Music That Alters Arousal States and Focus

Due to their similar effects on the brain, some practitioners have wondered if binaural beats can replace meditation.

In a word, no. However…

I’ve been aware of binaural beats ever since I first started to meditate back in college. At the time it was suggested to me that it would help me to meditate, or even “make my brain meditate” without having to develop the skill for it. A shortcut if you will. My experience was that it did help get my meditation practice off the ground at first when I hadn’t developed my meditation muscles yet.

Although I think there is a place for this technology in meditative practice, there’s no substitution for mindfulness meditation, and the discipline required to develop this ancient practice.

Technology can only get us so far, and the experiential quality of meditation is far too complex to attempt making a diet pill version of it. Think of taking dietary supplements and eating healthy whole foods… the latter is clearly more nutritious and requires a lot more discipline, even though supplements can, in certain instances, provide a positive benefit.

What Science Has to Say About Binaural Beats

In the nineteenth century, researcher H. W. Dove found that, when exposed to tones of different frequencies, the auditory system in the brain “mixes” and synchronizes the tones in a binaural or “stereo” sound.

Continuing his work more than a century later, Gerald Oster believed these binaural “beats” could be used to explain how we locate sounds and distinguish them from background noise. He also felt that binaural beats could pinpoint auditory defects and detect a variety of conditions, from early Parkinson’s Disease to hormonal changes. [1]

But what are some of the direct health benefits of binaural beats? Writing in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers tracked the effects of products they classified as Binaural Beat Technology (BBT).

Collecting data before and after a 60-day intervention, they measured depression, anxiety, mood, absorption, quality-of-life, cortisol, melatonin, serotonin, dopamine, weight, and blood pressure. They found that the benefits from regularly listening to binaural beats included stress reduction and impoved concentration, motivation, and overall health. [2]

Since our early beginnings, humanity has used rhythm, like the beating of a drum, to induce changes in consciousness. This meditative process is called sonic “driving.” Binaural beats too deliver a driving stimulus but one that arises directly within the auditory system. And compared to other forms of “entrainment” (e.g., chemical), binaural beats are harmless.

binaural music

Members of the International Association for New Science have outlined how binaural “beating” alters the reticular-thalamic activating system, which regulates rest and sleep biorhythms, arousal states, and focus. They conclude that binaural beats can access a variety of beneficial, expanded states of awareness. In addition, binaural beats can facilitate these states for those anxious with or dissatisfied by traditional means of meditation.

If binaural beats affect mindfulness, can they also affect athletic performance? We know, for one, that music interacts with exercise in intriguing ways and that a variety of studies have shown the ability of music, particularly rhythm, to enhance performance, as reviewed by the Journal of Exercise Physiology.

Specific to binaural beats, a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology evaluated binaural stimulation on aerobic exercise. Twenty-two healthy adults were randomly given a 15-minute session of sonic driving at 200 beats per minute via headphones, then given a graded treadmill workout.

Heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing frequency were measured. The final results showed a significant increase in maximal aerobic physical performance, increase in time-to-exhaustion, and that an “entrainment-enhanced warm-up” could benefit athleticism. [3]