[ What is brainwave or audio visual entrainment || Claims and misperceptions || History and present use || How it’s used and types || Warnings ]
Brainwave entrainment (BWE), is sometimes also known as audio visual entrainment (AVE). They are terms used for the effect an external source of regular beats, flashes or vibrations has on the brain. This causes entrainment and synchronising of the brains own frequency to that of the external stimulation. And the effect is called the Frequency Following Response (FFR).
This can be done with sound, light, vibration or even certain electromagnetic pulses. BWE has the added benefit of being able to create inter-hemispheric synchronisation of both sides of the brain. This therefore improves communication between both hemispheres.
Patterns of neurochemical activity (measured in cycles per second or Hertz (Hz)), match mental states of relaxation or arousal. This Frequency Following Response effect of brainwave entrainment can be used to induce deep trance states and meditation. And this often occurs quickly to levels that would otherwise take years of practice. Or it can enhance motivation and focus. With care and a doctors advice, it may even help with things like depression and anxiety.., arguably the two biggest troubles of our time.
Many claims are made of what it can do and for most people it is a safe way to explore altered states. It does this by guiding the brain into less explored or less used states of mind.
Sometimes this brain/stimulus synchronisation happens naturally. For example.., the ticking of a clock can put some people to sleep as the brain starts to entrain to the constant tick, tick, tick.
The same thing can happen when travelling in a car with the constant flashing past of light poles or road markings at regular and repeating intervals. It can actually contribute to feeling drowsy.
[ANY constant and stable external frequency will cause a response in the brain to synchronise to that frequency. This effect is what Brainwave Entrainment or Audio Visual Entrainment is.]
Claims made of brainwave entrainment
Many claims are made for brainwave entrainment. Some are fact and some are random based on individual results. And some are quite frankly wishful thinking. Claims of helping with weight loss for example are a stretch as to what altering brainwaves can do. While others like pain control, increased creativity, spiritual journeys or psychedelic effects are more common.
In fact most claims for BWE are neither made up nor fact. They are based on an individuals persistence of practice and ability to take advantage of unique and deeply relaxing states. In much the same way that a persistent practice of meditation has long lasting benefits
Brainwave entrainment misperceptions
Seldom is anyone lacking in one range of brainwaves all of the time. More common is for different parts of the brain to be stronger in a particular frequency than another. Or for a person to be more ‘practised’ in one band of frequency than another.
Someone who gets stressed a lot is likely to have a excess of higher Beta waves and less of the lower Alpha and Theta waves. As a general rule, higher frequencies tend to be present during times of higher brain activity. And therefore have a higher potential for an over active mind and stress. This is a general rule though and does have exceptions.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
While increasing a particular brainwave might help one person.., it may be mentally uncomfortable or challenging for another. Certain frequencies may be conducive to emotional recall of memories and release of this emotion. There is nothing inherently dangerous about this. But it can be challenging for some people to face emotions memories and process them without help.
Knowing a persons habit of brain patterns as a starting point can be challenging. However assumptions can be made based on a few simple questions about what a person experiences on a regular basis. Thankfully there is little chance of experimenting with different frequencies leading to any long term challenges.
Simply put, if you try a session and find that it leads to any unwanted effects.., you can stop. You could then either try a different one next time, or you can decide that Brainwave Entrainment (BWE) is not for you.
No persons brain will have just one frequency present at any one time. All frequencies are always there but one or two will be stronger and therefore dominant. This dominance is in line with your current mental state of mind. Brainwave entrainment seeks to shift this dominant frequency and therefore dominant state of mind.
Brainwave entrainment past and present
Current use and understanding of BWE (Brainwave entrainment) and AVE (Audio Visual Entrainment) has never been greater. Early humans dating back beyond the bronze age and ancient Greek times have used BWE way before it got its name.
Sound chambers tuned to specific frequencies and light shining and flickering through spinning objects are examples. Or even shamanic practices of a large leaf being waved in front of sunlight and rhythmic drumming have been used to alter people states.
Modern technology has given rise to a range of techniques including auditory beats, strobing lights, and electrical stimulation such as rTMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).
How is brainwave entrainment used?
Deep meditative states and trance states are the most common uses of brainwave entrainment. Often these states are achieved quicker and more profoundly than non aided meditation. Also states of high alertness, flow and creativity are possible.
The range of possible uses could be said to be unlimited with the right intention and persistence. Any activity or situation where being more relaxed is beneficial can be enhanced. And any activity where being more aware and focused is beneficial, can be enhanced. Both done by training the brain to more easily get into and maintain a certain frequency of dominant brainwave.
Also the result of synchronising both sides/hemispheres of the brain can have beneficial results in whole brain communication.
Psychedelic states and visions are also achievable particularly with photic/light based brainwave entrainment.
Medical approval is rare for BWE but therapeutic uses are common with sometimes miraculous results.
Brainwave entrainment types
Auditory, visual and electromagnetic forms are the most common. Some are more impactful than others and some devices combine Auditory and Visual.
Auditory forms include Binaural beats where a different tone is played into each ear causing the brain to entrain to the difference of the two tones. This requires the use of headphones. Or Isochronic tones where a single tone equal to the frequency desired is played.
Often these tones are played at a subdued level with music so that the tone is less audible than the music.
Visual or photic BWE uses a strobing light source at the desired frequency. This is usually done with the eyes closed and therefore works through the eyelids. Some very interesting visual effects similar to drug induced psychedelic effects can be experienced using this form of BWE. These light based devices are often called light machines.
Electromagnetic BWE is a more recent development. This uses mild magnetic stimulation via electrodes on the scalp to deliver electric stimulation. This has the potential to target specific parts of the brain more easily than the whole brain effect of auditory and visual entrainment. However the low levels of current allowed and precision required for placement in home devices may limit this potential.
Warnings about brainwave entrainment
In rare cases using BWE has caused those who are sensitive to seizures to have an episode. So caution should be used. Particularly when using photic/visual stimulation it is advisable to be supervised for your first few sessions.
History has shown that those sensitive to light in particular can even be triggered by flashing lights on TV. This is why most TV stations will now pre warn people.
There is an example of a Japanese cartoon that used flickering light in the late 90’s that caused a seizure in some of the children who watched it. Dizziness and headaches or feeling nauseous are possible also in some people. Although this is usually from too much use or contributing factors such as dehydration.
Do not use brainwave entrainment if you are prone to seizures and avoid BWE also if you are pregnant or under 18 as you may be unaware of being sensitive to it.
Most uncomfortable results can be avoided with some general guidelines.
[Providers of any sessions or devices should provide you with a comprehensive risk assessment/safety list or form so please ask]
Start slow and don’t do too much. Most side effects are a result of overuse. You will react to BWE in a unique way so measure your own ideal use pattern.
Stay hydrated (drink water).
If you experience discomfort then stop using it and if the discomfort persists seek medical advice.
Do not use is you have epilepsy or suffer from brain abnormalities such as seizures or blackouts.
Be aware that people who have had head injuries or a stroke are more susceptible to seizures.
Check with your doctor if you are on any medication that there are no contraindications to using BWE before use and indicate to the doctor what type of BWE you intend to use.
Avoid combining alcohol or recreational drugs with BWE.
Do not use if pregnant to avoid possible risk to the baby.
That said, it’s rare for anyone to have negative effects. You may simply feel different or a bit spaced out (like in a mini trance) for a short time after a BWE session. Most people have a positive experience and most minor side effects if they occur will disappear quite quickly.