New time for restorative yoga class

Because of the especially beautiful spring Sundays, which no one wants to miss out on, and the longer days, I’m pushing the time of my restorative yoga class back.

Starting Sunday, April 3, the class begins at 7:30 pm and ends at 9:00 pm. Read Yoga Offerings on this blog for more information about this class, which I call Unwinding.

Get your Sunday chores done, eat a light dinner, and then come to the class for some deep, deep relaxation.

You’ll sleep better and feel better on Monday morning. Start your week out well.

As I’ve mentioned before, people need activity, sleep, and rest. There are many ways to rest, and it’s as much about allowing your mind to relax as your body. Theta waves are not just a stage you move through quickly as you fall asleep and as you wake up.

Include some restful activity in every day. Daydream. Meditate. Stare at a fire. Slow down and let your mind relax.

Trauma/stress, sleep, and brainwaves

I have several friends who have a hard time sleeping. Could be falling asleep or staying asleep. They go through long periods of not sleeping well.

I’ve been through several of those periods myself, although not lately. I empathize with how the lack of a good night’s sleep negatively affects everything the next day — energy, alertness, performance. I feel their pain.

I’ve already mentioned that I take most of the supplements recommended in the appendix of Buddha’s Brain. I feel better than I’ve felt in years.

I honestly don’t know how good I can feel, and I’d like to find out!

When my contract job ends in 6 weeks and I can make this a priority, I intend to get my brainwaves optimized.

Here’s a link to an article, Your Brainwaves On Sleep. The author writes about the particle (chemical) and wave (brainwave) approaches to sleep.

On the particle side of the debate, there is ample experiential evidence and scientific studies that demonstrate that chemical activity in the brain can profoundly alter sleep tendencies. Many foods, medicines and other substances are well known to have promotional or inhibitory influences on sleep. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated the existence of sleep-regulatory substances, which, after accumulating in the cerebrospinal fluid of an organism and then being injected into another one, can induce the state of sleepiness.

Wave approaches to sleep focus on its cyclical aspects. A focus on wave aspects has intrinsic appeal, since sleep itself comes and goes regularly in healthy individuals. On this side of the debate, researchers have shown, for example, that there is an extra dose of sleepiness that comes in the middle of the afternoon. Within and between sleep periods, there are predictable cycles of brainwave activity. The timing of the beginning and end of a sleep period is also intimately connected with the timing of our secretion of hormones, the level of arousal of our cardiovascular system, immune system and metabolic functioning and integration of our cognitive capacities. Without good quality sleep, these systems become poorly modulated and dysfunctional over time.

I disagree that we must understand sleep as one or the other. I believe we must understand sleep — and everything else — as both particles and waves. We are bio-chemical, bio-electrical critters.

Good sleep correlates to brain activation patterns (as measured by EEG) that are reasonably balanced (left-to-right and front-to-back) and harmonized (low and high frequencies in a good proportion to one another throughout the brain). Balance and harmony are required especially in those brain areas that generally function for the purpose of internal processing and reception of external stimuli: the temporal, occipital, parietal and midline (or corpus callosum) areas.

Of course, trauma and chronic stress (or prolonged periods of stress) get the brainwaves off track. Brainwave optimization gets them back in harmony.

I hope that someday, brainwave optimization will be inexpensive, widespread, and routine in our culture. What a world that might be, with everyone’s brains functioning at their best all the time!

Would you like some theta brain waves with that?

According to the book I’m reading, What Really Matters: The Search for Wisdom in America, many of the biofeedback pioneers viewed the early focus on training people to experience the alpha range of brain waves as a mistake. Elmer Green, biofeedback pioneer said,

Alpha is finally only an idling state. It’s ten times better than beta when you’re tense, but beyond a certain level of relaxation, it doesn’t have that much to offer by itself. If you want to truly grow, the only way you’re going to do that is through the deeper state of theta. That’s where you can interrogate the unconscious and even gain the ability to reprogram it. The true value of alpha is that it’s a necessary bridge between beta and theta.

Green did research on theta in the early 1970s. Neurofeedback studies of yogis and monks showed that as they moved into deep levels of meditation, alpha eventually gave way to long trains of theta waves. Zen masters have described this deep state as having access to some deeper level of truth or knowing.

The challenge is to learn how to experience theta without falling asleep. Our most common experience of a pure theta state is in those moments when we are falling asleep or awakening, when our minds let go of rational thought and often spontaneously form images.

We found theta to be associated with a deeply internalized state. The state of deep quietness of body, emotions, and mind…achieved in theta training seems to build a bridge between conscious and unconscious processes and allows usually “unheard” things to come to consciousness. It’s as if you have two radio signals. One is loud, the other is very soft and faint. To hear the faint one, you have to turn the loud one down. We go into theta to get this loud noise of normal waking consciousness turned off, so we can hear the softer voice underneath. And we do that because the breadth of our consciousness turns out to extend far beyond what we’re usually conscious of.

The book goes on to relate studies done by Green and associates where they trained themselves and others to relax the body, quiet the mind, let go of emotional tension, and increase theta while remaining awake enough to be aware of the imagery that arose.

College students so trained were able to recall rich imagery, including long-forgotten childhood events. After the studies, a significant percentage of students reported positive changes, including greater clarity, more energy, improved relationships, and better concentration and recall.

Green went to India to study brain wave patterns of advanced yogis and tested Ram Sharma, who could produce nearly pure theta waves on command while remaining fully conscious, unheard of in the West.

Green later said the value of theta training…

…is the relatively rapid development of a skill in shifting, without years of trial-and-error meditation, into a state of consciousness in which one comes face to face with one’s Self…. You can feel all the mental, physical, and emotional things going on around you and in you and yet not be identified with the individual pieces.

So how can you experience theta without a neurofeedback machine? I’ve experienced it when receiving cranio-sacral therapy, esoteric acupuncture, regular acupuncture, and massage, and also through meditation.

Once experienced, it becomes easier to re-experience.

Craniosacral therapy, brain waves

Confession: I am a brain geek. I’ve been lucky enough in this lifetime to have worked for 3 years with Nina Davis, craniosacral therapist extraordinaire, and I can’t thank her enough for sharing her work with me.

CST is usually subtle. The one time it wasn’t subtle was when she worked on my locus ceruleus, a “blue spot” in the brain stem that is affected by trauma. When it opened up or unfroze or however it changed, I experienced profound, deep relaxation with no internal images or dialog. Just deep black restful awareness. It was like bliss.

I recommend CST for all trauma survivors. Trauma rewires the brain in a dysfunctional way, and your full recovery depends on you (with whatever help you can get) rewiring it back to a healthy state.

(Besides this, Nina has shown me how acutely a person can develop her sensory acuity, to the point where she’s aware of tiny structures and processes inside her own brain and body and in mine as well, using her fingertips and awareness. She’s just brilliant, like a Bene Gesserit from Dune. I have some perception of my energy body and can feel shifts, but she’s got the detailed inner anatomy down.)

I’ve read articles about scientific studies of long-time meditators that concluded that  meditation affects your brain waves in a positive way. I  believe it, based on 6 months of daily meditation. I experience my energy field differently, although my physical body is feeling pretty good too these days. It’s as if my brain waves are oscillating in more synchrony than before, which is pleasant and self-reinforcing.

I am very curious about brain waves. They are bioelectricity, and there are machines that give you visual feedback of your brain activity. Here’s what I know (from reading A Symphony in the Brain and Wikipedia):

  • Brain waves correspond to mental states, and we usually experience a mixture of states.
  • Delta waves predominate when you’re asleep. They’re at the lowest hertz, 0-4.
  • Next higher, theta waves occur in the hypnogogic state, when you’re falling asleep or waking and your mind feels pleasantly fuzzy and untethered to waking life. When you visualize something, and when you inhibit/repress, you’re in the theta wave range, 4-7 hertz. Associated with relaxed, meditative, creative states. Healing of trauma occurs in this state, where you unrepress traumatic memories by reimagining the trauma as a witness, not a participant, which makes it safe(r).
  • Alpha waves, 8-12 hertz, were discovered first, thus alpha. You can access the alpha state by imagining space inside your body, such as the space between your eyes, or bringing your attention to how your body. Occurs with relaxation. More accessible with your eyes closed; opening your eyes often brings you out of it.
  • Beta state, 13-30 hertz, is often referred to as normal waking consciousness. They’re active when you are mentally aroused, or having a conversation, or feeling anxious. Ask someone to solve a math problem, and they’ll be experiencing beta waves (so will you, probably). Interestingly, people with ADHD have too much theta in proportion to the amount of beta waves that they have. Retraining consists of lowering theta and raising beta from 9:1 to 3:1. Body movement usually takes you out of beta.
  • The new kid on the brain wave block, gamma waves (25-100 hertz) weren’t measured until people began using digital rather than analog EEG equipment to read brain waves. Studies of Tibetan monks with over 10,000 hours of meditation experience conclude that gamma waves correlate to transcendental meditative states. Also occurs during synesthesia (feeling a color, seeing a sound, etc.). Gamma may signify “binding” of neurons into a network. (Hmm, I’ve heard  that neurons that fire together, wire together. Could gamma be where they wire together? If so, it’s prime territory for learning.)

I would love to have a portable EEG machine and electrodes like Ken Wilber uses in the YouTube video where he shuts down his brain waves. It would be fun to play with and learn from. One researcher claims that each hertz is associated with specific mental activity. That would be fun to experiment with!

I wonder what we would see if both Nina and I were hooked up to EEG machines when we were doing craniosacral therapy. What happens when I’m doing yoga, meditating, drawing, petting my cat — what states occur?

I’ve also learned that you can get a “brain tune-up”. A company called Brain States Technology (with three affiliates in Austin at present) uses a new strategy for working with EEG readouts and improving brain functioning. Rather than using a medical model (specifically retraining the brain not to have epileptic seizures or ADHD), they simply show you how to optimize your brain waves, right to left and front to back. So, for instance, you might have less delta and theta when awake, and more beta in the left hemisphere and more alpha in the right.

I’m gathering information and considering doing it.

I’m interested in increasing my gamma waves, which may signify a mental state called “unity of consciousness.” The jury is still out on this (and scientific juries take a notoriously long time to agree on things).

In the meantime, the man who brought us the Delta Sleep System CD has now created one to optimize gamma waves, Gamma Meditation System. I’m ordering it.