Researchers show that meditation can induce relaxation-related brain waves, such as alpha and theta waves. Here’s how.
Meditation receives much attention in the United States, since research illuminates its positive health benefits.
Not only do research participants who practice meditation report improvements in their overall well-being after meditating, but scientists show that you can physically see relaxation-related changes happening in the brain using brain imaging technology, like electroencephalography (EEG).
Meditation is the practice of slowing down and focusing your mind on the present moment. Meditation generally takes place in a seated position with the eyes closed. The practice can last for as little as 5 minutes or go on for hours. Regardless of the time frame, the purpose of the practice is to prevent the mind from wandering.
What you focus on during your meditation practice can vary. Some of the most common things to focus on include:
- your breathing cycle (in and out)
- a mantra (repeating a phrase in your head)
- the sensations in your body
- the sounds you are hearing
- the visualization of a beautiful destination
Meditation can help you feel more relaxed, and this is reflected in your brain activity.
Brain waves are the measurements of the electrical pulses in your brain. These pulses are measured in a unit of frequency called Hertz (Hz).
There are five distinct levels of frequencies your brain may be pulsing at, and each frequency level represents what type of function your brain is performing (e.g., sleeping, focusing, recalling a memory, etc.).
The five brain frequency levels are:
- Delta (less than 4 Hz). The slowest brain wave. The brain increases delta waves during sleep to reduce awareness.
- Theta (3.5 to 7.5 Hz). A slow brain wave that increases when we are awake but focusing internally (e.g., daydreaming).
- Alpha (8t o 12 Hz). The frequency your brain reaches when it’s relaxed. The brain is alert but not actively processing information.
- Beta (12.5 to 30 Hz). The brain reaches this frequency when it’s alert and needs to process external information.
- Gamma (25 to 140 Hz). Your brain reaches this frequency range when it’s at peak concentration.
During meditation, the most common frequencies an electroencephalogram (EEG) will detect are relaxed-state theta and alpha waves. And, as a result, the average levels of beta waves tend to decrease.
In Dr. James Hardt’s book “The Art of Smart Thinking,” he explores the benefits of increasing theta and alpha wave production in the brain. He argues that these two brain frequencies are the most important frequencies for enhancing creativity and problem-solving abilities.
Meditation can act as a tool to help you access theta and alpha brain frequencies. Once meditation becomes a regular part of your daily routine, Hardt argues it can have lifelong benefits on your brain’s health.
Making alpha waves your dominant brain wave
After practicing meditation for a long enough period, research suggests that alpha frequencies can become the brain’s dominant brain wave.
A 2020 overview on the effects of various forms of meditation revealed that it took students 40 days of practicing a form of mindfulness called Yoga Nidra to make alpha waves their dominant brain wave.
Once alpha waves increased to dominant levels, the research revealed that participants of various forms of meditation and yoga practices experienced:
EEG testing on participants practicing meditation reveals that meditation affects brain wave production. What’s so groundbreaking about these findings is that the effect meditation has on brain wave activity not only occurs during the meditation practice itself, but long after the meditation is complete.
In other words, habitual meditation practice can change your brain wave activity for years to come. Research indicates that meditation tends to lead to an increase in the production of theta and alpha waves, which are the brain wave frequencies associated with enhanced learning abilities and overall mental well-being.
The specific type of meditation or mindfulness practice does not appear to matter. What’s most important for altering your brain waves is to make meditation a part of your daily routine.
To access tips on how to bring meditation into your life, these articles may help: