Psychoacoustics: The Fascinating Science Behind Sound Healing
Without a doubt, mental illness has reached its zenith in the world. We have much to learn and understand about these complex diseases, but one thing is for sure: modern day medicinal treatment have been nothing short of controversial. This is part of the reason why people have dug up the past to better understand alternative ways of healing.
One of these powerful healing techniques from the past has been making a huge comeback: sound healing.
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Sound healing has been used as a tool for promoting physical, emotional, and spiritual healing since before the written word. Indians, in particular, gave this deep thought for mantras and sacred chants. Ancient Egyptians used vowel sound chants in healing because they believed vowels were sacred. Tibetan monks take advantage of singing bowls, which they believe to be a ‘symbol of the unknowable’ whose ‘vibrations have been described as the sound of the universe manifesting.’
This relationship of humans to sound and our ancient history has given birth to a specific area of study known as Psychoacoustics — the scientific study of the perception of sound. In 1973, Dr. Gerald Oster, an MD and biophysicist, proved in his research paper, “Auditory Beats in the Brain,” how sound affects the how the brain absorbs new information, controls mood, sleep patterns, healing responses, and more, and how quickly. Thus, specific frequencies of sound and music can be used to generate neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
“Our various states of consciousness are directly connected to the ever-changing electrical, chemical, and architectural environment of the brain. Daily habits of behavior and thought processes have the ability to alter the architecture of brain structure and connectivity, as well as, the neurochemical and electrical neural oscillations of your mind.”
To understand the basics of sound healing, we must first understand our brain waves. Brain waves are generated by electrical pulses working in unison from masses of neurons interacting with one another. Brain waves are divided into five different bandwidths that are thought to form a spectrum of human consciousness:
- Delta waves (.5 to 3 Hz) are the slowest brain waves and occur primarily during our deepest state of dreamless sleep.
- Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz) occur during sleep but have also been observed in the deepest states of Zen meditation.
- Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) are present when your brain is in an idling default-state typically created when you’re daydreaming or consciously practicing mindfulness or meditation.
- Beta waves (12-30 Hz) typically dominate our normal waking states of consciousness and occur when attention is directed towards cognitive and other tasks. Beta is a ‘fast’ wave activity that is present when we are alert, attentive, focused, and engaged in problem-solving or decision making. Depression and anxiety have also been linked to beta waves because they can lead to “rut-like” thinking patterns.
- Gamma waves (25 to 100 Hz) typically hover around 40 Hz and are the fastest of the brain wave bandwiths. Gamma waves relate to simultaneous processing of information from different brain areas and have been associated with higher states of conscious perception.
Understanding the Science
According to Dr. Suzanne Evans Morris, Ph.D., a speech-language pathologist:
Research shows that different frequencies presented to each ear through stereo headphones… create a difference tone (or binaural beat) as the brain puts together the two tones it actually hears. Through EEG monitoring the difference tone is identified by a change in the electrical pattern produced by the brain. For example, frequencies of 200 Hz and 210 Hz produce a binaural beat frequency of 10 Hz (The difference in 210 Hz and 200 Hz is 10 Hz). Monitoring of the brain’s electricity (EEG) shows that the brain produces increased 10 Hz activity with equal frequency and amplitude of the wave form in both hemispheres of the brain (left and right hemisphere).
A series of experiments conducted by neuro-electric therapy engineer Dr. Margaret Patterson and Dr. Ifor Capel, revealed how alpha brainwaves boosted the production of serotonin. Dr. Capel explained:
As far as we can tell, each brain center generates impulses at a specific frequency based on the predominant neurotransmitter it secretes. In other words, the brain’s internal communication system—its language, is based on frequency…Presumably, when we send in waves of electrical energy at, say, 10 Hz, certain cells in the lower brain stem will respond because they normally fire within that frequency range.
Additional research upholds the beliefs of mind-body medicine in this sense, stating that brainwaves being in the Alpha state, 8 to 14 Hz, permits a vibration allowing for more serotonin to be created.
It’s important for us to come to terms with the fact that there is science behind age-old medicinal practices that do not require putting unknown substances in our bodies to alleviate issues like stress, depression, anxiety, and more. But even more intriguing is to think something as simple as sound, which we have come to treat as pleasurable entertainment, has not only been used to promote healing and well-being, but has proven to work through research as well. If your mental health is of concern, try listening to a binaural beat to generate alpha waves between 8 and 14 Hz to produce more serotonin. Another option is to take advantage of music that promotes a relaxed alpha state in the brain such as classical music or singing bowls.
What can Sound Heal?
Using sound as therapy can provide results for a variety of issues including:
- Sleep disorders
- Stress management
- Pain management
Our body, mind and spirit always want to be moving in a direction toward balance, yet we often have too much outer stimulus and noise and not enough time to dedicate to ourselves, which can prevent us from achieving a better state of harmony. Sound has a way of helping us get to the source of this inner peace we all desire.
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