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Breathwork and Brainwaves

By | Blog

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!

Practicing Breathwork. Honoring Ancient Practices

By | Blog

Many people know that I am a yogi. I was initiated and given the name Guchu Ram Singh in August of 1980 by the legendary Haidakhan Babaji. He is known as the Immortal Yogi Christ of India and is written about in the classic book, “Autobiography of a Yogi.” He was Pramahansa Yogananda’s guru’s guru’s guru.

And so, I am blessed to be part of an ancient living lineage. I’m a bonified, card carrying practicing yogi even though I no longer shave my head and I haven’t worn robes or carried prayer beads around with me for many years. You could say I am a western yogi, or a yogi in disguise.

I am definitely a rebellious yogi—innovative, creative, unconventional, and often irreverent. I believe we shouldn’t be putting new wine in old bottles… or is it old wine in new bottles? Anyway… We live in uniquely new times, so we need new and unique methods and techniques.

I have never been able to sit in the full lotus position and I have no intention of ever mastering that pose or any of the other pretzel positions. My focus has always been on the essence, the ultimate aim, and the original purpose of yoga.

I know too many people who have practiced hatha yoga for many years, and they can get into a hundred difficult and complicated poses. I have to admit they are very flexible, they have great posture and they look really good in stretch pants and tight shirts, but their consciousness hasn’t evolved one iota, and they are no closer to enlightenment, liberation, self-realization, or God for that matter, than they were when they rolled out their yoga mat for the first time.

That being said, it’s a good idea to keep your back straight or to imagine lengthening your spine while you breathe. And there are some ancient pranayama practices that deserve our attention and respect because they are simple yet powerful, they are tried and true. They have remarkable benefits.

We are all living through a very challenging time. You could call it a global health crisis or even a spiritual crisis. To navigate these difficult times, we need to be especially conscious and aware, relaxed and calm, as well as energized and resilient. In other words, it’s a good time to practice breathwork!

In times like these, it’s always a good idea focus on the basics of breathwork. And so, I invite you to practice six of my favorite pranayama exercises. They each have their own ancient Sanskrit name, but what you call them is nowhere near as important as the health benefits they bring.

If you want to be healthy and strong, clear and calm, you will want to master the following yogic breathing exercises.

Sama Vritti Pranayama. This is a very simple practice. Make your inhales and your exhales equal in length. For example, breathe in for a count of 4 and breathe out for a count of 4. Or practice a 3-3, or a 5-5, or a 6-6 count. Start with a pattern you can comfortably manage. Slow and relaxed, smooth and steady are the keys. This practice has a calming effect on your heart rate and for many it is a good way to deal with stress and confusion, anxiety and panic attacks.

Ujjayi Pranayama involves contracting your throat a bit as you breathe in and out to create a scratchy sound, just this side of snoring. I call it the Darth Vader breath. It also reminds me of the sound you get when you put a large seashell close to your ear. This practice helps you to focus on breathing and it also stimulates the vagus nerve. Some people use it to help manage their emotions.

Nadi Shodhana is what you might call ‘alternate nostril breathing’. Start by breathing out thru one nostril while blocking the other, then breathing in thru the other while blocking the one. Alternately closing and opening each nostril using your thumb and ring finger of either hand. Keep switching back and forth like this for about five minutes, or as long as comfortable to fuel, balance and harmonize your mind and body, your left and right brain.

Kapalabhati Pranayama is also called the ‘breath of fire’. It’s a great way to clean and charge your respiratory system, your nervous system, your cardio-vascular system, as well as your immune system. It’s perfect for warding off mental fogginess, general fatigue, as well as physical illness. Sit up straight. Breathe thru the nose. Contract your belly to quickly and forcefully exhale a short burst of breath and let the inhale be quick and reflexive. Breathe as fast as you can comfortably manage. You only need do it for a minute or two to feel the powerful benefits.

Savitri Pranayama is very similar to what is called “box breathing.” It is used to focus the mind and body and to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold. Use a 3-3-3-3 count, a 4-4-4-4 count, or a 5-5-5-5 count. Practice for about five minutes to trigger the health benefits. This technique helps build lung capacity and it can relieve stress. It is used by elite military forces, first responders and corporate executives to prepare for important or stressful events or activities.

Mahat Yoga Pranayama is what you might call the full yogic breath. The idea is to smoothly fill all three breathing spaces, starting with the lower space (from the perineum to the belly button), then the middle space (from the belly button to the nipple line), then the upper space, from the nipple line to the chin). It’s like filling a glass of water: it fills from the bottom up. This exercise helps develop great breath control and it has many fantastic health benefits.

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