Research – Brainwave Meditation

Neurofeedback can powerfully mimic traditional meditation training by giving users audio feedback when they are producing synchronous alpha and/or theta brainwaves.

Research has shown that this brainwave meditation accelerates the learning of meditation, as well as enabling people who find it very difficult to learn meditation the traditional way, to not just learn but to master it at a high level.

Elmer and Alyce Green of the Meninger Foundation pioneered the first neurofeedback studies, inspired by Japanese research on Zen monks, reported in Zoren Psychologia.

They used healthy subjects and taught one group (with neurofeedback) to mimic the Zen monks (who during meditation were able to systematically increase alpha {8-12hz} that reduced in frequency until it sank into theta {4-8hz}) while a control group just tried to relax.

They discovered that the theta group often reported memories of long forgotten childhood events, which weren’t ‘remembered’ but ‘relived,’ had life altering insights that lead to profound changes in their life and increased their psychological health, becoming more poised, more accepting of self and others, less rigid and conforming and more creative.

What surprised the Greens the most, was that they didn’t get sick anymore, while the control group had no change in their physical health.

Neurofeedback researcher and Houston clinician William Beckwith stated that increased alpha and theta frequencies with cross lateral brainwave synchronisation, “…is often accompanied by spontaneous surfacing of previously inaccessible memories, often from early childhood,” which produces ‘profound’ alterations in a person’s mood and behaviour, as well as the, “…seemingly miraculous resolution of complex psychological problems.” In what looks like “…a sudden reordering of the entire personality.

Working independently on theta brainwave meditation research, neurofeedback researcher and clinician Thomas Budzynski, found that theta states made subjects ‘hyper-suggestable’ (as if in a hypnotic trance) to suggestions for positive changes to their behaviour and attitudes and they were able to learn languages and other information much faster.

Dr James Hardt PhD formally of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute of the University of California Medical Centre and now director of the Biocybernaut Institute Hardt, who has done some work on comparing yoga and Zen meditation to alpha theta neurofeedback brainwave meditation, asserts that mystical experience and alpha theta neurofeedback experience share many, if not all ‘basic dimensions,’ an observation made by many other clinician/researchers.

His research indicates neurofeedback is closer to Zen than Yoga, as Zen integrates the inner and outer worlds in mediation practice with eyes slightly open. In yoga, meditation is done with eyes closed and an attempt to shut out sensory stimulus.

Alpha theta neurofeedback is not only a form of mindfulness training as you focus on the feedback tone as well as breathing, which substantially accelerates mindfulness skill development and it’s benefits but as the brain is literally watching itself we can say it is brainfulness training.

Dr Julian Isaacs PhD, researcher and neurofeedback clinician points out the phenomenology of mysticism is accessed in altered states created by alpha theta brainwave meditation.

Brainwave Meditation for Music Performance

Professor John Gruzelier head of the Cognitive Neuroscience and Behaviour Laboratory at Imperial Collage London and president of the Society for Applied Neuroscience conducted research with high achieving students at the prestigious Royal College of Music London in 2002.

He compared alpha theta neurofeedback to Alexander technique (postural and body awareness training used extensively in the performing arts) and cognitive skills training (positive thinking similar to NLP).

The three groups of musicians had performances videoed and rated by a panel of independant expert judges who didn’t know what group they belonged to, before and after 4 weeks of training. All those in the neurofeedback group improved, some by 50 percent, in stylistic accuracy and interpretative imagination (creativity).

The number of incidental errors also fell significantly. Average improvements were equivalent to two academic grades within the conservatory assessment system. There was no improvement in the other two groups.

Some important points to consider re the above research:

  • the research was done with high achieving students clearly demonstrating the peak performance benefits to high achievers.
  • this type of applied research is about 20 years behind trainers experience in the field.
  • the improvements of stylistic accuracy, interpretive imagination and reduced incidental errors held up 2 years from the actual training, which is consistent with trainers experience in the field.
  • interpretive imagination is basically a description of creativity
  • a research setting is very restrictive and doesn’t allow for tailored training for individuals, which improves results significantly, also the amount of training was far less than you would do in a real life training program, again improving outcomes.
  • another important outcome of Neurofeedback training is arousal control especially related to emotional states eg anxiety and depression. In the field it is used extensively to remediate depression and anxiety problems also for emotional control for athletes to improve the consistency of their performance.

Neurofeedback Training for Stress

Hardt provided alpha neurofeedback training to two teams of US Army Green Berets being trained for classified missions. These guys represent the archetypal alpha males who would be the least likely to do any form of mediation training.

Yet Hardt’s program produce many positive benefits to the soldiers making them calmer, clearer more connected to their feelings reducing aggressiveness and defensiveness.

Another telling feature of Hardt’s program was that the soldiers were sent on a one month meditation retreat, which Hardt found caused the action oriented soldiers stress rather than enhancing them.

However, the neurofeedback training did the opposite. An even more amazing fact is when the equipment was provided for ongoing training at their base, two thirds chose to do it during their free time instead of sport!

This demonstrates the power of alpha neurofeedback as the ultimate brainwave mediation tool. If you can train commandos to not only do it but to gain benefit and to like it and want to do it in their free time that speaks volumes!

A Tale of Self Discovery p14-28 Megabrain Report The Journal of Mind Technology Vol.2 No.3

Egner, T and Gruzelier, J.H Ecological validity of neurofeedback: modulation of slow wave EEG enhances musical performance NeuroReport 2003; 14(9):1221-1224

Hardt, J.V. Alpha EEG responses of low and high anxiety males to respiration and relaxation training and to auditory feedback of occipital alpha. Dissertation Abstracts, International, 35(4), Catalog No. 74-19309, 1912B-1913B, (1974).

Hardt, J.V. and Kamiya, J. Anxiety change through EEG alpha feedback: Seen only in high anxiety subjects. Science, 201, 79-81, (1978).

Hardt, J.V. EEG Biofeedback Method and System for Training Voluntary Control of Human EEG Activity, United States Patent #4,928,704, May 29, (1990).

Kasamatsu, A and Hirai, T. An Electroencephalographic Study of Zen Meditation. Zoren Psychologia 12 pp 205-225 (1969)

The Brainwave Investigation Megabrain Report The Journal of Mind Technology Vol.2 No.3 p6-13

The Brainwave Investigation Megabrain Report The Journal of Mind Technology Vol.2 No.3 p9