Binaural Beats:

A Meditative Gateway to Altered States of Consciousness

Many people struggle on their path to meditative states of consciousness, becoming downtrodden when their minds refuse to obey the orders to be silent and blank.  A cycle of periodic “empty” mind moments infiltrated by incoming thoughts erupts, infuriating the practitioner whom simply wants to achieve a peaceful state on their path to personal enlightenment.

For years, I grappled with these rules I believed surrounded meditation which kept me from achieving the insight I was seeking. There were even times I thought I was just incapable of quieting my mind; it always seemed I had thoughts rushing in and out faster than I could realize them.

Eventually, I came to understand it wasn’t always an empty mind that was necessarily the effective component for growth and expansion in my meditations, but the peaceful, uncontrolled viewing of the visualizations that ebbed and flowed through my mind. Still, I wanted to experience that all calm, extreme expansion that comes from a higher meditative state; that’s when I discovered binaural beats.

Binaural Beats: What They Are

Binaural beats are a variation of brainwave entrainment, creating an oscillation effect between the frequencies flowing into each ear and the frequency resonated in the brain.  The oscillation effect is what happens when ringing a tuning fork and placing it next to another tuning fork at rest; if the tuning forks play the same note, or vibrate on the same frequency, the tuning fork at rest will begin to ring.

Two different frequencies stream into the ears of an individual, preferably wearing headphones, creating a binaural beat within the brain. By introducing one frequency in one ear, and another in the opposite ear, the hemispheres of the brain are obliged to interact and communicate with one another to hear the binaural beat, causing hemisphere synchronicity. Evidence has implicated both the superior olivary nucleus in the brainstem and the inferior colliculus as the area(s) where the binaural beat is created and heard within the brain.

Effects of Binaural Beats

Hemisphere synchronicity has profound implications! This special type of synchronicity is rare and is reported by Dr. Thompson (2007) to be associated with the light bulb moment, instances of epic inspiration and creativity, and high states of meditation or joy.

Certain binaural beats can be used to create a sustained synchronistic state, creating profound changes in consciousness and brainwave configurations.

The physiology and psychophysiology of human beings is affected beyond the scope of hemisphere synchronicity though! Several studies have reported reductions in anxiety, dopamine, insulin-like growth factor-1, stress, and sleep requirements, as well as increases in learning ability, creativity, higher states of consciousness, lucid dreaming, astral projection, and more.  This proves binaural beats to have an effect that goes beyond potential placebos or perceptions; they have a fundamental biochemical effect on the body as well!

Binaural beats have also been successfully incorporated in treatment plans for pain management, addictions, depression, migraines, and low self-esteem.

Some people also experience hypnagogia states, which are states of consciousness between waking and sleeping, often referred to as threshold consciousness. During these states, people may experience visual or auditory phenomenon such as seeing colors, shapes, and patterns, or hearing snippets of conversations, various sounds, and voices.

Various frequencies are associated with different effects as well. Beta frequencies increase awareness and alertness, improving focus and memory; alpha frequencies are great for meditative states and accelerated learning. Theta frequencies are also used for increasing an individual’s learning ability, creativity, enhancing meditative states, and results in sounder sleep from the induced relaxation. Scientists have found children spend much more time in the theta frequency than adults, which is one reason why they are adept learners in comparison. Finally, delta frequencies have similar effects as theta waves, except for delta waves are closer associated with deeper sleep stages.

State        Frequency range         State of mind
Delta           0.5Hz – 4Hz      Deep sleep
Theta           4Hz – 8Hz      Drowsiness (also first stage of sleep)
Alpha           8Hz – 14Hz      Relaxed but alert
Beta           14Hz – 30Hz      Highly alert and focused

There is a caution when using beta waves for an extended amount of time, as beta frequencies can create a mental fatigue from generating an imbalance between the potassium and sodium ratio. Luckily, if this does occur, even brief periods of the theta state can correct the imbalance.

How To Magnify the Binaural Beat Experience

This technique of brainwave entrainment is most effective when combined with music, positive affirmations, or biofeedback. Adding these modalities to binaural beats creates a multilayered approach to inducing altered states of consciousness, relaxation, and expanding your scope of understanding.

How Can I Use Them?!?!?

Binaural beats are clinically proven through many studies, including double-blind controlled experiments, to demonstrate positive effects on people. However, scientists have made notes that these may not work for everyone, and there were several confounding factors.

One issue was the ability of the individual to relax; if an individual was unable to relax and focus on listening, they were not able to derive the magnitude of benefits other people experienced.  Openness to this technique also exerted force on the personal outcome of participants.

It is important to always remember the mind is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. When we make up our minds that something will not work, we create a reality of ineffectiveness, exacerbating frustration and pessimism.

However, openness may not be the only success prohibiting factor with binaural beats; several studies have reported age may play a role in how the brain is able to process the binaural beat.

Moreover, different binaural beats may be effective or ineffective due to how they are mixed.  For example, I have used many different binaural beat compilations for different effects.  Some had potent effects and others were so ineffective I either switched them or turned them off.

Using Binaural Beats

If you are interested in binaural beats, I suggest you listen to several types to see what you respond best to. Every individual is unique and there will always be fluctuations in our responses. My all-time favorite binaural beat video on YouTube can be accessed here (this is an example of a Reiki music track with imbedded binaural tracks).

It is very important for you to be aware of how to use these as well.  You should sit or lay down when listening to binaural tracks, allowing yourself to relax and melt into the track. Minor benefits can be gained when passively listening to binaural tracks when doing activities like reading a book, emailing, or anything that isn’t strenuous. However, it can be extremely dangerous to listen to binaural beats when driving or in situations where it is important for you to be present in your environment.

My favorite time to use them is right before going to sleep. Depending on the track I want to listen to that night, I’ll lay down anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour before the time I actually want to go to sleep. I’ve found using headphones is significantly more effective and comfortable for me than using speakers or ear buds.

The reason I love listening to binaural tracks before bed is not just because they are soothing and release my daily tension, but it allows my mind to stay in that state for a longer period of time.  Even more important, when you sleep you incorporate your daily events, information learned, and new or revised cellular memory (a topic I’ll write about very soon!) into your brain and body.  This will help you maintain and assimilate the effects from the binaural tracks in your being.

*Note: it’s important to listen to your body’s reactions. If you originally wanted to listen to a track for an hour and after 10 – 15 minutes you feel completed and ready to turn it off, follow that instinct!  Your body will always tell you what it needs.

Lasting Implications

I have been using binaural beats for several months and I have noticed amazing advantages. My quality of sleep is enhanced; my dreams are more vivid, easier to remember, and I have more instances of lucid dreaming; my cognitive processing is quicker and more advanced (IE: thinking more clearly, efficiently, and quickly) ; and I’m able to relax easier on a whim. When I’ve used binaural beats before engaging in an activity, I notice colors are more vibrant, synchronistic and geometric patterns are more apparent, and I am more present in the moment of the experience.  Life just seems to be deeper, more connected and profound.

The most important benefit binaural beats have to offer is the ability to train your brain to enter altered and higher states of consciousness, when you’d like to experience them. Binaural beats can ease you into meditative states without creating a dependence on the audios. Ultimately, they serve as a brainwave inducer and exercise your brain to enter these states upon command. No more vicious meditation frustration cycle!

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