SCIENCE and RESEARCH
“Why is it beneficial to listen to different frequencies during meditation?..”
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The Science and Research
How listening to different frequencies can affect the brain during meditation
There are many ways to get into a deeper meditative state. You can light candles, close your eyes, burn incense, or, most commonly, you can play music. Music is a powerful tool, particularly during meditation, as certain frequencies alter brain chemistry which can have profound effects. In this article we’re going to discuss the basics of sound as it pertains to the brain during meditation and how sound can be used as a therapeutic tool.
What effect does sound have on your brain?
Do you ever feel happy when your favorite song comes on the radio? Or stressed when your neighbor’s baby is screaming at 3am? Sounds have the ability to soothe, to distress, to invigorate. They are arguably one of the most natural, instinctual things we can do and our brains are highly sensitive to certain frequencies.
Sound and the vibrations created are chemically metabolized into ‘endogenous opiates’, to alter the brain chemistry of the individual listening. This is a form of vibrational medicine, aligning the vibrational frequency with an individual’s natural energetic frequency at a cellular level. Despite sounding far-fetched, there are a plethora of studies that examine the link between certain frequencies and the brain, particularly when listened to during meditation.
Different frequencies are referred to in neuroscientific research as binaural beats. This refers to two different frequencies being played simultaneously, which causes your brain to process the difference in the frequency, rather than the two different frequencies. To exemplify this, during meditation, you may listen to a frequency of 300 hertz (Hz) in one ear and 310 Hz in the other. These frequencies travel to the part of your brain known as the inferior colliculus, where the brain perceives the frequencies together, only responding to the difference, which in this case would be 10 Hz.
This creates an auditory illusion, which is the basis of the benefits of listening to different frequencies, particularly during meditation.
So why are sound frequencies beneficial?
Every time you think, feel or do something, the neurons in your brain are firing. Neural communication produces brainwaves. Your brain naturally has five variations of wavelengths that it can produce and sync to, and depending on your mood or state, the frequency of your brainwaves change. These are the five wavelengths and associated emotions:
1. Delta waves (.5 to 3 Hz) – deep relaxation and sleep
2. Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz) – deep meditation, feelings of peace
3. Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) – feelings of positivity and happiness
4. Beta waves (12 to 38 Hz) – alertness, concentration
5. Gamma waves (38 to 42 Hz) – peak concentration, intense focus
The dominant frequency being produced is responsible for your overall mental state: if delta waves (.5 to 3 Hz) are being produced, you’ll likely feel tired and calm, if a higher gamma frequency is produced, you’ll feel awake, alert and attentive. Each wavelength is associated with a specific neural activity, mood and mental state.
The theory put forward by neuroscientists is that purposefully listening to certain frequencies shifts your mental state, by altering the frequencies in your brain. This is particularly useful information when practiced during meditation.
Why is it beneficial to listen to different frequencies during meditation?
Research shows that during meditation, the activity in the parietal lobe – responsible for sensory awareness, the frontal lobe – responsible for processing information, and the thalum – responsible for your senses, all slow down. This causes cognitive processing of incoming thoughts and physical sensations to diminish, allowing you to enter into a deep state of relaxation.
When listening to certain frequencies during meditation, you can alter your mental state and brain chemistry by syncing to the given frequency; known as neural entrainment. A 2019 meta-analysis examined 22 studies to understand the relationship between certain frequencies and mental state. The researchers concluded that listening to different frequencies, particularly during meditation, was able to reduce anxiety and improve stress markers.
Moreover, listening to different frequencies during meditation may be particularly beneficial for beginners. The sounds give you something to focus your mind on, to help induce flow state and receive the benefits of harmonizing to the frequency. That being said, individuals at all stages will benefit from binaural beats during meditation. A 2007 study published in Psychophysiology found that listening to theta waves deepened a meditation practice. This has led some researchers to support its use in combination with meditation for a variety of therapeutic benefits from epilepsy to anxiety.
The bioelectrical activity of the brain is complex, and manipulating it using sound frequencies is an interesting – yet widely underutilized – therapeutic tool. During meditation, listening to different frequencies, ideally binaural beats, can induce deeper meditation, enhancing the benefits of your meditation practice.
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