Meditation and the brain waves
Our brainwaves change according to what we’re doing and feeling.
It’s no secret that our minds have the capability to change the way our bodies react, and research exists from scientists, physicians and physiologists to substantiate this claim. Transcendental Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, lower high blood pressure and improve the way our brain functions. It’s a great way to find spiritual peace and relax after a hard day.
In addition to the multitude of studies that chronicle the health benefits of meditation, there is one area that is still being explored, and that is, how mindfulness meditation physically affects our brains. Neuroscientists at Brown University have used brain scanners to discover that mindfulness meditation actually alters the alpha rhythms in our brain, which helps to regulate the way the brain processes certain sensations like bad memories, or pain. This helps explain why mindfulness meditation can help alleviate the painful physical symptoms of certain diseases.
Transcendental meditation centers on the use of mantras to achieve awareness, while mindfulness meditation focuses on the here and now, the present moment. Being mindful of where you are in the current situation helps to alleviate depression, as well as conditions like cognitive and behavioral issues. Meditation is an effective form of therapy for maximum mental health.
The Brown University researchers also used a technology called magnetoencephalography, which showed that alpha brain waves actually change when someone focuses on their current physical situation. This sensation was stronger in patients that had been trained in mindfulness meditation, versus those that hadn’t. MRIs performed in a study by neuroscientists at Harvard University showed that, in the brains of those using mindfulness meditation, there was an increased concentration of gray matter in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the cerebellum and the temporo-parietal junction. These areas of the brain are responsible for learning and memory, the regulation of emotions, sense of self, and perspective.
Types of brainwaves
*There are five recordable brain waves our minds emit – alpha, beta, theta, delta and gamma. Brainwave speed is measured in Hertz (cycles per second) and they are divided into bands delineating slow, moderate, and fast waves.
Delta waves (.5 to 3 Hz)
Deltas are the slowest but loudest brainwaves (low frequency and deeply penetrating, like a drum beat). They are generated in deepest meditation and dreamless sleep. Delta waves suspend external consciousness and are the source of empathy. Healing is also generated in this state, and that is why deep sleep is so vital to the healing process.
Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz)
Theta brainwaves happen most often in sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation. It is our gateway to learning and memory. In theta, our senses are removed from the external world and focused on signals originating from within. It is this state which we usually only experience momentarily as we wake or go to sleep. It is where we carry our fears, troubled history, and nightmares.
Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz)
Alpha brainwaves exist during soundlessly flowing thoughts.. Alpha is ‘the NOW’, being here, in the present. It is the resting state. Alpha waves help our mental coordination, calmness, alertness, mind/body integration and also learning.
Alpha brain waves are named as such simply because they were the first to be discovered in 1929 by Hans Berger; the others shortly followed. These brain waves are responsible for increased creativity and problem solving skills, and are also present in the minds of athletes during their times of peak performance. Short little bursts of alpha brain waves help sharpen your focus and concentration during times when your mind needs it most. The next time you have an “a-ha!” moment, remember that your brain has given you a larger boost of alpha brain wave activity than normal.
Being able to alter our own alpha waves means we have the ability to change our moods and reduce chronic pain, relieving symptoms of conditions such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome and low-back pain. Managing your moods through meditation can also increase your overall quality of life, resulting in a more relaxed state of mind, which is why meditation is being explored as a mindfulness-based therapy for those with chronic pain.
Beta waves (12 to 38 Hz)
Beta brainwaves govern our normal (waking) state of consciousness. Beta is present when we are alert and engaged in problem solving and decision making. Beta brainwaves are further divided into three bands: low beta, can be thought of as a fast idle; beta (or beta2) as high engagement; and hi-beta is highly complex thought and high anxiety. This type of high frequency processing is not a very efficient way to run the brain, because it takes an incredible amount of energy.
Gamma waves (38 to 42 Hz)
Gamma brainwaves are the fastest of brain waves. They relate to simultaneous processing of information coming from different brain zones. It passes information rapidly, and as the most subtle of the brainwave frequencies, the mind has to be quiet to access it. Gamma was traditionally dismissed as ‘noise’ until researchers discovered it was highly active when in states of universal love and the ‘higher virtues’. Gamma rhythms control perception and consciousness, disappearing under anesthesia. Since gamma is above the frequency of neuronal firing, it is a mystery how it is generated.