Audiovisual entrainment or AVE is a neurostimulation technique done at home or in the clinic. Neuromodulation is the brain’s ability to change and remold itself, and AVE acts on this ability through neurostimulation in order to effect reactivation of poorly functioning areas. Properly done, neurostimulation guides the brain into improved functioning, thereby reducing anxiety and depression or improving attention and cognitive processing in all ages from children to elders. Basically, neurostimulation is a way to help a person with brain issues, big and small, get better.
- Principles of Treating the Brain
- What Is Audiovisual Entrainment or AVE
- The Procedure
- The Treatment
- Deep Breathing as Part of AVE
Principles of Treating the Brain
Three principles guide most techniques of neurostimulation or brain training. Most take time to see results.
The first principle is to reboot, repair, or rewire the brain.
The second principle is to train the brain to the edge of its ability through intensity and frequency of training over time with rest breaks. When training begins to become easier, increase the difficulty so as to continue to train to the edge of ability. Reassess regularly through feedback and progress discussions with the client and by using the same objective tests at the end of the treatment cycle. Exhaustion is a given, and so build in rest in between brain training sessions. Research shows learning works best with breaks in between.
The third principle is to engage in desired activity during or immediately after neurostimulation in order to stimulate rewiring of the neural networks involved in that activity.
AVE and the Principles
Audiovisual entrainment (AVE), unlike most other neurostimulation therapies, works immediately and provides temporary relief. It follows the first principle by resetting the brain. It follows the second principle** by exciting neurons, glia, and arteries to increase blood flow and because breaks in between is a natural part of using it. And in line with the third principle, it allows a person to engage in activity either during or after it. AVE brings glia, neurons, and neurotransmitters into harmony, provides energy, and/or improves brain function. But it’s important not to overdo it! If you push your brain beyond its ability while it’s still relearning to self-regulate, then you will suffer worse brain function.
What Is Audiovisual Entrainment or AVE
AVE intensively stimulates the brain, while relaxing mind and body, in order to shut down fight-or-flight and continual pumping out of cortisol for awhile, giving the brain some time to heal and recover. This braking calms anxiety from injury and allows brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to heal the neurons and blood to return to the frontal lobes.
AVE provides neurostimulation of different brainwaves through visual and auditory inputs. The inputs are patterns of light for visual. For auditory, it usually is isochronic tones or monaural beats. The isochronic tones pulse in synchrony with the visual pattern.
- Isochronic tone: a single tone turned on and off at regular intervals.
- Monaural beats: a single tone generated by combining two tones that is presented continuously to both ears. The brain perceives the difference between the two tones as a beat at that frequency. For example, one tone is 100 Hz, the second is 101. The brain perceives the beat as being at 1 Hz or one beat per second.
You can turn on or off a heartbeat to guide breathing as well as the tones. You may add your own music or hypnotic audio tracks instead if you prefer. Hypnotic tracks can help eradicate bad habits and replace them with healthier ones.
What Does AVE Do?
The brain has a tendency to resonate with the frequency of light and sound stimulation. That’s why the inputs entrain the brain into producing the target brainwaves. The AVE’s flashes of light, pulses of tones, tell the brainwaves, “Hey, this is the way you need to pulse along neurons. This is the pattern of pulses we need for the brain to produce the kind of function we want.”
Rest From Flight or Flight
AVE dissociates the person into a meditative-like state. We know meditation opposes the stress response and shuts down cortisol production. In this way, AVE provides the brain with rest from the flight or flight response, reduces anxiety, and gives the brain a chance to heal by allowing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to work. BDNF heals neurons and returns blood flow to the frontal lobes. As a result, the brain becomes both calmer and sharper. The training becomes progressively easier; the person’s brain “learns” how to drift into a trance quickly, returns to the way it wants to be, with daily use if needed. AVE relaxes and re-energizes mind and body.
AVE excites specific brain rhythms, such as using a blend of alpha and beta to help improve mood or a blend of SMR and beta to boost cognition and performance after brain injury. The effect lasts temporarily and needs regular repeating, though over time, the frequency of use may drop due to reaching a plateau. Or the brainwaves needing to be entrained (neurostimulated) may change, and so need a different session. However, if you’re under extreme stress, then ongoing AVE sessions will keep the brain stable, circumventing fight-or-flight and subsequent cortisol damage.
Like with low-intensity laser therapy, think of the AVE device as a generic pill, and each session on the device as choosing the kind of medication that goes into the pill, depending on the effect you want. AVE also relaxes and re-energizes mind and body.
The brainwave frequencies entrained by AVE run the gamut from sub-Delta to gamma. Different devices have different protocols or subset of sessions programmed in them. Gamma brainwave entrainment is still under investigation and only available on certain devices upon request and consideration.
Of all the neurostimulation or neuromodulation therapies, AVE is the most affordable.
For home use, you may or may not have qEEG reports and access to specialists who understand and will prescribe AVE. However, Mind Alive’s* research can provide guidance for do it yourself, although they do not advocate DIY. Do it yourself advocates respond to the practical reality that people need relief from their brain injury while specialists will not educate themselves on this affordable and effective means of providing relief. Specialists in all fields of health care fail their clients when they refuse to learn; psychiatrists and neurologists create the environment for others to move in or for DIY to become the norm.
The Results Point To What To Treat
Ideally qEEG and evoke potentials will point to what to treat. However, brain injury is complex, and Mind Alive’s research provides good guidance because what works for the normal population provides paradoxical results in those with brain injury. So a combination of knowing what your goal is and determining the best, not the most obvious, session to achieve that goal. I have found it sometimes takes experimentation since every brain injury is unique, and that with improvement, I’ve had to switch sessions to achieve the same or better result.
AVE is simple to use. I’ve personally experienced AVE with devices from two different companies. I found Mind Alive’s products far better and safer. In particular, their soft on and soft off technology provides the gentlest and safest ramp up into the session and cool down after.
AVE comprises a device with standard entrainment sessions programmed in. A pair of eyesets that look like overlarge plastic “sunglasses.” And headphones. You can substitute your own headphones or earbuds for theirs if that’s more comfortable. Both the headphones and eyesets plug into a small black box. The box has curved sides so it’s easy to hold. It has raised buttons in clear, contrasting colours so that they’re easy to find with eyes closed.
To use, you have a glass of water beforehand, preferably 20 minutes before, and a glass of water plus some easy-to-eat but nutritious snack at hand. You find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Once comfortable, you turn on the device, choose the session you want, slip on the eyesets and headphones, start the session, close your eyes, and relax back.
With the eyesets on and eyes closed, what you see looks like morning light when your eyes are closed. You can tell it’s light out but all is still dark in your visual world. When you begin a session, you’ll see patterns of light. Sometimes the patterns vary; other times they’re quick; and sometimes they’re slow. The patterns of light synchronize with the pulse tones coming through either headphones or earbuds.
Kinds of AVE
AVE can entrain brainwave frequencies in five categories. Pictograms represent each category at the top of the box.
- Lightning for Energize
- Yoga for Meditate
- Light Bulb for Brain Booster
- Crescent Moon for Sleep
- Happy Face for Feeling Better
Pictogram One. A lightning bolt for energy. All these sessions tell your brainwaves, “Hey, create electricity that makes your brain shine bright. Make the light bulb fill every corner with light that awakens you!”
Pictogram Two. A yoga pose for calming meditation. All these sessions tell your brainwaves, “Create calm, zen-like electricity. Make the light bulb of your brain glow with a soft, warm light.”
Pictogram Three. A light bulb to boost your brain power. All these sessions tell your brainwaves, “Be energetic but relaxed. Make the light bulb produce steady light to start and finish that task and not be as frustrated.”
Pictogram Four. A crescent moon for sleep. All these sessions tell your brainwaves, “Sleep already! Drop the electricity down into a deep, steady snooze-inducing hum that slowly turns the brain light bulb off in a way that’ll clean and repair the electrical grid.”
Pictogram Five. A happy face for feeling better. All these sessions tell your brainwaves, “Feel better!” They do this in different ways, depending on what you need. One session says, “Get the light bulb to smile.” Another says, “Dial down the pain-inducing high-intensity light of the light bulb so the light doesn’t hurt much anymore.”
AVE can boost energy, induce calm or relaxation, increase brain power, aid sleep, and improve one either mentally or physically or both.
Your blood pressure will drop, and the first few times you use it, you may feel dizzy or cold until your brain and body get used to your blood pressure being lowered. Lower blood pressure is good, but it takes time to adjust to it if you’ve had high blood pressure or yo-yoing blood pressure for a long time. This is why it’s important to be seated or lying down with water beside you to drink before and after.
Once you start a session, you can adjust the intensity of the light flashes and pulse tones. If you’re light sensitive, you may decrease it to the lowest level. Same with auditory sensitivity. As you get used to it, you may dial it up. If the sun is shining on your face, you’ll need a higher light intensity than if using it in a dark room.
Alone of all the frequencies entrained, the gamma sessions cannot be seen with eyes closed. It will look dark. It’s important to keep eyes closed throughout this session, but you can check the lights are flashing when you first start it, then close your eyes and reassure yourself it’s working.
Types of Eyesets with Brain Training
The standard eyeset has white LEDs. But Mind Alive provides different eyesets for specialized use. They’re all designed for safety and effectiveness.
The viewhole eyeset allows you to use AVE with eyes open while you’re reading. They designed this eyeset for use with their SMR for Reading session. But I’ve also used it with SMR/Beta session while reading or writing, and you can use it during sports training or to reduce phobias via desensitization. The idea follows the second principle of entraining brainwaves while engaging the brain in the activity you want to enhance.
The multi-colour eyeset provides LED light in white, blue, cyan, green, yellow, red, and magenta on both visual fields or different colours on the left and right visual fields. This eyeset does take longer to turn on than the other eyesets. Use this eyeset with eyes closed only.
The colours have different effects, and each works with different brainwave frequencies. So it’s important to use the appropriate colour for the brainwave you wish to entrain.
Blue. Calms and relaxes. For deep meditation or sleep. Mind Alive recommends using with Meditation or Sleep sessions. (3 to 10 Hz)
Cyan. Enhances entrainment while still calms and relaxes. Mind Alive suggests can use with any session.
Green. Reduce pain and helps with meditation. Mind Alive recommends using with Alpha and Schumann sessions (7 to 10 Hz).
Yellow. Improves cognition and focus. Mind Alive recommends using with Beta, ADD, and Brain Brightener sessions (14 to 20 Hz).
Red. Increases physical arousal, energy, cognition, and focus. However, it can also trigger anxiety. Use with caution and gradually introduce yourself to it after your brain has become familiar with AVE and you’re comfortable with using it. Mind Alive suggests using with Beta and Energizer sessions (14to 20 Hz).
Magenta. Enhances creativity, imagination, and contemplative meditation. Mind Alive recommends using with Theta sessions (4 to 7 Hz).
The Spectrum is a standalone product that plugs into a Windows 10 PC via a USB port. It works with DAVID Breathe and DAVID Live Windows 10 app. The app is free. The Spectrum eyeset is not, but it costs less than the DAVID AVE devices.
“Real-time control and monitoring over USB using DAVID Live Windows 10 based PC app that you download from the Microsoft Store.
Self-guided Heart Rate Variability (HRV) training using DAVID Breathe Windows 10 based PC app that you download from the Microsoft Store..
Uses patented independent left/right-field stimulation.
Supports stimulation frequencies from 0 Hz to 50 Hz, plus Ganzfeld.
Supports millions of stimulation colors.”Mind Alive Inc.
Deep Breathing as Part of AVE
Deep breathing is a natural way to reduce anxiety. It isn’t sufficient to repair brain injury, but it’s a skill to help anyone during stressful moments. And every AVE session includes a heartbeat. The heartbeat guides your breathing into deeper, slower breathing to reduce anxiety. Breathe in and out on the heartbeat to help you relax. If it bugs the hell out of you, you can turn it off.
Deep Breathing and Heart Rate Variability
Deep breathing makes your heart beat in sync with your breathing. As breath inhales, the heart rate goes up; as you exhale, the heart rate goes down. That equals heart rate variability.
When the session ends, enjoy the change. Results can usually start six minutes into a session and become full on by the end or a half-hour or so after. Sometimes, you’ll sleep after when you first start then wake up with more energy and better cognition. Learn how long the effect lasts for you and adjust your schedule to take advantage of it. For example, plan your reading for the hour or two after a brain boost session, before the session’s effects wear off. But don’t overdo using AVE or pushing your activity level. Let your brain rest! Enjoy the session; enjoy the better-functioning brain while it lasts; then accept the rest time until the next day or next.
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*I’ve used Mind Alive Inc.’s products since 2005 when I was referred to them by my Clinical Psychologist. Previously, I’d used another company’s device in the clinical setting with another psychologist. I have not been compensated, provided special discounts, nor received any benefits by Mind Alive for writing about their products.
**Home use wouldn’t include objective reassessment unless your health care professional is overseeing its use. But you can reassess subjectively, for example, through how you feel, keeping a diary of mood and activities and assessing them over time, getting feedback from people who don’t know and do know you’re using it, and so on.