How Mindfulness Shifts our Brains

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

Intuitively, you may already be aware that our brains are capable of operating in different 'states.' You may also know through meditative practices that we can shift our 'state' of awareness. But what is the science behind this? Let's explore...

First, it's important to understand that the term "frequency" merely explains the rate at which our brain waves (electric currents) are being produced. A low frequency state produces fewer brain waves over a period of time. A high frequency state emits more waves over the same period of time. We use Hertz (Hz) as a unit of measurement for frequency. 1 Hz is equal to 1 cycle of electric impulse per second.

Let's take a look at the varying frequencies at which our brains can operate:

Delta (0.5-4 Hz): This is a frequency of deep and dreamless sleep. Monks who have decades of practice may be able to attain this state through meditation.

Theta (4-8 Hz): At this frequency, we are no longer thinking in language, but open to visualization. In this state, we are experiencing deep relaxation and a greater capacity for subconscious problem-solving. We are inwardly-focused in a state of 'receiving'-- we are connected to intuition. This state is attributed to the Third Eye Chakra in yoga practice. Theta waves are naturally experiences in REM, or light, sleep.

Alpha (8-12 Hz): This is the state where we begin to shift out of our 'thinking' mind, a.k.a. "monkey mind." We passively attend to our external environment in a peaceful and calm manner. We can achieve this state after sustained physical activity, such as a vinyasa yoga flow, a long hike, or pleasurable sexual activity, and begin to relax into a more restful state.

Beta (12-35 Hz): Beta is where we spend the majority of our waking life. Our prefrontal cortex (thinking area of the brain) is fully engaged in analysis of the external world. We are alert, attentive, focused, and perhaps even anxious (at the higher range of the frequency). In this state, we may become affixed to thought patterns that do not serve us well. We begin our mindfulness practice in this state to identify repetitive thought patterns. We can begin to consciously 'reframe' or 'redirect' into more positive and affirming thoughts.

Gamma (35-100 Hz): This state is achieved when we are deeply concentrating while highly aroused. It is a state of "active learning." We can use this state to retain new information. It is even utilized by life coaches and teachers to help their students retain and engrain new experiences (mindset shifts). But if we fail to shift out of this state appropriately, it causes stress and anxiety.

How mindful practice enriches our lives:

Meditation is a useful tool for shifting our brain frequencies from higher levels associated with stress and anxiety to lower levels associated with peace and inner focus.

There are benefits to each of the brain states, and an optimally-trained brain utilizes them appropriately and seamlessly shifts according to the demands of our environment/context.

We can consciously practice mindfulness techniques to train these states of mind. For the majority of people, moving from Beta (outwardly focused) to Alpha and Theta states (inwardly focused) can be difficult. But with practice and time, it gets easier to achieve the states we desire.

Regular practice helps us achieve a greater sense of inner peace and calm through stressful situations that inevitably present themselves in daily life.

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