns of beta into the more gentle waves of alpha. Fresh creative energy begins to flow, fears vanish and you experience a liberating sense of peace and well-being. The “alpha state” is where meditation starts and you begin to access the wealth of creativity that lies just below our conscious awareness. It is the gateway that leads into deeper states of consciousness.
Theta waves (4-8 Hz). Going deeper into relaxation and meditation, you enter the “theta state” where brain activity slows almost to the point of sleep. Theta brings forward heightened receptivity, flashes of dreamlike imagery, inspiration, and,sometimes, your long-forgotten memories. It can also give you a sensation of “floating”.
Theta is one of the more elusive and extraordinary realms we can explore. It is also known as the twilight state which we normally only experience fleetingly as we rise up out of the depths of delta upon waking, or drifting off to sleep. In theta, we are in a waking dream, and we are receptive to information beyond our normal conscious awareness. Some people believe that theta meditation awakens intuition and other extrasensory perception skills.
Delta waves (1-3 Hz). This slowest of brainwave activity is found during deep, dreamless sleep. It is also sometimes found in very experienced meditators.
So, meditation is the skill of choosing to go into different brainwave states. But how does that lead to the permanent benefits that we cited earlier?
How to get a state benefit (without being a dole bludger)
When in these deeper states thoughts and feelings come into awareness that were, previously, buried. As these thoughts and feelings come to mind they move through and out of the body … you, quite literally, work things out. This working out process can be somewhat turbulent … it can result in periods of intense emotional experience. It can feel like falling apart … or even dying. To the extent that you resist the change, then it is difficult; to the extent that you surrender to it and have faith that it will work out for the best then it is easier. This process is sometimes called catharsis. This separation from what is bad inside is the natural process that I facilitate when I am working with clients.
When you work those things out that do not belong inside you get a greater sense of who you are, a greater ability to know what you want, and a greater ability to act in order to get it.
Choosing states … the easy way
If you want to go on a long journey would you prefer to drive or to take the train? Driving can be fun and developing driving skills can be rewarding but all too often you find yourself spending hours stuck in traffic and long journeys can be exhausting. So long as there is no industrial action, no wrong type of snow, no leaves on the line, and the line actually goes where you want to go – then the train is a great alternative. Simply get on, sit back, and relax.
Brainwave entrainment technology is the train of the meditation world. It utilises an external stimulus to resonate the brain into progressively deeper states of meditation. All you need to do is to put on your headphones – get into the carriage – and listen to the sound of the track. (Ahh, the pun of it!)
The track is in stereo with neutral sounds such as rain water or ambient gong sounds. Ahh, nice and relaxing. But listen closer and you will notice a seemingly constant tone in the background; this is the really important bit. The tone is the carrier of the resonant brainwave frequency that we are seeking to create. When the frequency changes – the rails change direction – and the brain follows. (Can you see what I did there?)
How do the tones carry the brainwave frequency?
The tones going into each ear are at a slightly different frequency. When you have 2 waves at slightly differing frequencies sometimes they are in phase and add to each other; at other times they are out of phase and cancel each other out … the result is a beat at a frequency equal to the difference of the 2 input frequencies. I found the following diagram on the web that shows it well (thank you Mr Epstein’s Grade 11 Physics Class):
The really cool thing is that when each ear is getting a different frequency it is the brain that is doing the reconciliation … the brain is creating the resultant beat that it is then falling into sync with. This phenomenon is often called ‘brainwave entrainment’ and the interaction of the tones are called ‘binaural beats’.
Not everyone is convinced that binaural beats lead to meditation benefits … for a well written overview and counterpoint I recommend this article.
The subject is also written about by open source binaural beat audio generator Gnaural:
‘Many consider the idea of binaural beats influencing brainwave activity “controversial”, but only the claims of what the influence means are controversial. That rhythmic stimuli can induce FFR (frequency following response) is well established across many species, comprising a subject known as “driving”, with binaural beats falling under the category “auditory driving”, but not having a monopoly on it. Even the isochronal beating of a drum can induce FFR. But binaural beats appear to have advantages over other auditory approaches by being more efficient, both as a true low-frequency sinusoidal stimulus and by engaging more neural circuits than conventional hearing. BBs are also less invasive than some of the non-auditory approaches such as photic or electromagnetic, which are effective but induce seizures in a percentage of the population. In my experience, binaural beats have been as harmless as anything else I listen to through headphones.
‘I also embrace the fact that binaural beats require a conscious effort to get their effect, since i am not interested in replacing meditation but in facilitating it, particularly when anxiety or stress have made it hard to start meditating in the conventional way.
‘As for “snake-oil” claims by profiteers as to what binaural beats can do (ranging from targetting specific drug states to curing disease), my experience is that low frequency brainwave entrainment works as a blanket effect to create a focused mental state similar to hypnosis, in which heightended suggestibility causes expecations to strongly influence experience. But rather than take a dim view of this, I see it for its positives: as a means of implementing suggestion and of facilitating the exploration of mental states. And in regard to the idea that suggestibility is mere gulibility, it should be noted that even the AMA now acknowledges that placebo, despite having no scientifically understood mechanism, gives a statistically reliable effect that can positively imact a percentage of people for whom their either is no conventional treatment available or it has failed.’
Where can I get hold of this binaural beat technology?
I first heard about this technology under the brand name Holosync. The founder of the company promoting the product is Bill Harris and his CDs do a great job of explaining the technology, the catharsis, and generally motivating you to stick with it. I think that the Holosync products are great value when you consider the benefits that they provide, however, the first level still costs a chunky $179 and, if you like it, there are 11 more levels to purchase after that.
If you are a bit technical and like the idea of experimenting with yourself then check out the open source projects Gnaural and SBaGen. I haven’t used either of these myself yet.
The product that I have been using for a few years now is called The Meditation Solution. So far as I can tell Meditation is at least as good as Holosync and costs a fraction of the price: $29 per level (as a download) or just $280 for the whole course of 12 levels.
I have no commercial links with the promoters of The Meditation Solution. I think it is such a good product, and so complementary to the deep therapeutic work that I do that I recommend it as a practice to all of my clients.
Listen to free trial meditation track here
For an investment of less than £20 and an hour or so a day of lying back and relaxing why wouldn’t you give it a go? Just like you – I believe that it is good … and that’s the truth.