Every single second of the day, the human brain receives and processes a staggering amount of information — a feat that makes it the world’s fastest supercomputer.
With most of that work taking place on a subconscious level, we tend to spend our lives running on autopilot and rarely consider the brain’s tremendous efficiency. From the morning’s first yawn to the moment our head hits the pillow at night, more than 95 percent of our daily activities are performed automatically, freeing up our minds to anxiously dissect yesterday’s conversation with the boss or eagerly ponder what we might eat for dinner. Caught up in the monkey mind, we sleepwalk through the present, oblivious to the beautiful hue of the dawn sky or the unmistakable hurt in the eyes of a co-worker.
But it’s possible to tame these endlessly chattering minds of ours. Just as taking up a fitness routine can get our bodies into shape, we can adopt positive mental habits that retrain the brain. Indeed, learning to flex our mental muscles can ultimately help us tune into an entirely different brain frequency.
Research shows that the brain contains over 86 billion nerve cells (called “neurons”), which communicate with one another via potent electrical signals. Neurons fire off these signals at an incredibly high rate and the resulting electrical activity creates brain waves. But despite their shared origins, not all brain waves are the same.
The most common form of brain waves, beta waves, occurs when our monkey minds operate at full capacity, generating about sixty thoughts per minute. In this state, the brain is busy taking in information: processing, analyzing, comparing, rationalizing. While this may seem like the ideal moment for a flash of inspiration—one that suddenly unlocks the problem we’ve been grappling with — the reality is that the beta-wave state seldom allows for such revelations. In truth, our minds are typically so cluttered in beta-wave phases; they leave little to no room for imaginative solutions.
Alpha waves are another type of frequency we experience each day. As we drift in or out of sleep, our brain waves slow to around thirty thoughts per minute and, like the deepest currents of the ocean, subtly propel the subconscious mind. Half the speed of beta waves, alpha waves enable us to think laterally. If we need to tap into this wealth of creativity during the day, deep breathing can quickly lull us into the alpha state and provide a much-needed break from the bustling monkey mind.
Aristotle once said: “Give me a boy until he is seven, and I shall show you the man.” To his point, scientific studies have shown that the minds of children function quite differently from those of adults. Since their brains generate only about fifteen thoughts per minute (by way of a type of frequency known as theta waves), everything a child experiences up until the age of eight goes directly to the subconscious. Understanding this phenomenon is vital to the release of pent-up traumas.
For adults and children alike, sleep is a time to regenerate, both mentally and physically. Our brains slow down, eventually bringing about deep sleep and its attendant delta waves. One of the most mysterious forms of brain waves, delta waves, creates space for healing, allowing us to wake refreshed and rejuvenated the next morning.
Still, some of the most exciting neuroscientific research centers on the subject of gamma waves, which are associated with intense concentration. For most of us, this type of brain wave occurs solely as a split-second flash of inspiration or enlightenment. However, a recent study by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin suggests that the gamma state may endure much longer for specific individuals. In his research, Davidson discovered that the world’s great meditation masters might access the gamma state not only during their meditation practice but throughout their daily activities. At this powerful frequency, the brain can heighten perception, empowering us to make great strides in our inner development and experience profound compassion.
Thanks to the many studies carried out since Norman Vincent Peale published his groundbreaking 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking, we have gained a much firmer grasp of how the amazingly complex organ known as the human brain functions and thrives. We know that — like any of the muscles that make up the body — it benefits from a good workout. By learning something new, for instance, we can stimulate our brain cells to communicate differently and, in turn, form new pathways that enable us to tackle everyday problems in more creative ways. Even something as easy as changing up our usual route to work can get our neurons firing! By rewiring our brains to circumvent old thought patterns and forge new mental circuits, we can unleash the power of positive thinking: one of our greatest allies in the fight against depression, disease, and poor mental health.
The good news is you don’t need to be a great meditation master to access the extraordinary benefits of gamma waves. Even just a few minutes of meditative breathing or a simple visualization technique can have a significant impact on your mood. Better yet, these methods are as free as the air we breathe, available to anyone ready to embark on the journey toward inner harmony and total wellbeing.
More information on the intricate workings of the human brain and their role in our health can be found in Lola Till’s recent book, Be Your Own Harmonist (Waterside Productions, 2020), in which the author provides simple meditation techniques along with balanced recipes for enhancing wellness on every level.