Sunday, November 19, 2006


(Photo courtesy of Jenn Cobb from her visit to a temple in Thailand)

When you hear the word "meditation," you immediately form the picture in your mind of a yogi or guru seated in a strange position chanting a deeply resonant "OM." If you think meditation is only for spiritual achievement, you are missing a great opportunity to not only relax your body, but improve your whole-brain function, memory, and give yourself more opportunities for those problem-solving "Ah-ha!" moments.

For centuries, meditation has been a vehicle for physical relaxation as well as higher awareness and spiritual enlightenment. A lot of people today talk about this awareness and living at a "higher vibration," but often can't really tell you what that means.

What it means is this: the electrical impulses of your brain as measured on an electroencephalograph, a machine that measures brain-wave activity, are vibrating faster than the rate they would during normal, wakeful, conscious activity.

When you are driving your car, making dinner, working at your desk, normal conscious activities, your brain frequency is usually in the Beta range, roughly 12 to 24Hz. (I am taking the average here; the measurements for brain activity are close but not 100% standard across medical/ psychological/ scientific disciplines.)

There is a higher brainwave frequency that operates in the 26 to 70Hz range. These are called Gamma waves, and are associated with higher mental activity, problem solving, "Ah-ha" moments, and a higher or broader level of awareness. This level of brainwave activity also may help improve memory function due to its possible effect on "binding," the way the brain makes associations and brings together different elements of information to create a whole picture as when a certain smell and sound come together to trigger a particular memory.

Gamma waves are the measured frequency experienced during REM sleep, that period of sleep when you dream. This is why many people wake from a night's sleep with a new idea or the answer to a nagging problem – they have experienced the Gamma level of problem-solving brainwave activity and brought that knowledge to the level of normal consciousness. It is said that many famous inventors saw their creations, or the answer to seemingly insurmountable problems, through dreams which they then applied to their real life situations.

The great thing is you don't have to take a nap or go to bed to experience Gamma wave activity or enjoy this level of higher mental awareness. Just learn to meditate!

A study was completed with Buddhists whose brainwave activity was measured before, during, and after their meditation sessions. It was discovered that during the practice of meditation, their brainwaves ascended into the Gamma range. What surprised the study team was that the higher brainwave frequencies were maintained after formal meditation session had ceased. The study included both people who had practiced meditation over many years and people who had practiced only a few months. It was discovered that the people who had meditated for years also experienced the higher brainwave frequencies sooner during their meditation sessions and for a longer period of time after they had concluded their meditation session. This means that the long-term practice of meditation delivers the benefits of longer periods of enhanced brainwave activity during your normal level of consciousness.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing about different methods of meditation, and the particular benefits, advantages and disadvantages of each. If you've wanted to start a meditation practice (not a bad New Year's Resolution….hint, hint) but sitting and chanting doesn't appeal to you, never fear. Stayed tuned and I'm sure you will find a style that suits you and your lifestyle!


Geraldine said...

Thank you, thank you Michelle...this is a topic I was hoping you'd cover in depth. I certainly need to find ways to relax, throughout the day and slow down. The stress level right now is off the chart. Looking forward to updates. Great post. :)

Michelle said...

Hi G, I hope you find a meditation practice that suits you...there are so many styles. :-)

caroline brown said...

Hi Michelle. through my yoga classes, I'm being introduced to meditation. It's something I've tried a few times and always quit in disgust at my inability to focus and concentrate. I bet that everyone says that!

Hopefully as I continue learning about yoga and breathwork I'll get better and better.

Michelle said...

Hi Caroline,

There are so many different styles and methods of meditation. Even if you find one particular method difficult (and yes, many do find complete focus and concentration difficult at first) but you really want to do it, you can start with a different one that is easier for you, and then work your way toward the method you want ultimately to practice. Meditation can be a very open and adaptive system! :-)

I'm sure you will be able to get where you want with it!