Recent scientific studies have drawn a clear connection between meditation and alpha brainwaves. The studies are part of a concerted effort in the scientific community to back up colloquial understandings of the benefits of meditation with hard evidence.
This is interesting news for many normal people who are curious about the benefits of meditation, but who are not ready to take it on faith alone.
One perfect example is the woman in Idaho who has started using meditation as a way to reduce her high blood pressure and reduce her monthly medicine expenses. Mrs. Porter had been hearing about the health benefits of yoga and meditation from her daughter for years.
She says: “My daughter was always after me to take a class, but she couldn’t explain what it would do for me outside of really general stuff, and it always just sounded like mumbo jumbo to me.”
She changed her mind after reading a study in a magazine that described how certain brain states have been proven to promote better body function. “I guess I needed to hear it explained scientifically. Anyway, I went to a class with my daughter and it felt really good. Now I meditate every day and I feel much better. Some of my girlfriends are even getting interested.”
The evidence she refers to deal with studies of the electric activity within the brain. Through the use of EEG (electroencephalography) different kinds of brainwaves can be charted to determine which parts of the brain are active during different activities.
Comparative studies are now able to show definitively that certain brain states are conducive to healthier body function. While there is still much to learn, the hard evidence is there.
Scientists distinguish four different brain states that correspond to certain activities:
- Delta waves indicate the slowest brain state, commonly achieved through sleep.
- Theta waves are slightly faster but still below normal levels. They are generally associated with a profound state of relaxation or deep meditation.
- Alpha wave activity is defined as a rate of 8-12 cycles per second (hertz). It is described as a state of restful awareness.
- Beta wave activity, or ‘normal functioning’ involves electrical activity between 13-25 hertz, and results from goal-oriented activities, problem solving, etc.
Alpha waves are the most likely to appear during states of wakeful rest in the posterior part of the brain. Studies show that this state promotes calming changes in the nervous system.
Physical effects often include lower blood pressure and heart rate indicating lower levels of stress hormones in the body. These hormones are often harmful to good body function and can lead to weight gain and heart trouble among other things.
Alpha waves generally increase when the mind stops considering goal-oriented tasks and enters a restful state. During alpha wave activity, the mind ‘wanders’ among memories, images, and thoughts that are not related to the subject’s immediate circumstance.
Researchers hypothesize that this state allows the mind to put past events and thoughts into perspective and achieve a certain amount of closure. This relaxes the body and allows it to repair itself.
The highest alpha wave activity is achieved through non-directive meditation. In this state, practitioners are relaxed but wakeful. They are not planning or thinking goal oriented thoughts, nor are they struggling to clear the mind. They allow thoughts to arise and subside without striving to control anything.
Though the exact nature of brain function is not fully understood, it seems clear that increased periods of alpha wave activity offer the brain an opportunity to put itself in order for better functioning. The alpha wave state may be compared to running a program on a computer that tidies up stray files and reorders the system.
While there is still much to learn, these recent studies have helped to scientifically confirm that increased alpha wave activity leads to better body function. We all experience a small amount of alpha activity every day, generally just before sleep or in a hot shower, but the best way to increase exposure to alpha waves is through meditation.
While the pace of modern life causes many people to reject the notion of sitting peacefully as a waste of precious time, this new evidence proves that meditation and alpha brainwaves lead to healthier living and more energy.