Cycles of electrical impulses, which create a wave, are measured in Hertz(cycles per second), and are commonly called brainwaves, and less commonly called neural oscillations. Brainwaves differ in speed and amplitude. Brainwaves change according to what we are doing–moving, feeling–and how engaged we are in our moving and feeling(consciousness and alertness). Brain activity is a combination of our brainwave types, it’s just that depending on what we are doing one of the brainwaves presents more dominance over the others for that activity.
One of the ways we categorize brain activity is by the five different types of brainwaves, ranging from low to high frequency, as shown in the table above. In case that print is very-too-small, below are states of activity associated with each brainwave type:
- Delta brain waves(.5 - 4Hz) are the slowest brain waves. They are generated in deep meditation and dreamless sleep. Healing and regeneration also occur when the brain is in this state.
- Theta brain waves(4 - 8Hz) also occur in sleep and during relaxation. They are indicative of an inner focus, and dreams and vivid imagery occur in this state.
- Alpha brain waves(8 - 13 Hz) occur during quiet, thoughtful times. Alpha waves indicate that the brain is in a resting state.
- Beta brain waves(13 - 32Hz) are the most common pattern in the normal waking state. They occur when one is alert and focused on problem solving.
- Gamma brain waves(32 - 100Hz) are the fastest and are associated with higher levels of consciousness.
To understand the modes of operation of these cycles, and how I can exert influence on the frequency and amplitude of my brainwaves, seems damn near like a superpower–if…it’s done with agile responsiveness. Like many of us, I can sense relaxation and alertness. It’s a basic Alpha/Beta game, I can sense those 2 states. I can also list behaviors that create the feeling of relaxation in my body and those that make me more alert to my surroundings.
I believe this is important because just as the brainwave corresponds to an activity, the activity brings about the brainwave. Yet another example of how training your body is always a conversation in how behavior influences chemistry. What we can do to understand and influence our training is powerful, as it is also what we do to influence our body chemistry, and by extension our homeostasis. For example, I have long used a music recording, subtitled a Theta Healing Session, for relaxation. I find that this track has a sedative influence on my body. I often use this track as a reward to down-shift from a high energy lifting session(a lifter's nod to the savasana pose/behavior from yoga). I can also use this track to disrupt my nerves if they start to key up over going to get a filling(love my dentist…not such a fan of the drill). Getting a filling, while feeling tight in my body everywhere, jaw/low back/neck, stinks. So I use the Theta Healing Session track to drop my system, so to speak, and soften all the states of my body, and then everything stinks a lot less. Likewise I don’t have headaches and teeth sensitivity, post filling, as a result of moving into a more relaxed operating system prior to the drilling. I don’t know that the ‘Theta’ in the Theta Healing Session, is tuning my brain to regulate more from Theta, what I do believe is that I am relaxed.
Now, would I like to know if that Theta Healing Session track drives my brain to operate from Theta…sure that sounds kinda cool, but that’s not my goal exactly. Medicine’s microscope, in the case of the brainwave function and influence on homeostasis, may be useful to us when we notice that elements of our operating system need help. Restful sleep, better energy, clear thinking, stable or elevated mood, if we know roughly which brainwave these elements benefit from, and we have some education around what promotes and what inhibits that state of mind, then my hope is that we hold more agency over our own ability to live well.
In the coming months I look forward to exploring more of how we understand the brain states of activity and their respective influences around aspects of homeostasis. To myself and my coworkers, the body is one heck of a fabulous playground, so we will explore some of the behavioral opportunities that influence our brainwaves and we’ll get to playing!
In robust health,