THE SCIENCE BEHIND TRANCE
The state of Trance is defned as a “temporary marked alteration in the state of consciousness or loss of customary sense of personal identity” (International Classifcation of Disorders, 1992).
It is a common practice, especially in the Mongol-Turkic traditions to achieve voluntarily this state through dancing in order to transcend personality and alterate the ordinary brain activity.
This technique historically served the purposes of social cohesion and healing interventions in diverse tribal settings.
What do we scientifically know nowadays about Trance?
Nishimura (1987) described three types of shamanic journeys, although they are not always distinct:
- Ecstatic trance, in which the shaman’s spirit purportedly leaves the body and communicates with animal or other spirits in their domains,
- Possession trance, in which animal or other spirits enter the shaman’s body, sometimes to the exclusion of his or her own self,
- Dreamlike trance, in which the shaman remains in possession of the self and meets animal or other spirits in a shared domain.
Quantitative EEG mapping and LORETA (low resolution electromagnetic tomography) source imaging indicate that shamanic state of consciousness (SSC) involves a shift from the normally dominant left analytical to the right experiential mode of self-experience, and from the normally dominant anterior prefrontal to the posterior somatosensory mode.
That means the emergence of a completely new perception of the self with a strong inner dialogue and a novel sensorial experience directed inward.
While the normal autobiographical self is identifed with the dominant linguistic hemisphere (left in dextral population), there is evidence that some of the “altered states” phenomena may result from intrusions of non-dominant right hemispheric content into waking awareness (Persinger, 1993).
In summary, the pattern of EEG changes observed during the trance state suggests altered neurophysiological organization in the right hemisphere, inhibitory in nature.
A recent review by Frecska, Hoppál, and Luna (2016) defines Trance as “a form of focused and expanded consciousness, closer to meditative states, in which the participant intentionally shifts his or her awareness from ordinary perception toward a diﬀerent ‘input’, which seems to originate from ‘within’”.
Winkelman (2010) similarly conceptualizes it as a hyper-focused “integrative state” that transcends the limits of the ordinary “rational self” and helps identify the sources of discord within the individual, their tribal group, and wider environment.
There is evidence that shamanic trance capacity is not culture-bound but may represent “an inherent psychobiological predisposition … perhaps universal in the species” (Noll, 1983).
The “default self” mode of consciousness can therefore be conceptualized as a periodic attractor that involves sleep-wakefulness phases and predominantly operates within the left-anterior analytical network domain.
In contrast, the “trance self” mode represents a point attractor that operates within the right-posterior experiential/sensorimotor network domain. The transition between default and trance attractor modes is facilitated by the release of the normative left-hemispheric contralateral and prefrontal inhibition under the conditions of meditative or psychedelic trance techniques.
Shamanic and altered modes of consciousness may thus represent a learned voluntary capacity to step aside from the analytical conscious attractor dynamics (default selfawareness) and access alternate ways of experiencing internal and external reality that has been conceptualized as a “nonlocal-intuitive” perspective (Frecska et al., 2016).
The shift to the evolutionarily older, right hemisphere-dominant mode of awareness may help transcend the established left hemisphere “theoretical” constructs informed by our developmental and cultural interactions, and allow for a novel, gestalt experience of physical and social reality leading to qualitatively diﬀerent awareness of the problem under consideration.
However, the cardinal observation in this study is that the corresponding electrophysiological changes are limited to the trance condition and to a specifc band frequency, the subject maintaining the capacity to return to her normal state at will.
MUSIC AND TRANCE
The common feature driving these experiences is a specific music's rhytm which entrain the brain to operate differently at a physiological level.
Has been researching digital musical loops derived from the shamanic drum beat, and achieved over 80% trance induction response in normal college population (personal communication).
The traditional shamanic trance state is in the theta range, around 4-7 Hz, which is a meditative state in the boundary zone between sleeping and waking. (More about Brainwaves)
Most shamanic drum circles drop naturally into the theta range, and this is the same range a hypnotherapist will drop a person into when inducing a highly relaxed state.
This range is also associated with daydreaming, memory recall, and guided visualization. The high end of the theta band is associated with internal focus, visualization, and sustained concentration; the lower end is associated with more transient states of daydream, spontaneous memory recall, and lucid dreaming. Somewhere in the lower end of this zone is the hypnagogic grey area between waking and sleeping where body-consciousness disappears and the user feels floating sensations and may have out-ofbody experiences (OBEs).
Typical shamanic entrainment technology include drums, chants, music, strobe lights, chimes, audio pulses, and talk routines which guide the ritual participants into a shared trance.
Native American rituals use the beat of a medicine drum as the synchronous driver for the baseline trance, and then layer the rhythm with vocal drones to create resonant drivers which maximize brain
wave amplitude and global coherence in the group circuit. Discussion of periodic resonant oscillators and entrainment is essentially a physicsbased deconstruction of music’s power to induce and lock targeted mind states, which is something we all instinctively understand from the experience of listening to music. However, when you look at this dynamic from a physical standpoint, when the mind is entranced by an entrainment technology such as music, the mind and the music merge from separate individual oscillators into a standing harmonic interference pattern with its own unique properties of coherence and stability.
While the rate of drum beat of four beats per second (4 Hz) to induce the trance state in the study is consistent with the previous suggestions of an auditory driver for increased theta power, the researchers rather suggest the mechanism of gating and suppression of the highly predictable sensory input leading to decreased cortical activity.
By contrast, they observe that “an unpredicted rhythmic shift is commonly used to end the shamanic journey and helps disengage from the trance and reengage with the sensory world”.
They conclude that a shamanic journey should be seen as “a goal-directed exploratory state, wherein nascent and previously disparate mental contents can be stimulated, evaluated, and integrated," and suggest that “shamanic trance involves a reconfguration of connectivity between brain regions that is consistent across individuals and thus cannot be dismissed as an empty ritual”.
There is a common mode of consciousness that may serve to bridge ordinary and altered selfexperience.
It is related to various types of focused attention, where conscious awareness is narrowed on either inner or outer content to the exclusion of wider self/world awareness.
These states range from the everyday experience of focusing on a task at hand; to absent-mindedness (internal focus to the exclusion of environmental cues); to peak experiences and “ﬂow states” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) linked to creativity or musical performance; to hyper-focused attention practices such as meditation and hypnotic trance. Narrowed attention states can be conceptualized as a form of “normative dissociation” induced by either external triggers or internal-imaginative processes (Seligman & Kirmayer, 2008).
CONCLUSIONS: WHY YOU SHOULD TRANCE MORE
To train yourself to shift at ease to different states of consciousness will let you access your persona and engage in a more creative thinking in your daily life.
When you empower your ancestral right emisphere will magnify the understanding of your subconscious and will strongly balance your psyche to a more holistic nature.
Therefore, any meaningful exploration of brain changes contributing to conscious experience has to be based on unifying objective, subjective, and intersubjective science in health and psychopathology.
Brain changes during a shamanic trance: Altered modes of consciousness, hemispheric laterality, and systemic psychobiology, Pierre Flor-Henry, Yakov Shapiro & Corine Sombrun, Cogent Psychology (2017), 4: 1313522
Psychedelic Information: Theory Shamanism in the Age of Reason by James L. Kent (2010)