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What is Entrainment ?
May 10

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Your body contains an autonomic mechanism that synchs you up with strong, external rhythms, pulses or beats, a phenomenon known as entrainment. Actually we entrain to the rhythms around us all the time, although we are not aware of it most of the time.

Relationship between external rhythms and your inner rhythms

The relationship between the external rhythms and your inner rhythms or pulses is inseparable. In fact, our internal rhythms will speed up or slow down to match a stronger external rhythm. Here’s proof: Try counting your heart beat or breathing rate when you’re stuck in traffic, around noisy machinery, or listening to loud rock music. Then count your heart rate or breathing rate when you’re sitting quietly on a beach or listening to peaceful music in a quiet surrounding.

Other examples of entrainment include:

  • When a musician has the audience spellbound, he or she has entrained them into the rhythm.
  • A charismatic preacher can do the same with his congregation.
  • When you meditate in a group, you feel the increased “strength” of the experience.
  • Participating in an exercise class doing aerobics to up tempo music.
  • When young women become roommates, they often start getting their periods at the same time.

In physics there is less energy used when 2 objects are entrained with each other. In other words, we expend less energy when we are in step with the surrounding energy or we expend a lot more energy when we are not in sync with the greater surrounding energy. So we need to speed up if we need to work or if the energy of work is fast, but also need to be able to slow down when we come home or when its not needed. Unfortunately most of us don’t do that.

Entrainment’s downside

When you entrain to a hectic pace, however, it contributes to making you feel exhausted and Spent . Our genes are not programmed to function at such a fast pace and we don’t know how to slow down, how to get our body rhythms to entrain at a slower rhythm. Most people don’t realize how detrimental it is to move so fast and try to accomplish so much so quickly—because the faster and more accomplished you are these days, the more society rewards you. The ability to multi-task is a valuable, if not required, business skill, and the electronic gizmos facetiously called “crackberries” now connect many people to their work 24/7.

What to do?

You use less energy when you’re in sync with the surrounding energy; you use more when you’re out of sync. It’s ok to speed up during the day if you have a fast-paced career, but you need to slow down when you return home. You need to teach the body to slow down, to relax, to recover, to stimulate the parasympathetic system (your natural relaxation response). You need to find external rhythms that are slow (nature, quiet surroundings, certain music) to entrain to.

That is why taking time for yourself in the morning and during the day as well if possible is so important. Practice mindfulness, it is a way to slow down. Going on vacation to the beach or somewhere where you can slow down is also really important.

We know that heart rate changes slowly or speed up in response to tempo. In a Swiss study published in May 2007, music with a fast, accentuated, staccato beat induced faster breathing and heart rates than did slower music did.

Normally, your heart rate at rest should be about 70 beats per minute for men and about 75 for women. Music pulsed at about 60 beats per minute is ideal for helping to induce alpha states, the same relaxed state induced by meditation. A lot of reggae music is pulsed at around 60 beats per minute and in my experience, it is particularly relaxing for my patients and me. Listening to Bob Marley’s CD, “Survival,” for example, is a sure-fire way for me to relax.

Question: What helps you feel relax or be at peace with your surroundings?

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  • Becky

    Thanks, I enjoyed your article, and the tip for listening to Bob Marley.

  • Diane

    1. You wrote, “Your body contains an autonomic mechanism that synchs you up with
    strong, external rhythms, pulses or beats, a phenomenon known as
    entrainment.”
    Can the body not also sync up with internal rhythms, such as that of the heart?

    2. You wrote, “The relationship between the external rhythms and your inner rhythms or pulses is inseparable. In fact, our internal rhythms will speed up or slow down to match a stronger external rhythm.
    Here’s proof: Try counting your heart beat or breathing rate when
    you’re stuck in traffic, around noisy machinery, or listening to loud
    rock music. Then count your heart rate or breathing rate when you’re
    sitting quietly on a beach or listening to peaceful music in a quiet
    surrounding.”

    I have learned from the Institute of HeartMath that our heart rhythm and rate are related to our emotions. Does traffic have a rhythm when we’re stuck in it? If it does, would everyone in their cars have the same heart rhythm? If not, what causes the difference? Perhaps their attitude and reaction to being “stuck” in traffic?

    3. You mention “noisy” machinery and “loud” rock music. Does that mean entrainment is related to volume and rhythm? Or is volume what you meant by strong rhythm?

  • Cheri Shanti

    I have a program I teach called Drum it! Dream it! Live it!™ that uses this theory to activate the mind into vibrating at the frequency of inspired living in individuals and have been getting very impressive results. Love this article and shared it. Thank you.