About 8 weeks ago, I embarked on a little “meditation experiment.”
I have been listening to two 30-minute soundtracks of binaural beats while meditating. I would listen to one for 30 minutes in the morning and another for 30 minutes in the evening.
Just to clarify, I listened to Kelly Howell’s “Deep Meditation: Ascend to Higher Levels” in the mornings. In the evenings, I listened to “Relieve Anxiety: Subliminal Reprogramming,” also by Kelly Howell. (These are neither endorsements or affiliates.)
I wanted to see if there would be any change or difference in how I felt, and if there was a change in the overall meditative experience.
My Experiences of the Last 8 Weeks
Before I relate the results, I want to share my experiences over the past few weeks.
After meditating without binaural beats for a long period of time, I switched completely to listening to binaural beats in the mornings and evenings, with small meditation sessions in silence during the day (not every day, but when possible – usually about ten minutes of silence).
The morning meditation sessions seemed to leave me feeling rather alert and ready for a new day. It was a little difficult to focus on breathing and not “chase” my thoughts. I sat in a “standard meditation position” (hereafter, SMP) with my legs crossed, sitting upright, and hands cupped one over the other.
Immediately, I felt the effects on my brain, if you will, of the music. I would feel my body relax and go into a calmer state. It was almost like being in a trance-like state. My mind, however, didn’t always relax along with the rest of my body and my thoughts would wander.
Granted, this is the classic issue with meditation: wandering thoughts and “following” them, instead of gently refocusing.
In the evenings, the binaural beats would take me to a theta state. I noticed that my body would completely relax. I almost felt like I had “two minds” – the one that was under the influence of the music and the other that remained active (and often thinking about everything).
I would emerge from the evening meditation completely ready for bed, however. In fact, I waited until I wanted to go to bed, then I’d grab my headphones and go meditate.
The theta waves of the music would make it so that I would become very drowsy – which was the point. The subliminal messaging is designed to work when your “conscious mind” can’t fight it.
The morning meditation track continued and I felt the same as in Week 1, with one exception: I would enter a deep meditation and I would occasionally see beautiful colors on the screen of my mind.
I started to think about how I couldn’t listen to my breathing, though. This, for me, has been fundamental to my regular meditation outside of binaural beats.
I think not being able to focus on my breath made it harder to turn my thoughts off.
I would find myself thinking about the day ahead.
But, when I could focus on the expansion of my abdomen from breathing in and out, it was easier to keep my mind clearer. It was only when I could do that would I really go into a deeper meditation.
I kept wondering that if I went into deep meditation if I would feel more in touch with my intuition and that quiet, inner calmness that I associate with meditation masters.
I wasn’t experiencing that, yet, but I was only two weeks into it.
I definitely enjoyed the feeling where my one part of my brain seemed to be “carried off” to binaural beats land, even though the thinking part of my brain liked (willfully so?) to remain active.
In the evenings, I noticed that my body and mind would often “fall asleep.” It was a strange feeling: I would “wake up” a bit slumped over after 30 minutes, but I never felt like I had been sleeping – it was like I was aware that I was in an altered brain state, but…I couldn’t control it, either.
As soon as the meditation would end, my eyes would pop open, and I’d be completely aware that it was time for bed. I got up, left my meditation pad and headed my bedroom.
In fact, even if I tried to remain awake, it wouldn’t happen. My brain would go into a theta state, and I would invariably lose consciousness and descend into a light sleep – but any sound or needing to readjust if my foot fell asleep, for example, I would remain conscious of that.
I would also feel my body start to slump over and I would readjust back to SMP. Even so, there were times when I would be so nearly “zonked out” that I would realize I was leaning over almost horizontally and then try to correct.
(You can imagine what that might look like: I would steadily lean more and more forward or to the side that when my face touched the floor or my shoulder would touch the wall, it would trigger an almost unconscious response to correct it.)
As far as my “thinking mind,” I was still having trouble focusing just on the music. But there were six weeks left. Surely that would change.
Weeks 3 and 4
For these next couple of weeks, I would say that, honestly, it was more of the same. There wasn’t ever this feeling of “eureka! I figured how to meditate like a master!”
Not that I expected that. But, I was hoping for…something more.
I admit I was mildly disappointed that I didn’t feel like I was making big breakthroughs with my meditation.
I did miss one morning session due to travel and one evening session, as well.
However, I was sticking to my new routine of meditating one hour per day for the duration of the experiment.
In the mornings, interestingly, I never felt the urge to fall asleep. I always felt pretty energized to start the day.
In the evenings, I would fall into a theta sleep-like state without fail.
One notable thing that was happening: I was feeling more calm and less anxious overall – I can say that for sure.
During this time, I had some serious family issues occurring – not to me personally, but to immediate family members back home where I grew up.
They are okay. All the while, I just knew everything would be all right.
Among other things, my older sister was admitted to ICU with blood clots. Somehow, when she had to undergo surgery, I noted – and was quite aware – of how calm I felt and knew she would be all right. (It did give us a scare, though. I already have an older brother who passed away from a heart attack.)
So, even if I couldn’t shut my mind off during these meditations, the effects of these binaural beats were still working: I honestly felt less stress about life overall.
It will be interesting to note over the long term – way after this experiment has ended – if I will remain feeling that way.
Weeks 5 and 6
My frustration with feeling like I wasn’t able to concentrate on the sound of my breathing during meditation began to bubble to the surface.
Now, I really missed that.
On the other hand, I noticed I was feeling more mindful and calm in other areas.
It’s often hard to remember to be mindful – at least in this stage of my meditation development – during the day. But, I’d be walking to my office and would hear singing birds and fluttering leaves leftover from autumn.
In those moments, it was easy to remember to take deliberate breaths – and smile with gratitude at the simple pleasures life has to offer.
But, during the course of the work day – as I’m sure many of us can relate – tasks, assignments, meetings, and the needs of others seem to take precedence.
I long ago discovered that I remain much calmer and ready for the barrage of task lists and activities when I take a few moments to put on calming (classical, New Age, or jazz) music while I work, and take periodic breaks on the hour to go take a quick walk or to do jumping jacks.
Now, with so much meditation, I was more-often remembering to do those things for myself.
I know I’m a better employee, a better person to be around and I’m more naturally calm when I am more mindful.
So, those are some good side effects from this experiment.
I admit that I stopped enjoying falling asleep every time I meditated to the the “relieve anxiety” music. I wanted to be more alert and “with it,” and more conscious of my own inner-self.
The morning meditation was still quite enjoyable, though I was feeling more plaintive about not “being in touch with my intuition.”
Don’t get me wrong: I still felt a sense of being connected to myself, my feelings in situations and my intuition, overall. I think anyone who meditates does.
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but in past experiences when I’ve meditated more (for longer lengths of time in a single sitting), I more often get the sense of “this person is going to call me today,” or “I should avoid this situation before I ever get into it,” or, “I need to get in touch with this person immediately.”
I was hoping for many more incidences of being in touch with my inner-knowing that would give me a sense of heightened intuition and instinct.
I wasn’t necessarily looking for a feeling to be more “psychic,” but being more in tune with what others were thinking and feeling, anticipating the near future, and having a more of a sense of wisdom.
I suppose that sort of thing comes with age, life experience, and years of meditation. I do have that to look forward to, anyways. But…from past experience with lots of meditation, the world seems different when you meditate more.
It’s akin to having the ability to walk up to a wild animal and have it eat from your hand when it would never do that to or for anyone else: that feeling of connectedness and compassion can be overpowering in a wonderful way.
Weeks 7 and 8
In the entire 8 weeks, I only missed one morning meditation.
My thoughts seemed to wander more than ever, unfortunately. I felt a yearning to get back to focusing on my breathing.
I stuck this out for the 8 weeks, but I really did miss the silence of just breathing and listening to the silence – which, honestly, can be quite loud.
Regarding the evening meditation, however, starting after week 7, I was tired of always falling asleep on my meditation pad each evening. I stopped the evening meditation altogether. Overall, I probably missed nine or ten evening sessions.
Some of it was due to travel, to having a cold, and just sheer exhaustion after a day of work.
It would seem logical that I would just listen while falling asleep for the night but I know myself: listening to anything when I’m trying to go to sleep for the night makes for an awful night of sleep. (I’m one of those who needs complete silence and darkness for a good night’s sleep.)
I also knew that if I was meditating elsewhere (as in my meditation room), and then went to bed, that it wouldn’t affect my sleep.
You see, in my bedroom, there are no TV’s, a few non-fiction books, and I’ll bring my phone in there only as an alarm clock. Otherwise, technology and fiction is off limits – both are things that could wake me up. (And I really need to get a “real” alarm clock…but I can’t stand buzzers – I’ve been looking for one that has low-light and calming sounds to wake up to – not something that’s all that easy to find.) I’ve made it strictly a “resting” space so that when I enter my bedroom, my body knows that it’s time for bed.
Still, overall, I got at least six weeks’ of listening and still felt my anxiety levels fall, and remain low.
- glad I did this
- frustrating to try to use SMP at night
- feel less in touch with my inner-self
- my brain would sync with the brainwaves of the music
- anxiety levels reduced
- more mindful, overall
- couldn’t hear my breathing
- couldn’t turn my brain “off”
This was a really fun “experiment,” overall.
I think the binaural beats work, but even the makers of the music recommend not using them for longer than 8 weeks.
At the end of 8 weeks, I was ready to give it up. I was ready to get on with my own regular meditation – for many reasons.
While I don’t mind using technology to help induce the different brain states, I honestly feel that I prefer my own silent meditation where I can focus on the sound of my breathing and the silence around me.
I had not realized how much that matters – at least to me.
For years I’ve trained myself to “focus on the breath” – this is how I can clear my mind and not follow the thoughts that occur all the time.
When I had the headphones on, I couldn’t do that. All of a sudden, I didn’t have the very thing that had trained me to clear my mind.
I suppose I could have focused on something else – or even paid more attention to the music itself – but it was difficult to do after so many years of focusing on the breath.
This, I think, is why I couldn’t turn my mind off.
Something else that was interesting about all this was that I was completely aware of “two brains.” The binaural beats music can be likened to driving in a car:
If the “binaural beats” were doing the driving, I was the passenger. The binaural beats were directing the action – they were changing my brainwaves. I would feel my body respond by becoming still and relaxing.
But, just like when you’re a passenger, you aren’t necessarily in control of all the passing places, thoughts, feelings, people, and objects of interest. I would “look on” with amusement with no regard for where I was going.
In other words, it was like one part of my brain synchronized with the brainwaves and would go into a meditative state, but the thinking part of my brain just went right on thinking. I was completely aware of both and also aware that I could stop neither from happening.
It was kind of bizarre, actually. Fun in a bizarre way.
I do think there is a place for binaural beats – especially with subliminal messaging.
But, I think if I ever use binaural beats in the future, it will be to accomplish something specific: to boost my creativity, for example, or to reduce stress – and for a shorter period of time.
Something else is that I used two different daily binaural beats tracks at the same time. In retrospect, I wonder if I should have just done one and used the second meditation session to keep in touch with my breathing.
I do remember, however, when I had listened to another Kelly Howell track for 4 weeks: “Manifest Your Destiny.” I enjoyed it, but I had the same feeling of being “less in touch with” my inner-self.
It’s a little hard to explain, actually. It’s not that I would “lose” all sense of inner knowing, but there is a keen sense of the world and powers of observation you get when you do a lot of meditating with no other aids or tools.
You feel more connected with everything.
I love that feeling and it’s one of the reasons that keeps me going to that meditation zafu pillow every day.
What About You?
Now, the question is: have you ever tried binaural beats? What was your experience with it? Which do you prefer? What did you get out of it?
Now, with my upcoming intention project (which I will share my research and what I will be doing in mid-March), I plan on incorporating more meditation. However, I’ll be doing different things with it and I won’t meditate so close to bedtime – I don’t like falling asleep while trying to do that.
Also, as a side note, I am traveling this week. I will get to and respond to folks’ blogs as I can. In the meantime, many blessings to you!