Electroenephalography (EEG) is the measurement, in real-time, of brain waves. It requires the use of electrodes that are placed on the scalp. An amplifier and a visualization software are then used to graph the brain’s electrical activity.
EEG graphing hit the mainstream recently, with several consumer-grade sensors becoming available, some for as little as $100. The non-invasive sensors are placed on the scalp and forehead. Clinical-grade caps include far more sensors than their cheap counterparts and pick up electrical activity from the 8 major brain regions, which are: the frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal lobes, as well as the limbic system, the brain stem, the cerebrum and cerebellum.
Together, these eaves-dropping sensors give us a picture of what’s going on in someone’s head in real time.
Clinicians have learned not just to measure but to also manipulate brainwaves in non-invasive ways. In Neuropsychology, therapists use methodologies like LENS, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or learning-based neurofeedback, to alter undesirable brain states. These methods can help people with a myriad of issues like chronic pain, anxiety, depression or PTSD.
The Monroe Institute, founded more than 30 years ago by Robert Monroe, pioneered an auditory method for alternate brainwaves, using Bianaural Beat technology. Monroe and his students claim that by using binaural beats in controlled conditions, we can learn to access higher states of consciousness, leave our bodies and engage in boundless astral travel. While this claim is quite radical, the therapeutic power of brain entrainment using binaural technology is not.
If you’re interested in any form of mental or physical self-mastery, you’ll want to know about brain waves and what they have to teach us about cognition. And you’ll be interested to know that manipulating the electromagnetic activity of our brains does in fact induce altered states of consciousness. It can lead us to believe that we’re seeing (or feeling the presence of) angels or demons, or that we are basking in oneness with the universe. Stanley Koren and Michael Persinger invented a means of inducing precisely such mystical experiences by “applying [specific patterns of] magnetic signals over the temporal lobes of the brain.”
Persigner was deeply skeptical of paranormal claims and believed that his research pointed to understanding mystical experiences as resulting from anomalous brain activity. He did, however, keep an open mind to philosophical rebuttals which stated that just because he was able to simulate mystical experiences in (many of) his subjects, this did not necessarily demonstrate that all mystical experiences were simulations.
Addressing the complexities and nuances of these captivating psychic experiences, whether they are mere delusions or contact with something more, is the domain of neurotheologists, psychiatrists and physicists. In the meantime, we can avail ourselves of the present knowledge of brain waves, what they do, and how we can play with them.
Here is a brief list of the different brain waves and how you can manipulate them to your advantage.
Gamma Brain Waves
Gamma brain waves start to show up in oscillations of 25 Hertz or above. And the truth is scientists still don’t know what their specialized function is, and where in the brain they usually emanate from.
Nothing is certain at this point, but I am personally invested in the claims that Gamma frequencies reflect extraordinary levels of concentration, beyond what our regular Beta and Theta have to offer. It’s worth noting though, they could be nothing more than frequencies that reflect non-cognitive neural activities, like eye movement or jaw-clinching. Time will tell.
Beta Brain Waves
Beta Brain Waves oscillate between 12 and 25 Hertz. Anxious thinking is dominated by Beta waves, but so is every day, waking management of life and work. The gift of Beta is also concentration, but concentration can be both negative and positive. It’s negative when all we can think about is how angry we are at so-and-so for that slight yesterday, and positive when we are solving that crossword puzzle.
If you want to increase your Beta frequencies flood yourself with some extreme light or sound. That’s right, I don’t drink coffee in the morning when I want to wake myself up, I turn on the lights, I put on my headphones and I blast my favorite 128 BPM Electronic Dance tracks. It WORKS!
Alpha Brain Waves
I will confess that if I had a favorite Brain Wave, this would be it. Alpha’s frequency ranges from 8 to 12 Hz, and for someone who is involved in personal wellness and self-mastery, it’s probably the most interesting to learn to activate at will.
It is in this kind of brain state that we can access the deeper regions of our creativity, problem solving innovation and some might say, intuition. You are alert and awake but you’re thinking from a calm place unperturbed by emotional thinking.
Alpha Brain Waves begin to clock in when we close our eyes and relax our body. We ease up on our mental activities when Alpha waves dominate, making them a wonderful resource that is instantly accessible. They are especially useful for anxious people.
Theta Brain Waves
Brain oscillations within the 4–8 Hz frequency range are referred to as theta waves. Theta brainwaves dominate when we are learning something new or having to concentrate intently on an important task. The harder something is, the more Theta waves you’re likely to produce.
I recently had to learn how to tie a double-figure-eight knot. Now, this isn’t something I’m used to, I’m not a camping kind of person, and things requiring spatial intelligence are not in my field of interest. I noticed just how engaged and present I was as I was learning how to tie the knot. It took me a very long time, 45 minutes, before I was able to do the knot without thinking about it.
I so thoroughly appreciated being such a novice that I went out and bought a 6 foot piece of rope, and practiced tying all sorts of knots using YouTube How-To videos.
Theta Brain Waves also emerge when we are in REM sleep, or when we are intensely focused on visualization or tracking movement in space. In meditation, I know my theta waves are dominating when I start seeing with my mind’s eye.
Delta Brain Waves
When I imagine the Delta Brain Wave or see a graph representation of it, I immediately feel calm. It is the slowest of all known brain waves, and it oscillates within a range of 1 to 4 Hz.
Delta Brain waves appear when we are unconscious, or sleeping, but not during REM sleep. Some serious learning magic or memory-consolidation happens when we are in Delta brain wave sleep. This is where our unconscious mind internalizes lessons learned from that day, files away our memories into long term storage and concocts solutions to problems we’ve been mulling over.
How Do I Get To Know My Brainwaves?
You can become familiar with your different brain waves by extended periods of meditation, especially in the early morning or late at night when you might be prone to drowsiness.
If you can manage not to fall asleep, you’ll be able to catch how your cognitive activity changes over the course of a one or two hour meditation session, and how different brain wave dominance induces a different sentient and cognitive experience.
If you don’t meditate, then you can pay attention to the different stages you experience while you are falling asleep at night. You won’t be able to catch Delta, because it usually dominates when you are unconscious, but you will get close.
The advantage of this technique is that you’ll be able to get yourself to sleep by understanding the natural brainwave progression needed for it to occur. We go from busy bee Beta, to Ah…Alpha, to Now-You’re-Dreaming Theta, and on to Divine Delta, where the real magic (of which you will remember nothing) begins.