People have been engaging in mindfulness practices for centuries. As new pop psych buzz phrases like “brain wave training” and “Biohacking” get thrown around people are getting excited to learn some of these old tricks to finding inner peace and emotional balance. Neuroscience has been showing the scientific side of mindfulness and there are lots of games on your phone, and apps that are now using these skills to teach people how to check in with themselves. It is also becoming more popular and integrated with the fitness world, as Trauma informed Yoga, Breathe work in stretching, Taichi, Dance and movement therapy all become more mainstream.
So Why Mindfulness? What’s the big deal? Here are some of the benefits of engaging in mindfulness daily: * stress relief *Lower blood pressure *regulates heartbeat *reduces chronic pain *reduction in cell aging *Improves immune system *Increases circulation throughout body *curb cravings and addictions *improves sleep *Improves gut/ digestive balance *Regulates mood states *Decreases anxiety *Decreases depression *Enhances introspection *Increase creativity and productivity * Increased energy *increased mental clarity *increased memory retention and recall …… You get the main idea. There are many empirical studies that have been done to show findings in each one of these benefits.
Let me teach you a quick overview of our brain waves states as Mindfulness is a way we can learn how to consciously change our brain wave states to promote optimal health and productivity. Brainwaves are a measurement of the electrical activity happening in the brain. They are measured in Hertz.
Let’s be nontraditional and start in the middle:
BETA- This brainwave is our ordinary wakeful state. It is likely the state you are in right now. These waves are between 13-32hz per second. This level of brain activity allows us to listen, bring in new information, have active conversations, focus on a task and be alert to our surroundings. Most of our everyday activities happen on this level.
GAMMA-32hz- 100hz per second. When we are in gamma wave our brain is processing faster. This means more information and stimulus is happening at a faster rate. Several parts of your brain would be lit up on the screen in both the right and left hemispheres. This can be a state of higher perception, where insights and creativity spark, this state can be known as “expanded conscious”. This state can create feelings of greater connection to the universe, spirituality and inner knowledge. However this can also be agitating for the brain and increase irritability, restlessness, overwhelm and burn out if we are in this state for prolonged periods of time. It is exhausting to process information at this rate and without rest, damage can occur. This is the state when you are feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, “raw nerves” and burn out. This state can manifest anxiety and panic attacks. (Think of stimulants like Adderall, Meth,Cocaine, etc. as well as some hallucinogens such as mushrooms, mescaline and LSD, meant to induce these brain wave states).
Hypogamma- this is over 100hz per second. This is a hyper aroused state. Brain is wired to self preserve so if you are in this state your brain is likely to do a manual override, otherwise brain damage will occur. This may be the stage you are feeling so anxious you pass out. This is the stage where seizures, strokes, and aneurysms take place.
Going the other way from Beta as your brain waves slow down is Alpha.
Alpha- between 8-12 hz per second. This can be a reflective, relaxing state where your everyday busy mind slows down and right brain becomes more active. This is like when you “zone out”, that light weightless feeling we have right before sleep. When you close your eyes and focus on your breath, your brain slows down and you enter this state. This is the state your in when doing yoga, being creative and drawn into your activity and lose track of time. This state is an important time to decompress and recover from the active states you have been in all day. In depressive episodes we can get stuck in this state. It’s that “out of it” or disconnected feeling, apathy and the feeling that things are not real, sleep walking, “zombie” state. (Think barbituates, “downers” such as ambien, xanax, trazodone, sleep aids, alcohol, marijuana, etc. also some of the hallucinogen, induce this state)
Theta- 4-8hz per second. This is a dreaming, flow state. Trance, hypnosis, lots of right brain activity as left brain activity slows. In theta states people can have spontaneous ideas, make new connections, and have creative insight because the busy left brain has disengaged. This is why you probably have your best ideas while on a drive, or in the shower, on a run, doing dishes, etc. When you are doing a mundane task that is so automatic to the mind the mind disengages. This is also the state where your brain processes deep emotions and makes sense of right brain notes. Deep Meditation induces this state.
Delta- 4hz-.5hz per second. This is considered fully unconscious. This is when you enter a dreamless sleep. This sleep is restorative and at this level cells regenerate, and healing of both body and mind take place. This is why it is so crucial to get enough deep sleep.
Below .5hz is considered brain dead. There is not enough brain activity to sustain life. When someone is on life support, the machines are inducing more brain activity to sustain Delta levels so main body functions can continue.
** a state called “alpha blocking” is what we commonly call anxiety. This is when we are restless and have a hard time settling down, we feel keyed up and the brain is racing. This causes insomnia, hyperactivity, and can cause OCD tendencies. When stuck in this state the brain isn’t able to slow down and enter alpha states.
Mindfulness activities are a way that we can train our brains to consciously move from state to state. Often this is automatic and unconscious. As we actively practice mindfulness activities we get better at recognizing what state we are in and what we need to do to adjust; If we need to create more activity so we can concentrate and perform better, or if we need to slow down and rest, relax and give our brain that time needed to reset.
We teach people how to notice and regulate their brains using Mindfulness techniques here at Eagle Mountain Counseling. Give up a call to learn how.
By Adelle Thomas