Can rhythm really improve your brain's health? Jeff Strong's clinical research provides stunning proof of just how potent rhythm can really be. Strong's REI Institute (Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention Institute, www.REIinstitute.com) has made incredible strides in treating conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder—using drum beats synchronized with brain wave patterns. Here he talks to us about the Brain Shift Collection, his new collection of rhythm sessions for enhancing mental acuity, creativity, and brain power.
Sounds True: We've all felt the effects of music on our mood and state of mind but your research focuses specifically on rhythm. Why is that?
Jeff Strong: In 1982 I studied with a traditional practitioner who used rhythm with people suffering “mental problems” and I got to see first-hand the profound effect that certain rhythms had to help these people. I've been researching rhythm as a clinical tool ever since. The more we look at it, the more we see the direct physical impact of rhythm on the brain. Over the years we have found that every time we bring in melody or harmony, we reduce the effects. With rhythm alone, we see the most direct correlation between sound and brain activity.
Sounds True: Other recordings use synthesized beats and binaural rhythms, but you use all natural instruments for brain entrainment. Why?
Jeff Strong: You need the variability of a human player on an instrument to keep the brain from becoming habituated. This is the problem that most entrainment technologies have had over the years. In the alpha state, the brain will acclimate very quickly if you are using a repetitive, synthesized rhythm. Repetition is fine at the low end of theta, which is a deep meditative state. But for relaxation, awareness, and creativity, you need the variation.
Sounds True: How has your work with conditions such as autism and depression helped you create a program for general health and well-being?
Jeff Strong: At the REI Institute we've documented over 600 rhythms that correspond to specific conditions and symptoms. We can look at symptoms and determine what rhythms will help over time. Our research has given us the basis for understanding the subtleties of how rhythm affects the brain. That allowed us to create a program to have the best effects in everyday use.
This collection is designed to have an immediate impact. Research shows that entrainment takes up to 17 minutes to engage the first time, but by the time you listen to it for a week, you'll entrain in a couple of minutes. As you use programs like our “Neuro-Calm” on a repeated basis over time, you will enter a calm state more easily even when you're not listening to it. The more you use these CDs the more effective they become.
Sounds True: Are the meditative sessions best for beginners, or could experienced meditators benefit?
Jeff Strong: They're good for everybody. For beginners, it can be great because most beginners have a hard time clearing their mind. I've used these rhythmic programs to help self-described “failed meditators” get into deep theta states of consciousness. For people with a lot of experience, it can help you go further, like traditional shamans do in their journeys, and lead to other levels beyond just clearing the mind. It can help anybody have a deeper, more profound meditation.
Sounds True: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about your work?
Jeff Strong: It's still mind boggling to me to watch people respond so dramatically to auditory rhythm, and I've been doing this for 26 years. I'm really excited about this collection because it's a great way to experience the surprising power of rhythm to enhance our brains and bodies.