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Yoga, Meditation and Brainwaves – Using Science to Reduce anxiety and literately calm down!

Do you want strategies and techniques that are backed by SCIENCE to overcome crippling stress and anxiety?

 

If so, Read this!

 

Table of Contents:

1.0 Intro: What are brainwaves and why do they matter?

2.0 The 5 brainwave states that are universal to all humans

3.0 Techniques to positively affect brainwaves

4.0 Mediation and Yoga based brainwave altering techniques

5.0 Conclusion

 

 

 

1.0 Intro: What are brainwaves and why do they matter?

 

Have you have had a friend that was on the “same frequency” or people that you always seems to “vibe” with?

 

Well, this isn’t just an expression.  Quantum mechanics, biology, chemistry and physics tell us that…..thoughts have frequencies!

 

When we think, we are creating electrochemical signals through our brain cells, or “neurons.” These neurons form electrochemical connections that synchronize to form a collective “brainwave state” based on these connections. 

 

In other words, neurons that wire together, fire together!

 

 

Our brainwaves can change based on our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, and they are based both on our external and internal environment. 

 

Intuitively, this makes sense, right? 

 

Especially in yoga, wellness, and meditative circles, many of us do believe that what we think, especially the “self talk” we all do with ourselves over time, will ultimately impact and influence our underlying emotions, behavior, and environment. 

 

But here’s the beauty of Yoga and meditation….we can use techniques and exercises that have been proven scientifically to CHANGE our thoughts, and consequently, our brainwave states. 

 

However, before we can go into those techniques, it’s important we back up and identity each brainwave state as well as explain their purpose, as well as the states that exacerbate stress and anxiety as well as those that promote calmness and well being. 

 

 

2.0 The 5 brainwave states that are universal to all humans

 

 

Delta: Delta brainwaves are the slowest brainwave are generally around 1-3 Hz and are associated with deep, dreamless sleep as well as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  Delta brainwaves are characterized as both deep and penetrating brain waves that block out external stimuli, and consequently, an increase in delta brain waves corresponds to an improvement of mental efficiency and health – as well as a decrease in cortisol.

 

Theta: Theta brainwaves are the second slowest brainwaves and are generally around 4-8 Hz.  They are generally associated as the state right before we drift off to sleep or right when we awake, as well as meditative states achieved by highly experienced yogis and monks.  This state is also characterized with a greater sense of intuition and awareness. 

 

Alpha: Alpha brainwaves are right in the middle of the spectrum and range from 9-13 Hz.  They are best described as being in the “now” or in “flow state,” and possessing a calm, balanced, and aware mental disposition. Although it is important to cycle and balance all brain wave states, one could argue that in today’s overthinking and analytical world, moving one’s mind from beta state to alpha state is the most important and beneficial.  For many, spending more time cycling through alpha and being more calm and present during our waking hours will increase overall well being.

 

Ashley Turner, a yogi-meditator and writer from Wanderlust describes this state best, “This is the state where brain waves start to slow down out of thinking mind. We become more calm, peaceful and anchored. We often find ourselves in an alpha state after a thorough yoga class, a walk in the woods, a pleasurable sexual encounter or during any activity that helps relax the body and mind. We are lucid, reflective, have a slightly diffused awareness and at peace. This is often accompanied by an inner and/or outer glow. The hemispheres of the brain are more balanced.”

 

 

Beta: Beta brainwaves are where most of us spend the most time during our waking hours.  It is the second fastest brainwave at 13-30 Hz, and is associated with alertness, thinking, and analyzing – it is also associated with executive function and decision making in the prefrontal cortex.   

 

Although incredibly useful, in our fast paced, industrial, and technological culture and society, often we spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME in the beta brain wave state while we are awake.  Individually and collectively, it often seems we are endlessly categorizing, planning, assessing, analyzing all facets of the world around us.  Our ancestors, and those in indigenous and Eastern cultures think, feel, and behave much differently (at least historically and prior to western influences).  Their world is perceived significantly more intuitively and holistically, and consequently, there is much more brainwave  variety throughout the day. 

 

This has real world scientific and health consequences over time!  We will touch base on this shortly, but the implications are that too much time in beta will cause an increase in stress, anxiety and fear – over time, that can increase cortisol levels and even create higher risks for diseases and even cancer.

 

Gamma: We saved the best brain wave for last!  Gamma brain waves are exciting to discuss because they are relatively new in terms of discovery, and are really any brainwave above 30 Hz.  It’s incredibly interesting to note that although generally limited around 40Hz, these brain waves can go as high as 100 Hz, and have some reports higher than that.  Although much faster than beta brain waves, ironically the effects are much more similar to theta or alpha brain waves on thoughts – individuals “in gamma” report feelings of deep altruism, benevolence, empathy, and gratitude.  Those who experience these brainwaves much more frequently than average are elite athletes, and have also been experienced by Tibetan monks and nuns. 

 

Perhaps it can by summarized Cheyenne Diaz from Mindvalley Academy,

“Something remarkable happened when the monks in the study were asked to focus on feelings of compassion. Their brains immediately moved into the gamma frequency in a rhythmic and coherent pattern.

As you meditate with the help of meditation music, you may begin feeling that wonderful warmth of oneness where you lose the sense of self and “melt” into universal consciousness.

Hang on to that feeling. Focus on it. Expand on it. Embody it.

Feel love emanating from you and permeating you. Focus on love…and you will soon feel the ecstasy and bliss of gamma!”

 

3.0 Techniques to positively affect brainwaves

So now that we have explained the five different brainwaves and their importance, we can explain how we can manipulate them.  In some ways, we can look at this as another form of self-help or self-therapy.   

 

Around the world today, and especially in the West in Europe, North America, and Australia – stress and anxiety have become the new normal for many. 

 

Our addiction to technology only exacerbates this dilemma, we are constantly connected to everyone and everything else, and rarely have a moment of calm or serenity.  Our smartphones are endlessly buzzing with notifications, texts, calls, and emails that take away our precious attention from ourselves and our own feelings. 

 

The good news?  We can FLIP that technology to work for us and help (in most cases) to LOWER the speed of our brainwaves!

 

Want a high-tech solution? 

 

  • Binaural beats and music – one of the easiest ways to change brainwaves is to simply download “binaural beats” which are simply two different sound frequencies played in each ear (you will need headphones for this!). Science has proven that binaural beats will help train your brain to synchronize to the brain waves you are trying to help create. You can buy these on itunes or simply go to youtube, and you can search based on the brain wave state you are trying to move towards – i.e. delta for deep sleep, theta/alpha for calm, beta for alertness etc.  Check out binaural beats to buy on Amazon HERE and on YouTube FREE HERE :

 

  • Wearables – this is even more high tech, and wearables are a relatively new form of biofeedback that can work with a smartphone app to help entrain your brain towards a desired brainwave state as well as actively monitor and record the current brainstate you are already in.  This is great because we might “think” we are in a certain brainwave state but may be wrong, especially if we are new to brainwave entrainment techniques, meditations, and devices.   You can find one of the most popular wearable headbands from the company MUSE that connects with your smartphone app, HERE.

 

4.0 Mediation and Yoga based brainwave altering techniques

 

While high-tech techniques can be excellent for altering brainwave states, we also highly recommend the tried and true methods that have been done by yogis, monks,  and meditators for thousands of years! 

 

Many of these techniques have their roots in Yoga and accompanying breathing and mediation exercises, such as Kriya Yoga, Asanas, and pranayama practices. 

 

  1.  Kriya Yoga – Kriya Yoga, and especially tantric Kriya Yoga, has been used for centuries to increase awareness and expand consciousness. Kriya Yoga can be used to significantly increase both alpha and theta levels in the brain, as well as balance levels in both hemispheres of the brain.  And there can be a great deal of theta/alpha brainwave increases after only one Yoga Session!

According to a study by the Scandanavian Yoga and Mediation School which measured brainwave activity using a EEG machine using electrodes and scanners on the scalp and connecting to a computer, there was a significant rise of alpha/theta brain waves for 10 out of 11 participants!

 

“Following the meditation, a significant rise of alpha and theta rhythms in the brain was observed in ten out of eleven subjects. For some, the alpha waves more than doubled. The increase of these rhythms was greatest in the rear part of the brain (parietal regions), where both alpha and theta rhythms rose by an average of 40% (see fig. 2). There was a general tendency for these rhythms to spread from the rear part of the brain forwards. In ten of the eleven right handed people, the alpha increased more in the right than in the left side of the temporal regions (fig. 3).”

 

2.  Pranayama Nostril breathing – Similar to Kriya Yoga, Pranayama nostril breathing meditative practices are a great way to slow down your brain wave state and move from beta to alpha and theta.

 

 How to do it?

 

1.Start by sitting cross legged on the floor and taking a deep breath with your eyes closed. 


2)Touch the tips of your index and middle finger to the base of the right thumb, then alternatively use the right thumb to close the right nostril and the right ring and pinky fingers to close the left nostril. 

3)Using the right thumb to close the right nostril, exhale fully through the left nostril. 

4) With right nostril still closed, inhale deeply through the left nostril and into your chest, and pause briefly at the top of head. 

5) Repeat this process while alternating nostrils

 

The benefits of Pranayama are huge for altering and slowing down brainwaves.  According to Yoga and brain wave coherence: A systematic review for brain function improvement by Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, Visva-Bharati University,

“Pranayama practice increases theta power that is associated with decreased activity in the brain arousal system and sleep onset process.[17],[68] Such practice improves the state of relaxation with reduced level of anxiety that is reflected by the presence of increased alpha band power and decreased beta band power. During such practice, it has been examined that the brain remains deeply focused with higher level of mental consciousness as indicated by the increase in delta and theta band powers.[67] Scientists reported that alternate nostril yoga breathing decreases theta band power over the right occipital region, while alpha and beta amplitudes also reduce at the right occipital site and the right vertex site of the brain.[69],[70] At the same time, nostril breathing practice also increases the spatial memory scores.”

 

3. Abdominal breathing

Abdominal breathing – abdominal breathing, also known as belly breathing, which is common in infants, is a great way to slow down breathing and also brainwaves from beta to alpha.  You can achieve this by sitting or lying comfortably with your hand on stomach just below your ribs.  Next, take a deep breath in through your nose and pushing out right below your ribs gently.  Then,  breathe out through pursed lips as if whistling, and doing this 3-10 times slowly.  Additionally, you can do this in a cadence of 4-7-8: 4 seconds to inhale, holding for 7, and then exhaling for 8 seconds.

 

Conclusion:

 

Our brainwave state really does matter, and it’s a reflection of our state of being, such as our thoughts and feelings.  Many of us may be stressed and anxious due to overthinking, over analyzing and our fast paced and high-tech lifestyles, and consequently spend too much time in the high alertness brainwave, beta.  However, there are multiple techniques and strategies to monitor and alter our brainwave state and slow it down from beta to theta and/or alpha.  We can do this through high tech solutions such as wearables that monitor and help alter our state as well as binaural beats and similar frequencies. 

 

Similarly, we can use tried and tested exercises and methods to calm our minds, make us more present and aware, and slow our breath and brainwaves down.  In addition to high-tech solutions, both yoga and associated breathing techniques – especially Kriya Yoga, Pranayama yoga and nostril breathing, and abdominal breathing exercises can really help bring both our brainwaves down, and make us feel more calm, present, and aware at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

 

http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com/2018/12/brain-waves-and-yoga.html

http://www.yogatoeaseanxiety.com/blog/brain-waves-yoga-and-meditation

https://www.befityoga.com/learn-thrive/brain-waves-and-minding-your-mind/

https://wanderlust.com/journal/meditation-brain-waves-ashley-turner/

https://blog.mindvalley.com/gamma-brain-waves/

https://choosemuse.com/shop/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mgwd_3k3pOw

https://www.natural-knowhow.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/effects-of-yoga-on-brain-waves-and-structural-activation-a-review-article.pdf

https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides/information/how-and-why-boost-your-alpha-brainwaves

https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/yoga/nadi-shodhana-pranayama/

https://galaxyofyoga.in/pranayama-and-brain-waves/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23930027/

 https://laquilaactive.com/blogs/news/chakyra-science-the-endocrine-system

https://laquilaactive.com/blogs/news/strong-u-6-most-important-benefits-of-yoga-u-strong-u-u

https://www.heartmindjournal.org/article.asp?issn=2468-6476;year=2020;volume=4;issue=2;spage=33;epage=39;aulast=De#ref9

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