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Brain Waves – Where do we go when we Meditate?

Brain Waves – we are big fans on the topic of sleep for all things regarding our health and wellness, we sleep a third of our life and constantly rave about why we need it, but recently at HQ we wondered – where do we go when we meditate? Do we transcend into altered states and varying brain waves? Is this part of the reason that meditation can be so beneficial for us? 

Brain Wave Basics 

When we talk about the states of sleep we are referring to the different levels of consciousness and our respective brain waves when we are in them. There are 5 main levels of brain waves: 

  • Alpha. 
  • Beta. 
  • Theta.
  • Gamma. 
  • Delta. 

Depending on the functioning wave we are at depends on what coincides functionally in the body. What do we mean by this? Let’s break the waves down a little further before we dig into where we go when we are ‘meditating’ to paint a clearer picture. 

What are ‘Brain Waves’? 

Brain waves occur and can be measured by that of the frequency at which they function in the body. Each brain wave has a corresponding ‘frequency’ measured the same as any other frequency – in hertz. Our brain is an electrical impulse machine, constantly firing away, and depending on the task at hand may be heightened or slowed for best performance. Waves are often deemed as a ‘continuous spectrum of consciousness’ never stopping completely, only altering for efficacy means. 

From slow, loud and functional – to that of fast, subtle, and complex. They are what I like to deem ‘the symphony of consciousness’ just as sound frequency is measured in hertz, these impulses can also be placed on this same energetic measure. With regards to brain waves, they are measured in ‘cycles per second’ and then divided up into ‘bands’ widths spanning across slow, moderate, and fast waves. 

Is there a ‘6th Form’ of Brain Waves? 

There is a subform that is so low, very little is actually known about it, and this is called ‘infra-low’[1]. This is because they are so low it’s almost impossible to be able to detect them with the current technology we have available. They are measuring in at just 0.5hz which is insanely low. Their function from what we do know currently is that they are basic baseline cortical rhythms that underlie all of our higher brain function as they appear to be involved intimately in overall function and timing. Once we have the capacity to delve into infra-low, we will undoubtedly understand to what extent their role is in the function of our brains. 

Delta Wave (ranging from 0.5-3hz)

Delta waves are generated in the deepest state of sleep, there is a block out and suspended state to any external stimuli coming in. This is where we go when we delve into the deep sleep cycle of regeneration and repair. 

Theta Wave (ranging from 3-8hz)

This is our general state of sleep and in the REM (rapid eye movement stage), memory consolidation occurs in this brain state. Vivid dreaming happens in this state, visual recall is most active and the body is deprived of external stimuli as the body is usually in a paralyzed state during the REM stage of sleep. 

Alpha Wave (ranging from 6-12hz)

Alpha waves are where we generally reside when we are calm but feeling alert, we have coordination, learning, taking in information, and can quickly respond if required but is generally the state of being in mind and body and also present. We usually respond to stress and return back here, our resilience state.  

Beta Wave (ranging from 12-38hz)

Beta waves are when we are in a state of paying attention, engaged, and quickly taking in and responding to information. Often residing in this state when we are finding solutions to problems and decision making. Within this state, we can have states of anxiety/excitement, high concentration, and problem-solving and intense focus, and engagement of the brain. It consumes huge amounts of energy to be in this state for long periods of time and often why we can become fatigued or distracted after long periods of intense focus. It’s not the preferred state for us to be in. 

Gamma Wave (ranging from 38-42hz)

Gamma is so high and fast that initially it was not recognized as a wave but rather ‘spare noise’ is how it was termed. It is very rare for the brain to be in this state, it is the state of a function where the brain simultaneously processes across various areas of the brain. 

So, where do we go when we meditate?

Meditation and the definitions of it are varied – it is not defined by sitting with your legs crossed, chanting with hands rested upon your knees with your eyes closed. Meditation can be that if you choose and that works for you, but meditation can be whatever brings you a state of calm and presence with the now. Less past, no worry of the future – a state of balanced calm, whatever this is for you that brings your rhythms to a place of being. 

You may find that often you are still aware of your surroundings but are not highly functioning alert and anxious so you can roll between that of alpha and theta depending on your ability.

Brain Waves – Study of a Monk’s Mind

In eastern studies conducted on the brain waves of Buddhist monks, they were so capable of manipulating their brain state that they were found to be in a state of gamma waves during their practice which is extremely rare to have full consolidation of wave states and full access across the brain simultaneously.

In one study conducted across various monks, they not only found that their state of mental signaling was that of around 700-800 times higher than baseline during meditation – they all reached this gamma state in less than a minute into their compassion meditation and were even able to maintain this level of frequency during baseline operation of everyday interaction and function which was formerly thought impossible to have this state of neural integration at this level. [1] Interestingly with the gamma waves – there are two sub-bands to this wave. Low gamma waves are associated with learning difficulties, poor memory, and concentration. While high band gamma waves are linked with higher states of intellect, impeccable memory recall and are often very compassionate caring people.[2

Take home consensus on meditation states?

While you may not be able to sink into this epic state of mind in a minute, it does stand to suggest that meditation is best done with consistency for results that may lead to this. It is better to act on it and start then to not start at all, whatever meditation is for you. If it’s chanting and closing your eyes to sink into a state of calm, reading a book in a quiet place, yoga, or stretching your body. As long it centers you and feels balancing, you are taking time for self-care and that is the most important note to take home from this in our opinion. 

References: 

1. Watson B. O. (2018). Cognitive and Physiologic Impacts of the Infraslow Oscillation. Frontiers in systems neuroscience12, 44. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2018.00044