The human brain is a complex entity constantly at work, sending electrical signals, communicating, building new neural connections and so on. This electrical activity generated by the brain, also known as brainwaves, reflect our state of mind. Reality is not based on outside influences but is an internal process based on our thoughts, perception and emotions.
If we deepen our understanding of these brainwave frequencies, we can better understand our reality.
Brainwaves are the result of the brain’s electrical activity. Our brains emit continuously in various frequency bands from sleep to full wakefulness. All the sounds we hear every day emit a specific frequency (eg cars, birds, water flow) and generate an electrical response in the brain. When we hear a sound for some time our brain is tuned to it.
Our brain is made up of billions of brain cells called neurons, which use electricity to communicate with each other. The combination of millions of neurons sending signals at once produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in the brain, which can be detected using sensitive medical equipment (such as an EEG), measuring electricity levels over areas of the scalp. The combination of electrical activity of the brain is commonly called a brainwave pattern, because of its cyclic, “wave-like” nature.
With the discovery of brainwaves came the discovery that electrical activity in the brain will change depending on what the person is doing. For instance, the brainwaves of a sleeping person are vastly different than the brainwaves of someone wide awake. Over the years, more sensitive equipment has brought us closer to figuring out exactly what brainwaves represent and with that, what they mean about a person’s health and state of mind.
Humans have 5 different types of brainwave – Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta and Gamma, that take us to different levels of consciousness. Each occur at a specific frequency or pattern.
It is completely a natural biological occurrence in every human being to experience these different states at various times in a day, and generally one state is dominant.
Did you know that each brainwave has its own set of characteristics representing a unique state of consciousness? Each brainwave state occur in a specific frequency range measured in cycles per second (Hz).
Each type of brainwave played a critical role in our mental development during our childhood. And today, they play an important role in maintaining our health and vitality as adults. Lets take a look at the different brain wave states and the associated benefits and experiences.
Bands and their associated mental states
Gamma (27 Hz and up)
Gamma is associated with the formation of ideas, language and memory processing, and various types of learning. Gamma waves have been shown to disappear during deep sleep induced by anaesthesia, but return with the transition back to a wakeful state.
The Gamma brainwave is the fastest frequency at which the brain functions, where an individual can experience bursts of insight or high-level information processing. Experiments on Tibetan Buddhist monks have shown a correlation between transcendental mental states and gamma waves. When the monks were asked to generate feelings of compassion, their brain activity went into gamma frequency in a rhythmic, coherent manner. It is the state of being “in the Zone,” the feeling that you can do anything.
Beta (12 to 27 Hz)
Wide awake. This is generally the mental state most people are in during the day and most of their waking lives. Usually, this state in itself is uneventful, but don’t underestimate its importance. Many people lack sufficient beta activity, which can cause mental or emotional disorders such as depression and ADD and insomnia. And low SMR production (a sub-range of beta at 12-15hz) may be related to insomnia. Stimulating beta activity can improve emotional stability, energy levels, attentiveness and concentration.
Beta are the brainwaves of our normal waking consciousness. It is associated with a heightened state of alertness, logical thinking, problem-solving ability, concentration, when the mind is actively engaged in mental activities. Like a person in active conversation, playing sports or making a presentation would be in a Beta state. But higher Beta levels also result into stress, anxiety and restlessness.
Most people spend their waking lives in a beta state, no wonder many people experience high stress levels in today’s world. At the same time Beta is required for effective functioning in daily life.
Alpha (8 to 12 Hz)
Awake but relaxed and not processing much information. When you get up in the morning and just before sleep, you are naturally in this state. When you close your eyes your brain automatically starts producing more alpha waves. Many studies monitoring the EEG activity of experienced meditators have revealed strong increases in alpha activity. Alpha activity has also been connected to the ability to recall memories, lessened discomfort and pain, and reductions in stress and anxiety.
Alpha brainwaves are slower in frequency as compared to Beta, which translates to a highly relaxed state of awareness. It is a normal brainwave pattern in people who are naturally relaxed and creative. Like you are daydreaming, or even when one close their eyes and meditate, this frequency enhances your imagination, memory, concentration, creativity, reduces stress so you can focus on learning and performance.
Sound therapy through the vibratory properties of singing bowls and gong results in increase in alpha waves, many meditation and energy healing techniques utilize an alpha brain wave for relaxation and healing. Children tend to have much higher levels of alpha brainwaves than adults.
Alpha brainwaves are considered the healthiest brainwave range and 10 Hz has widely been accepted as the “safest” brainwave frequency to train.
Theta (3 to 8 Hz)
Light sleep or extreme relaxation. Theta is also a very receptive mental state that has proven useful for hypnotherapy, as well as self-hypnosis using recorded affirmations and suggestions.
Theta brainwave occur during sound therapy, deep relaxation, meditation, light sleep or lucid dreaming including the REM dream state. It is the realm of your sub-consciousness, where the mind is capable of profound insight, advanced intuition, healing, and oneness – in Theta state our minds can connect to the universe and manifest life-enhancing changes.
You can also experience vivid visualizations, great inspiration and profound creativity. The lower the brain frequency the faster the learning. Sound therapy, meditation or yoga is credited as being so relaxing because they induce the mind in a trance like state where it starts generating theta waves. People tend to have metaphysical experiences when their brain is full of theta brainwaves.
Most children and teenagers have dominant theta brainwave patterns.
Delta (0.2 to 3 Hz)
Deep, dreamless sleep. Delta is the slowest band of brainwaves. When your dominant brainwave is delta, your body is healing itself and “resetting” its internal clocks. You do not dream in this state and are completely unconscious.
Delta waves are the slowest in frequency but are the highest in amplitude. Observed in deep, dreamless sleep, this frequency is the gateway to the universal mind and the collective unconscious, where information received is otherwise unavailable at the conscious level.
Delta brainwave states have long been associated with healing, because deep sleep is necessary for regeneration and for your body’s self-healing mechanisms! Delta waves in sound journey or meditation are said to help experienced practitioners access the unconscious mind. It is a dominant brainwave of infants (birth to 24 months) and even adults in deep sleep.
Altering Brainwave states
All of us experience these brainwave frequencies at different times every day, which take us to different levels of consciousness. Like when you are awake you are in a different brainwave state as compared to when you are sleeping. You can alter your brainwave pattern in order to reach a desired level of consciousness. For example if you can’t get sleep at night when you feel stressed, you can synchronize your brainwave into the frequency that corresponds to sleep using sound.
This technique of synchronizing your brainwave frequencies to an external audio stimuli is known as Brainwave Entrainment. As this process is continued for sometime, the brainwave is tuned to the frequency of external sound and thus achieve the particular frequency level of that sound (alpha, theta or delta).
The Significance of Brainwaves
You can tell a lot about a person simply by observing their brainwave patterns. For example, anxious people tend to produce an overabundance of high beta waves while people with ADD/ADHD tend to produce an overabundance of slower alpha/theta brainwaves. Researchers have found that not only are brainwaves representative of mental state, but they can be stimulated to change a person’s mental state, and this in turn can help with a variety of mental issues.