Your brain contains billions of brain cells (neurons) that communicate with each other using electricity. When millions of these neurons are communicating together, a synchronized electrical pulsing effect occurs en-mass. This rhythmic electrical pulsing of the brain is measured using an EEG machine with electrodes attached to the scalp. The frequency of these electrical pulses is measured in Hertz (that's cycles per second) and these measurements fall into different categories corresponding to different states of mind that we experience throughout the day.
The amazing thing is that your brainwave patterns correspond with your level of consciousness and it can actually be altered purposefully by yourself, for example, to induce a deeper meditative or relaxed state.
The frequency of your brainwaves is called your brainwave pattern and resembles a wavy line on an EEG machine display. Lots of waves means a higher frequency brainwave. Fewer waves means a lower frequency brainwave. Your brainwave pattern corresponds with your state of mind or level of consciousness.
A person's brainwave pattern will change according to the time of day, effected by tiredness, excitement, level of activity and so on - it also changes according to what a person is doing. Combinations of external stimulus, the condition of your physical body, mental health, personality, self-control and more, can influence your brainwave patterns. Many factors determine your brainwave pattern, but it can be altered purposely yourself through the use of sound, meditation, exercise and other stimulus.
It's worth noting that one single frequency of brainwaves does not dominate the entire brain at one time. Our level of consciousness or mood is usually of the brainwave frequency with the greatest coverage of the brain at one time.
Brainwaves fall into the following ranges:
Delta 0.5 - 4 HZ
This is the totally unconscious state. It's dreamless sleep. The body is healing and you have no sense of time. The most practiced and experienced meditators can reach the low frequency of the delta range. Associated with trance work. This is when meditation seems unconscious yet it is not sleep. Great wisdom and inner peace can be gained from such states, although memories of experiences are not generally retained.
Theta 4 - 8 HZ
This brainwave frequency occurs during shallower sleep. It can be achieved during meditation (conscious) and is a very relaxed state to experience. It's associated with deeper meditative states. Hypnotherapy and any work with the subconscious mind is most achievable in this state.
We are dreaming in the theta range if sleeping, but in a meditative state, great intuition, visions and higher wisdom can be channeled, opening the gateway to your higher self and intelligent infinity.
Alpha 8 - 12 HZ
Now awake, but in a very relaxed state - not much mental processing is going on. Examples of this are the moments when you're drifting off to sleep but still conscious.
Alpha waves are strongly associated with meditation, they occur at the start of a meditative session or are dominant during beginners or a short meditation. Alpha brainwaves are dominant during mindfulness meditation and contemplation. In the alpha state we are conscious but in the most relaxed and open state.
When EEG machines have recorded brainwaves of meditators, the alpha range is most prominent. Alpha brainwaves naturally occur when the eyes are closed. Stress and anxiety melt away in the alpha range plus memory recall is enhanced.
Beta 12 - 40 HZ
Beta brainwave activity is experienced during waking active hours. It has a high frequency. This is when we are performing mental tasks, concentrating, working, thinking, calculating, deciding and more.
A lack of beta brainwaves can cause mental health problems, anxiety and depression. Regular production of beta brainwaves contribute to a balanced personality and emotional state, and mental stability.
It's worth noting that television and the internet keep us in a state of alpha waves, preventing beta from taking over. Rest from Beta waves is required however because of fatigue after mental work. Beta waves are divided into three bands, ranging from general concentration to complex processing.
Gamma 40 - 100 HZ
Gamma brainwave patterns have the highest frequency. They are unusual because they sweep over the entire brain at one time as if all parts are in unison.
People with more gamma brainwaves are more intelligent, creative, content, compassionate, loving and have excellent memory recall. There is an innate sense of oneness with all things and feelings of inner peace.
Gamma waves are present during REM (dream time) sleep as well as when performing vivid visualizations. Neuroscientists actually believe that by experiencing more love and compression for all things, we can manufacture more gamma waves within our brains. Meditating on compassion and love for all things, and doing this over time, is also key to producing gamma waves. Tests have shown that Tibetan Buddhist Monks produce an abundance of gamma waves.
It Is believed that the more gamma waves you produce the closer you are to spiritual 'enlightenment'.
Why Change Your Brainwave Patterns?
The higher the frequency of your brainwave patterns the more conscious and awake you feel. The human body is active. That's why some people take stimulants to stimulate their physical body to produce a chemical response which in turn raises the frequency of the brainwaves. A brisk walk or a cold shower can also have the same effect inducing beta 'wakeful' brainwaves.
Cannabis/marijuana and watching television induce the alpha wave state. We are very open to suggestion in an alpha state which says a lot about watching too much television! Balance is required in our lives so that we are not experiencing too much high frequency beta brainwaves causing burnout, yet not allowing the pleasurable feeling of the relaxing alpha waves to take over and make us overly sedentary and in turn depressed.
Brainwaves and Spirituality
Spiritual exploration creates an urge in us to meditate. Many of us want to explore deep meditation and relaxation to induce certain states of consciousness and beingness.
We might want to experience levels of peace and innate joy, or maybe pure love and compassion, or to explore other layers of existence and reality through visualization and astral travel, or maybe to channel wisdom or make contact with the higher self or entities on the other side.
What ever it is that drives you on, an easier way to achieve your aims is to take a little more control of your own brainwave patterns to place them in the range best suited to your spiritual work.
How to Change Brainwave Patterns Using Sound
'Brainwave Entrainment' is the process by which stimulus is provided, for example a rhythmic sound in the ears, that causes the brain to mimic that same rhythm.
The brain does an intriguing thing; it elicits what is termed the 'Frequency Following Response'. This is where the brain's electrical pulses synchronize with the rhythm or beat of the sound being heard, so long as the frequency is within the appropriate overall range.
The rhythm must be of a precise frequency for the brain to synchronize to it, and when it does, the associated mental state can be induced after a few minutes. For example, by listening to good quality theta wave sound, the brain will potentially synchronize its electrical pulses to match the frequency in theta range, causing a deeply relaxing meditative state to occur.
Conversely, mental stimulation is experienced by many who use good quality beta frequency sound. This can aid in working or studying, enhancing concentration and attention span.
Ancient cultures (such as Shamanic cultures) would use drum beats in order to achieve this.
Binaural beats and isochronic tones can be used for this (covered in detail in my next article). This is where sound is played usually using headphones, at a certain frequency in order to stimulate the brain to produce brainwaves of the desired frequency for some purposes like deep meditation.
Daily meditation is proven to alter the structure of the brain and decelerate brain aging. In addition, much inner peace and happiness can be achieved through regular meditation as it trains the brain to revert to an alpha, theta or maybe even a delta range when required. No wonder more happiness can be found in life through meditation!
So, the more you meditate, the more you can experience the healing and balancing energies of the theta and delta ranges. Meditation provides conscious access to this, as opposed to unconscious access when sleeping.
You don't need to use sound to reach the low frequency ranges while meditating, although if you have difficulty reaching deeper states, or you would like a helping hand, then the binaural beats or isochronic tones can help.
I reiterate that beta range activity is of utmost importance in order to stay active and accomplish aims in life, and so a constant state of lower frequency brainwaves in not usually beneficial. Meditation however will train the brain to be able to revert to the calmer lower frequency ranges when required.
Here is a new book and further reading on the topic of brainwaves: Electric Brain: How the New Science of Brainwaves Reads Minds, Tells Us How We Learn, and Helps Us Change for the Better.
Other Ways Change Brainwave Patterns
Overall, by changing what you are doing, you can immediately change your brainwave patterns. For example, if you are working hard you might be in deep concentration in the high beta wave range, then you take a break and chat to a friend (which is less taxing on the brain) and your brainwaves might change to the low beta wave range. Another example is doing some exercise with brainwaves in the mid beta range, then taking a bubble bath and changing frequency to the alpha range.
A pulsing light of a steady rhythm can effect brainwaves as the Frequency Following Response kicks in. Hence, those with photo sensitive epilepsy cannot view flashing lights as it may trigger off their condition. It's usually much easier and more pleasurable to use sound for this purpose!
Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can increase brainwave frequency, and sedatives such as marijuana can decrease the frequency of brainwaves and induce a more relaxed and receptive state.
If unwanted effects occur such as unusual mood swings, intrusive visualizations or nausea, then you may be trying to educe brainwaves that you already have in abundance and therefore be experiencing an excess. Never use brainwave entrainment of any kind if you are epileptic or prone to seizures. Do everything in moderation and slowly at first.
We create our own reality. Our perceptions of the world and the handle we have on our own personality and ego, greatly affect the experiences we have. Most people go about their daily lives existing in a state of consciousness of their own creation that's not necessarily beneficial.
In the absence of mindfulness and being under many societal illusions, people can exist in the beta (highly active) brainwave range for far too long, and then crash into the alpha range through exhaustion. They wind up in a very suggestive state and turn on the TV.
Eventually the brain can reach the lower frequency ranges of theta and delta through unconsciousness - an all too often, shortened sleep period.
Meditation provides a conscious way to reach lower brainwave frequencies, and to experience the associated benefits. Head to the lower ranges while you're awake and see if you experience any new insights, feelings of love, joy or inner peace.