Basic Rules of Neurofeedback.
1. “You’re not training the mind, you’re training the brain.”
2. “If it works, keep doing it.”
Tools for Neurofeedback
You need three things to do neurofeedback–and ideally would have two more.
You need some kind of acquisition device (electrodes) to pick up the signals from your head.
You need an amplifier to clean and magnify those signals and send them to the computer (your Pendant)
You need software (BioExplorer) to allow you to choose what frequencies to train, with what targets and what kind of feedback.
Ideally you would also have some kind of evaluation that would tell you what was going on in your brain, so the things you train have a greater likelihood of resulting in the effects you wish to achieve. And ideally you would have some kind of mentor or support person who could help you learn the basic skills of finding sites, placing electrodes for a clean signal, recognizing and minimizing artifact and running the software without corrupting the training.
Qualifications for Training
I do indeed fully support home users as long as they go into things with eyes wide open. I’ve talked a lot more people OUT of trying to do EEG at home than I’ve talked into it. BTW, that holds for licensed professionals as well–more than a few of whom I’ve seen jump in with, I guess, the assumption that the fact that they were licensed and a professional meant that they’d be able to be effective brain trainers.
The standard of care I teach people, whether professional or lay, is as follows:
1. don’t mess around with someone else’s brain until you have some idea what it is already doing;
2. don’t decide for your client what his/her training goals should be; work with clients to establish clear desired outcomes;
3. focus on the achievement of the outcomes–objectively if that’s how the problem is defined (e.g. teacher calling 4 times a week to complain about behavior, failing grades, etc.)–or subjectively if that’s how the problem is defined (e.g. quieting the racing thoughts in my head, feeling happier and more energetic, etc.); and
4. achieve results as quickly as possible, without making the patient uncomfortable or worse if at all possible.
There is usually never a time when a negative response such as headache, spaciness or extreme exhaustion is something we should work through. I would admit that there are times when a client may have a slight headache after or during a session but the next day experience a dramatic change. In that case I might (with the client’s agreement) try it again, but ideally I’d want to know what about the protocol was resulting in the headache or the extreme exhaustion. There is no reason for a Calvinist approach to neurofeedback.
If you watch the oscilloscope, you’ll get comfortable reading what EEG activity looks like: it is not generally repetitive or overly consistent. When all the wave forms are roughly the same height, instead of taller and shorter, that’s probably not brain. If the width of the waves are very consistent rather than shifting to wider (slower) and narrower (faster) patterns, again, that’s probably something “mechanical” rather than “organic”. Sudden spikes, especially when they are repetitive, probably also indicate a problem.
Artifact in Assessments
Artifacting can make a big difference when the artifact is strong. Watching for artifact when you replay a session, you can get a pretty clear picture of what it looks like on the Power Spectrum and/or Oscilloscope displays. Then you can recognize it on the screen during the assessment data gathering. That’s the ideal time. The more you can avoid artifact in the recording, the easier it is to remove it in the processing. You’ll end up with more seconds of clean data and spend less time getting it.
Do not assume that auto artifacting will “skim off” the high amplitudes. In a well-recorded assessment, the auto-artifacting frequently removes zero segments as artifact.
About my 2nd year of working with clients, Joel Lubar was kind of a mentor to me. He had come to visit us in Atlanta one time, and we had just gotten an “artifacting” version of the A620 software. You looked at 2-second epochs as raw waveforms and either approved or rejected them based on the one channel of data. I had just gotten the software and begin working with it, so I was artifacting a file while Joel sat beside me at the computer. Joel was not one to suffer in silence, so after a few sighs watching me stare and stare at a 2-second epoch, he stood up to go out and “get something from the car” or something like that. As he left, he turned back to me at said, “try something for me.” He asked me to continue artifacting this 2 minute file as carefully as I possibly could and save the results. Then do it again as fast as I could, just removing the most obvious artifacts. “See how different they are,” he said and left for about 20 minutes. By the time he got back, I had gotten the message. Big, obvious artifacts are the ones that really mess up the averages and standard deviations of the data. The ones so small that you can’t really be sure they are or aren’t make almost no difference at all.
An eyeblink lasts 1-2 seconds in its effect on the EEG unless you are blinking very rapidly. Eye movement, cable movement and eyeblinks are all slowwave excursions, so they will appear in the power spectrum and oscilloscope.
Teach your clients to “peek through their eyelashes” when training frontally. I tell them, “pretend your in a room full of adults and you REALLY want to stay to see what’s going on, but you know they’ll make you leave if they think you are awake. So you pretend your eyes are closed, but you open them just enough to be able to see.”
Each eye has a voltage drop in the eyeball. Even being close to the eyes can cause an effect on the signal.
Eyes moving, even with eyes closed, will cause delta artifact the further forward the electrodes are.
You can and do blink and move your eyes when they are closed. Try it and you’ll see the effect on readings taken in the frontal areas. Regularity of the surges would suggest blinks.
I look at the power spectrum in bins mode. If all the frequencies on both sides surge out and then come back pretty much together, that’s almost certainly eye artifact. If the high amplitude activity appears in various frequencies and moves around in a more “organic” way, then it’s probably brain.
If you are consistently seeing high levels of delta (recognizing that delta is often the highest power in many brains except for posterior eyes closed alpha), I would always check the eyes. Eye movement, electrode movement, eyeblinks and even the eyes themselves can produce high levels of delta. And, of course, if you did not artifact the data before dumping it into the assessment, it’s pretty worthless. I work with dozens of trainers at any given point in time–include rookie home trainers just starting out–and see nearly all of them able to get useful assessments if the data are carefully gathered and properly artifacted.
Eye rolls also create artifact that appears as excessive slow activity. You can see them as the whole wave form rolls up off the baseline and then down below it.
Contact lenses tend to magnify blink artifact significantly.
Any muscle tensing or bracing produces a surge in most frequencies, but especially in the higher bands (like high-beta). EMG is usually seen between 50 and 200 Hz, but, depending on the amplifier being used, the EMG may not appear at all, because the amplifier only reads up to 35-45 Hz. Nevertheless, high-beta (and often fastwave coherence as well) will appear very high when it is in fact an artifact of EMG.
EMG is usually defined as 20-200 Hz, though obviously there are lots of EEG signals in that range as well. If you grit your teeth while recording EEG, you’ll see a surge in nearly all frequencies, but the higher the frequency the greater the artifact. Since most amplifiers have lowpass filters built into them to cut off very high frequencies like this, depending on what amp you are using, you may be thinking you are training a frequency your amplifier can’t even see.
Oz is generally about 1.5 inches above the inion. That’s still pretty close to the neck muscles. Be very careful to have the client sit with head up, not dropped forward, to avoid producing muscle artifact from those muscles. This is an issue we talk about in the assessment process, especially for the Midline reading and especially at task.
Artifact in the Signal
Lots more 60 Hz signal when it is “by itself” is often a measure of quality of hookup. When it is very high relative to the rest of the power spectrum, it’s almost always an issue of poor impedances/bad scalp connections.
If levels of 60 Hz are within the range of the other amplitudes in the EEG and you don’t have impedance problems, it’s not a big thing. Remember that we don’t actually measure anything anywhere near there with the filters in the assessment or training designs. What you need to watch for is usually clear in the power spectrum. If you see regular spikes up and down the EEG (for example, at 22, 35, and 50 Hz), that is a seriously bad signal.
Regular pulses, depending on their frequency, can often be related to artifact, especially ECG. Especially with clients who are heavy. You may be picking up pulsing in a blood vessel. It’s not common to see any kind of regular oscillation that affects all frequencies repeatedly. And since such an artifact would be expected to result in activity at all sites coming from the same source (the artifact), that would be a rule-out in a case where coherences were generally high.
If someone is producing ECG artifact, you can see the regular pulsing in the oscilloscope. Usually earlobes are a major culprit, so I move from the ears to mastoids or use a bipolar montage. Occasionally I have managed to get a head lead directly over a blood vessel under the scalp and moving the offending electrode will fix the problem.
I don’t recall having personally run into a client where we couldn’t get away from the pulse. I’d be hesitant to try to set up a filter in the specific frequency where the pulse occurs to filter it out, but that’s possible. Heart rates usually run from, say, 50-90 pulses per minute, which would be from around 0.8 to 1.5 Hz. (If your heart rate is 60 bpm, that would be 1 Hz–60 in a minute divided by 60 seconds.) Putting a filter down there with a threshold that blocks sudden amplitude surges would at least block the signal at those times.
You can actually move earclips up to the cartilage area closer to the top of the ears. The problem with ECG is almost always in the earlobes, and moving to the mastoid or the cartilage almost always helps.
These can be caused by ungrounded laptops, power supplies, or almost any electrical equipment–sometimes equipment you can’t even identify. These often appear as high coherences in faster frequencies and high levels of fast activity.
Ungrounded laptops are a significant source of artifact. If you are using a 2-prong plug instead of a three-prong plug, even in a grounded outlet, you won’t get the benefit of the grounding, and you are likely to have a noisy signal. Try unplugging the AC adaptor from the wall and the computer while you are running and see if the signal cleans up.
Watch for coherence levels being artificially high if you have significant electromagnetic field interference. Even if you use your notch filter and keep the training range to 1-40, coherences can be adversely affected.
Electrodes that are scratched, have nicked wires or are long and stretched out creating an antenna to pick up signals also are a source of artifact.
I’ve certainly seen cases of intrusive EMF: in Zurich I did a workshop with one of their electric trolley lines outside the building and we all (using cabled amplifiers) had such horrible noise problems that we had to drop the part of the workshop related to gathering assessments. In Sao Paulo, trainers I consult with have struggled with such problems due to their proximity to a broadcasting tower. In California I was called to an office to figure out why it was impossible to get a decent signal in one room, when signals were fine on both sides and downstairs from the same office. None of us three “experts” who were there were able to find the source of the problem. All of those cases involved cabled amps. But those were very rare experiences among the thousands of situations I’ve seen and trained in.
Assessing and Training the Pre-Frontal Cortex
Fp1 and Fp2 are extremely difficult sites to evaluate and to train, because they are extremely close to the eye muscles (blink or eye movement cause excessive slow frequency artifact) and they are right over all those expressive muscles in the forehead. It is almost impossible, except with the most controlled and motivated client, to get a decent artifact-free reading there.
The beat rate is the difference between two separate tones, one entering one ear and the other the other ear. Sending a 300Hz signal into one ear and 310 Hz into the other, the brain will here a 10 Hz pulse. It works when, for example, tuning a guitar where two strings are slightly off. Play them at the same time and you’ll hear a wave.
It’s hearing two different signals entering at the same time that causes the harmonics we hear as beats. The brain as a whole responds to them and often moves in the direction of the beat frequency. We usually use them at a subliminal level. I open the volumes control from the tools menu and turn off all other sounds except the tone generators. Then I adjust their volume till I can barely hear the flutter of the beat. Then I turn the other sounds back up.
Binaural beats won’t work if you only hear them with one ear, so the entrainment effect won’t function occur if a person is deaf in one ear, but you’ll still be training the frequencies in your design.
There’s evidence that binaural beats affect EEG patterns. However, I’m not aware of any compelling reason to spend a lot of money on binaural beats CD’s–there are dozens of them out there–when you can probably produce the effect yourself in BE. The beats approach “pushes” the brain toward frequencies while NF gives the brain information when it stumbles into the desired states.
We have long included binaural beats in many of the brain-trainer designs in the design package, and the current package has built in to the Options protocols sweeping. When the peak frequency of the EEG is below a certain point, the binaural beats add to the existing peak frequency and provide a pulse rate just above it, theoretically coaxing it up. When the peak frequency is above a certain point the beat rate is reduced just below the existing frequency, coaxing it down. In short, the beats are set up to sweep the EEG up or down into a band between 6 and14 Hz (that’s from memory, but it’s close). If the peak frequency is already IN that range, then there are no beats at all.
Blinking is very interesting. We used to use it as an indicator of progress in speeding up the brain. When a client was holding down theta relative to beta, blinking frequency dropped way down. This was very reliable.
People who have a fair amount of slow activity OFTEN blink a LOT! Don’t know why that is, but it’s a commonly–if anecdotally–recognized finding. And as you speed up brain frequencies, commonly blinking becomes less of an issue.
Coherence just means the relationship is stable. It could be in phase (zero phase angle), 180 degrees out of phase (peak lined up with trough or anywhere in between. Coherence speaks to stability of the relationship. Phase speaks to the timing. Synchrony is when the timing relationship between two signals is consistently the same and the firing and recharge periods line up.
I would NEVER do coherence/synchrony, symmetry (2C Alpha Beta Symmetry) or assessment WITHOUT linked ears.
The idea simply is that a brain which tries to keep coherence high often has trouble figuring out how to make it go down. Starting off by training it UP, the direction it already wants to go can pull it out of its comfort zone but on the upside, which is easier for it to do. Then, after 2 minutes, switching to DOWN training coherence asks the brain to go from too high back down, and it often then goes down lower than it’s accustomed. After 2 minutes of that, you train it back up for two minutes, then back down (and keep training down). This creates a kind of momentum and helps break up the stuck-point in the brain, so it often results in the client being able to do what they couldn’t do training straight ahead. People up north probably know about rocking a car to get out of being stuck in snow; in the south being stuck in mud. Same concept.
If you are supposed to be training down, then once you get it going down, forget the rocking. That’s just to break free of any stuckness. You might rock your car back and forth to get out of a snowdrift, but once you are driving, you don’t need to keep doing it.
High fastwave coherences tend to be related either to excessive sensitivity or to locking up the function in an area (to avoid sensitivity). In the parietals, which should be working independently to help process sensory information, when fast wave coherence is too high, sensory integration is slow or incomplete. In the frontals this pattern often relates to rigidity in thought, inability to switch tasks smoothly, etc.
Coherence and amplitude tend to run pretty closely together. One of the simplest ways to train down coherence is to train down beta amplitude. I like to use a P3/A1/g/A2/P4 summed-channel hookup in BrainMaster (or the 2C squash protocol in BE) and set my inhibit for either 15-25 or 15-35, depending on whether high beta is also an issue. I recommend doing this with eyes closed.
High fastwave coherences could easily be related to a level of tension in the client (anxious, trying really hard to sit still, etc.) or electromagnetic noise in the environment, since coherence simply measures the degree to which signals in different places appear to be linked (i.e. connected to one another or coming from the same third place. You do your best during data gathering to minimize these, but I often see high fastwave coherence readings in an assessment that I consider suspect, but unless all coherences are high in all frequencies at all sites, I usually put a coherence protocol in the training plan if the symptoms/training goals suggest it might really be there (rigidity in thought, anxiety, getting stuck in patterns, etc.) The rule is the same as with anything else in the assessment (e.g. hot temporals that “aren’t there” when you go to train them): move on to the next option.
If you find a client who really does have high fastwave coherence values (EC or EO), you’ll find out why we train them: it often makes a very big difference for the client to reduce them.
Neurons that can’t shift into the coherent relationship in alpha are likely never really letting go of beta, trying to burst back into it at intervals when there is no task, and thus not able to simply link up to the sub-cortical generators that produce the alpha rhythms.
That would certainly lead to them being “tired” or anxious, both of which could have an effect on attention and processing.
Contraindications for Training
I don’t think of anything that would be contra-indicated for brain training if you are willing to take on the person/support system that carries the brain around. We screened out families with split parents (one strongly favoring training, the other strongly opposed) and kids on three or more psychoactive meds. We worked with things that I didn’t think had much of a chance of responding, telling the client that up front and letting them choose to take the flier (e.g. a guy who was losing his sight, people with active Alzheimer’s). Maybe the main contra-indication would be for clients: don’t work with careless trainers who don’t know what they are doing. That is the largest group of “damaged” people I see. You might also want to stay away from shoppers with absolutely mind-boggling stories who have tried a dozen other things, none of which worked or which made them worse. I still might try if I were intrigued by the person, but I’d go into it knowing that our chances were pretty slim.
Perhaps a corollary to the question is, “are there things you don’t think NF can help with?” My answer would be yes, though I know there are folks on the group who will disagree with each of these, and if they are truly helping clients get results with those issues, then I hope they’ll enlighten me. I don’t train active Alzheimer’s, because I’ve tried several times and gotten absolutely no results trying everything I could think of or others had claimed efficacy for. The folks who tell me they are getting results say, “I think we are slowing the rate of decline.” If everyone agrees with that, then great. I just have no idea how one measures that, and I haven’t seen anything I could seriously propose for that in my own experience. I use a simple rule. If it were ME who was paying for this training, would I keep spending the money. I wouldn’t if I had a family member with active Alzheimer’s. I’ve had no success in working with very low IQ children. Not that we couldn’t train them; just couldn’t get any lasting effects we could notice. Broken bones or nerve transmission issues or tumors or other physically-based issues aren’t likely to be helped much by NF. But anything that has a connection to the brain and its efforts can probably be impacted by a knowledgeable trainer.
I don’t think of contra-indications as the same as side-effects. Side-effects are signposts (as much as positive outcomes) that guide the trainer (if he/she happens to be paying attention) in steering the training. We can certainly make folks more tuned in to certain of them (nobody ever told me about beta and itching, but now that I know about it, I keep a careful eye out for it). And we can try to steer people away from certain kinds of things that are more likely to trigger them.
I think of contra-indications as elements in the assessment that would say, “don’t do NF with this client”. You don’t give medications to a person who is allergic to them. That’s contra-indicated. Other than the ones I mentioned (parental splits and heavy medication) there really aren’t any that I can think of in my own work.
I agree that it’s likely there are cultural differences in brains. Heck, there are large individual differences in their patterns, why not cultural. I don’t think I ever did an assessment in Switzerland or Korea that didn’t have hot temporals, but no one ever indicated an interest in training to reduce anxiety. High levels of fast wave activity were common in those (and other) places. I trained hot temporals and trainees found the changes pleasant in Switzerland. The Koreans were so polite that they really wouldn’t say much about what they felt before or after the training. There is no question that cultural issues are involved in training. I’d love to see if they are also somehow related to changes in macro brain organization, which is what the TLC looks for.
1. Your brain operates with its own chemicals–neurotransmitters–that change how we think, feel and act. The brain’s chemistry is directly related to its energy states. For example, when a brain produces strong alpha rhythm in the back (especially with eyes closed) it releases lots of Serotonin–a chemical that keeps us calm and positive. When a person’s brain does not produce the calm, resting rhythm of alpha, there is little serotonin released, and the client may feel anxiety, have difficulty falling asleep, etc. When it produces an alpha rhythm that is too slow, the person experiences fogginess, depressive feelings, low energy, difficulty waking up/staying awake.
2. About 30 years ago, western culture began its love affair with “better living through chemistry” as drugs were developed and marketed to change our mental and emotional states. These worked by artificially changing the levels of the natural chemicals occurring in the brain. What we’ve learned is that these artificial changes in levels have a temporary effect on the things they are supposed to change–and a much more lasting effect on things we DON’T want them to change. For example, taking an anxiety/depression drug to change functional levels of serotonin does so for a short time, but it also leads the brain to make more permanent changes. The brain is no dummy! It recognizes that there is little alpha being produced but more than the expected level of Serotonin, so it starts closing receptor sites for Serotonin–essentially working against the drug from the outside. If you suddenly stop taking the medication, your brain will be in a MUCH worse place than it was before you started (unless and until it’s able to re-open those receptors).
3. There have always been chemicals people have added to their brains. Recreational drugs like alcohol, pot, etc. usually “help” people get into a state of relaxation and disinhibition that they don’t normally achieve on their own. Enlightenment drugs (psychedelics, peyote, etc) are expected to take the brain someplace it can’t get to on its own. In most cases, an occasional experiment with such substances will not disturb the brain’s function, and it can guide us to a recognition that there are more capabilities in our brains than we usually experience. Finding a calm, present alpha state by smoking pot until you get a “high” can result in someone deciding to start brain-training or meditation to teach the brain to get to that state on its own. Or it can lead a person to start smoking (or drinking alcohol, which also often shifts the brain toward alpha after 1-3 drinks) regularly to get there.
4. Just as the medications, used over time, result in undesired changes in the brain which actually make it HARDER for us to get to the state we want on our own, so regular use of alcohol, pot, or other so-called “recreational” drugs does the same thing.
5. People who chronically smoked marijuana–especially those who started before age 23–over a period of years–EVEN IF they have stopped for years–produces a brain pattern easily recognized in an assessment. There is a LOT of alpha, but:
–the alpha is too slow; instead of being at 10 Hz, which relates to the calm, present, observer state–a consciousness state, or the so-called “zone”–without thinking or trying, it tends to be down around 9 Hz or below. That state is consistent with hypnosis: a state in which clear cognitive processing is very difficult, awareness of things outside our own heads is fuzzy.
–the alpha is all over the head, instead of focused in the rear and on the right side. The result is a sense of low-energy, depression, emotional flatness and again cognitive fogginess.
–the alpha doesn’t go away, as it normally should, when the eyes are opened and (more importantly) when the brain has a job to do. The ability to get in gear and do work is dramatically reduced.
–the alpha shows strongly in the prefrontal cortex, where it should NOT be, resulting in low motivation, lack of ability to organize and plan, reductions in working memory and other damaging issues.
6. When I have worked with people attracted to marijuana or alcohol, I ask them to commit to giving me one month without smoking/drinking. My challenge is that I bet they will find they are able to get the good things they get from smoking/drinking on their own, without the substance, and that they’ll begin to recognize the ability to stay in that state automatically when it’s appropriate. Using the drugs during training short-circuits the training effect. You’re wasting time. But of the people who’ve made the commitment I requested, at the end of the first month (though they were not finished training) only one of more than a dozen decided he was better off with the drugs.
The first question I always ask, whether the drugs are “medicinal” or “recreational”, is how well the strategy is working. It’s amazing how many people come for training who are taking 3- 5 or more psychoactive medications. They may be taking a stimulant, an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety, an anticonvulsant and an antipsychotic at the same time. Plus one or more to help deal with the “side-effects.” What are their goals for brain-training? To pay attention better, feel less anxiety or depression, become more stable emotionally, sleep better, etc. In other words, they want to fix the same problems they are taking all these drugs to resolve (or cover over).
Do they “get” the irony that, with this massive amount of invasive chemistry they are dumping into their brains, they have the same problems–and sometimes worse–that they had before they started? In the case of this woman of whom you write, can she recognize that her level of anxiety is no lower than it ever was–may in fact be higher–despite the fact that she’s established this compulsive habit and accepted all the “side-effects” that go along with constantly-high THC levels? Or does she really think she is better off? Presumably not, or she wouldn’t be talking with you.
The important recognition to begin with is, “energy drives chemistry–not the other way around.” Specific frequencies of electrical pulses activate synapses that release specific neurotransmitters. Chemical interventions don’t generally change the chemistry except by manipulating it artificially. SSRI drugs, for example, don’t increase the brain’s release of Serotonin, which is often low in anxious people. What they do is that they artificially “inhibit “, the RI in the name of these chemicals. Normally certain frequencies of electrical activity (e.g. alpha) activate networks which squirt tiny amounts of a chemical (.e.g. serotonin) into the connections between neurons (the synapses). Then, within milliseconds, the chemicals bind to receptors on the receiving neuron which are specific to serotonin and any excess is “vacuumed” out of the synapse to make room for the next message. That’s called “re-uptake”. So a “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor” (SSRI) simply reduces the power of the reuptake process. Whatever Serotonin is in the synapse is NOT removed quickly, increasing the chance that more molecules of it will get to a receptor. It’s a way of fooling the brain into thinking that there is more alpha being produced than there really is.
But brains are not dumb. It appears they recognize that something is causing the level of serotonin to appear greater than it actually should be based on electrical patterns. So they close down receptor cells on the receiving neurons–so the apparent level of alpha goes back down. You have to keep adjusting the dose of the SSRI to keep achieving the false effect, and the brain keeps adjusting to that. Why is it so hard to get off these drugs? Well, when you start reducing the dosage, the reuptake process gets stronger again, reducing the false appearance of more serotonin. But now the brain has closed a lot of receptor sites, so even going back to your pre-med level of serotonin (already low), even LESS of it gets to the receiving neuron, so anxiety is paralyzing. You hope that the brain will eventually start re-opening receptors, but that takes time and is very unpleasant while it’s happening.
But what happens if something actually helps the brain to produce functional alpha in the right places at the right times? The serotonin release increases naturally. The level of anxiety (excessive thinking) is reduced and becomes stable without causing side-effects.
Brains establish habitual patterns in their energy economies, and those patterns (encoded by experience) drive the chemical environment of the brain. Brain’s are self-reinforcing systems, so they do not change easily–like any habits–but we know that they can change if they receive novel feedback–something that is new. That’s the power of neurofeedback: the brain receives inputs from its senses that directly reflect in objective and immediate ways the energy patterns it is producing. Given that new information, the right (novelty) hemisphere of the brain awakens and can learn new patterns, which get moved to the left hemisphere–the rule-book–and become new habits.
But when DOESN’T that happen? When the brain is so soaked with external chemistry that training it is like trying to dig a ditch in a swamp. The drugged-out brain–whether the drugs came from a doctor or a dealer–is no longer in control of itself, so it can’t change what it does very well.
The good news is that, if a client is motivated to change–recognizes that the current strategy is enslaving rather than liberating–there is a way out. If one starts reducing the drugs at the same time they are training the brain, energy patterns can begin to change so that, in our example above, the brain starts producing appropriate alpha which increases the release of serotonin–and gives the brain the message that it’s there for a reason. Continued, more rapid, reduction of the external juice can occur without the pain of the brain having to transition on its own back to a state that wasn’t ideal when it started.
I explain this to a new client and ask them how motivated they are to make the change. One interesting technique for helping them make this decision is to ask them to consider two alternatives: One, you don’t change paths but stay on the current one; two, you commit to cutting cross-lots to get from the road you have gone down to another that will make your life more what you dream it could be. If the client isn’t willing to take the second path, then I basically tell them it’s a waste of their time and money to try training their brain. If they are willing at least to make an effort and try changing, then we can go ahead. I ask them to commit to stopping or cutting way back on the drugs during one month. They train intensively during that period, sometimes daily, with a focus on dealing with the detoxification process. In many cases, when you do the initial assessment, you will find a brain that shows few if any of the expected patterns related to their symptoms. After 10-20 sessions, as they have begun to stabilize without the chemicals, I often do a second assessment and see a totally different brain. That’s the one that was buried in the swamp, and our training can focus on changing those patterns.
Eyes Open vs Eyes Closed Training
As for training down beta and high beta, in my experience it matters quite a bit whether you are training eyes closed or eyes open. Also what kind of feedback you are giving can make a difference. Using contingent feedback (beeps or clicks) only when the client passes on all filters can result in a highly beta oriented person “trying,” which often will increase fast activity. I often use eyes-closed protocols with musical (continuous) feedback, so the client never “passes” or “fails”. Since the music is slow and relaxing, and there is not visual feedback, the brain can relax and let go the beta.
When a client has significant fast temporal activity with eyes closed which drops off when eyes are opened, does it make sense to train it eyes-open? If that is a hypervigilance response from the amygdala to the experience of being cut off from warning signs (can’t see danger), then teaching the brain to let it go a little at a time can have a remarkable effect. I’m even doing some EC theta/beta ratio down-training with eyes closed. It’s a lot easier in the frontals that way and rarely do clients complain of being sleepy or tired after a session.
Bottom-line: it ain’t that complicated. You ask the client to keep his/her eyes closed, put on some headphones, find a sound environment the client likes and start the program. Many of my clients are adults, and they invariably ask, “what am I supposed to do?” I tell them, “It’s just music. Just listen to it. You don’t have to worry about it. But when you hear the bell, know that’s really good.” Of course, being adults and knowing that nothing is ever that simple, they spend a few minutes (sometimes longer) trying to figure out, “when I did this, did the sound go up or down?” But eventually they are seduced by the music, and they truly can’t figure out “how” they’re doing it, so they just stop trying and listen and the brain takes over from that noisy conscious mind. And they get better. Best of all, it’s not uncommon for folks to come back up after 20 minutes and say, “I really liked that music; can I get a copy of it?” They cannot believe their brain was the artist.
Falling Asleep During Sessions
You can work with a “sleeping” client with any EEG equipment. Unless you see a significant spike in Theta, the client is not really asleep. Letting a client “sleep” and get the brain into a solid SMR/sleep spindles state for a few sessions is very positive.
Don’t think; don’t try. Just pay attention to the feedback.
Meaning of Tones
What does music mean?!! What do sounds mean? Of course an anxious, obsessive person, a person driven by the need to control, wants to know that kind of stuff. That’s exactly why I started playing with music feedback when my son first introduced me to the WaveRider back in the mid-to-late 90’s. Of course, those clients HATED closing their eyes, and even more HATED being told just to listen. They resisted with every fiber of their conscious minds. But after a while they tended to wear themselves out and give up trying at least briefly–in short, to let the feedback actually pass through to the brain WITHOUT filtering the heck out of it with their minds–and to their horror it often had a positive effect.
When one is taught to believe that it’s really the conscious intellectual mind that has to make things happen, and when one commits to that belief, it’s incredibly limiting. I know that only those folks who live in their minds have figured out stuff like chaos theory and the various forms of “new” physics, etc. But I also know that the same stuff was known thousands of years ago by Taoist masters who had never heard of particle accelerators or quarks.
You can study music. You can use music. Or you can listen to it and resonate to it and enjoy it. If the conscious mind is indeed the one that runs the show, then we better explain the music–or better yet, just do away with it. If the conscious mind just gets in the way of much of life, then I feel justified in continuing to irritate the heck out of compulsive and anxious clients by refusing to talk with them about what the music means and what it’s “supposed to” do.
If your conscious mind really ran the show, then you would not be anxious, I tell them. You don’t want to be anxious. You’ve thought about it and tried to control it for years or decades. How come you are still anxious? Because the anxiety results from energy patterns in your brain, and you can’t “think” those away. Give up–or just keep being anxious and obsessive. Giving up control is the ultimate key to so much of life–the basis for meditation, religious experience, 12-step programs, getting into the zone, falling in love, and a lot of other important parts of experience.
How Feedback Works
One of the brain’s major functions/interests is to send something out (words/actions) into the universe and see what comes back. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is selecting what to do and receiving the information back. I’ve used the analogy of a kid learning to wiggle his ears: if you can practice in front of a mirror that is immediate and accurate, you will learn much faster than if you just sit around and try to tell if you are doing it or not. The more you limit the brain’s experience to what is in the mirror (close your eyes, put on headphones, sit in a comfortable chair) the more clearly the mirror focuses the brain’s attention on a specific response. Combine that kind of mirror (we could call it “feedback”) with intention (e.g. I want to see my ears move in response to what I’m doing), and the brain can learn.
Take the WS Alpha temporal design. It changes the pitch and volume of the sound based on the amount of activity the brain is producing in the frequencies we want to reduce. Once the client stops “thinking” and “trying” then the brain is receiving feedback in the form of changing pitches and volumes, and as it looks through what it is doing it begins to recognize that there is a relationship between high energy states and the sound. That’s the feedback mirror. The intention is that I’ve told the client “you can’t MAKE the bell ring, but whenever it does, that is very good!” The brain can figure out that the chime rings only when it is moving to lower energy states, so it’s likely to move that direction. Sorry, there’s nothing magic about the tones or anything like that. They are reflecting brain activity, and we’ve given the brain a hint toward the desired direction.
So the idea of NF is that you set your thresholds so that the brain is rewarded for doing something it already does!! You teach a dog to sit by tossing him a treat each time he sits down on his own and repeating the command “sit.” If you take a client whose Theta/Beta ratio ranges from 1.8 to 5.0 and only give feedback when he hits below 1.5 (0% of the time), the brain will learn nothing. If you give the feedback whenever it is below 5.0 (100% of the time) it will learn nothing. But if you set your target at, say 3.8, so the ratio is below it 75% of the time, what happens. The brain is motivated to “cut off the outliers”–reduce the times that it goes way up in slow activity. This is done by improving control circuits. As they improve, eventually the brain’s “normal” range may change to 1.7 to 4.0, and you slide the threshold down to, say 2.9. Now a new batch of brain activation patterns are defined as “outliers” and the brain begins to learn to minimize them and further improve control. You are “shaping” the brain’s behavior, little by little.
Continuous vs. Contingent Feedback
Stripped of all the hype, there are two types of feedback: Continuous and Contingent. Continuous, which is heavily built into many of the brain-trainer designs, gives music or video feedback that doesn’t stop. It modulates brightness or pitch or volume or size to give the brain information. If you are reducing a type of activity we want you to reduce, the music may move to higher pitches and quieter volume. It’s no more complex than that. Your brain learns to connect the music moving in one direction with specific states it is producing, and we can guide it into new states.
This works fine with people who are “hyper” emotionally or intellectually–stressed, racing thoughts, anxious, etc. But if you take a person who is nearly asleep most of the time (ADHD or depressed) calming down is unlikely to help them.
Contingent feedback, with game interface or points, etc. keeps the brain engaged. When the brain starts to drift away, the feedback STOPS, so the client is pulled back. Clients needing to activate do better with Contingent feedback, where it is either on or off and only on when all training conditions are being met. Beeps and dings and clicks.
One of the things our designs try to do is to combine continuous feedback with contingent, so the brain not only can recognize the relationship between frequency activity and the music but can also recognize what direction is best to move in.
How to Coach Feedback
“Don’t think; don’t try. Just pay attention to the feedback.” The goal is to listen to the music. Pay attention to it and don’t worry about “trying” to make anything happen. When you try, your conscious mind gets between the feedback and the brain. When you just pay attention, let the music slide through the conscious mind, the brain gets the connection between what it is doing and what’s happening in the feedback.
I would define the feedback percent strictly in terms of the client. The more “internal” the person is, the lower reward rate I would set, trying to keep the client “out”. The higher the anxiety level, the higher the reward rate I would set, trying to keep the client from “trying” too much. I actually prefer to combine continuous and contingent feedback in a design, which allows me to set a more stringent target for the contingent feedback (which only plays when all targets are met), such as the 10% I use with the chime feedback in the Squish protocols, while giving the client’s brain continuous feedback that provides information via pitch and volume (or brightness of the video display).
I think most trainers would consider 40-50% to be pretty stringent as a reward rate and 85-95% to be pretty loose. On this list, a number of trainers have reported that they find that clients actually do better with the richer reward environments, and I have seen that in my own work with clients in a number of cases. Once again, for me it depends on the client’s response.
Delays in Feedback
To learn from feedback, the general rule is that it needs to be as immediate as possible. An analogy would say if you tried to learn to wiggle your ears by looking in a mirror, but you didn’t see the results of your actions until 10 seconds after you took them, the learning would be very slow. If you saw response immediately, the learning would happen more quickly.
I aim never to have the delay between activity at the electrode and feedback on the screen exceed 250ms. I think you may be confusing Sterman’s comments about re-charge period, the break between one bit of feedback and the next, with feedback latency.
The sound of the MIDI object IS the feedback. There’s no “song” being played. Each brain in each session in each minute will play a different melody, because the melody is strictly based on what the brain is doing in the target frequencies.
I don’t often use multiple inhibit protocols. As soon as you start setting multiple reward/inhibit thresholds, you begin multiplying the problems in keeping all the targets set appropriately and losing control over the feedback rate. For example: If I have two inhibits and a reward, setting the inhibits at 80 and 90% pass rates and the reward at 85%, which would appear to be pretty loose targets, I have the potential for the client only to be scoring 61.2% of the time (multiplying the 3 together, since it’s possible that each will be blocking when the other two are both passing. A windowed squash or a percent training design give me the same effect or greater (all bands being inhibited except one reward) with a single threshold, so I can be very clear what percent of the time the client is scoring.
I think most trainers would consider 40-50% to be pretty stringent as a reward rate and 85-95% to be pretty loose. A number of trainers have reported that they find that clients actually do better with the richer reward environments, and I have seen that in my own work with clients in a number of cases. Once again, for me it depends on the client’s response.
More impulsive, impatient clients will be bored with rates below maybe 80%–sometimes higher. More internal, lost-in-space clients generally respond better to lower feedback rates, somewhere around 40-60%, because they really can’t drift away very far before the scoring stops. In my opinion, length of training segment is also important, and the style of trainer participation is also very important. These are different for different types of training.
I generally start a session with auto thresholds and then, as they stabilize, finding the client’s baseline at the beginning of training, I switch the inhibits from auto to manual, leaving the reward bands in manual.
Define the feedback percent strictly in terms of the client. The more internal the person is, the lower reward rate I would set. The higher the anxiety level, the higher the reward rate I would set, trying to keep the client from trying too much. I actually prefer to combine continuous and contingent feedback in a design, which allows me to set a more stringent target for the contingent feedback (which only plays when all targets are met), such as the 10% I use with the chime feedback in the squish protocols, while giving the client’s brain continuous feedback that provides information via pitch and volume (or brightness of the video display).
Bored with Feedback
I’m guessing the reason you are training is because you want to get better at doing some things that you don’t do very well right now, maybe even feeling your own emotions, relating in a meaningful way with those around you, etc.
And I’m guessing that the things that are hard for you are NOT the things that are exciting and entertaining–most people don’t have trouble with those.
So it’s very possible that what you need to do is to teach your brain to do things that aren’t fun or entertaining–things like work, or learning or listening to another person or stuff like that, which may even be BORING.
Consider the possibility that you won’t train your brain to deal with routine tasks by being entertained. They might even be two different states.
I don’t know how old you are–probably not as old as me. I’m so old that I can remember many years in my life when there was no expectation that everything would be fun and entertaining. I actually learned that there were things I had to do–cooking or cleaning or doing jobs at work or school, reading and studying–sometimes even watching news on TV or driving long distances–that were, BORING (though I didn’t think of them that way.) I spent many hours of my life for many years (and I still do even now) being alone and being quiet. It gave me a great benefit to grow up and live as an adult in those times, because I learned that there are very few things that are really boring; only things that I don’t pay attention to. That freed me. It allowed me to be happy and successful in many areas of my life. I found my own way to keep interested.
Yes, I know that today those thoughts are ridiculous for many of the people with whom I work. To be still and silent in their own heads is very unpleasant for them, perhaps even impossible. They NEED to be entertained. They don’t have the ability to entertain themselves just by paying attention, by finding the interest in every task.
I have a client now who is struggling with the idea of spending 10-20 minutes per day being still and letting go of the high-adrenaline TV shows or YouTube videos or films or video games on his tablet and his smartphone. He told me 2 sessions ago that he was practicing being still for 20 minutes a day–surfing on his phone through “news” sites. He was quite surprised when I told him that wasn’t the same thing. Being still is being STILL, and it takes practice, and it’s not necessarily entertaining. But it IS empowering and freeing.
I asked him to keep track of how much time he spent on social media or surfing the net or watching TV or streaming video or music each day, and he couldn’t do it, because he does it so automatically that he doesn’t even realize it. He likes it because he can turn himself off. I asked him what he had actually produced during all those hours every day (one of his goals is to become more productive), and he couldn’t name even ONE thing that actually had any value in his performance or awareness.
When you plug in to the popular culture–never walk without an i-pod blowing songs in your ear, never wait even 30 seconds for something without checking to see who’s sending you “likes” or “tweets” or whatever–you unplug from that part of yourself which can contact the spiritual that channels within you. The “still, small voice” of the spirit never shouts–at least not until the water is already up to your neck. You grow empty inside, because you can’t make room for your own spiritual self.
Nearly everyone I see lacks that center of stillness, lacks the ability to get to their own center. They MUST have more entertainment. They are trapped by their own boredom. They think they have opinions, but their opinions are TV or YouTube opinions. They think they have feelings, but their feelings are cheap, manufactured emotions produced by media. They think they need things, but their desires nearly always go back to the ads that are a part of all that “free” entertainment they must consume every hour of every day.
Training an hour a day or two or four doesn’t fix the problem–especially if the training is all about being entertained.
Use a music/video feedback design and set up a playlist of fractal zoom videos (get some good ones at ericbigas.com). Put on headphones and listen to the music and watch the video. Boring as hell! But allow yourself to get still, as much as you can, practice doing breathing exercises and paying attention to your breaths. Practice the breathing for 3 minutes, counting the breaths, 2 or 3 or 5 times a day. Let yourself find that still center and get comfortable staying there for longer times. Get used to being “bored” until you recognize that people are bored because they are boring. There is no “them” within themselves. They become cultural consumption robots for whom “friends” are people you’ve never met on a social media list, for whom, “like” is an opinion, and stillness in their own center is a thing to be avoided at all costs.
Four Channel Training or More
I’m not aware of any data comparing multi-channel with 2-channel options. In areas other than sum-channel options (synchrony, squashes, squishes, etc.) it becomes rather complicated to set up 4-channel protocols without ending up with a large number of inhibit and reward bands.
One of the benefits of 4-channel over 2-channel would be that you can cover a lot of real estate in the brain. For example, in a brain with excessive fast activity on the right hemisphere, instead of training F4 and C4 in one protocol and then repeating the protocol in T4 and P4, you could train pretty much the whole right hemisphere to do the same thing at the same time, saving training time and perhaps making the effect more powerful.
There is, in the brain-trainer package, a 4-channel synchrony design that uses coherence and phase difference values among multiple relationships in the 4 sites.
Frequency of Training
There are reasons why I would not personally train every day. One reason is that the effects of a training session may be seen anywhere from immediately during/after the session to 12-24 hours later. So even in the beginning, training every day tends to make if difficult to recognize connections between one training’s effects and another’s. With a day break between sessions, the client can attend to what happened during/after the session and that day, then what happened during sleep and the next day. Training every day would be like going to a wine tasting where you have to taste the wines one right after the other.
Since we are training for changes in the client, the way I decide when training is “done” is by stretching out the inter-session period as we go through the cycles. Doing the first cycle, if I can train 5 sessions in 5 days, I would do it, including 3 HEG sessions. During the 2nd cycle, I would train every other day–completing the cycle in two weeks instead of one–and begin identifying and measuring the changes starting to happen. In the third cycle, I often leave 2 days between sessions. If the client is showing stability in the change he is experiencing, so it lasts between sessions, we may stop at 15 sessions. Often we will do another 5–sometimes stretching them out over 3-4 weeks–sometimes just shifting to alpha theta training.
Everything I’ve ever seen about brain function–I don’t track anatomy and geography–shows little or no gender difference. All of the work done on alpha and beta symmetry has obviously been done with men and women, and everything backs up the beta-stronger-left, alpha-stronger-right findings for emotional stability.
You can’t use headphones with any kind of electrical circuitry, volume controls, noise-canceling, etc. Use plain headphones or earbuds.
As you know, many trainers (myself included) find hyperactive kids to be among the most difficult to train. I prefer to do both HEG and EEG, since I have both available and they work different areas, but a lot of trainers tend to work with HEG only–at least for a number of sessions initially.
One of the biggest problems with the more hyper clients is that they really don’t see that there’s anything wrong they want to change. Everyone else is too slow. They often don’t get social messages very clearly. If you an get them to identify some things they would like to change and get them to understand that this training (HEG) is something THEY are doing–not you–and that it will end (I like to do a countdown of sessions sometimes–starting at 24, then 23, etc.) in a finite period, a good coach can challenge them and reflect back the changes they are making. It’s short. It’s measurable.
I don’t do assessments on kids under 9 or 10 years unless there is clearly some kind of trauma history or adoption issues, etc. I just train them with HEG and sensory-motor cortex training–the old standards. For hyperactivity, I’ve found the protocol Noel Eastwood introduced to us–C4/T4 bipolar, inhibit 19-38 Hz and reward 2-6 EO often has a very positive effect. C4/P4 can often help with uncontrolled motor activity (tics, etc.) And I always teach them about breathing (very helpful in diving practice in the LIFE game).
In your situation as I understand it, I might do the first session with a new client, try to get some things he/she would like to change, teach him RSA breathing and do a LIFE session with him. I also like to talk with them about favorite athletes (if they have them), top-gun pilots, etc. I point out that if you watch Lionel Messi, he does NOT run around the field all the time. He makes sure he is in the right place based on where the ball and the other players are, but he is not wasting energy. Then, at the moment to make a run, he explodes with energy under control. So their job is to learn to get into that very still place–present in this moment–and to turn on their energy jets when they need to. That’s Diving and then Climbing in LIFE.
Once you’ve set the stage, then one of your staff can do the sessions, especially focusing on the client being in charge. He puts his own headband on. He chooses where to train first. He can choose between “circuit training” (where he climbs for 1-2 minutes, then dives for a minute, then climbs for a minute then dives again) or distance training (going a single longer climb and then a 2-minute dive at each site.
After 10 sessions, you may have a clear idea that the HEG will probably work on its own; or you may decide it’s worth adding EEG as well.
The higher the impedance–the resistance to passage of the signal between the scalp and the electrode metal–the poorer your signal will be and the more likely you are to have electromagnetic fields enter artifact into the signal.
If you are old enough to remember analog radios, where you turned the tuning dial to move the little bar to the center of the station’s frequency on a dial, you probably recall that, if you didn’t get dead in the center of the station you picked up increasing levels of static and interference from other stations. The weaker the station’s signal, the more important it was to be on target. Similarly, the higher the impedance you have in a signal, the more static and interference enter the signal for the (very weak) EEG station you are trying to tune into.
Linking Training Sites
A jumper is a device (see attached) that connects the two reference plugs on any amplifier. Some modern amplifiers allow for linking within the device or software.
Symmetry, synchrony/coherence and assessments should always be linked because they are training comparisons or relationships between the two channels. Comparing each channel against a separate reference allows error to creep into the measurements by adding another variable (the signal at the reference) to change the apparent relationship.
The jumper/linked references allow you to combine the signals from the two reference sites, and compares each of the actives against exactly the same value. I guess you could say that “zeroes out” the references, but I’d say it just equalizes them. They’re still subtracted from the active sites to give you the signal.
When you plug two references into the jumper, you have linked references. You can also plug just one electrode in (a common reference), leaving one side of the jumper vacant, and you’ll also be using the exact same value against each of the actives. Many 2 channel designs use a common reference (e.g. C3/A1/g/F3/A1).
If you are using a COMMON reference (e.g. F3/A1/g/C3/A1–both channels using A1): YES
If you are using LINKED reference for “comparative” training (e.g. coherence/synchrony, symmetry, assessment): YES
If you are doing “summed” training (squish, squash, windowed squash), use it if you wish, not if you don’t. Doesn’t matter.
Otherwise use independent references.