Published on May 5, 2012
Most of us know that workout songs and music can help you to exercise harder.
But if you understand how sound and music actually change your brain waves, you can use this knowledge to alter your mental and physical performance states with laser accuracy.
It sounds geeky, but I'm going to explain how…
At first glance, brain waves seem a bit like “woo-woo” science, and it can be a bit intimidating and confusing to understand how they work.
But here's the basics, which will really help you when you're listening to today's interview with Dr. Jeffrey Thompson about how sound affects your brain.
Your brain is made up of billions of brain cells called neurons, and your neurons (just like the rest of your body) use electricity to communicate with each other. As you can probably imagine, these millions of neurons sending signals all at once produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in your brain, and this can actually be detected using medical equipment like an electroencephalography (EEG), which measuring electricity levels over areas of your scalp.
When you graph the electrical activity of your brain using EEG, you generate what is called a brainwave pattern, which is called a “wave” pattern because of its cyclic, wave-like nature.
And the brainwave patterns are generally categorized like this:
Most of us live the majority of our lives in a state of primarily beta brain waves – aroused, alert, concentrated, but also somewhat stressed.
When we lower the brain wave frequency to alpha, we can put ourselves in an ideal condition to learn new information, perform more elaborate tasks, learn languages, analyze complex situations and even be in what sports psychologists call “The Zone”, which is a state of improved focus and performance in athletic competitions or exercise. Part of this is because being the slightly decreased electrical activity in the brain can lead to significant increases in feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins, noroepinephrine and dopamine.
So, for example, when you meditate, you are focusing on something, whether it's a candle flame or your breath going in or out, or a mantra or a prayer. When you focus like that, the electrical patterns in your brain slow down and relax, and the amplitude of your brain-waves generally stabilizes in the alpha wave range.
But it turns out that you don't need to be a trained monk or meditate for weeks on end to be able to achieve this state of alpha brain wave relaxation.
Instead, you can use a concept called “brainwave entrainment” to get the same effect.
Brainwave entrainment is any method that causes your brainwave frequencies to fall into step with a specific frequency. It's based on the concept that the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant EEG frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus (such as music, or sound).
The type of sound frequencies that are typically used in brainwave entrainment are called “binaural” beats. The way that these work is that two tones close in frequency generate a beat frequency at the difference of the frequencies.
I know this sounds complicated, but it's pretty simple to understand when you think about it. For example, a 495 Hz audio tone and 505 Hz audio tone (whether overlaid in music or in a sound frequency) will produce a 10 Hz beat, roughly in the middle of the alpha brain wave range, like this:
OK, so now we get to the cool, practical application of using sound and music to enhance your brain and change your brain wave frequences.
I hunted down an expert, Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, from NeuroAcoustic.com, which produces and educates on using sound for stress reduction, relaxation, sleep enhancement, mega-learning, creativity, peak performance, meditation and higher states of consciousness.
In this interview with Dr. Thompson, we discuss:
-How sounds and frequencies affect human physiology…
-How sound can be used to enhance health…
-How sound can be used to enhance performance…
-How ancient cultures used sound for healing and enhancing well-being…
-Whether there's a difference between music, vibrations, sounds, and other frequencies…
-Audios, CD's and other resources that you can use to enhance your brain waves…
Click here to check out Dr. Thompson's CD's, which include tracks that train you for deep sleep, enhanced mental focus, or better athletic performance.
Pretty cool stuff, eh?
By the way, if you want to geek out on this even more, you can check out audio–visual entrainment, which takes the concept of sound one step further, combines it with visual stimulation, and uses flashes of lights and pulses of tones to guide the brain into various states of brainwave activity.
There's an interesting device called the MindAlive Light Therapy Device that does this.
And there are certainly other ways that sound can affect the human body, such as by amplifying the frequency of your heart's electrical signals, but we'll save that discussion for another day, since I think today's blog post and interview was a big enough knowledge dump.
If you have questions, comments or feedback – or you own experience with brainwave entrainment – leave them below.
And be sure to check out my new Ben Recommends page, where I'm logging many of the other cutting-edge techniques I've been researching to enhance your physical and mental performance.