The idea of brainwave entrainment started with the recognition that some pieces of music seemed to have a meditative effect on people. In particular there are pieces by the classical baroque composers that relax us, especially if we are sitting while listening. Upon researching this, scientists found that some music actually slows down our brainwaves.
Actually, almost any music that a person enjoys and finds relaxing will have a similar effect. If you choose to relax and listen to your favorite light jazz, for example, your brainwaves will likely slow down. But this is as much from simply siting down and slowing down your mental activity as from the music. On the other hand, listening to the Prelude from Cello Suite by Johann Sebastian Bach will more directly affect your brain. This and other pieces are shown to “entrain” your brainwaves, meaning they guide them to a different frequency.
More specifically, some of these musical compositions slow your brainwaves down. During normal consciousness, when you are awake and with eyes open, you are typically in the beta range. This means the electrical activity in your brain is predominantly taking place in the range between 14 – 30 hertz, or cycles per second. Once your brain begins to follow the more meditative melodies, the music guides you down into the alpha range, meaning your brainwaves are mostly between 8 – 14 hertz. You feel relaxed yet alert, and this is the state of light meditation as well.
That’s generally as deep as you go with this crude form of brainwave entrainment using certain musical compositions. Furthermore, you can often reach the alpha range by simply sitting, closing your eyes, and taking a few deep relaxing breaths. Fortunately, once it was discovered that some music can slow your brainwaves, and how it did so, it was natural to design something better for this purpose.
In fact, there are a number of great brainwave entrainment products available now from many different companies. They use music or sounds of nature as a background, and embed beats in the recordings that are meant to guide your consciousness into a meditative state. The basic ones will slow your brain down to the alpha range of frequencies. Others can take you into the theta range, at 4 – 8 hertz.
Theta brainwaves are normally associated with a state of drowsiness, and the first stage of sleep. They are not experienced in awake adults very often, but interestingly, are common in daydreaming children. With practice though adults in sitting meditation can enter this state with falling asleep. This is believed to provide a more meaningful meditative experience.
Some products will even take you deeper, to the point where your brainwaves are in the delta range. This is below 5 hertz, and is usually associated with deep sleep. It is said that some experienced meditators can enter even this state without sleeping. If nothing else, CDs that slow your brainwaves down this much are great tools for overcoming insomnia.
Using brainwave entrainment recordings for meditation and other purposes is easy. Just pop in a CD and sit down to listen. There are a couple more things to know. First, you generally need to listen using headphones, because the beats are embedded in the recording in such a way that they play to one ear and then the other to guide your brainwaves. Also, if you lay down you’ll probably quickly fall asleep (which isn’t always a bad thing).