A Biohacker Explains How New Gadgets Use Sound and Frequency to Heal Stress and Anxiety
Several intriguing and affordable tech devices have emerged on the market recently to relieve stress and anxiety. I’m most excited about using sound and vibration to calm a triggered nervous system, which is the source of stress and anxiety manifesting in the body. In my own experience as a biohacker and for my clients as a human potential coach and energy healer, I have seen how these devices can powerfully shift the nervous system and work both short- and long-term to reduce stress and anxiety and calm the mind and body.
The science of healing with sound and vibration
Our body is first and foremost an energetic system. Eastern healing from the Chinese and Vedic systems have known this for thousands of years — the subtle energy body is the fundamental concept underlying acupuncture and other energy-based healing systems that recognize chi, or the life force inherent in all things. As sound medicine specialist Kulreet Chaudhary, MD, says, “every organ, every bone, and every cell in the body has its own resonant frequency.” Given this subtle electric energy system within the body, it makes sense that sound and vibration could be a direct way to alter our biology.
The emergence of new sound and vibration devices follows from mounting scientific evidence of the efficacy of these energy-based healing modalities. Multiple studies have demonstrated the body’s and especially the brain’s sensitivity to sound and vibration through changes in arousal, emotion, and gene expression when people listen to dissonant versus pleasant music. And we aren’t just talking about calming the body — watch this mind-blowing TED Talk by Anthony Holland at Skidmore College on using resonant frequencies for healing cancer and decide for yourself. Noted cell biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD, writes in the Biology of Belief (2005) about the antenna-like structures on cells that respond to vibrational frequencies:
The antennas on these energy receptors vibrate like tuning forks… Because these receptors can read energy fields, the notion that only physical molecules can impact cell physiology is outmoded. Biological behavior can be controlled by invisible forces as well as it can be controlled by physical molecules like penicillin, a fact that provides the scientific underpinning for pharmaceutical-free energy medicine.
When the nervous system receives a signal that it perceives as a threat, the vagus nerve signals the amygdala to respond. The small almond-shaped amygdala is the ancient reptilian center of the brain that activates the fear and stress response to keep you safe. This organ is very useful if a lion lies hidden in the grass waiting to eat you, but not as helpful in modern life and could be the reason that you think an annoying colleague or long grocery store lines might threaten your very survival.
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Sound and vibration devices work to improve vagal tone, meaning that vibrations resonate through your body and activate the parasympathetic nervous system when you wear these devices. This signals your body to relax rather than trigger a stress response.
Behind the scenes, improved vagal tone increases your ability to relax after stress. High vagal tone is tied to increased heart rate variability (HRV), which is the variation in the time interval between consecutive heartbeats in milliseconds. High resting HRV has been linked to numerous positive health benefits, including lower stress and overall health and wellness.
HUSO ($549) uses “lossless” non-digital human frequency sound coupled with crystals that vibrate at ankle and wrist acupressure points. There are 10 different settings to achieve specific goals (for example, calm, relax, ground, release), and each session lasts 30 minutes (note that the newest version has 16 settings). Users are advised to do one session per day for maximum benefit. The working hypothesis of HUSO is that the human body is hardwired to resonate more readily and entrain or synchronize with the human vocal frequencies. At least one published study supports this theory. This study measured decreased cortisol (a hormone in the body linked to stress) in study participants after listening to choir music. My own experience with HUSO is quite positive. I’ve used it for a year on an occasional basis for stress, grounding, and release and notice a significant calming and relaxation effect after each session.
Sensate ($249) uses sound and vibration directly on the body when you place the device on your chest. Users both feel and hear a synchronized soundscape that resonates through the body to tone and uplift the capabilities of your vagus nerve.
Apollo ($349) uses combinations of low-frequency vibrations delivered in a watch-sized wristband and adjusted with an easy-to-use phone app. I give the device high marks for ease of use and sleek design. There are seven main settings, including energy/wake-up, rebuild/recover, and relax/unwind. The device was invented and created by two doctors at the University of Pittsburgh. Doctors David Rabin, MD, PhD, and Greg Siegle, PhD, have conducted a double-blind placebo-controlled study on Apollo with promising results. They also have university pilots and trials which have shown that Apollo consistently improves HRV under stress within two to three minutes, improves athletic recovery, and supports access to calmer, deeper mind states. At $349, this device is on the pricier side, but I really think it fills a niche that isn’t represented by the other devices here, considering that it can be used discreetly 24-7, so whether you are working, playing, or sleeping, you can be sending your body calming or energizing signals — all backed by some pretty impressive science.
NeoRhythm ($299) is not technically a direct sound/vibration device since it uses pulsed electromagnetic frequencies (PEMF) applied through a headband to influence and increase brainwaves for greater calm, clarity, and improved sleep. I’ve used the NeoRhythm for a few months, and my personal experience is that it seems to increase work focus and helps with accessing deeper, calmer mind states with little to no mental chatter, but it’s difficult to assess whether using it helps to shift the mind more permanently to a clear, calm way of being. The free app that programs the device is functional but a little clunky and hard to get around in. One of the most intriguing aspects of this device is the custom setting where you can apply any vibrational frequency (for example, Schumann resonance frequencies) for up to eight hours at a time, providing a compelling option for those wishing to experiment with healing using different frequencies.
Heart coherence or resonance frequency breathing (free) isn’t a device, but it’s worth mentioning this already-within-you option to improve vagal tone. This technique uses slow in-out breaths to a count of four to six while generating positive feelings in the heart of love or compassion so that the entire breath takes about 10 to 12 seconds, similar to what is described in this video. With resonant breathing, you can dramatically improve vagal tone and HRV through consistent practice of heart-coherent breathing for 20 minutes two times per day. I also recommend the HeartMath and Elite HRV apps and biofeedback devices to assist with learning these techniques.
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So many people are looking for ways to reduce their stress and anxiety. We are fortunate to have a number of relatively inexpensive devices and techniques to support calming the mind and body and a fantastic addition to other mind-body techniques such as meditation and yoga.
The use of sound and frequencies for healing is still in its infancy in the Western world, though sound healing pioneers like Eileen Day McKusick are opening our eyes to the transformative power of understanding the human body as electric. With these new frequency-based devices now widely available (and more in development), that “future medicine” appears to have arrived.