I am in no way an expert on the brain, but I have done quite a bit of personal study and experimenting in American and Russian bio-feedback labs in the 80’s and 90’s. And through study and practice, observations and discussions, I’ve learned some very interesting things about breathwork and brainwave activity.
Throughout our nights and days, we cycle through a range of brainwave states. These cycles regulate our sleeping and waking rhythms, and they reflect our changing experiences and states of being. They come down to these five frequencies: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Theta.
We all have the ability to deliberately generate certain brainwaves to achieve certain results. For example, we can employ certain frequencies to help us to relax or to deepen our sleep. We can use certain frequencies to increase our creative energy, improve our memory and improve our performance in sports, business, and the arts.
There are a number of ways we can trigger or induce different brainwaves or to shift into different states. And one of the easiest and most direct ways to influence our brain is through conscious or intentional breathing.
Beta waves (12-17 Hz) tend to dominate during most of our everyday lives. We spend most of our time generating beta waves when we are involved in everyday activities, for example, thinking, paying attention, making decisions, or solving problems.
Beta waves are associated with left brain activity and goal oriented analytical thinking. They also occur when we are tense, anxious, afraid or agitated, and when we are stressing out, obsessing over something, or when we are hyper-reactive.
Beta is a perfect state for accomplishing tasks and escaping danger. But beta waves are also linked to anxiety states and the inability to relax. And they can be artificially stimulated with coffee and “energy” drinks.
Alpha waves (8-12 Hz) occur when we are relaxed and reflective or grounded in present moment awareness. Our brain produces alpha waves when we are alert and relaxed but not thinking. Alpha activity is linked to low stress and low anxiety states. Alpha activity accompanies comfort and pleasure, and alpha waves are also connected to memory enhancement.
Alpha waves dominate when we are awake but relaxed. They are linked to right brain emotional intelligence, and calm, lucid, non-thinking states. And they are often accompanied by tranquil floating feelings. Alpha waves tend to lift depression, and depression seems to interfere with alpha waves.
Boosting alpha waves boosts our creativity. Meditation triggers alpha waves. In fact, by simply closing your eyes, you begin to produce more alpha waves. Slow deep breathing boosts alpha waves to help us reduce stress and anxiety.
Breathing slowly through the nose causes nerves in the nose to shift into a slower rhythm, which then triggers important parts of the brain to slow down. Extending the exhale increases both theta and alpha waves. And so, the 1-2 breath (making your exhale twice as long as your inhale) is a pretty good practice.
Theta waves (3-8 Hz) are generated when we are very relaxed, open, and receptive. Theta waves occur in deep meditation and deep sleep, when we go beyond our normal conscious awareness. Theta frequencies are associated with deep intuitive insights, and those wonderful “ah ha” moments.
The right hemisphere of the brain is generally more active when we are in theta states. Theta waves relate to hypnotic or subconscious states. They are associated with spontaneous healing and spiritual connections, vivid dreams, deep raw emotional and intuitive states. They are present when we access information beyond normal consciousness.
In lab testing in Russia and the USA, I learned that we increase alpha power after five minutes of Conscious Connected Breathing. And after 15 to 20 minutes, our theta power increases. No wonder that the original Rebirthing Center in San Francisco was called “Theta House.”
The brain is very receptive to suggestions during theta activity, and theta waves are linked to hypnotic or subconscious states. That’s why affirmations and guided imagery are such powerful aspects of Breathwork.
Delta waves (2-3 Hz) are the slowest of brain waves. They occur mostly when we are in deep dreamless sleep, or when we lose body awareness. Breathwork often takes us into these deep dreamless sleep states where we produce very slow delta brainwaves. And studies show that healing and regeneration are stimulated when the brain is in the delta state.
Delta waves are associated with detached awareness, and access to the collective unconscious. And growth hormones are released during delta states. Delta waves are absent when healthy adults are in a waking state, but they are very common when children are in the waking state.
Gamma waves (27 Hz and above) are the fastest of the five, and they are associated with states of expanded consciousness and heightened perception. They are connected to the kind of hyper-focused self-awareness and total concentration linked to high performance flow states as well as mystical insights.
Gamma waves are considered to be the brain’s optimal frequency. They bind our senses of perception. Gamma waves are very weak in normal adults, but they are very common in Buddhist meditators, martial art masters, and compassionate mystics. Gamma waves seem to resonate with spiritual beings and ascended masters.
When our brain vibrates at gamma frequencies, we have rapid and vivid memory recall, with sharp and clear moment to moment focus. Gamma waves support self-control and compassion, and they are associated with the flow state, being in the zone. Oh, and by the way, whales and dolphins operate in this frequency range.
Brain waves are contagious. They are actually catchy. And so, it’s a good idea to choose your company wisely. Be sure to hang out in person or virtually with high frequency, loving, compassionate, creative people, to soak up their vibes!
There are many cool high-tech wearables and devices we can play with that make use of sound, light, energy and vibration to help us synchronize with various brainwave states. High nutritional superfoods can also help to raise our vibrational frequencies.
So, there you have it: some musings on breathwork and brainwaves! I am crazy about this stuff, so I hope you will share any ideas or information that you find on this fascinating topic.
Good luck in your practice, and many blessings on your path!