Altered States of Consciousness
Ever find yourself fraught with lack of clarity, seeking solutions to questions that feel out of reach? Then suddenly the answer appears out of nowhere, while you're walking or gazing out the window thinking about nothing specific.
This is because unforeseen answers and solutions tend to surface when you’re zoning out. Humans experience moments of insight, and now scientists are capable of isolating these moments of clarity by studying brainwaves with electroencephalograms (EEG). According to Michael Shadlen, M.D. Ph.D., the vast majority of thoughts circling in our brains happen below our conscious awareness - even though our brain is processing them, we are not aware. Humans average 60-70,000 thoughts a day, most of which are repetitive and occur at the subconscious level of awareness.
The brain is made up of billions of brain cells called neurons, which communicate with each other electrically. The communication between neurons occurs as electrical impulses which can be seen as wavy lines or "brain waves" on an EEG. There are five basic brain wave patterns associated with different states of consciousness: gamma, beta, alpha, theta and delta:
Brainwave: Cycles Per Second: What You Experience:
Gamma 40+ Hz. High focus. Peak concentration. Creative sparks of gamma waves occur when alpha oscillations are stimulated. Superconscious awareness (through subconscious).
Beta 13-40 Hz. Disorganized brain waves. Neurons fire abundantly, in rapid succession. Wide awake & alert. Mind is sharp, focused, makes connections easily & quickly, primed to do work that requires your full attention. Flashes of new ideas & solutions to problems. Intentional, goal-oriented state. Conscious awareness.
Alpha 8-13 Hz. More organized. Intensely pleasurable relaxed state of mind associated with creativity and insight. Light hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, daydreaming, just before & after sleep, listening to or playing music, watching a movie, being in nature, sensory deprivation float tank, more readily available with exercise. Essential to stress reduction (parasympathetic nervous system response). Immune function increases. Increase in seratonin. Calming, centering emotions. Memory, super-learning. The bridge to theta & superconscious awareness. Balances & integrates right & left hemispheres of the brain. Subconscious awareness.
Theta 4-8 Hz. Taller & more organized. Elusive twilight brain state. Insight, intuition, inspiration. Experienced fleetingly upon waking or drifting off to sleep. Deep meditative & hypnotic states where transformation occurs. Shamanic journeying. Superconscious awareness (through subconscious).
Delta .5-4 Hz. Even taller & more organized. Deep, slow wave, physically restorative sleep. Deep & powerful reprogramming of subconscious. Over eight minutes of deep hypnosis releases pain relieving chemicals in the body. Immune function is heightened. Subconscious & superconscious awareness.
These brain wave patterns are normal, natural states of mind, just as hypnosis is. It's natural for you to pop into alpha states throughout your day - zoning out while reading is one example. Brain waves occur in combinations, firing in different parts of the brain, and the right balance of each of them is beneficial. Too much beta activity and not enough alpha activity, for example, can manifest as stress, anxiousness, insomnia and an inability to relax. This takes a toll on the body.
EEG research reveals that 1.5 seconds prior to a spark of insight, there’s an increase in alpha waves in the brain’s visual cortex. Visualization is how you get to alpha states. Alpha waves are the bridge between beta and theta - between the conscious and subconscious. Without alpha waves, you won't remember the epiphanies and insights that you've accessed via deeper states such as theta. Dr. Mark Jung-Beeman observed that the presence of these alpha waves indicates a decrease in outside information and external stimuli, leading to the experience of a “zoned out” state. In other words, it's the "flow" state that author Csikszentmihalyi talks about in his book entitled Finding Flow. Professor Øyvind Ellingsen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology explains that "when the brain relaxes from intentional, goal-oriented tasks,” alpha waves increase. Alpha waves can occur in the visual area of the brain, so by tuning out outside distractions, you make room for your mind to heighten self awareness and visualize the appropriate solution or outcome.
Those who master the alpha and theta states can access this creative, problem solving space time and time again – by choice. Beta waves, on the other hand, allow you to take those insights, epiphanies and inspiration and put them into action.
Through mindfulness practices and visualization you can harness the power of your alpha and theta states. Alpha and theta states can be intentionally achieved through hypnosis and meditation, yet with hypnosis you get the added benefit of very specific application and content, to arrive at specific goals. Hypnosis can help your meditation practice get better!
When it comes to decreasing stress or finding a solution to a perplexing situation, allow yourself to tune out the world and befriend your alpha waves. Hypnotherapy, self-hypnosis training and audios train your brain to harness the power of the alpha and theta waves so you can be the master of your own mind - the master of your life.