Our emotions, thoughts and behaviours can be tracked by synchronised electrical pulses or brainwaves between neurons as they form new pathways. Brainwave speeds are measured in hertz (hz) or cycles per second:
Gamma waves (40 Hz to 100 Hz) Information processing and REM sleep
Beta waves (12 Hz to 40 Hz) Normal waking consciousness
Alpha waves (8 Hz to 12 Hz) Idle relaxation and light, stage 1 sleep
Theta waves (4 Hz to 8 Hz) Daydreaming, journeying and stage 2-3 sleep
The brain is divided into two hemispheres and despite similarities in appearance, they tend to differ slightly in their function and structure.
Left hemisphere: language and the ability to classify/sort information
Right hemisphere: emotional processing, trauma responses, spatial awareness and facial recognition
Symptoms of addiction, insomnia, stress and fatigue can be triggered by a brain imbalance from any number of physical and psychological traumas. The rebalancing effects of sound therapy can provide relief to many, as well asimproving memory function and our ability to multitask.
When a tone is played in one ear and a slightly different tone is played in the other, the difference causes the brain to create the auditory illusion of a third, internal tone, that sounds like a beat (known in scientific circles as the binaural beat). When binaural beats are activated with tuning forks and gongs, nerve fibres connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain begin to synchronise.
The technique can be used to induce specific brain wave states which aid deep relaxation, also known as brainwave entrainment (BWE).
Conscious breathing triggers a relaxation response by activating the vagus nerve (part of the parasympathetic nervous system).
The vagus nerve is by far the most important nerve in the PNS due to its far reaching effects. The word vagus means ‘wanderer’, because it reaches all the essential organs including the brain, gut (intestines, stomach), heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, fertility organs (females), neck (including the pharynx, larynx, oesophagus), ears and tongue.
“Think of a car throttling down the highway at 120 miles an hour. That’s the stress response, and the Vagus nerve is the brake. When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.” – Dr Herbert Benson – founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute.
I’ve hand-picked a range of clinical studies covering the following health conditions:
The juncture between Alpha and Theta brainwaves, reached by sound therapy, is often called the crossover point by neuroscientists. Here, subjects have experienced “seemingly miraculous resolutions of complex psychological problems” including a significant reduction in anxiety levels.
Sound therapy has also found success in shifting patient anxiety before an operation.
Vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork), actually changes the expression of genes associated with stress, immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.
“It’s almost like yin and yang,” says Mladen Golubic of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine. “The vagal response reduces stress. It reduces our heart rate and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, stimulates digestion, all those things that happen when we are relaxed.”
Breathwork is extremely effective in treating depression. It has even shown success among those resistant to antidepressant medications.
Neurons in the brainstem are constantly monitoring our breath patterns. Studies show that if these neurons are surgically removed, our natural stress responses are bypassed and we feel much calmer. Changing your breathing rhythm has a similar effect, tricking the brain into shifting your mood.
14 out of 15 patients with acute migraines (and 5 out of 6 with chronic migraines) underwent a course of ‘brainwave entrainment’ sound therapy and experienced a complete relief of symptoms in just five minutes! So a single session may be enough.
In a recent study of 40 chronic migraine sufferers, vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork), applied for four hours a day over three months, showed a 50% reduction in persistent headaches.
The part of the brain called the amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing. Studies show that stimulating the amygdala with a large inhale will allow us to identify fearful objects much quicker. It therefore corresponds that when we’re in a panic state, our breathing naturally becomes faster to help us cope with dangerous situations.
When we drift off to sleep on our journey to the unconscious, our brains pass through various brainwave cycles. The act of inducing Theta brainwaves through sound therapy can shortcut this process to achieve deep, altered states; perfect conditions for stress reduction and sleep.
Early studies in vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork) have demonstrated an effect on blood glucose levels by regulating the release of insulin in the pancreas. These findings look promising for the future treatment of type II diabetes.
Seated breathing exercises have also shown positive results with fifty type II diabetic patients, demonstrating a significant decrease in blood glucose and blood pressure after just two sessions over two weeks.
Neuroscientists trained a group of alcoholics to enter Theta brainwave states(a process, naturally activated by sound therapy). These participants showed a much greater recovery rate than those in a separate control group. Thirteen months later, the group demonstrated “sustained prevention of relapse”, these findings were again confirmed after three years.
Vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork) may help addicts overcome substance abuse. A groundbreaking study in VNS and cocaine use lead to a significant decrease in drug seeking behaviours among participants.
Research has shown that regular auditory stimulation over a period of 3-5 days boosts our ability to recall word lists. Interestingly, these results seem to peak at a frequency of 5hz.
Studies show that a deep inhalation floods the hippocampus area of the brain with oxygen, significantly improving memory recall.
75 participants viewed two sets of images, 20 minutes apart and were asked to identify which images had been shown twice. Results showed significant improvements in memory recall when inhaling rather than exhaling and when breathing through the nose rather than the mouth.
The complex layers of sound produced by gongs can actually repair the structure of the recovering brain! Studies in music therapy found that patients recovering from a stroke demonstrated, not only behaviour improvements, but ‘ﬁne-grained neuroanatomical changes’.
Breakthrough research has also shown great potential in the use of brainwave entrainment for treating Alzheimer’s Disease. The stimulation of Gamma brainwaves mobilises the immune system to clear harmful proteins from the brain.
Regular exposure to sound therapy keeps large parts of the brain active, lowering the risk of dementia. It’s also been shown that certain types of music stimulate the production of dopamine and serotonin, both lacking in patients of Parkinson’s Disease and Huntingdon’s Disease.
A pilot study of Alzheimer’s patients underwent six months of regular vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork). Following this, 7 out of 10 showed positive results in well known, neuropsychological tests.
This area of research is very much in its infancy and further studies are warranted but all signs point to a positive effect on the disease.
A two year study proved that sound therapy is able to significantly reduce the symptoms of chronic tinnitus.
Not only did sufferers report a significant decrease in symptoms but MRI images of subject’s brains showed that sound therapy was able to activate areas of the brain that researchers believed responsible.
A 59 year old tinnitus patient underwent a daily course of vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork) for a period of four weeks. Results showed a significant reduction in symptoms that lasted for two months after treatment.
Interestingly, known treatments including pharmacotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation, neurofeedback, and bilateral auditory cortex stimulation were previously unsuccessful with the same patient.
In autistic children, Delta brainwaves, which are naturally elevated at night, remain over-active during waking hours. This causes symptoms associated with those on the autism spectrum as they struggle to cut through mental noise. Sound therapy and binaural beats stimulate a reduction in these Delta brainwaves, which have intense calming effects.
The technique can also be used to treat ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, learning difficulties, behavioural problems and more.
Breathwork, along with the relaxation response of vagus nerve stimulation, reduces cytokine production. You what? 😉 In English, cytokines are substances secreted by immune system cells, which connect with other cells, in search of assistance, causing buildup and inflammation.
Please declare any medical conditions or prescribed medication upfront and if you have any concerns, speak to a medical professional.
High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) is a method of treatment, commonly used in hospitals, which uses an acoustic lens to concentrate multiple beams of ultrasound on a target. It is commonly used to reduce cysts and tumours, break up kidney stones and treat cataracts.
Research showed that sound wave therapy (HIFU) successfully cured 90% of male patients that were suffering from prostate cancer, and did so without any harmful side effects whatsoever.
Dr Hashim Ahmed, who led the study at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation, stated “We’re optimistic that men diagnosed with prostate cancer may soon be able to undergo a day case surgical procedure [of HIFU], which can be safely repeated once or twice, to treat their condition with very few side-effects.”
Two recent pilot studies demonstrated that vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork) demonstrated a 30-50% reduction in seizure frequencies among controlled groups of epilepsy patients.
VNS is now a widely recognised treatment for epilepsy in hospitals.
Trials of vagus nerve stimulation (a process, naturally activated by breathwork) were carried out on 14 patients with treatment-resistant fibromyalgia. Five reported pain relief and improved physical function after just three months, twelve reached this point at eleven months and two were pain free!
In a separate study, three multiple sclerosis (MS) patients displaying routine symptoms of postural cerebellar tremor (PCT) and dysphagia showed sustained improvements over the course of three months.
I’ve thrown together some topics to ponder whilst stroking your beard thoughtfully:
When viewed up close, analog sound waves flow like water. Like nature, they’re smooth and continuous. Digital waves however, are stepping, square, and discrete. This is why there’s really no substitute for the multi sensory experience of the live gong sound.
In the case of recorded sound, the analog/digital debate rages on. Hi-fi geeks would do well to check out the Klipsch definition.
David Mancuso (musical host at New York’s legendary Loft parties; arguably the fulcrum of today’s global dance movement) grasped the notion that there’s a harmonic structure to all reality and understood the impact of increased sound sensitivity for going deep:
“We did a test, we took an analogue recording of a bird sanctuary. We went to another bird sanctuary and we played the recording and the birds responded—they heard all these other birds and they started making all this noise and getting all excited—something was really happening. And then they played a digital copy of the same recording and they did nothing. Like they didn’t hear anything. It’s a little revealing of the sensitivity of things.”
Dr Hans Jenny coined the termcymatics to describe acoustic effects ofsound wave phenomena.
Jenny placed various substances on metal plates and applied a broad spectrum of sounds through a device called a tonoscope. The particles appeared to re-organise themselves into stunning geometric shapes according to the frequency of each vibration.
Geometric shape (or cymaglyph) formed by the gong sound (interesting to note that the pattern clearly maps out the cardinal/non-cardinal directions of the medicine wheel).
Dr Masaru Emoto took these ideas to the next level In his controversial book, ‘The Hidden Messages in Water’. Using high-speed photography, he claimed to show that snowflake crystal formations in frozen water had the ability to absorb human emotions. What’s more, he claimed subtle changes occurred in these geometric structures when specific, concentrated thoughts were directed at them.
There is a common misconception that no sound exists in space (space is a vacuum and cannot transmit sound without molecules for the waves to travel through). Sound has in fact been detected in the form of electromagnetic vibrations and NASA has designed instruments that convert these wavelengths into sounds detectable by the human ear. Listen to a selection here.
In 1978 Hans Cousto, a Swiss mathematician and musicologist, discovered a link between all kinds of natural phenomena, such as the orbit of the planets, the weather, colors, rhythms and tones. This became known as the ‘Cosmic Octave’.
Paiste also manufacture a full range of planet gongs, each contributing a vital pitch to the total harmonic resonance of our solar system.
According to data captured by the European Space Agency (ESA), Earth’s magnetic field has weakened over the past six months, raising her average frequency from 7.83 Hz to 8.5 Hz (with recorded highs of 16.5 Hz).
Earth’s core contains a giant ball of iron and magnetic fields are created by changes in temperature and rotation speed, causing liquid metal to swirl around. The field acts like a giant invisible bubble, shielding the planet from dangerous radiation from the sun in the form of solar winds.
Ancient cultures dubbed 7.83 Hz as the frequency of “om” (or sound of creation), which also happens to be the natural rhythm of Mother Earth’s heartbeat. The Ancient Indian Rishis believed this frequency was chosen to block primordial memories of our “oneness” or connection with all things (if true, it fits that erasing this knowledge presents a direct opportunity to learn from the experience of free will). They go on to suggest that major shifts could begin to loosen these memory blocks, ushering in a new wave of collective consciousness. Make of that what you will!
It’s perhaps no coincidence that recent frequency shifts are paralleled by an acceleration in world affairs. Adapting to change, particularly in the wake of Brexit, Trump and relentless propaganda can be unsettling, often reinforcing the fear-based mentality of separation.
The rebalancing effect of sound therapy can help us adapt to these shifts on our own terms; rather like the fine tuning of a piano.
“The secret is embracing flow, not attaching to states. Diving into the shadows can be fun too!”Rob Calcutt