There are four brain wave patterns: beta, alpha, theta and delta. These waves are very much like ocean waves, with peaks and troughs.
Beta is where we are most of the time with everyday awareness. The waves are short and choppy and the mind tends to be very busy and not settled. Beta is felt throughout the body as static/stress, a little like a radio that is not fully tuned into a station.
Alpha is the next level down in awareness and these waves are bigger, but have more space between them. Alpha is the best place to be for a yoga practice. Alpha is felt as relaxed awareness and is easily achieved with the right techniques.
Theta and Delta waves are deeper again and it takes a fair amount of serious meditation to slow the mind down to these levels. These waves are bigger and the spaces in between are much wider – more peace in the head and nervous system.
When we are in Beta our brain operates predominately on one side. In the West we tend to be left brain dominate. We are one sided this can feel as if we are cut off from others or nature, but in reality we are cut off from ourselves.
The stronger we concentrate, the deeper we go in the brain wave patterns, and the more effectively the two hemispheres of the brain communicate with each other. From a yoga perspective this is important. When they are not communicating, we do not feel whole. Often people feel as if they are not connected to family, friends, nature, or even themselves - a feeling of being alone in the universe.
Yoga addresses this disconnect with concentration and meditation techniques. An extremely simple, yet highly effective technique is to practice breath awareness. Sitting comfortably with the spine erect and the pelvic floor muscles slightly activated to ensure the mind is alert. Do 30 to 60 seconds of deeper breathing and observe the flow of air in the nostrils. Keep the mind located inside the nose. Once the mind has been directed to the breath, then release the expanded breathing and work with an uncontrolled, normal breath. Do this for a minimum of 5 minutes and gradually over a few months, build up to 20 minutes.
The idea is to deepen the concentration, which will slow the brain wave patterns down, shifting from Beta to Alpha. Then the two hemispheres start to communicate more efficiently and we begin to feel whole. With regular yoga practice you start to feel happy for no special reason – a result of you connecting more deeply within yourself.
There are some physical sensations associated with the changing waves. The brain feels like it is settling – slightly contracting inwards away from the skull. It also feels like it is cooling. It is easy to feel the balance between the two hemispheres and in meditation we endeavor to keep everything even, including the two sides of the brain.
Once you have achieved Alpha waves, we then take control of the breath with a technique called Ujjayi Pranayama which will be the topic of the next post.
James E. Bryan E.R.Y.T. 500