Yogic pranayama and mindfulness meditation have a definitive effect on the brain waves.
Whatever type of mindfulness we may practice, the ultimate goal is the same: to overcome the mental chatter through dissociation of thoughts and concentration on one’s own breathing.
Pranayama and Mindfulness practices have demonstrated to have several positive effects on reducing stress, anxiety and improving physical fitness, cardio-respiratory efficiency both at physiological and cellular levels.
With the effect of these practices on the body, recent research has proved it has a profound effect on neuronal activity, structural activation and structural changes in the brains efficiency by improving cognitive performance, mood, memory, focus, sense of acceptance and reaction time.
Brain waves and its basic frequencies…
Brain waves are electrical impulses generated by groups of neurons firing concurrently. Recorded on electroencephalographs (EEG), brain waves are classified according to their frequency.
Different parts of the brain can function at various frequencies at a same time. Therefore, it’s wise to refer to certain wave types being dominant at a particular time depending on the state of consciousness one is in.
Also, there isn’t one type of brain wave that’s superior to other; the goal for healthy brain functioning is to find the best, most functional balance between the brain waves.
1. Beta Waves: Frequency: 12 Hz to 40 Hz
These are high frequency brain waves that are observed while we are awake. This is the realm of conscious thought, logical thinking, focused attention, problem solving and tend to have a stimulating effect.
Stimulants like caffeine and energy drinks can naturally increase your beta activity. Most of us tend to stay too long in the Beta waves pattern, leading to innumerable health issues, compromised immune system and a feeling of burnout.
Overproduction… Anxiety, High Arousal, Stress, Restlessness.
Underproduction… ADHD, Depression, Poor Cognition, Fatigue.
Optimal… Conscious focus, Memory, Problem solving, Heightened State of Awareness.
2. Alpha Waves: Frequency: 8 Hz to 12 Hz
Alpha is the frequency range between our conscious thinking and subconscious mind i.e. it is the range that bridges gap between beta and theta waves. Alpha waves is considered as the brain’s most normal functional state.
But modern man spends less and less time function in alpha leading to more stress and anxiety. Alpha state are dominant when we get the “Aha” or eureka moment.
The brains of creative people get a burst of alpha activity before solving problems.
During stress, a phenomenon called “alpha blocking” may occur wherein excessive beta activity block out the production of alpha waves as we become too aroused.
Underproduction… Anxiety, Stress, Insomnia, OCD.
Optimal… Relaxation, Heightens imagination, Visualisation, Higher levels of Creativity, Improved problem solving skills, Improved mood, Super learning and Enhanced Immune System.
3. Theta Waves: Frequency range: 4 Hz to 8 Hz
These are slightly faster than delta waves and found in daydreaming, sleep and deep meditation. Theta waves are associated with intuition, deep relaxation, creativity, visualisation, hypnosis, light sleep, and the semi-hypnotic state between sleep and wakefulness.
Though Theta waves are associated with deep states of meditation, peak spiritual experiences but too much in the Theta wave pattern can led to debilitating health effects like ADHD, Depression etc.
Overproduction… ADHD, Depression, Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, Inattentiveness.
Underproduction… Anxiety, Poor Emotional Awareness, Stress.
Optimal… reduces anxiety, Creativity, Emotional connection, Learning, Memory consolidation, Relaxation, Deep spiritual connection and Unity with the Universe.
4. Delta Waves: Frequency range: 0 Hz to 4 Hz
Delta waves are the deepest and slowest recorded brain waves. Delta Waves are found most often during deep sleep and are more common in infants and young children.
Delta waves are associated with deepest level of relaxation, deep healing and regeneration. Delta Waves also occur when awareness is completely detached as during meditation.
Overproduction… Learning Disabilities, Inability to Think, Severe ADHD.
Underproduction… Inability to rejuvenate brain and body, Poor sleep quality.
Optimal… Deep Healing and Regeneration.
The effect of yogic pranayama and mindfulness on brain waves
Beta waves are often found during normal waking period. But continual functioning at beta takes a tremendous toll on our health and energy, as spending too much time in beta frequency is associated with tension, stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, chronic nerve pain, and increased muscle tone.
Regular practice helps to balance brain chemistry by increasing alpha and theta waves. These two types of waves are beneficial for our immune system, mood regulation and increase our ability to process the information that we take in during beta.
1. A study published in Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology 2003, aimed to find the long term effect of Sudarshan Kriya yoga and Pranayama on 19 participants over a period of 1 year showed a significant increase in beta activity with sprouts of alpha activity, indicating relaxation with the coexistence of alertness.
2. Similarly, alternate nose breathing, a form of Pranayama seems to increase beta power in the both hemispheres of the brain. Increased beta activity after alternate nose breathing corresponds with the reduction of emotional exhaustion, anxiety and fatigue (International journal of yoga 2013).
3. Bhramari Pranayama seems to stimulate alpha and theta activity in the brain and helps in obtaining associated benefits in alleviating anxiety and increasing memory. The considerable increase in alpha and theta activity indicates deeply relaxed and focused brain (consciousness and cognition 2009).
4. Kriya based yoga such as Santhi yoga has also shown to elicit theta waves responses. A study examined brain waves of 11 kriya yoga instructors before and after two hour of kriya yoga class.
The researchers reported an increase in both alpha and theta responses by 40% particularly in the parietal region of the brain, which indicates a more relaxed state with better control over emotions. (Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology).
This study also found increase in alpha activity in the right temporal region of the brain. Recent research shows that depressive and introvert people have more alpha activity in the left temporal region, while optimistic and extrovert people have on right side.
So kriya yoga by increasing alpha activity in the right side of the brain counteracts stress and depression.
5. A study published in the International Journal of Innovative Research in advanced engineering 2014, showed an increase in alpha power in Pranayama practitioners. Additionally, the study showed that alpha power increases more in long term practitioners as compared to short term practitioners in the right occipital region, which is associated with complete relaxation after Pranayama practice.
It is to be noted that the longer the practice affects right occipital area, more relaxed the subject will be. Whereas, the left brain activity is seems to be higher while logical thinking and reasoning.
6. Another study noticed a significant increase in gamma activity after 150 days of combined Pranayama practice in the frontal and temporal brain areas.
With higher gamma activity blood circulation increases in these parts of the brain, this leads to better thought process and higher cognition (International journal of biomedical engineering and technology 2011).
7. Sheetali and Sheetkari Pranayama increases alpha, delta and theta power and decrease beta activity. (IOSR journal of pharmacy 2014).
8. Mantra Meditation or Om chanting has been found to produce alpha waves. Mindfulness meditation and zazen produce theta waves.
Chronic engagement in beta state forces the right brain and parasympathetic nervous system to progressively become more dormant.
9. Yoga Nidra, a deep relaxing form of meditation generates slow alpha waves and even slower theta waves. These slow waves allow you to drop into a sleep-like state with relaxed brainwave activity.
In Yoga Nidra, you make a conscious crossover from the logical left part of brain to the intuitive right part of brain, connected to the field of conscious pranic intelligence, which balances sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the left and right part of the brain.
In his book Meditation and the Brain, Benjamin Kramer tells us that in one study “after only an eight week Mindfulness Meditation program, regulation of Alpha rhythms helped the brain ‘turn down the volume’ of distractions in the surrounding environment. Researchers noted that Mindfulness Mediators had more ability to adjust brain waves and exceptional ability to rapidly remember and process new facts.”
Rick Hanson in his book Buddha’s Brain points out, “When experienced Tibetan practitioners go deep into Meditation, they produce uncommonly powerful and pervasive Gamma brainwaves of electrical activity, in which unusually large regions of neural real estate pulse in synchrony 30-80 times a second. . . , integrating and unifying large territories of the mind.”