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Mitch Nur
from: Mitch Nur
Category: Sound Healing

Thoughts Regarding Entrainment

Thoughts Regarding Entrainment

There has been much discussion on the physics phenomena of resonance known as entrainment in the sound healing community over the past 20 years or so. Much has been written in books and posted online regarding this circumstance of resonance, but I feel that we need to revisit this topic before there’s anymore misunderstanding.

Within the community of sound healers there are 2 forms of entrainment that receive the most dialog, ’neural entrainment’ otherwise known as brainwave entrainment, and ‘biomusicological entrainment.’ Let’s briefly present their definitions.

Neural Entrainment is best described within the sound healing community as ‘binaural beats’ denoting the simultaneous introduction of a oscillating frequency to both ears, resulting in a synchronous electrical activity of cortical neurons in the brain. The neurons adjust to synchronize with the periodic vibration of the external stimuli. As an example, if 200Hz is introduced to the left ear, and 210Hz is simultaneously introduced to the right ear, a perceived auditory illusion of a third tone of 10Hz is heard by the brain alone.

Biomusicological Entrainment is a synchronization of organisms (humans) to a perceived external rhythm where ‘foot tapping’ to music is observed. Or simply the ‘groove,’ which propels us to move, or dance, and interact with the music.

Within many discussions regarding sound healing, there is a belief that the prospect of using sound as an entrainment mechanism to change the vibration of a person listening exists. The ‘listening’ person is perceived to have a low vibration, or they suffer from an illness/issue (emotional, physical, spiritual) identified as a low vibration, and the introduction of a sound from a crystal singing bowl for example, may entrain them to a higher vibration. Thereby facilitating a form of healing through entrainment.  Another area is where a shift in a persons brain state is changed, for example, from Beta waves to Alpha waves. Another definition tossed about is the ‘ability of the more powerful rhythmic vibrations of one object to change the less powerful rhythmic vibrations of another object and cause them to synchronize their rhythms with the first object’ [1].

Now for example let’s look at another example of entrainment. You are in a crowded room with many happy people laughing and having a wonderful time. Suddenly through the door, a complete stranger to this group of people enters, and their physical appearance and behavior puts everyone at unease or niggling. The group has now entrained to the stranger who is perceived to be acting at a lower vibration than the group at large. If the thought is that a lower vibration will entrain to a higher vibration and raise it up, why did this not happen with this group of people? (i.e. the ability of the more powerful rhythmic vibrations of one object to change the less powerful rhythmic vibrations of another object and cause them to synchronize their rhythms with the first object)[2]. The reason is found in the term ‘resistance’, and I will get to this in a moment. There exists a ‘tendency’ for a higher vibration to ‘allow’ itself to entrain to a lower vibration, rather than a ’tendency’ for a lower to entrain up. Simply explained by the path of less resistance. It is harder for a lower vibration to rise up, because there’s more resistance involved, and on the other hand, it’s easier for the higher to go lower, because of less resistance. It cannot be assumed that entrainment will work the way you want it to, because of this ‘tendency’ involved with resistance. When the lower can overcome the resistance, then it can be allowed to entrain to the higher vibration. This issue exists within brainwave entrainment as well. People in the upper Beta range have more resistance (too much mind), that restricts their progress in moving to a lower Beta range where they can progress to Alpha.

I would also like to add that listening, rather than hearing a soothing sound from a Native American wood flute or a Sounding Bowl for example can indeed induce a change in one’s brain state from beta to alpha waves; but this does not occur solely through entrainment, but many other factors not related to entrainment at all. Much of what has been discovered has been revealed through psychological profiles of subjects listening to sound and music. Factors include hormonal releases, specifically social bonding hormones like oxytocin. So things are much more complex in nature than the simplicity of entrainment. There are many factors involved in promoting a healing effect with sound, but people practicing this craft should know that there’s much more to all of this then just entrainment.

Returning briefly to Neural Entrainment, and quoting Dr. Steven Novella (clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine) “In order to understand brainwave entrainment you first have to understand something about brain waves and electroencephalograms (EEG). Neurons are cells that communicate with each other through electrical conduction. When a neuron fires it creates a small electrical and magnetic field. These fields are far too small to measure by placing electrodes on the scalp, or even on the surface of the brain. The only reason we can detect the electrical fields of the brain is because many neurons are firing together – in synchrony. All brain waves that are measured by an EEG, therefore, represent a large group of neurons firing together. Brain wave entrainment is a real phenomenon and is useful as one method of investigating how the brain works. But there is no evidence, nor any theoretical basis, for any long lasting effect on brain function or that there is any benefit of any kind.” [3] In my own research I have seen forms of auditory beats temporarily relieve symptoms, or initiate a psycho-acoustical effect. In some rare cases, this can be life changing, and in doing so, can lead to a long term solution for people; but as Dr. Novella points out, generally it’s a short term rather than a long term solution at best. I would also add, that some people suffer discomfort with auditory beats, or they don’t entrain at all.

In closing, sound healers cannot allow themselves to assume that entrainment left to itself will work. It’s their job to assist in the methods necessary to overcome the resistance. This is where the real work is. Not in gimmicks, or short cuts, but in the knowledge of how things really work, in the real world. And to also understand that neural entrainment does not effectively work on everyone, so people teaching sound healing should not only know better, but stop selling this as a cure-all.

Concluding Comment: Many (not all) in the sound healing community use Christiaan Huygens as a reference for the discovery of entrainment (a Google search on the phrase “christiaan huygens on entrainment” for example shows 9,980 results) in 1665AD. However, a Taoist monk in a monastery in China made a diary entry regarding entrainment approx. 600 years before Christiaan Huygens. [4]
[1] Healing Sounds, page 14, Jonathan Goldman
[2] Healing Sounds, page 14, Jonathan Goldman
[3] Neurologica Blog “Brainwave Entrainment and Marketing Pseudoscience” - May 5, 2008
[4} Sound Therapy Timeline - a private research paper, Mitch Nur, PhD

© 2016 Mitch Nur, PhD

Posted: 01 Mar 2016 By: Benjamin Savage

Fantastic article!

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