How Meditation Creates Brain Coherence and Why Is It Important?
Research has shown that it is possible to influence the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which regulates physiological processes such as the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, respiration, and digestion, and thus improve physical health and wellbeing. One way to achieve this is by an intentional and conscious slowing down of the brain waves—shifting from beta brain wave patterns (dominant mode associated with thinking, analysis and focus on the external world) to alpha brainwaves (characteristic of awareness turning inwards). It is, therefore, important to understand the types of brain waves in the human brain.
Brain wave frequencies
Brain waves are electrical impulses in the brain, and they can be measured using EEG. There are five bands of brain wave frequencies: beta, alpha, theta, gamma, and delta.
- Beta-frequency brain waves (12–35 Hz) dominate the state when one is awake and conscious. They are indicative of placing most of one’s attention on the outer world.
- Low-range beta (typical of a relaxed state when one with no perceived external threats; occurs when one is engaged in activities such as reading or attentively listening to someone who is talking).
- Medium-range beta (typical of a slightly more aroused, vigilant state; a state of “positive stress”).
- High-range beta (typical of a stressful situation in which one enters the “fight-or-flight” mode and is overwhelmed by survival emotions; it is three times higher than low-range beta and twice higher as mid-range beta).
- Alpha range brain waves (8–12 Hz) occasionally occur throughout the wake hours. This happens when one is calm, relaxed, and more intuitive and creative, rather than preoccupied with thinking and analyzing. Imagination and daydreaming are also linked to alpha brain waves. Alpha brain waves indicate that one is placing significant attention on the inner world.
- Theta range brain waves (4–8 Hz) occur in the transition state when the mind is still awake, but the body is falling asleep. Theta brain waves also occur in deep states of meditation.
- Delta-frequency brain waves (0.4-4 Hz) occur during deep, restorative sleep. This state is also found in meditators who can enter profound mystical states and experience a sense of oneness with the universe. When delta range brain wave patterns are dominant, brain scans show remarkably high energy amplitudes.
- Gamma-frequency brain waves (30-80 Hz) correspond to a superconscious state—when the brain is aroused from an internal event.
Understanding brain coherence
Coherence is an orderly expression of frequency. Dr. Joe Dispenza explains brain coherence in the following way:
“When brain waves are coherent, they are in phase with one another; both their crests (their high points) and their troughs (their low points) match. Because coherent brain waves are more orderly, they are also more powerful —you could say they speak the same language, follow the same rhythm, dance to the same beat, and share the same frequency, so they find it easier to communicate. They’re literally on the same wavelength. When brain waves are incoherent, on the other hand, the electrochemical messages or signals they are sending to different parts of the brain and body are mixed and erratic, so the body cannot then operate in a balanced, optimal state." (Dr. Joe Dispenza)
Brain scans using Quantitative electroencephalogram (EEG) make it possible to record, measure and quantify the transformations in people’s biology after meditation. These brain scans show evidence of an increased order in the nervous system of meditators. EEG scans of people immersed in deep meditative states (in which they have transcendental or mystical experiences) show high amplitudes of energy in the brain.
The two types of focus
The mind can focus in two different ways—using convergent focus or using divergent focus.
- Convergent focus is a narrow focus on a particular object. An example of convergent focus is obsessive thinking about a particular problem in your life. As a most extreme example of a convergent focus is when we are in a state of heightened alertness, and we pay close attention to a perceived threat in our material environment. In a state of convergent focus, the different parts of the brain do not work together, and they are in an incoherent state.
- Divergent focus, in contrast, is a more open and broad focus that can be achieved during meditation. Divergent focus is characterized by not focusing on a single, particular thing, but rather becoming aware of the space (or “nothingness”) around you.
How meditation creates brain coherence
When the mind shifts from a convergent to a divergent focus, a change in the brain waves from beta to alpha occurs. This was discovered by Dr. Les Fermi, the director of the Princeton Biofeedback Centre, in the 1970s. When the brain waves slow down, you move out of your conscious mind, past your analytical mind, into the subconscious mind, which is the seat of all automatic programs and unconscious habits.
In meditation, as one learns to slow down the brain waves, the awareness shifts from the distractions of the outer world to the inner world, going beyond the body, the environment, and the time, overcoming the negative emotions and the preoccupations with the past and the future. By placing your attention in the present, you divest yourself from past experiences and you break the energy bonds. You can then redirect your energy towards creating a better, desirable future.
More specifically, when the frequency of the brain waves decreases (from beta to alpha and, in deeper states, to theta), the consciousness moves out of the neocortex (the “thinking brain”) and into the midbrain (the limbic brain, which is the seat of the autonomous nervous system (ANS)). As a result, the ANS begins to heal the body.
To understand how this works, we can look at the following explanation from neuroscience. The neocortex is the “thinking brain,” the seat of the conscious mind. In a state of stress—excessive focus, constant arousal and shifting attention—various neurological networks corresponding to the objects of our attention are activated. When in such a state, the brain waves display disordered and incoherent patterns. On the contrary, when one sits in meditation and focuses on the present moment, those neural networks are no longer activated. As we shift away from a narrow focus on material objects toward the infinite field, which is spacious and unlimited, our once compartmentalized brain starts moving toward a coherent, whole-brain state. The signals which the brain then sends to various parts of the body are organized and coherent, and the body starts functioning in a balanced, harmonic, and optimal manner. This, in turn, reflects in well-integrated, coherent behavior and the person moves towards a state of wholeness.
Using brain scans of meditators who participated in his workshop, Dr. Joe Dispenza found that meditators were able to lower their high-range beta brain waves (indicators of high stress) by ~124%, and to increase their delta brain waves (associated with a feeling of connectedness and oneness) by ~149%. The amount of high-range beta brain waves decreased relative to the amount of delta brain waves by 62% over a period of only four days of meditation.
This article is based on the book “Becoming Supernatural — How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon” by Dr. Joe Dispenza. Hay House, Inc., Carlsbad, California, 2017