Your brain is made up of billions of neurons firing electricity across synapses. Like a symphony, these electrical signals work in unison to share information between brain cells. Because of their synchronized activity they can be linked to specific states of consciousness, your thoughts, and your mood.
The synchronized electrical buzz produced by your brain cells are known as brainwaves. They are named this way because these electrical brain signals are cyclical and wave-like in nature. All of your thoughts, emotions and behaviors are the result of neurons communicating with each other, and these produce electrical pulses in the form of brainwaves.
Using sensitive equipment, scientists are able to detect the different cycles of brain-cell oscillations by measuring electricity output levels in different areas on the scalp. They've found that while all brainwaves are produced simultaneously, under certain conditions some brainwaves become more prominent and take the leading role.
Brainwaves in Daily Life
When you're relaxed or are sleeping your brain is producing the lowest measurable range of electrical pulses. This range can be divided into three types of electrical frequencies known as alpha (8-12 Hz), theta (3-8 Hz), and delta (.5-3 Hz) waves. Studies show that under these conditions, your body is able to regenerate and heal itself.
But as you wake up and begin your day, you start to engage in behavior, produce thoughts, and process feelings that increases the electrical buzz in your brain. This highest range of measurable elecrical frequencies can be divided into two types of brainwaves known as beta (12- 40 Hz) and gamma (40-100 Hz). While engaging in this range is necessary for our survival, remaining in it for long periods of time is linked various psycho-emotional and physical health problems, especially if a person cannot switch back to a more balanced state of brain activity that engenders relaxation and healing.
Meditation Promotes Health and Healing
One of the best ways to rebalance brainwave activity and promote relaxation and restful sleep is through meditation.
Studies show that during meditation, brainwaves shift from the alert and waking states of beta and gamma wave activity, to the more relaxed, calm and healing states of alpha, theta and delta. More advanced meditation practices can also shift brainwaves into a higher state of gamma wave activity, which can open up the doors to higher levels of healing.
Alpha & Theta Waves in Meditation
The most common brainwaves measured during meditation are alpha and theta waves. These brainwaves are linked to changes in the autonomic nervous system that help you relax and adapt to stress by lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Alpha and theta waves are also linked to a reduction in the amount of stress hormones in the body that not only calm the mind but also help minimize excessive weight gain (ie cortisol).
These brainwaves also are linked with a reduction in pain (release of endorphins) and anxiety, and feelings of euphoria. And they are also linked to changes in metacognition related to attitudes, behavior, emotional responses, and physical disease.
Delta Waves in Meditation
Some experienced practitioners are able to engage in delta brainwave activity during meditation. This is the slowest of all five brainwave frequencies and it plays a vital role in health and well being.
When engaged in delta wave activity during meditation, the immune system is activated and the body is able to regenerate itself and promote self-healing.
When in delta, the body also releases human growth hormone (HGH), which enahances deep sleep for healing and regeneration.
Delta waves are also linked to the subconscious and unconscious mind, the seat from where emotional and behavioral habits can be reprogrammed.
But too much delta brain wave activity during meditation can induce sleeping, which is not what meditation is intended to do.
Gamma Waves in Meditation
Finally, gamma brain waves are also common during meditation, serving as a bridge to a higher spiritual connection for deeper healing.
But these states of meditation are difficult to sustain and generally are only consistently experienced by advanced practitioners.
In advanced practitioners, gamma waves are linked with feelings of decreased anxiety and fear, positive emotions, a decrease in depressive feelings or symptoms, and instantaneous healing.
Getting Started With Meditation
Meditation is a powerful mental training exercise with many health benefits beyond calming the mind and relaxing the body. While there are many different types of exercises and methods designed to accomplish various goals, getting started with meditation and beginning to enjoy its many health benefits is fairly easy and can be done by just about anyone who is willing to try.
Below are a few simple guidelines to help you get started. Keep in mind that while the following method is for beginners and may seem simple to get started with, don't underestimate it. It is a very powerful and effective technique that will take time to master as you deepen your practice. The upside with learning this particular method as a beginner is that it forms the basic building block of many other types of meditation, so it can be used on its own either as a stand-alone long-term method, or as a springboard into more advanced levels of meditation.
Guidelines for Basic Meditation
- Try to meditate either early in the morning or late at night
- Minimize distractions; turn phone, tv, and lights off, put the dog out, etc
- Start by placing the tip of your tongue to the palate or roof of the inside of your mouth, just behind the back of the top row of your teeth
- Inhale 10 deep, slow and long breaths through your nose; breathe in and out through your nose as slowly and quietly as possible
- Concentrate on breathing from the diaphragm; focus on the action of the breath slowly and deeply entering and leaving your body
- If thoughts or emotions arise do not try to control nor analyze them, nor allow your mind to wander; simply allow these to happen and acknowledge them, then return your mind's focus back on your breathing
- If you lose count of your breath, start back at 1 and try again until you can focus entirely on your breathing for 10 continuous breaths without being interrupted by any thoughts or emotions
- When you can breathe 10 breaths without being interrupted by your thoughts or emotions, stop and wrap it up for the day
- Repeat this same practice for 7 straight days
- After successfully practicing this method for 7 straight days, add 10 more breaths to your daily practice as described above and repeat for 7 more days, and so on
You will likely not need much time at first. But as you continue your practice it may be helpful to also use a timer to help you keep track of time. But the idea is that you focus on building up the number of uninterrupted breaths you can take, not the amount of time you spend meditating (or trying).