As yogis have known for centuries and scientists can now prove, the benefits of meditation are profound. Meditation is perhaps the most crucial instrument to harness the power of thought, cultivate more peace, clarity and happiness.
Learning to train the brain and focus our attention is crucial to thriving and cultivating a peak performance in any endeavor.
Longtime psychotherapist Dr. Ron Alexander, author of Wise Mind, Open Mind, speaks of mind strength, or the resiliency, efficacy and emotional intelligence that arise as we begin the process of controlling the mind. Mind strength is one of the most empowering tools we can employ to impact and improve all aspects of life.
There are five major categories of brain waves, each corresponding to different activities. Meditation enables us to move from higher frequency brain waves to lower frequency, which activates different centers in the brain.
Slower wavelengths = more time between thoughts = more opportunity to skillfully choose which thoughts you invest in and what actions you take.
5 Categories of Brain Waves: Why Meditation Works
1. Gamma State: (30 — 100Hz) This is the state of hyperactivity and active learning. Gamma state is the most opportune time to retain information. This is why educators often have audiences jumping up and down or dancing around — to increase the likelihood of permanent assimilation of information. If over stimulated, it can lead to anxiety.
2. Beta State: (13 — 30Hz) Where we function for most of the day, Beta State is associated with the alert mind state of the prefrontal cortex. This is a state of the “working” or "thinking mind": analytical, planning, assessing and categorizing.
3. Alpha State: (9 — 13Hz) Brain waves start to slow down out of thinking mind. We feel more calm, peaceful and grounded. We often find ourselves in an “alpha state” after a yoga class, a walk in the woods, a pleasurable sexual encounter or during any activity that helps relax the body and mind. We are lucid, reflective, have a slightly diffused awareness. The hemispheres of the brain are more balanced (neural integration).
4. Theta State: (4 — 8Hz) We're able to begin meditation. This is the point where the verbal/thinking mind transitions to the meditative/visual mind. We begin to move from the planning mind to a deeper state of awareness (often felt as drowsy), with stronger intuition, more capacity for wholeness and complicated problem solving. The Theta state is associated with visualization.
5. Delta State: (1—3 Hz) Tibetan monks who have been meditating for decades can reach this in an alert, wakened phase, but most of us reach this final state during deep, dreamless sleep.
How to Meditate:
A simple meditation to use to begin the transition from Beta or Alpha to the Theta State is to focus on the breath. The breath and mind work in tandem, so as breath begins to lengthen, brain waves begin to slow down.
To begin the meditation, sit comfortably in your chair with your shoulders relaxed and spine tall. Place your hands mindfully on your lap, close your eyes, and as much as possible eliminate any stimuli that may distract you.
Watch your breath. Simply notice your breath flowing in. Flowing out. Don’t try to change it in any way. Just notice.
Silently repeat the mantra: “Breathing In. Breathing Out.” As your mind begins to wander, draw it back to your breath. Notice that as your breath begins to lengthen and fill your body, your mind begins to calm.
Consistency is key. Try to do this breath meditation first thing in the morning and/or at night. Be consistent with your meditation. Shorter meditations on a regular basis are more productive than long sessions every few weeks. Aim for 5 minutes a day and add 1 minute each week.