Biofeedback and Meditation
Biofeedback can help with meditation in a big way because it allows us to be in the present moment, in a tensionless state.
Biofeedback is primarily concerned with the calibrating and the recording of the electrical waves emitted from the brain. These waves, or brain rhythms, vary in their repetitiveness, intensity, and extent from one person to another and from one individual’s state of mind to the next. The Mental Health in Family Medicine journal defines biofeedback as ‘a mind-body technique in which individuals learn how to modify their physiology for the purpose of improving physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health’.
But how exactly does the brain emit waves or rhythms? Let’s start at the beginning. The brain consists of billions of neurons, also known as nerve cells, which connect with each other as well as with other cells. Each neuron is made up of a body, an axon which is a nerve fibre that resembles the root of a plant, and several dendrites which are similar to the branches of a tree. The way these neurons communicate is via nerve pulses that continually move back and forth along intricate circuits. Each neuron takes in nerve impulses from other neurons through the axon, while sending nerve impulses via the dendrites which attach themselves to axons of neighbouring neurons. Yet a neuron can only transmit impulses when the electrical charge within it builds up to a specific level, after which the electrical signal is converted into a chemical one in the form of a nerve impulse. It is these impulses which give off brainwaves.
Yet these are all involuntary actions which you are not in direct control of, unlike, for example, your ability to walk and talk. But what if you could control your heart rate, skin temperature, and even your brain rhythms? Biofeedback does just that by helping you become aware of just how powerful your own mind is. It also teaches you how you can control these waves to achieve a calmer, relaxed state. Biofeedback is used to treat conditions such as anxiety, migraines, high blood pressure, incontinence, and chronic pain just to name a few.
There have been questions raised regarding the difference between the waves emitted during meditation and the state of hypnosis. Experts agree that there are no similarities between the two simply because with hypnosis, the waves emitted take on the pattern suggested by the hypnotist. These waves are distinctive of our normal, conscious state which is referred to as beta waves or emissions.
During meditation, on the other hand, there are various states of minds one can enter and each emits certain brain rhythms with varying amplitudes and frequencies. Biofeedback can help with meditation in a big way because it allows you to be in the present moment in a tensionless state. It helps calm you down, while providing you with stability and lucidity. It boosts the effectiveness of the meditation session. Both techniques on their own, but more so when combined, are extremely efficient when it comes to stress reduction which means less inflammation and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Researchers have discovered that there are 4 basic types of brain waves; beta, alpha, theta and delta. They are classified according to the relationship which exists between the repetitiveness, intensity, and extent of the brain waves and the state of the individual.
The first type are the most researched and best understood; the Beta waves. Beta waves are emitted during normal, waking hours when we are going about our external activities. They also exist when we are using our sense, thinking rationally, and even when we are anxious and tense. They are characterised as having low intensity and a high frequency rate of about 18 cycles/second.
The second type are the Alpha waves which are emitted during relaxed states, such as meditation and sleep when the senses and the rational, thinking mind are resting and one is in an inactive state. Interestingly enough, alpha waves are also emitted abundantly during times of creativity. These waves have frequencies which can range from 8 - 13 cycles/second
The third wave, Theta, is one of the most controversial because it is emitted in abundance during deep sleep as well as deep meditative states. They come about when notions and concepts buried deep within the unconscious mind rise up to our conscious state of awareness. Scientists believe that children up until the age of 7 emit Theta waves a great deal more than adults because they are constantly in a highly creative and observant stage. The frequency range of these waves range from 4 - 7 cycles/second.
The fourth, Delta waves, are the least known of the 4 brain waves. They have the highest amplitudes, but emit the lowest of frequencies; below 4 cycles/second. It has been associated with deep, dreamless states of sleep where there is a high responsiveness to learning. Studies show that individuals who play audio recordings during their sleep can absorb the information they listened because it goes past the sensory organs and goes straight into the unconscious mind.
Each type of brain wave has a certain pattern which can be distinguished by an electroencephalograph (EEG) which is an electrical amplifier system that identifies electrical activities taking place within the brain with the help of electrodes attached to the side of the head. The patterns are put in writing on a graph via a pen-recorder which specifies straightaway which type of wave is being emitted.