You might be familiar with the concept of brain waves – oscillations in neural activity that can be measured with an EEG, or electroencephalogram. The brain produces certain waves while a person is sleeping and other waves when a person is awake. Some brain waves are dominant during learning, whereas others gain strength when a person is daydreaming. In many ways, brain waves reflect how the entire brain is feeling at any given moment. Is it awake and pumped with energy? Or is it lackadaisical or muddled?
There are currently five known brain waves.
Alpha brain waves reflect calm, relaxed thought.
Beta brain waves reflect active, analytical thought.
Gamma brain waves are the fastest and likely reflect learning.
Theta brain waves are usually present during light sleep.
Delta brain waves are the slowest and active during deep sleep.
Altering brain wave activity
Unsurprisingly, certain environmental triggers have the power to alter brain waves. A stressful exam or an awkward first date might provoke a series of strong beta brain waves. Conversely, a quiet meadow or a calming massage can enhance alpha wave activity. These brain waves can continue to dominate a person’s mind even after the situation that caused them is over – for instance, a person might continue to feel on edge after a difficult exam or could feel calm all day following a morning walk.
One safe, simple way to alter one’s own brain waves – in both the short term and the long term – is through meditation. Studies have consistently implicated meditation in increasing the prevalence of alpha wave activity, not only during meditation, but also during other daily activities. For instance, a study at Brown University found that people who have been trained in a form of meditation – specifically mindfulness meditation – demonstrated more pronounced alpha waves and greater attention to sensory detail than people who received no such training.
What’s so good about alpha waves anyway?
Researchers once believed that alpha waves simply reflected the brain idling between tasks, but now know that they reflect inner thoughts. Alpha waves are likely responsible for creativity, relaxation and the ever elusive “peace of mind.” Because alpha waves are internally focused, they also make it easier to recognize bodily sensations such as pain or pleasure. This would explain why mindfulness meditation helps people conquer depression, anxiety and even chronic pain. By increasing the presence of these calm, self-reflective brain waves, meditation allows people to think more clearly and soothe their own negative emotions.
How to practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced in a quiet room, with eyes open or closed, and does not need to last any longer than five minutes. As individuals sit in silence, they reflect upon the sensations in their body without judgment. They also pay attention to any emotions, positive or negative, rather than pushing them away.
Mindfulness meditation is not about “clearing the mind” so much as it is about accepting the contents of the mind. It is no wonder, then, that meditation enhances brain waves associated with self-reflection.
Online programs, such as Headspace, can be an excellent way to learn the basics of mindfulness meditation.
Meditation as a tool for healing
People with an addiction are likely battling drug cravings, while people with a mental illness might be fighting self-loathing or doubt. The last thing they might want to do is focus on their inner thoughts. How could meditation help them?
Mindfulness meditation works because of something known as ironic process theory. When people are instructed to not think about something – for instance, a white bear – they are actually more likely to think about it. By acknowledging the presence of negative emotions rather than ignoring them, those emotions actually become less intrusive.
People who dread their inner demons can benefit tremendously from honing their meditation skills – and their alpha waves.
Sovereign Health Group offers traditional treatments, such as one-on-one and group therapy, as well as yoga and meditation. Patients are given treatments that are customized to their needs. For further questions, please contact 866-554-5504.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Health Group writer