The Mirror and the Lake

A few nights ago, I had a dream about a mirror. Very strange vivid dream in which I was looking for a mirror. And then the next day, as so often seems to happen these days, something related to my dream took place – I met a friend who was carrying six small mirrors. They were beautifully made in a hexagonal form. I told him about my dream and he immediately gave me one of the mirrors. He had just had them made, and he figured that one of them was meant to be for me.

Mirrors are amazing things. They remind people what they look like, and in this case the mirror also reminded me of a story – an old Irish story about a monk called Kevin who set up a monastery called Glendalough in the remote hills of Wicklow. Kevin, or Saint Kevin, as he is known today was a very pious man who believed that the first step in loving God was to love yourself. He didn’t mean for people to be arrogant in any way. He simply meant that you should respect and love yourself, accept yourself as a wonderful creation of God’s love. Once you are able to love yourself, then you can choose to show your love for others through devotion, and finally you can begin to truly love God.

The monastery of Glendalough is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by woods inhabited by the native red squirrels and the bluebells that dance among the trees. Kevin originally went there as a hermit to live alone and to worship God, but slowly stories of his piety attracted many monks and the monastery grew and grew until it became the structure that lies in ruins today, with the round tower acting as a beacon for more pilgrims and travellers in the Wicklow hills.

One of these monks who caused problems was a man called Tomas. Tomas believed himself to be a pious man, but often when night came, he would creep out of the monastery and head for the local tavern where he would drink during the night and engage in rather un-monklike activities.

It wasn’t that Tomas really planned to go out and do these crazy things. It was just that sometimes he forgot himself and slipped out, thinking that it was just this one time and that no harm could possibly come of it. And so he would go out and do things that aren’t really suitable for a person who loves himself or herself.

When the man returned to the monastery, bloated and tired, he would always have to sleep down by the lake because Kevin always locked the monastery at night to ensure that everything was safe and the integrity of the monastery would not be threatened in any way. And when the man awoke by the lake in the bright light of morning, he would realize that he had done it again and be disgusted at what he had done, feel very guilty and head back to the monastery. Sometimes, he even thought of just quitting the monastery because he thought that he couldn’t live up to the goals, but eventually he would always go back – knowing that he might fail again.

Now, Kevin knew all about Tomas’ antics, even though he pretended that he knew nothing at all. Because whatever we do, people always know about them somehow. And there are no real secrets in a monastery. Each part of the monastery eventually is influenced by every other part.

So one morning, Kevin went down to the lake and saw Tomas sleeping there, tossing and turning with guilt in his dreams in the midst of all that fabulous scenery. For Glendalough is a truly beautiful place where even today people take long walks in the mountains and woods and walk from the higher lake to the monastery at the lower lake. Kevin hid himself carefully in a tree where Tomas would be able to hear his voice but wouldn’t be able to see him, and he called out to Tomas who was still sleeping. Kevin spoke in a beautiful soft voice like an angel.

“Tomas, why are you here?”
Tomas heard the strange voice of the angel calling and startled up, thinking he was having a strange dream.
“I must return to the monastery,” he said to himself aloud. “Oh my God, I have done it again. I hate myelf for what I have done.”
But then the angel’s voice came again, “But Tomas, if you return to the monastery without learning to love yourself, you will do this same thing again and again.”
Tomas looked around again to try to see who was calling and realized without a doubt that he was in the presence of an angel.
“So what should I do? Should I leave this monastery?,” he cried, truly upset because he really did want to achieve his goal of being close to God.
The angel said, “If you really want to be close to God, you know that you must do as Kevin has said and learn to love yourself.”
“So what should I do?,” asked Tomas. “I really do want to achieve what I set out to do.”
Then the angel said, “Go to the lake and look at the place where you see yourself in the water.”
For the lower lake of Glendalough is truly a beautiful place, one of those mysterious waters where you the surface of the lake is almost like a mirror in the still cold mornings of the Wicklow hills.
The angel continued, “Go to the lake and gaze upon your own face in the reflection of the mirror of the lake. See and know yourself. Look at yourself and say ‘I accept and love this person.’ And each morning at this hour, return to the lake and once again gaze upon your reflection in the mirror of the lake and learn to love yourself so that you can love others and learn to love God.”

And the monk, Tomas, did just as the angel had said, and he gazed upon his own image in the lake and new understandings came to him. He began to understand and respect the person that he truly was in new ways. And each day as he returned to look upon his face in the mirror of the lake, he began to change his way, to develop a true love and respect for himself, and the more he truly respected and loved himself, the more he was able to devote himself to his true purpose and respond to his true calling.

And as the years went by, Tomas became the abbot of the monastery of Glendalough and was known far and wide for his resourceful wisdom and lore, but above all for his love. And when he was asked for advice by the novice monks, he always replied, look upon yourself every morning in the mirror of the lake and learn to love the face that you see. For when you look upon your face, you can see the greatness of God himself.


And when I told this story to the friend who gave me the gift of the hexagonal mirror, he laughed and said “perhaps you will remember this story when you see this mirror and remember that you have many more sides than the six sides of the hexagon.”

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

What is NLP?

The most powerful tool in the world is the human brain, but most people don’t know how to use this amazing tool effectively. NLP is like the user’s manual for the brain. It allows us to use our brains in the most useful ways to achieve powerful outcomes in our personal and professional lives.

Fundamentally, NLP is the modelling of excellence. When you look around, you can see some people who really excel at what they are doing. Whether it is business, education, sport, social interaction, public speaking, or any other realm of life, NLP allows us to model these successful people to find out how they are doing what they are doing so that we can do it ourselves or teach it to other people. NLP is all about identifying and adopting the difference that makes the difference.

NLP even allows a person to model himself or herself. For example, you can remember a situation where you achieved success. NLP will show you how to enter back into that state in order to achieve the goals that you really want in your life. By understanding how your mind works, you can change it so that is always working for you and improving your life and the lives of those around you.

As well as being a way to model excellence in any field, NLP can also be understood as the underlying attitude of curiousity and the trail of useful techniques that result from this modeling.

If we look at the word more closely, NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. This name contains three important words that are useful for describing human experience: neurology, language, and programming. The neurological system regulates how our bodies function. Language determines how we interface and communicate with other people. Our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. So NLP describes the  interaction between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how this interaction affects our body and behavior (programming).

One of the co-founders of NLP, Richard Bandler, coined this definition for the Oxford English Dictionary.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them.

… and a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour.

The other co-founder of NLP focuses much more on the modelling aspect of this technology:

There are people who are recognized as being particuraly adept in their performance. NLP is the bridge between being jealous of these people and admiring them… it gives a third way … a set of strategies to unconsciously assimilate precisely the differences that make the difference between this genius and an average performer…. It is an accelerated learning strategy, a mapping of tacit to explicit knowledge … a program that allows you to explore one extreme of human behaviour – namely excellence.

(Transcribed from YouTube video of John Grinder).

In essence, all of NLP is founded on two fundamental presuppositions:

1. The Map is Not the Territory.
As human beings, we can never know reality. We can only know our perceptions of reality. We experience and respond to the world around us based on our ‘neuro-linguistic’ maps of reality – not reality itself.

2. Life and ‘Mind’ are Systemic Processes.
The processes that take place within a human being and between human beings and their environment are systemic. Our bodies, our societies, and our universe form an ecology of systems and all of these systems interact  and mutually influence each other. When we want to change one part of our life, it is important to consider the ecology – what effect will it have on other parts of our life or on the people and world around us?

In the belief system of NLP it is not possible for human beings to know objective reality. There is no one ‘right’ or ‘correct’ map of the world. The people who are most effective in this world are the ones who have a map of the world that allows them to perceive the greatest number of available choices and perspectives. NLP is a way of enriching the choices that you have and perceive. One of the co-developers of NLP, Robert Dilts, says: “Excellence comes from having many choices. Wisdom comes from having multiple perspectives.”

On this website, you can find details of NLP coaching for personal or professional life. You can also find out how to train in NLP so that you can incorporate these valuable skills and create a life that is richer in every way.

State Management: COACH and CRASH states

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

A key word in using NLP effectively is state. A state can be understood as a particular pattern of mind and body. In everyday language, we can describe people as being in a happy state or a relaxed state or an upset state. Other common states are motivation, curiosity, or love. This article is a brief introduction to state management and the powerful COACH state.

Clearly, some states are more useful than others when we are trying to do NLP work with other people or with ourselves and these useful states are called resourceful states. For example, a motivational state is generally more useful than an agitated state when we want to focus on getting something done. Similarly, a relaxed state is often more useful when we want to do access the unconscious mind. Robert Dilts talks about two states called COACH and CRASH. These are summarized below.


A CRASH state is generally unresourceful and not useful in achieving our goals. This state is generally provoked by meeting something fearful or unknown or getting caught in a loop where our thinking is paralyzed. The CRASH state can be seen as a reversion to survival strategies of fight, flight, or freeze, and can result in confusion, conflict, difficulty in letting go and inertia.

nalysis Paralysis
urt and Hatred


In contrast to the CRASH state, the COACH state is a highly resourceful state that we can enter in order to carry out NLP work effectively.

Attending with Awareness

State Management

Deliberately accessing a useful state is called state management and being able to control your own state is vital in effective NLP work. Because one of the main presuppositions of NLP is that mind and body form a single system, state management also consists of two components:

a) entering the physiology of the desired state
b) using the mental representations of the desired state


When someone enters a panicked state, the people around them often say things like “take a deep breath,” and this is a good example of a suggestion to  adopt a more useful physiological state. Here is how one writer describes the benefits of deep breathing:

Deep breathing benefits the body by taking in the correct amount of oxygen which in turn lowers blood pressure and relaxes muscles. It also relaxes the brain and causes the heart rate to slow down. Deep breathing helps our body to release more carbon dioxide. Amongst the many health benefits of deep breathing are its cleansing properties for the lymphatic system. We know that the lymph surrounds all the cells in our bodies, correct breathing technique removes the toxins from these cells through the lymphatic system. Deep breathing is known to release endorphins which, in layman’s terms are called feel good hormones. These are natural pain killers in the body and help relax the muscles and nerves. Deep breathing is also known to help people who are depressed. Asthmatics also benefit a lot from deep breathing as it makes the abdominal muscles stronger and improves the lung capacity. Shallow breathing leads to the flow of insufficient oxygen in the body which leads to muscle exertion, lethargy and fatigue. Deep breathing can help us activate our relaxationstress relievers. It also helps people suffering from insomnia. Deep breathing exercise benefits in losing weight.

Clearly, a simple shift in physiology such as taking a deep breath can affect a person’s state enormously. Other useful physiological shifts include moving from a slumped posture to an upright one or taking a few minutes to do stretches.

Mental Representations

Mental or internal representations are the patterns we use to represent the world to ourselves in our own minds and consist of our internal pictures, sounds, dialogues, and feelings. By beginning to take control of your internal representations, you can start to manage your state in exactly the way that you want to achieve your desired outcome. A simple example is when you remember a happy time. As you remember that time now, pictures, sounds, and feelings from that time will return to you as you relive that time. Your mind makes no distinction between the original happy time and your memory of it, so if you re-enter that memory fully and completely, you will naturally re-enter the happy state that you experienced at that time.


This article has been a short introduction to state management and the powerful COACH state. By learning to manage your state deliberately and effectively, eventually you will find that you are achieving your desired outcomes much more easily.

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Earcleaning and the Submodalities of Sound

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

NLP can be described as the structure of subjective reality. In other words, NLP focuses not on the physical phenomena themselves but rather how people perceive them and take meaning from them. The key presupposition of NLP is: The Map is Not the Territory. What is happening in the world is not the same as how people perceive it. It is useful to think of this presupposition in terms of our major senses such as seeing and hearing, what would be termed visual and auditory modalities in NLP terminology.

Like many languages, English makes a clear distinction between the map and the territory for the visual and auditory modalities. The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers the following definitions:

to see: to perceive by the eye
to watch: to keep someone or something under close observation

to hear: to perceive or apprehend by the ear
to listen: to pay attention to sound

Both sets of definition echo the distinction between the map and the territory, the difference between the physical and the psychological worlds. Hearing is the physical act of sound entering the ear and represents the territory, the “objective” world of sound waves travelling through the air, entering our ears, and eventually reaching our brain through a series of transformations. Listening is the much more subjective map. We listen or pay attention to a certain sound because we are looking for information or meaning within it because our map of the world suggests to us that that particular sound may provide information that is useful in some way.

When I was teaching a graduate class on the use of sound in language and society, the students came up with the following table to explain some of the differences between “hearing” and “listening.”

Table 1. Differences between hearing and listening
Hearing Listening
No attention/unconscious Attention/focus/conscious
Automatic Intended
Sound Meaning
Passive Active
Physical Psychological

The students have effectively pointed out some of the important differences between hearing and listening and their examples echo the distinctions made in the definitions given above. We all know the difference between hearing and listening and we are all aware that listening is the way in which people use the sound in the environment around them to make sense of the world.

The interface between a person and the environment is of course, the ears. The human ear is truly an amazing piece of equipment, but what is surprising is how little we think about how to use it effectively. When you buy a new computer, telephone, or microwave over, you may have read the manual to find out all the functions and to learn how to use it in the most useful ways. Or perhaps you didn’t, and instead you played with the machine for a while to figure out how it worked. The world seems to be divided into the kind of people who read manuals and those who don’t. One approach is not necessarily better than the other, but it is nice to have a manual available so that we can refer to it if we can’t work out a function by playing. It would be nice if there was a manual for our ears. There isn’t, however, so we have to play, explore, and work it out ourselves. One of the first steps in exploring the functionality of the ears is what Scahfer (1969) and others have called earcleaning.

When we talk about earcleaning, we don’t just mean taking the wax out of your ears! We also mean paying more attention to the sounds that you hear so that you get more information from your environment. Below is a simple exercise that has been adapted from Schafer (1969) and other sources.

Earcleaning Activity

1. List all the sounds you can hear around you for 2~3 minutes.

2. Volume of Sounds

List sounds in order from loudest to most quiet

3. Length and Recurrence of sound

Is the sound …

Continuous ( C )

Repeating   ( R )

Unique   ( U )

4. Locating Sounds

Draw a circle.

Inside the circle draw the sounds that you made.

Outside, draw other sounds in the direction and at the distance that you heard them.

5. Classifying Sounds

What is the source of the sound?

Natural (N)

Human (H)

Technological (T)

Made by yourself (X)

6. Moving Sounds

Is the sound …?

Stationary (S)

Moving towards you (M+)

Moving away from you (M-)

Submodalities of Sound

In NLP, we might refer to the process of earcleaning as an exploration of the submodalities of sound. The primary modalities that humans perceive are related to the five senses and are shown below, along with examples of the submodalities of each. For those readers who aren’t familiar with the concept of submodalities, the table below gives some examples.

Table 2. Modalities, senses, and submodalities
Modality Sense Sample submodalities
visual see size, colour or b/w, moving or still
auditory hear loud or soft, near or far
kinesthetic feel warm or cool, rough or smooth
gustatory taste spicy, salty
olfactory smell strong/weak

Submodalities of sound help us to focus on particular aspects of information within the sounds that we hear. The earcleaning exercise above was a good example of focusing on different submodalities in order to clean the ears or to raise our wareness of the richness of the information that is available to us in the sounds that we hear. While we cannot escape our maps of the world completely, describing the submodality in “objective” physical terms is an attempt to describe the territory, while describing it in “subjective” psychological terms is a recognition that each person’s map is different and that a sound will convey different meaning to each person. For example, a musician listening to a piece of music will probably receive different information to a non-musician because their maps are different. Another way to say this is that the musician and non-musician focus on different submodalities of the music and are able to draw different information from the submodalities.

In the earcleaning exercise above, some of the submodalities practiced were loudness, length and recurrence, location, type of sound, and movement of sound source. Below, I have given some other useful submodalities of sound that you can become aware of. Some of them are most useful when you are listening to non-verbal sounds or music. Others such as tonality are very useful when you are trying to raise your sensory acuity of the use of sound in speech.

  • Source of sound
  • Tempo
  • Changes in volume, pitch, or other submodality
  • Tonality
  • Timbre of sound
  • Tempo
  • High or low pitch
  • Mono or stereo
  • Inflections in speech
  • Pauses in stream of sound
  • Duration
  • Rhythm
  • Source of voice (who?)
  • Background sound or foreground sound

Have fun with your practice in identifying these submodalities in the sounds that you hear around you. Earcleaning is  a good awareness-raising exercise to carry out, and it can be done easily wherever you are. Doing it at the train station, in a busy city street, in your bedroom, or sitting next to a mountain stream will all enrichen your awareness of the sounds around us and the information that we can perceive from them. What is important to remember is that the more that you practice making these distinctions, the more you will be able to use the submodalities of sound effectively in your own life and in your NLP processes.

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Book Review: My Lessons with Kumi

I met Michael Colgrass when he took on the role of a trainer at our NLP course at NLPU in Santa Cruz this summer. I say that he took on the role because Michael is a fascinating and inspirational man who takes on many roles throughout his life. From a very young age, he fell in love with the drums and went on to become a professional jazz drummer. Later, he studied composition and wrote extensively for drums. Along the way, he became a clown and many other things besides. Also, along the way, he met John Grinder who decided to model him which led to Michael’s long-term interest in NLP.

My Lessons with Kumi is the ultimate expression of this interest in NLP by a person who has truly lived the spirit of NLP and the striving for excellence in his own life. Michael is a highly congruent person and the same inspirational spirit comes to his audience whether he is talking, standing on his head, dancing, playing the drums, or taking on the role of an author in this book.

My Lessons with Kumi is very different to most NLP books. Rather than being a straightforward description of the presuppositions, concepts, and processes of NLP,  the book is written as a fictional account of Nick who is having problems in his work, relationships, and health and who has decided to find answers. In the book, the character Kumi is clearly helping Nick to naturally develop the concepts of NLP through exercises and raising of self-awareness, but the word NLP never actually occurs within its pages.

As we read about Nick’s growth at Kumi’s cabin in the mountains and later in New York City, people who have undergone their own development through NLP will recognize many of their own experiences, but in a very readable style almost completely absent of the terminology of NLP that can sometimes be off-putting and sound pseudo-scientific.

In this easy-to-follow narrative, Kumi guides Nick through standard NLP techniques and concepts such as submodalities, anchoring of resourceful states, modelling and role-models, somatic syntax, logical levels and much more. Colgrass also draws on his other life experiences as a performer to include important areas such as voice projection, tuning the human instrument, and silent performing.

For those who are already familiar with NLP, this book offers a new perspective in which to explore it, as well as a different form of metaphor which can be used to explain it to others. For readers who are not familiar with NLP, this book will be an interesting introduction to the subject which can teach at an unconscious level as well as a conscious level.

The book is divided into two parts a) the narrative of Kumi and Nick and b) Nick’s notes on the exercises. Part b at the back of the book provides a completely different perspective on the narrative and an additional way to use the book. In each case, Nick has transformed his experience with Kumi into an exercise. In other words, he has recreated many NLP exercises through modelling of the experiences that he went through with Kumi. This model of modelling provides a pathway to the very core of NLP and is a fine example of how NLP is ultimately the pursuit of the structure of excellence and of ways in which we allow others to replicate that excellence.

I highly recommend getting a copy of My Lessons With Kumi, a book that lives up to its two subtitles: “How I learned to perform with confidence in life and in work” and “…enlightens as it entertains.”

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Book Review: NLP–The New Technology of Achievement

I bought this book after seeing some videos online by Steve Andreas and being very impressed by his sincerity. The same sincerity comes through in NLP: The New Technology of Achievement. The other members of the writing team include Charles Faulkner and Suzi Smith, and along with several others they comprised the NLP Comprehensive Training Team based in Colarado in the United States.

The book covers all of the basics of NLP including submodalities, rapport, mission, values, and perceptual positions. In most cases, it is quite light on terminology and instead provides very practical exercises to help the reader to internalize NLP. These include standard NLP exercises such as the swish and the fast phobia technique, as well as less common ones such as the lovely Autobiography exercise which involves you seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you.

A reader who carries out all of the exercises in the book will definitely develop a strong internal sense of NLP and the power that it can provide. The reader will not necessarily be able to explain all of the concepts, but ultimately the purpose of any NLP training must be to get it “in the muscle”, so for the non-specialist, this is a highly useful book.

After the main text, the NLP 21-Day Unlimited Achievement Program is an additional section which provides a completely different way to understand and practice the content of the book by setting out a three week program with an exercise to do each day.

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Binaural Beats: A Short Introduction

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

All over the Internet, there are claims that binaural beats are beneficial in some way, and they are often included as a background in hypnosis or relaxation audio programs. Like many claims, this is one that is worth examining a little more closely to see if it rests upon a solid foundation of research. This article does not attempt to examine the research in detail, but provides a brief introduction to binaural beats.

What are binaural beats?

The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines binaural as:

of, relating to, or involving two or both ears

Although this definition tells us that both ears are involved, binaural beats are not simply a stereo rhythm pattern as the name might indicate. Beats is a physical phenomenon that occurs when two very similar waves interfere with one another. These can be waves of sound, light, or a physical medium such as water, but for this article we are interested in beats resulting from the interference of sound waves. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica describes the simplest case of beats:

… beats result when two sinusoidal sound waves of equal amplitude and very nearly equal frequencies mix. The frequency of the resulting sound (F) would be the average of the two original frequencies (f1 and f2):

The amplitude or intensity of the combined signal would rise and fall at a rate (fb) equal to the difference between the two original frequencies,

where f1 is greater than f2.

In other words, a new frequency is perceived which is equal to the difference between the two original frequencies. So, for example, if a 320 Hz sine wave is played into the right ear and a 330Hz one into the left ear, the brain perceives a beat frequency of 10 Hz.  This is an interesting phenomenon because normal human hearing extends from 20Hz – 20kHz. So the phenomenon of binaural beats is allowing the brain to perceive a frequency that would not normally be possible.

Binaural beats differ to normal tones because they are the effect created by the brain when a different tone is heard by each ear. It is as if the brain has naturally mixed the two sounds to produce a new sound. Certain conditions need to apply for the brain to perceive this beats frequency. First, the frequency of the tones must be below about 1,000 hertz. Second, the difference between the two frequencies must be below about 30 Hz.

The history of binaural beats

Binaural beats were discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, but it was not until 1973 that they attracted attention as a possible treatment method when Oster collected and published the results of modern research on binaural beats (also called auditory beats) in the brain (Oster, 1973). Oster claimed that binaural beats involve different neurological pathways than ordinary auditory processing. His research was followed up by Campbell (2007) and others who investigated the effects of binaural beats on consciousness. They attempted to reproduce the perceived effects of reported out-of-body experiences.

This research was a contributing factor in the formation of  the Monroe Institute, a charitable binaural research and education organization. According to their website, the Monroe Institute “provides experiential education programs facilitating the personal exploration [and evolution] of human consciousness.” The Monroe Institute has developed a type of binaural beats which they call Hemi-Sync. It is used

… for integrating brain functions, … for mental, emotional, and physical healing through the use of varied binaural sounds

These are some of the strongest claims to be found on the Internet about binaural beats and the work of the Monroe Institute has clearly been a force behind the widespread popularization of binaural beats and the claims that are made for their usefulness.

Claims about binaural beats

As an example of one of the widespread claims about binaural beats on the Internet, one website says that:

Binaural beat audio tracks directly affect brainwaves and can positively alter feelings, behaviors, even your state of being.

We can divide this claim into two parts. First, there is the strong claim that “binaural beat audio tracks directly affect brainwaves.” Second, there is the hedged claim that “binaural beat audio tracks can positively alter feelings, behaviors, even your state of being.” At one level, both of these statements are hard to disagree with since pretty much any stimulus will affect your brainwaves, and any statement with can used as a modal operator is grammatically a statement of possibility and not a fact. Even if one person in a thousand is positively affected by binaural beat tracks, the statement can still be said to be true.

But the clear implication of this website’s claim and the claims on so many other sites on the Internet is that binaural beat audio tracks are good for you in some way. If we are to metamodel the quoted claim, some of the questions that we might ask include:

  1. How specifically do they positively alter feelings and behaviours? (Modal operator of possibility)
  2. Who says they positively alter feelings and behaviours? (Lost performative)
  3. All binaural beat audio tracks? Which particular binaural beat tracks can have this effect? (Universal quantifier)
  4. Positively in specifically which ways? For example, do they increase good feelings, or decrease bad feelings or …? (Simple deletion)

Below, I take up several of these questions to take a look at some of the research into binaural beats.

Why might binaural beats be effective?

In order to understand why bianural beats could be effective, we need to understand entrainment. Entrainment is the process whereby two interacting oscillating systems, which have different periods when they function independently, assume the same period. This was originally noticed by the physicist Christian Huygens in the 17th century by observing that two pendulums clocks started moving with the same period. The period of a wave is the length of time that it takes to complete one cycle. Since the frequency of a wave is the number of cycles per second, entrainment also implies that the frequency of the two oscillating systems also begins to match.

Sounds, music, and the human brain are all examples of oscillating systems, and it is possible for brain entrainment to occur in exactly the same way as the pendulums. In the example above, a perceived frequency of 10Hz corresponds to the alpha range of brain activity.

As noted above,the phenomenon of beats can allow the brain to perceive very low frequency tones that would not normally be possible. Being able to perceive a frequency of 10Hz is interesting because this is in the alpha range of brainwave activity. Table 1 below shows the well-accepted brainwaves with their related frequencies and the type of activity associated with each one.

Table 1. Brainwaves, frequencies, and typical activities
Brainwave type Frequency Typical activity
beta 15-40 Hz aroused and actively engaged in mental activities
alpha 9-14 Hz resting or taking a break
theta 5-8 Hz daydreaming
delta 1.5 – 4 Hz deep dreamless sleep

When the perceived beat frequency corresponds to one of these brainwave frequencies, the brainwaves entrain to the beat frequency and are postulated to generate the typical activity pattern. So the alpha range is associated with relaxation. The beta range will produce alertness. Entraining in the theta or delta range could produce deep daydreaming or sleep.

Particular Frequencies?

At least one website gives a very precise correlation between frequencies and a large number of medical/spiritual effects including alcoholism, opening of the third eye, muscle pain, confusion, depression, and arthritis. The list is described as including the following types of frequencies:

  • Brainwave frequencies associated with various mental states
  • “Healing” frequencies which could be used to heal illnesses of different kinds, or stimulate some region of the body (chakras).
  • Natural phenomena frequencies including natural frequencies that occur in nature (e.g. Schumann’s Resonance which is an aural pituitary stimulation to release growth hormone), as well as sound tones calculated from the revolution/orbit of the various planets.


This article has been a short introduction to the rationale behind binaural beats. While it does seem logically possible that brain entrainment may occur and positive effects may result from binaural beats, this article has not attempted to answer the questions raised in the metamodeling above though an investigation of research to determine whether these effects have been systematically corroborated.


  1. Campbell, T. (2007). My Big Toe. Lightning Strike Books.
  2. Oster, G. (1973). Auditory beats in the brain. Sci. Am. 229 (4): 94–102.

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Looking for ideas for NLP research

I am hoping to get a sabbatical sometime for six months. If it comes through, I’m planning to spend the time on NLP research. Even if it doesn’t come through, I’m still planning to spend a lot more time on NLP research – which leads me to the question.

Question: If you were to choose an area/application of NLP that is very worthwhile researching, what would it be?

I have lots of ideas myself already, and would love to hear lots more.