Articles and Research on Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI)

Psychological versus Physiological Calm

By Strong Institute Director, Jeff Strong

Note: This is an excerpt from our REI Authorized Provider Training Program. I included it here to offer more information on this subject.

Q: How can rhythms so fast be calming?

Whenever I tell people that our generalized CDs will work for anyone as long the volume is set properly, I often see doubts in their faces. After all, everyone is different so how can I expect everyone to respond to the same CD?

Well, I'm sure you've had the experience of choosing a relaxation CD only to find that it wasn't calming for you. Personally, I have a hard time calming down to most multi-instrument classical music. I prefer a single instrument such as a John Williams guitar CD. On the other hand, we have many clients with AD/HD who say the music they find most relaxing is heavy metal.

The calming that results from these CDs is based upon a phenomenon called the "relaxation response".  The relaxation response is a response to the way the music makes us feel on a psychological level. This is why one type of music may work for one person while someone else (or that same person on a different day) finds a different piece of music to be relaxing for them.

Essentially, when we choose a piece of music that makes us feel good, we begin to breathe slower and this results in a reduction in our heart-rate, which in turn slows our brainwaves. Because the brain is the last step in the process, we need to find the piece of music that calms us psychologically. This is why we each may prefer a different piece of music when we want to calm down.

With the REI CDs were actually calming the brain first through a process called entrainment. Entrainment is simply the synchronization of two or more rhythmic cycles. This synchronization is universal and is present in many areas of our world. For instance, we entrain to the day/night cycle and when we become out of synch with it (by crossing many time zones in a short period of time) we feel fatigue, irritable, and have difficulty sleeping. It can take several days for us to synchronize to our new day/night cycle. When this happens our symptoms disappear.

Entrainment can be seen on a relational level as well. For example, when we are engaged in a stimulating conversation (one where we feel like we are "connecting" with the other person), our brains become synchronized with one another. This is entrainment and seems to be related to the conservation of energy - it takes less energy to synchronize to other cycles in our environment than not.

You can test this by walking with a friend. Notice how after a short while your stride matches theirs. Your footsteps are in perfect synch. Now try to walk out of synch with their footsteps. You'll notice it takes a concerted effort to do so. And once you stop concentrating on being out of synch with your friend, you'll find yourself right back in synch. This is how powerful a force entrainment can be.
In the case of the REI CDs the rhythms on the CD are one rhythmic cycle and your brain is the other. The regular pulse of the rhythms on the REI CDs synchronizes your brain  and entrains it to the cycle of the instrument's pulsation. This creates a relaxed neurological state in your brain (in this case, the state of consciousness is alpha). Because this is physiological response, we are calmed all the time (as long as the volume is set properly).

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