WHAT CAUSES THE CHANGE IN ELECTRICAL CHARGE IN NEURONS?
The changes in voltage are reflected by membrane ion channels or pumps opening, allowing the movement of ions into and out of neurons. Action potentials (neuron firing) result in calcium influx, which causes release of neurotransmitters, an activity that is involved in executive function: learning, memory, planning, and so on.
HOW ARE ELECTRICAL SIGNALS MEASURED IN THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (CNS)?
Neuroscientists have developed various electrophysiological techniques. Using a series of electrodes (probes), we can detect small changes in membrane voltage across a wide spatial resolution. We can measure activity from a single ion channel in one neuron, ion channels across a whole cell, interactions between small circuits of neurons numbering from 2-12 cells (using patch clamp recording), and large networks of neurons (using an EEG) (Brown University).
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT BRAIN FREQUENCIES?
Different brain regions are more active at different times and during certain activities, like meditation, sex, and sleep. This knowledge can help us understand why we seem more self-aware, creative, or confident in certain contexts. By choosing what to focus on, we control our brain states. The phrase “elevate your frequency” is a bit limiting, since every brain state is useful in certain quantities, and lower frequencies can be powerful for healing. Consciousness is an emergent property of the “collective behavior of widespread thalamocortical frontoparietal network connectivity” (Bruno, 2011).
THE BRAIN FREQUENCIES
GAMMA (30-100 HZ): IN-THE-ZONE PEAK PERFORMANCE
Present in: regular meditators and mindfulness practitioners, during dreaming, some types of Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist yoga
Expanded conscious awareness: heightened state of mind, enhanced perception
Logic and focus: language and memory processing
Flow and mental clarity: thought processes and perceptions unify into coherent picture
Heightened intuition: activation of the pineal gland, deep feelings of peace, compassion, joy, and oneness
Creative insight: ideal state in which to form new ideas, learn, and process and retain large amounts of information
Overactivity: presents as stress, anxiety, hyper-vigilance
Deficiency: presents as depression, inability to focus, poor memory
BETA STATE (13-30 HZ): MASS CONSCIOUSNESS
Default state: most waking hours spent here; fresh, awake, and full of natural energy; can be enhanced with caffeine
Alert and working: prefrontal cortex is active, focused, engaged in conversation, thinking, analyzing, planning, solving problems, or making decisions
Overactivity: stress, anxiety, the inner critic, ADD, restlessness, constant adrenaline, mental overdrive, struggle for survival
Deficiency: can show up as depression, poor cognition, insomnia; low energy levels, concentration, attentiveness, or emotional stability
ALPHA STATE (9-13 HZ): WAKEFUL BLISS, MEDITATIVE CONSCIOUSNESS
Present after: yoga, walk in the woods, great workout (especially cardio), good sex
Calm rest: physically and mentally relaxed, fully immersed in the moment, at peace, confident, lucid, and reflective, diffuse awareness
Stress relief: correlated with openness; decrease in anxiety, negative thoughts, and needless worry
Bridge between subconscious and conscious: awareness of subconscious activity. Present when drifting into light sleep, lucid dreaming; meditation; associated with heightened imagination, visualization
Cortex active: conducive to memory, learning, concentration, and information processing. Thought to emerge from interactions between thalamus and cortexreflecting rhythmic successions of EPSP (i.e., excitation) in the cortex.
Neutral integration: hemispheres are more balanced in activity
Overactivity: inability to focus on tasks/complete them, daydreamy, too laid back
Deficiency: too little shows up as OCD
THETA (4-8 HZ): UNIFIED CONSCIOUSNESS
Visualization and dreaming: dominant during deep meditation, deep relaxation, daydreaming, drowsiness, and light sleep, including REM sleep, dreaming, lucid dreaming
Profound insight: strongly correlated with bursts of creativity, inspiration, and vivid daydreams; capacity for complicated problem solving and abstract thought
Oneness with everything: associated with capacity for profound emotion, stronger intuition
Accessible subconscious: optimal range for visualization, mind programming; subconscious is more receptive to higher knowledge or affirmations
Overactivity: can manifest as impulsivity and hyperactivity
DELTA STATE (0.5-4 HZ): UNCONSCIOUS RECOVERY
Complete unawareness: the slowest of brain waves with the greatest amplitude, experienced in deep, Stage 4 (dreamless) sleep
Biological repair: body is healing, growing, restoring/repairing itself, releasing growth hormone, and resetting internal clocks (digestion, heartbeat)
Very deep meditation: Tibetan monks have reached this state while awake and alert
Rapid growth and development: babies and children experience delta states more frequently than adults
Overactivity: can manifest as learning difficulties, inability to focus or problem solve
Deficiency: manifests as sleep deprivation
1. Increases in frontal alpha/theta activity are demonstrated by experienced Zen meditators. Overall, meditation alters CNS electrophysiology.
2. Similar medications (SNRIs, SSRIs, ketamine) are prescribed for depression and anxiety, even though they manifest as different brain activity. Could account for ineffectiveness and why some people are “treatment-resistant” … the medications could be working nonspecifically in the whole brain, rather than targeting certain areas, like the hippocampus (depression) or amygdala (anxiety).
3. The states, in a phrase
Gamma = creative, intuitive flow
Beta = busy bee
Alpha = blissful, peaceful awareness
Theta = visualization and dreaming
Delta = unconscious recovery and growth
This post was originally published on January 5, 2019.