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Modulate your frequency: A quick guide to brain frequencies

Updated: Jul 19, 2023


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.

The most common ions found in neurons are potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride (in inhibitory neurons), and occasionally magnesium. Top = outside the cell, bottom = inside the cell

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).

Multi-cell patch clamp recording. Every electrode is recording activity from a different cell.

Conventional EEGs (electroencephalograms) are completely non-invasive.

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

Gamma frequencies involve expanded conscious awareness and heightened perception. It's also associated with intuition and creative insight. In gamma frequencies, you may experience pineal gland activation, deep feelings of peace, compassion, joy, and oneness.

This is also an ideal state in which to form new ideas, learn, and process and retain large amounts of information. From this state, people report mental clarity, vision, flow, logic, focus, coherent thought processes, language, and memory processing.

Hypervigilance creates gamma overactivity and depression creates gamma deficiency.

Access gamma frequencies by regularly meditating, activating your pineal gland, and practicing mindfulness or yoga. Gamma frequencies are present in regular meditators and mindfulness practitioners, during dreaming, and through some types of Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist yoga.

Beta State (13-30 Hz): Mass Consciousness

Thought of as the default state, most waking hours are spent here. In beta frequencies, you're fresh, awake, and full of natural energy. You're alert and working, and your prefrontal cortex is active: you're focused, engaged in conversation, thinking, analyzing, planning, solving problems, or making decisions. Beta helps you complete tasks.

Overactivity of beta frequencies can manifest as stress, perfectionism, restlessness, and a survival state of constant adrenaline. Conversely, beta frequency deficiency can appear as low energy levels, inattention, or neuroticism.

You can enhance beta frequencies with caffeine, stress reduction, getting sufficient sleep, and enhancing energy by going for a walk or exercising before working.

Alpha State (9-13 Hz): Wakeful Bliss, Meditative Consciousness

Alpha is a state of diffuse awareness and physical and mental relaxation that bridges the subconscious and conscious.

In this state, you're fully immersed in the moment, at peace, confident, lucid, and reflective. Alpha is correlated with openness and a decrease in anxiety and obsessive thoughts. Here, you're aware of your subconscious. This state is associated with heightened imagination and visualization. It's conducive to memory, learning, concentration, and information processing.

Alpha involves balanced hemispheric activity and is thought to emerge from interactions between thalamus and cortex, reflecting rhythmic successions of excitatory post-synaptic potentials (EPSPs) in the cortex.

Doing yoga, walking in the woods, working out (especially cardio), and having sex all precede alpha frequencies. Meditation, drifting into light sleep, and lucid dreaming also bring about this state.

Theta (4-8 Hz): Unified Consciousness

Have a complicated problem to solve? Theta can help with that. Strongly correlated with bursts of creativity, inspiration, and vivid daydreams, theta increases the capacity for abstract thought and profound insight. In theta frequencies, the subconscious is more receptive to higher knowledge, transformation and change through mental programming, and affirmations. Theta is also associated with a feeling of oneness with everything, stronger intuition, and a capacity for powerful emotion.

Overactivity can manifest as impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Bring about theta frequencies through deep meditation, visualization, affirmations, deep relaxation, daydreaming, or subconscious reprogramming. This state is also dominant during drowsiness and light sleep, including REM sleep, dreaming, and lucid dreaming.

Delta State (0.5-4 Hz): Unconscious Recovery

Delta is a state of complete unawareness, biological repair, and rapid growth and development. Delta are the slowest brain waves with the greatest amplitude, experienced in deep, dreamless, Stage 4 sleep. In this state, the body releases growth hormone and resets internal clocks, such as digestion and heartbeat. In fact, delta is associated with rapid growth and development. Babies and children experience delta states more frequently than adults.

Delta has also been achieved through very deep meditation. Tibetan monks have reached this state while awake and alert.

Enhance delta frequencies by getting good-quality sleep.

Note the EEGs have been qualitatively characterized, so frequency boundaries may vary.

Key Takeaways

  • Increases in frontal alpha/theta activity are demonstrated by experienced Zen meditators. Overall, meditation alters CNS electrophysiology.

  • Similar medications (SNRIs, SSRIs, ketamine) are prescribed for depression and anxiety, even though they manifest as different brain activity. This could account for inefficacy and treatment resistance in some patients. The medications could be working nonspecifically in the whole brain, rather than targeting certain areas, like the hippocampus (depression) or amygdala (anxiety).

  • The states, in a word:

    • Gamma: flow (whooosh)

    • Beta: work (hmm)

    • Alpha: bliss (ahhh)

    • Theta: ideas (Eureka!)

    • Delta: sleep (Zzz)

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