Neurons are the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system. Each of us has roughly 100 billion neurons in our brain That’s hard to comprehend, right? Our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors are a result of the patterns of communication between different groups of neurons (aka, brain waves). Brain waves, measured in Hertz (cycles per second) vary based on the activities we are doing or what we are feeling/thinking.
Higher frequency brain waves usually coincide to feeling alert, active, restless, or wired while lower frequency brain waves are concurrent with sensations of sluggishness, fatigue, cloudiness, relaxation, dreaminess, etc.
Some of the different brain waves frequencies (from high to low):
High range beta - Excitement, anger, stress, anxiety. Living in survival mode.
Mid range beta - Paying attention in order to actively figure something out (ie. listening to a lecture knowing that there will be a test afterwards)
Low level beta - Relaxed and paying attention with very low levels of stress (ie. listening to a lecture knowing that there will be a test in a month)
Alpha - When your inner world is more real than the outside world (ie. visualizations, daydreams, etc). You have access to the present moment, allowing your thoughts to be quiet, flowing, and easeful.
Theta - When you close your eyes, remain awake, but let your body fall asleep a little bit. Your body is asleep but your mind is awake. It feels like you are in a dream - vivid imagery, information, and experiences that go beyond your usual conscious processing
Delta - Deep, restorative, dreamless sleep. Healing and rejuvenation occur during these waves. External awareness is suspended as you enter into the deep levels of your subconscious mind.
Our brain naturally fluctuates between alpha and beta brain waves all day long - this is one of the ways that we learn and integrate our outside experience into our actual nervous system. We take experiences from our outer world that are felt by our senses and integrate them into our internal world.
Anxious people usually have a lot of high-range beta brain waves and a low level of delta brain-wave frequencies. I’ve suffered from my fair share of anxiety, so I found this interesting.
The detrimental effects of living in a constant state of high stress are plentiful (ie. imbalances with hormones, heart health, immune system, etc.), and it’s more than I’ll get into for this particular article. In regards to brain waves specifically, I found the following information interesting.
High beta brain waves...
1) HEIGHTEN SENSES: when you are operating from high beta brain waves your senses become heightened. You are very concerned with the world outside of yourself because every cell in your body is preparing to react to a crisis.
2) LOWER CREATIVE ABILITY: when you are living in high beta frequency all the time, it’s nearly impossible for new information to enter the nervous system because it’s not a time to learn, it’s a time to react to an emergency. It’s not a time to trust, grow, or create - it’s time to survive.
3) USE A LOT OF ENERGY: continually running the brain from a place of high frequency is not an efficient way to operate because it takes a lot of energy to do so
This is where meditation comes in. Engaging in meditation practices encourages your brain waves to start to move towards a slower frequency, from beta waves to more cohesive alpha and theta waves.
Meditating may seem intimidating, overwhelming, and even unattainable. I get it!! It’s taken me a long time to build a regular habit for mindfully sitting with my breath, and I still don’t do it every single day. However, I promise you this: moving beyond the overactive and analytic mind of beta brain waves and into a more suggestible, subconscious state of lower frequency brain waves is a skill that can be improved with practice.
In a study done at Dr. Joe Dispenza’s four day advanced workshop in 2016, 117 workshop participants had their brain waves measured via the use of electroencephalograms (EEGs). Over the four day workshop, participants lowered their high-range beta brain waves by an average of 124 percent and increased their delta brain waves by an average of 149 percent. WOW. Furthermore, the amount of high-range beta brain waves diminished relative to the amount of delta waves by 62 percent. This all happened in four days.
Now, don’t get me wrong, these were four intensive days of meditation, visualization, and focus. It can be difficult to envision carving out that kind of time and energy into our busy lives. If you have a personality for diving deeply and intensely into something, I suggest go for an experience like that! If you prefer to ease into a new practice, you can start slowly too. Even five minutes a day is plenty. The point is not to get down on yourself about having a hard time sitting still. I’ve been there myself - it can be difficult.
There is a lot of scientific evidence that mindfulness practices can do wonders for our nervous system. By understanding how our body works, my hope is for all of us to feel more empowered to take action steps, no matter how small they may be.