It is typical to see activation go up across the board when you focus on training up and go down across the board when you focus on training down. Since, for a great majority of clients, the EEG is overly active and noisy, reductions in activation generally precede clinical improvement. Usually if you can train down slow activity wherever it is excessive, even as it comes down and fast activity also comes down, the ratio improves.
This protocol was developed by John Long (Largo), an early participant in BrainTrainer, and myself. John had a great benefit at that time, in that he was a completely novice in the area of brain training, and he was completely unaware of (and undaunted by) all the things he “shouldn’t” do. He contacted me back-channel and asked if he could run some of his (creative) ideas past me, and I said I’d love that. He did, and I did, and the only one that (after the idea was ping-ponged back and forth a few times) ended up on my permanent list was the Van Largo Straddle.
The Van Largo straddle works like this:
Put one electrode at Cz (call this #1)
Put one electrode at T4 (call this #4)
Put two more electrodes equidistant between these two (call this #2–closer to Cz–and 3–closer to T4)
You should now have 4 electrodes arrayed even distances apart from the center of the central strip to the top/front of the right ear.
Plug 1 and 3 into channel 1; plug 2 and 4 into channel 2.
Train up SMR (best if you have figured out what SMR is for the client before you try this).
Usually works like a charm.
Chronic fatigue is usually a really wound up ANS (long-term Tone issues), so it can be related to any of the various strategies for dealing with Tone. Look for them in the order you normally would follow and try training each in that order.
Remember with this kind of client you will want to address possible secondary gain issues by helping the client find a way to take some control of her own life, reducing incoming stress by 10% is what I aim for. Use technologies (breathing or heart-rate variability) to begin impacting the parasympathetic tone. And test the hypotheses for which cortical strategy she is using to protect against/lock in the subcortical drive issues.
One thing I would look for is potentially very high alpha, either with eyes open or closed, which often goes along with chronic fatigue or chronic pain syndromes.
If you don’t resolve the underlying stress issues, it will be like trying to bail the water out of a boat with a large hole in the bottom. Her brain has developed a way of controlling the stress situation–perhaps long ago–and now cannot let go of that. You must identify that pattern and teach her brain to release it first. Then she can begin to improve.
Alpha and Fatigue
Many of the chronic pain and chronic fatigue clients I’ve seen/worked with had problems with alpha. There is often a lot of it, but it is often slow and doesn’t block well with eyes open or at task. Often you will find a scooped out area around 6-8 Hz, which is a hint that there is blocked emotional material.
I agree with Noel that these are usually people who have show highly stressed or traumatic patterns. What differentiates them is in the strategy their brains adopt to deal with that state. Often when you speak to them, they are more than happy to talk about the pain or fatigue but rarely have anything to say about anxiety or depression, etc. They “wrap” the subconscious emotional pain in alpha as a way of anesthetizing themselves, and this, in fact, works quite well for a while. Eventually, though, the emotional drive which is not being expressed or dealt with becomes somaticized and appears as a physical problem (easier to talk about and perhaps more acceptable). Getting the alpha down and/or speeding up its peak frequency are often useful starting points. Of course training up SMR might be effective in this process (though you have to be careful, as SMR training tends to make a person more aware of the body, which is not necessarily a good thing when your body is primarily tired or painful).
Cognitive Decline (age related)
Tom Budzynski studied effects of aging in the middle 90’s. He showed that one of the clearest brain findings related to cognitive issues was slowing of the peak alpha frequency in the rear of the head. He also demonstrated that training to increase the peak–what he brain-brightening–had positive effects on semantic memory–the ability to recall that word you want, which is one of the most common complaints in older adults.
Another pattern that has been shown is that the areas related to working memory–nearly always in younger people related to left frontal and right parietal areas–moves away from those sites (especially the left front) as many of us age. Since working memory is a key factor in intelligence scores and cognitive function, moving that function out of the areas that seem most effective is clearly a problem. Acetylcholine and glutamine–the so-called memory chemicals–are most often released by circuits that resonate to faster beta frequencies.
I’ve crossed over into my 70’s, and I do 2 types of training in bursts 2-3 times a year: Alpha peak frequency training and nIR HEG. It’s not exactly a scientific article, but I do know two things from my own experience: 1. those trainings, within a couple weeks, make a difference in my cognitive function; and 2. whereas training cognitive issues in younger clients tends to have a lasting and growing effect, once your brain is over the divide between younger and older, the wagon is rolling downhill. Changes can be produced, but they last (for me) about 6 months, and then I benefit from training again.
I like the Dan Maust Squash, F7/CP5/g/F8/CP6 for any kind of cognitive processing issues. That trains to reduce the difference in all frequencies between Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas and their analogs on the right hemisphere.
Compulsive Behavior/Obsessive Thoughts
Coordination seems to be related to the link between the basal ganglia and the cerebellum. The cerebellum sends some kinds of motor instructions and the basal ganglia reviews the results to see how accurate the output was relative to what was expected.
Of course the motor impulses are planned and sent from the frontal lobe, back from the prefrontal cortex to the central sulcus (the split between the front and the back of the brain, running through Cz.) So a very slow frontal lobe might well be expected not to do a terrific job of planning and putting together clear orders for muscular activity–especially more complex activity.
I would certainly try some frontal lobe slow-wave squishing. I would also try (if beta is not already pretty high) Cz beta up and theta down, since there are good connections between Cz and the Basal Ganglia.
As to the question of creativity and depression, I personally believe that true creativity comes THROUGH me, not FROM me. I am the instrument, not the creator. Hence, I seek an alpha state which allows me to be “played” by that creative force, so the same alpha state which would help me avoid depression and anxiety would help me be a better creator. Maybe I’ve just never hung out long enough in the depressed place to be able to appreciate its creative juice. I’ve often thought though, as I’ve worked with clients who came from this point of view, that someone who has been creative and depressed most the time may simply be superstitiously clinging to the depression the way Pete Maravich clung to his socks.
Perhaps the simplest and most elegant answer I’ve gotten to this question came from Joel Lubar more than a decade ago, when I asked him if I would lose my ability to be creative and intuitive if I trained theta down and beta up. He asked, “Did you forget how to walk when you learned to ride a bike?” Game/set/match.
I’m not aware of anyone who’s had any demonstrable success training Alzheimer’s. It is a physiological destruction of the ability to get signals across the synapses. Speeding up or slowing down the EEG doesn’t seem to have any effect in the cases I’ve tried or heard of.
To date my “n” is small–only 4 that I recall (though my memory may be failing). In none of those cases–trying everything I knew, including assessment-based protocols, audio-visual entrainment, etc.–I never saw anything that approximated a change that had any legs at all. We sometimes thought that something might have been a bit better immediately following a session, but continued training of whatever that was never seemed to produce the same effect. I was well aware of that desire to be “slowing down” the rate of deterioration, and there were times when I could briefly convince myself that maybe I was–but in the end, I didn’t ever find anything that really worked. I tried AVS, HEG, a variety of neurofeedback approaches in a variety of areas. The amplitude of EEG tends to be very small in these folks, due to the loss of neurons and the loss of synapses as the brain deteriorates, so it’s not easy to train anything but reward protocols.
The few people I’ve spoken with who claimed to get results with AD, when I questioned them more closely as to how they determined this, reported, “well, we think we are slowing the rate of decline.” Since that’s an impossible one to know, it wouldn’t be enough for me. If the family wanted to continue, I’d help them do so, but so far I’ve not seen anything convincing that shows much hope in this area.
In the case of Alzheimer’s, there was some very interesting work done several years ago in Australia where the brains of deceased AD sufferers were looked at in great detail. One remarkable finding was that in every single site, 100%, where there was an amyloid plaque, there was also a sign of an old “micro-bleed” a tiny broken blood vessel, suggesting that there had been tiny hemorrhages throughout the brain, and that the plaque might, in some way, have been a response to those. This would fit with the finding in several studies that AD is much more likely to be a problem in people who lived with very high stress levels (as their blood pressure increases, vessel flexibility decreases and these micro strokes are more likely to occur).
The implications of what I know about AD are that we really want to reduce blood pressure and, of course, stress as early as possible in order to minimize the chances of having it hit. The best use of NF, in my opinion, would be to work with people earlier in their lives and help improve their response to stress in an ongoing way, so they weren’t as likely to develop the problem in the first place.
Ideally I recommend that a person do an assessment before starting training, so you know what patterns are actually present in the brain you are training before you try to change them.
There are a lot of different brain patterns for depression. One of the most common is called alpha asymmetry, which is too much alpha (especially 10-12 Hz) in the left hemisphere compared to the right. Another common one is excessive alpha in the front of the head. Others are very low alpha levels in the back of the head, or failure to block alpha with eyes open or at task, or any of a variety of tone strategies. If you run through the full assessment, you may find lots of slow activity frontally or on the left side underlying depression. Identify the ones being used by the brain at hand, so to speak, and train them. If you couldn’t be bothered to see what the actual patterns were before deciding what to train, beta in the left front quadrant would be a reasonable option.
If you find significantly more beta at F4 than F3 or Fp2 than Fp1–or significantly higher alpha levels at F3 than F4 or Fp1 than Fp2–then train to resolve those reversals of what should be seen. Those are very common patterns among people of any age who have depressive characteristics.
Certainly breathing and blood flow improve with good posture. But Tony Robbins also talks a lot about the message we give the brain with our posture. I always ask a depressed person to sit as if he/she were depressed, and then sit as if feeling powerful and happy. This includes facial energy, breathing and posture. It is startling to watch the brain wave changes when you do this–for the trainer and the client! As the brain gets more active and outgoing, so does the posture and facial carriage, but it also works the other way around. Just not as lasting.
Each of the 5 levels of the control system I described has a homeostasis which is thrown off under certain conditions. For example, depression can be seen in SPECT scans by an overactive thalamus and Basal ganglion, an overactive cingulate, and under active prefrontal areas. Dr. Amen has documented a lot of this. I’m aware of Amen’s work, but depression is seen in the EEG as at least half a dozen stable activation patterns in the brain’s chaotic electrical system. Same with anxiety, etc. However, there is a whole question of brain “style” as well, if one steps past the layer of “normality” and “pathology”.
Being that we’re talking about brains, it’s never quite as simple as it sounds in a book or online. Depression is often related to the left frontal quadrant producing slow-wave or alpha activity in excess of what appears on the right. Low energy, helpless/hopeless depression often improves quite dramatically just with HEG training activating the left front, and right temple areas are related to emotional regulation as well. The anterior cingulate, from about AFz to Cz is also related to emotional regulation. All those things can respond to HEG, but EEG is helpful in breaking up and re-forming the patterns that underlie those responses.
I believe there has been some published work around training and diabetes as an auto-immune disorder, and I seem to recall that training up alpha activity was involved.
DID is Dissociative Identity Disorder (once called Multiple Personality Disorder). Alters are the “alter-egos” or other personalities that appear to be dissociated in this type of client.
I would expect to see relatively high levels of deep theta/high delta, perhaps around 3Hz, since this could relate to dissociation. One of the early uses of neurofeedback with these clients was to use Alpha/Theta training to take them down to the point where 3Hz spikes began to occur (which most of us avoid these days) to trigger abreactions, where the client re-experienced the early traumatic material that had led to the dissociative strategy in the first place, and then the therapist could work to re-integrate that material.
I’ve been very interested in MPD/DID since I was involved in setting up the 2nd inpatient program focused on treating it back in 1988. It’s a very seductive idea, but I would strongly recommend you follow our usual approach: instead of training someone else’s diagnosis, train the client’s symptom constellation. Instead of speaking as if YOU were doing something (“bringing her to neutral”), recognize that the client is making the changes and doing the work, and you are the “personal trainer”.
There were quite a rash of people discovered with this diagnosis around the end of the 80’s with experts springing out of the woodwork. The rush was pretty short-lived, with several of the main players ending up losing their licenses.
Several were sued by the family of a patient (and the patient herself) who had gone down the road of remembering horrific abuse and MGSC (multi-generational satanic cults) activity in great detail, taking a patient who had come for help with anxiety and turning her into a multiple, destroying her family and the lives of others who had known her before she was finally pulled from “treatment”. This was one of several cases which had all the elements of witch-hunts at the time before the backlash finally set in.
Early in the 90’s, information began to be presented that (as turned out to be the case in our unit) literally none of these people had symptoms of MPD before they started therapy–which almost always entailed hypnosis and suggestive questioning, etc. Even when events “remembered” in these sessions were proven to have been impossible, the SOP at the time was to point out that these MGSC’s of course included judges and police chiefs, family physicians and others who were able to make up the facts that disproved the memory.
Even the famous Sybil case (treated by Cornelia Wilbur–a highly respected psychiatrist) followed the pattern that has appeared in literally all MPD cases: The patient and family had no awareness or suspicion of child abuse and THERE WERE NO ALTERS until AFTER treatment began. This may have been one of the earliest examples of fad psychiatry (e.g. the huge and sudden increase in cases of ADHD or bipolar disorder that occurred in the 90’s and 2000’s). Prior to Sybil (the book and movie) there had been a grand total of less than 70 diagnoses of MPD. Since then, there have been 40,000+–nearly all in North America. I’m not claiming that the therapists who “find” these cases are venal, but it is–as you have already found–pretty exciting to think you might have one of them and that you can fix it.
If you really want to help the client, look at her brain patterns (maybe there’s a reason why you didn’t find the disconnect you expected) and train them. Don’t tell the client you are going to fix her, but rather that you are giving her a tool and guiding her in its use that will allow her to change the patterns in her own brain that relate to the anxiety and depression and whatever else she’s dealing with in the real world.
Dyslexia is one of those diagnoses that can have many different causes. I’ve a bipolar montage at F7-T5, and I have also even more frequently found a pattern of excess slow activity at O1-T5 and have done a lot of work there with good improvements.
I’ve worked with maybe a dozen kids with these issues–almost always related to extreme slowing of the EEG. That is consistent with two things: 1. The child probably sleeps by going rapidly down into delta (deep state of physical restoration) but hasn’t the ability (without much beta) to go through the REM cycles. Essentially he/she goes into a coma state from which it is difficult to awaken, either because of physiological signals or even at the end of the normal sleep period. You don’t expect a person in a coma to wake up and go to the bathroom. 2. The very slow EEG is consistent with a very young brain, so failure to advance out of it is consistent with a number of other immaturities.
Really focusing on reducing slow-wave activity and producing beta (or using something like the BAL Difference (T-B) in 1, 2 or 4 channels to reduce the Theta/Beta ratio has always worked–often (especially with enuresis in 10 sessions or less as the ability to awaken in the morning also begins to improve.
I’ve had fewer cases of encopresis, which (perhaps because it often occurs during the waking state) has been slower to respond, though again, as the brain moves toward more mature speed patterns, it has disappeared.
HEG works the prefrontal executive center, which doesn’t fully come online until the mid 20’s. Speeding it up does help with brain maturation, so it might have a positive effect, but I’ve never used it alone for these types of problems.
The first major publication (in the middle 60’s) on neurofeedback was Barry Sterman’s work with 8-10 treatment-refractory cases of epilepsy who were in line awaiting split-brain surgery. Sterman trained them all using SMR (without using an assessment, since there were no databases at that time). Seizure activity decreased significantly in all–most were able to go completely off meds and stopped having seizures.
As with any EEG, you can see epileptiform activity if it happens during the recording, but often it doesn’t. Although some trainers chase after the “source” of the seizures using QEEG’s, I’m not aware of any approach that has had greater success than Sterman’s simple protocol. The Othmers adapted it a bit in the 90’s, and I’ve used a combination of the two for 20 years with great results.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
I’ve only worked with a few FAS children, and my first response is, as usual, to do an assessment of the brain, if the child is old enough (7 or 8 or older) and able to sit quietly for a minute at a time. The idea would be to find out what patterns his brain has developed and to get a clear picture of exactly what behavior/mood/performance/learning issues you want to work on. I’ve seen some pretty impressive improvements with FAS clients when you work with the right issues.
Fine Motor Coordination/Handwriting
Handwriting is a secondary issue, so anything you do to normalize brain function will usually help. Oftentimes very fast, sloppy handwriting is helped by quieting the brain, shifting into more SMR in the central strip. If you change the brain issues, the effect in my experience is pretty permanent.
Handwriting problems seem sometimes to be related to hurrying and sometimes to fine-motor coordination. Both seem to respond well to right-sided SMR uptraining. Always a good idea to check out the whole picture of the brain before doing a training protocol, but C4/A2 SMR up and theta down is a remarkably safe place to start.
The area related to the right hand would be forward of C3 (over the motor cortex, not the sensory), but handwriting is likely related to coordination of movement as much as movement itself. Training at Cz, where there are strong connections to the thalamus and the basal ganglia–one structure involved in adjusting and coordinating movement–would probably make the most sense. Despite the claims by some trainers to be able to have specific functional effects from specific trainings, there’s not a whole lot of evidence of that. If the body comes more under control, as it usually will with successful SMR training, handwriting usually improves.
Hormones and SMR
There are frequently reports of people responding hormonally to brain-training–often to SMR. It has appeared to me to be somewhat idiosyncratic–not everyone does it–and I’ve never seen anything studied or published about it. It would be difficult to study, since the range of potential hormonal responses is pretty vast.
We do know that SMR up-training in the sensory-motor cortex frequently improves a person’s ability to fall asleep (SMR bursts at night are called “sleep-spindles” and are related to the shift from stage one sleep–waiting to fall asleep–and actually sleeping). However, it’s been shown on several occasions that anxiety-related sleep-onset issues (usually related to excessive right-posterior fast-wave activity) do NOT necessarily respond to SMR. In short, if you train what’s causing the problem, you can change it. But the magical protocols that fixes all for everyone still hasn’t been found.
Many kinds of training can have the effect of reducing autonomic tone and shifting people away from the consistent sympathetic mode of fight-or-flight. That, by itself, would allow the body’s hormonal system to operate more fully. SMR training can help with that, but again it may not really have anything to do with the pattern that holds the brain in the adrenal pattern.
From the point of view of the brain, the hypothalamus, down in the center of the subcortex, regulates various things which often occur together as problems. Temperature regulation, sleep regulation and the sense of hunger vs. satiety. Often people who eat when they “shouldn’t be” hungry, who don’t get the message of satiety, also have dysregulated sleep patterns and a very narrow range of comfort with temperature. They are always hot or cold–and have to control the environment rather than their bodies adjusting.
There isn’t a way, using EEG, to “train” the hypothalamus, but it is a central part of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and it is affected by neurotransmitters. The parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of the ANS activates the stomach and intestines for eating; the sympathetic (fight or flight) shuts them down. Dopamine is, among other things, the chemical of reward. I usually think of dopamine release being related to the SMR frequency. Training to increase SMR (which would ordinarily be very low in people who fall into brain-trainer’s Filtering category–they can’t manage the interface between the outside and inside worlds. Certainly the kind of person who has difficulty with sleep, impulse control and other physical regulatory functions–i.e. ASD and ADHD diagnostic groups–often have very low levels.
But wait! There’s more! Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that actually is largely released in the gut, has a physiological function of reducing appetite. I think of serotonin release as being related to appropriate alpha production. Both alpha and SMR (alpha for the body) are middle frequencies–again, those which are missing in Filtering categories like ADHD and ASD.
I agree with Tamera that what you eat–especially heavy carb/high junk food/heavy sugar–do have an effect. They are processed quickly into energy and stored into fat. They also affect the release of insulin and many of the dyscontrolled issues with insulin resistance that are commonly found in high-carb diets. I guess the question would be which is the chicken and which is the egg. If your brain doesn’t experience satiety, then you want to eat more, etc. And if you eat lots of carbs, you don’t stay satisfied very long.
Bottom line: as with almost every “symptom” that you can use to try to drive training plans and determine success, track it, but don’t try to train it. ADHD/ASD/Filtering brains almost invariably lack good alpha and SMR. Very likely if you train to reduce (especially) high-beta, which is an energy hog, and teach the brain to enter those middle frequencies, sleep, impulse-control, temperature regulation and, yes, probably appetite will all improve.
Blood pressure is mediated by the autonomic nervous system, so in the TLC system we talk about it as being a Tone problem. It is often related to excessive sub-cortical drive. In the Atlanta days, I worked with a lot of adults who had hypertension issues among their symptoms. That tended to be a fairly quick and easy thing to change (unless there were severe hydraulic considerations related to plaque in the blood vessels), since most anything you do to truly relax (not an easy thing for some of these folks to do) will have an effect. GSR training, which works directly on the autonomic nervous system, can be an easy and often effective way to demonstrate changes. Also, teaching simple breathing techniques can be of benefit (I always do a certain type of breathing once I sit in the chair by the blood pressure cuff).
I’ve often found that alpha uptraining at P4/A2 or alpha coherence training at the P sites has a positive effect on blood pressure, but I can’t honestly say that I know which of the clients had “genetic” high blood pressure as opposed to other varieties.
Hypomania would theoretically be related to an excessive activation of the left side of the brain relative to the right, as depression would be related to excessive activation of the right. I teach that HEG should be used at least on both sides of the forehead in every session. Activating the left tends to help brighten mood. Right tends to help with emotional stability and social integration (around F8, per Hershel). The only thing I’m especially aware of is that training in the center may not be a great idea for people who are obsessive or have compulsive behaviors. With that kind of client, I might start off with 4 sites (Fp1, Fp2, F7 and F8) and work down probably to 2 (left edge of the forehead and right edge) as training moves up to around 6 minutes per site or higher. In most cases, though, I train the center as well.
There’s a fair amount of evidence that autoimmune and immune issues are related to alpha levels. Check them to see if they are high or low and train to move them.
There is some research (Val Brown’s only published paper, I believe) linking effective alpha production with improved immune function. His was a case study of Lyme Disease in which he got good results.
For impulse control problems, I would also work at Cz, using the Frequency 1C design, training down 2-38 and perhaps one other band that is dominant (e.g. alpha) and training to increase 9-13 or 12-16, depending on where SMR appears to be. It’s likely you’ll have to slide the frequency down to find an exact frequency for SMR.
In my approach to the EEG, I see beta (neuron-based) activity as being conscious and more likely logical/rational/sequential. When beta stays off and the cortex receives more freely the frequency of the subconscious, intuitive thought tends to occur more frequently.
To train to “produce” intuitive thought, however, may be counter-productive. You can work an algebraic theorem most any time, but you have to leave the door open and allow intuitive flashes to arrive–and value them enough not to shove them away as “unsubstantiated.” I would say improved intuition and creativity are often a result, but I wouldn’t make them a target of training. What keeps them from reaching the surface in a specific brain is usually excessive commitment to beta processing, and that will have plenty of other results in one’s experience.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is an autonomic rebound effect, related to excess tone in the autonomic nervous system. I would look at the assessment and train for whatever basic level issues you find. You need to bring down the stress level and unwind the parasympathetic system, and the problem (in my experience +/- 5 cases) goes away.
From 2001 through the beginning of 2007 I traveled about half of each year, pretty much all around the world doing workshops. The longest trip was 3 months without returning home. It was not uncommon for me to do west coast Alaska, then Washington, then Zurich, then Sydney and then Seoul. I would leave a place after the workshop that ran that day, travel and arrive, then start the first of 8-10 days the day after I arrived.
I used to do an SMR session at Cz/A2 (or C3/C4) for about 20 minutes the day I was leaving and do another the day I arrived. SMR training has the ability to “reset” your internal clock, and I found this worked very well for me. My only other rule was to go to bed at what would be my normal time (10-11pm) at wherever I had arrived, no matter when I arrived.
Never had jet lag.
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I train SMR up (usually with 14 Hz as the central frequency) and theta down, usually at C4/A2 or sometimes Cz/A2 before and after long trips pretty regularly. Of course, my brain is pretty used to being in different time zones from day to day, but I rarely if ever experience jet lag.
In the back of the head, especially at P3 and P4 and T5 and T6, the brain is integrating sensory information before sending forward to the prefrontal cortex to be processed. Dominance of slow activity there can be related to problems with sensory integration and learning problems. Some functions of working memory are also handled in the parietals. My inclination is to look at the sites and see what appears to be blocking activation (sometimes alpha, sometimes theta and delta). I prefer to train down slower activity (or use a windowed squash leaving out the range I’d like to see increase) rather than pushing up beta.
Meditation is a process of allowing the brain to enter into the highly-efficient phase-synchrony state and stay there. Alpha synchrony has long been recognized as the state of still mind/present in the moment–the meditative state, but also a peak performance, zone or flow state used by athletes, performers or others to perform tasks over which they have achieved mastery. Gamma synchrony has more recently been identified as a state in which intercommunication among areas of the brain happens rapidly and efficiently, perhaps a peak peak performance state, though it tends to be much more evanescent than alpha synchrony. It is constantly flashing on and off. I usually work with clients to get the alpha synchrony state first and then shift them toward alpha and gamma at the same time.
Exactly what does a deeper meditation state look like in the brain? Probably the work of Davidson in conjunction with the Dalai Lama is the most interesting and informative in this area, though it builds on work with monks and Zen meditators going back to the days of Joe Kamiya, one of the pioneers of brain training, and some work done by Jim Hardt as well.Several findings of interest that seem to be common:
Kamiya and Hardt found that experienced meditators (25-year Roshis for example) were capable of producing highly synchronous alpha states pretty much over the whole head. The more experienced ones were able to then slow that rhythmic activity down into the theta–and some into the delta ranges. Davidson’s first study noted that there were huge amounts of alpha shown at P4 among other sites. This is interesting because, among other things, P4 is a site involved in the spatial distinction between “me” and the “universe”. High levels of alpha produced there essentially shut down that site, leading the sense of that difference to dissolve such that the meditator experienced a oneness with the universe.
A second finding that was prominent in Davidson’s earlier studies was a reduction in all activity and shift to faster speeds in the prefrontal cortex which related to a “single-pointed focus” as well. In his more recent studies, doing 256-channel readings on short bursts of meditation activity in selected of the Dalai Lama’s monks meditation on compassion, Davidson found extremely high levels of 40-Hz Gamma activity, well out of the “normal” range. Gamma, of course, is generally considered to be the “binding” frequency of the brain, so high coherence levels there could relate to a brain that was very highly linked. It is also a harmonic of alpha. In short, if a brain is producing extremely high levels of alpha, especially coherent alpha, one would expect to find a spike not only at 10 Hz, the usual dominant frequency of alpha, but also at 20 (smaller) and a second harmonic at 40 Hz. So it is possible the two findings are linked in that way, though Davidson’s focus on the highly coherent gamma was in the left prefrontal cortex, around Fp1.
The really intriguing part of this whole story comes out in an area I’ve been (trying to) study for the past year with little success, because it’s so secretive: DC, or slow cortical potential training (SCP). Jay Gunkelman did a fascinating, closely reasoned presentation on DC at Winter Brain one year which, while it didn’t focus on meditation, was very suggestive.
What we see in the EEG is AC brain activity (alternating current like we get from a wall outlet). We look at activity 1 Hz and above. Several European researchers have over the past years been working with and studying the DC (direct current like we get from a battery) element of EEG, which is seen in much slower signals (below 0.1 Hz and some lasting more than a second.) Jay’s quoted several researchers going back decades in some cases who presented DC as the “on/off switch for consciousness”. The Europeans have shown that (1) it’s not easy to read because of potential artifact problems; (b) clients tend to be able to learn to control it quite quickly–to set the brain’s “matrix” to positive or negative states (these are electrical, not judgmental terms); (c) shifting the matrix had remarkable results with problems as diverse as seizure disorders, attention and learning problems and sensory integration.
How this links with what I’ve said so far is this: Jay showed how researchers in SCP reported that Gamma activity actually occurs AFTER a change in consciousness such that it appears more likely to be a result, or at least a correlate, of the change rather than a causative factor. In fact, he described the bursts of Gamma as being “nested” in the slow waves of DC activity. The clear suggestion was that training SCP was the most basic of our potential interventions (and one which, by the way, would never have shown up on Davidson’s, Kamiya’s or Hardt’s Q’s, because they can’t measure it).
So whether or not this is just a frustrating glimpse of something we can’t touch depends on the availability of DC hardware and software. Currently there is a machine used in most of the studies which runs about $50 grand (that was before the dollar took its nosedive vs the Euro and the rest of the world’s currencies). There is another machine, I believe a DeyMed, which is reputed to be able to train DC, though that hasn’t yet been demonstrated, and the $50k machine guys say it can’t. That is “only” $16k. But there is another amp, the PET EEG, which I’ll be reviewing shortly on the Brain-Trainer site (we’ll announce it here), which we’ll sell for around $1500, and which will be able to do (again hopefully) DC training with…BioExplorer (though a newer version that none of us have yet. As DC becomes, as I predict it will in the next few years, a more important part of what we know and do in brain training, I suspect its value in working with meditation states among other things will become central.
For now, though, there are protocols to increase alpha coherence, others to increase beta percent and reduce overall activation at Fp1 and some to increase prefrontal Gamma coherence in BioExplorer (I have all of those in my set of protocols due to come out shortly when I finish the documentation (and Larry finishes adding features to the program). I’ve been playing with one that focuses on increasing alpha amplitude at P4 in one channel and decreasing overall amplitude as beta percent rises at Fp1 in the second channel at the same time, though I haven’t tested it much.
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Here’s a silly question I’m often accused of asking:
What blocks you from getting into a “deep meditation” state?
The assumption that one should be able to just hop from an anxious, depressive, hyper-sensitive, impulsive, racing thoughts state into “deep meditation” with some magical protocol is like assuming that after you’ve taken a couple golf lessons you should be ready to play on the PGA tour. Anyone who’s ever practiced or taught meditation knows the problems with that question.
Brain-trainer starts with an assessment–not like that of BrainMaster, which compares dozens of micro-measures of your brain activity against a “normative” database–the average of a bunch of people recorded 25-30 years ago. The TQ7 assessment identifies existing patterns in YOUR brain that have been demonstrated as correlates for various states like those I mentioned in my first sentence. In short, what energy habits does your brain have which block it from the peak state, because THAT’s what we train toward: the peak state, not the average.
The Whole-Brain training plan (unlike z-score training, which trains everything toward average), works a whole series of such patterns existing in your brain as you cycle through 5 different training sessions. For most clients, the first session will focus on interrupting whatever are the most foundational patterns that hold any dysfunctional habits in place. The second session usually works areas of low or excessive synchrony (connectivity) in your brain to allow it to work independently, to idle effectively and to integrate (create consciousness) efficiently. The third session usually focuses on the ability to release tension or hyper-sensitive patterns in your body (which anyone who has ever meditated recognizes as the first layer of resistance to achieving the still state.) The fourth session trains to improve the linkages in the default-mode network, which allows your brain to sustain an internal focus–thinking about yourself and others, the past and future, how you relate to a moral compass, etc. And the fifth session usually involves the alpha theta training Haris mentioned, which eases your brain into a greater awareness of its own subconscious states. And every session includes HEG training for the prefrontal cortex–the brain’s executive center–which provides the single-pointed focus that is crucial to meditative states.
Even Jim Hardt’s famous 5-day workshops (designed to get you into a “25-year meditater” state) focus on looking at what issues you have that block you from the ability to be still and present.. They perform batches of psychological tests, group support sessions, some counseling and lots of alpha synchrony training. Richard Davidson’s work with select meditators of the Dalai Lama’s group demonstrated their ability to achieve and maintain very high levels of alpha synchrony and gamma synchrony (which isn’t even measured in the BrainMaster/NeuroGuide assessment, because the amplifiers used to gather the database didn’t even read the gamma frequency).
Sorry if my answer suggests that brain-trainer can’t pop you into a “deep meditative state”, but the whole-brain approach trains and prepares your brain to get there, if you are willing to do the work. Yes, I understand that we are Western culture, so technology is fully expected to be able to short-circuit any actual effort or practice into a few quick sessions, but recall that no-less-expert than the Dalai Lama himself said that he meditates 3-4 hours every morning, and that it is the hardest work he has ever done (after quite a number of years of practice). He admitted that if there were some technology that could speed up the process and make it easier (since we all agree that easier must be better), he would gladly adopt it. I don’t recall, however, ever hearing that he actually HAD adopted a smart-phone app or BrainMaster protocol to replace his practice. At least not yet.
Meditation is the peak performance state of the brain–the peak athlete state for brains. I’m not aware of any peak athlete, artist, top-gun pilot or any such performer who ever got there the quick and easy way, or that all the technology in the world shortened the trip by very much. I guess the sad reality is that what makes peak the “peak” is still commitment, work, practice and a willingness to give up other more popular pursuits.
Focus in Meditation
One definition of the meditation state from an EEG point of view is:
Open focus (synchronized alpha and maybe gamma) in the back of the head.
Single-pointed focus (HEG) in the front, like a lens (not ochs) which gathers light from the rear and focuses it intensely
Training to synchronize all brain sites in alpha means that the brain is essentially in the Zone/Flow state: cortical neurons are all in the ready/resting state rather than popping into beta briefly when there is not call for beta. Les calls this resting/ready state (what I call stillness/presence) open focus. Closed focus is when the cortical neurons have de-synchronized from the alpha generators in the thalamus and are performing tasks. There’s not a problem with getting the frontal lobes to synchronize with the rest of the brain. However, unless there is a good reason to do so, training up alpha coherence or synchrony in the frontals alone can have a negative effect on processing (the frontals are m ore beta country than alpha.)
I would think that ideally meditation states (often synchronous alpha states) would be outside of pain and pleasure in a way. They entail what the taoists call Wu Wei, the state of acting without desire or doing without doing. One of the things we are warned of in meditation practice is the danger of being seduced by the experiential sequelae of this state. If one has been immersed in a subjective flow of experience “in relation to me”, of “trying” to achieve, then the letting go process of moving into the observer state is very likely experienced as pleasurable. But I’m not sure that aiming at elevated happiness doesn’t short-circuit the process. What if you don’t “get” it. How elevated is elevated? How happy is happy?
Hand-picked meditators (by the Dalai Lama, no less) were studied with QEEG’s and were found to have bursts of synchronous gamma activity. High-level meditators have long been shown to have highly synchronous alpha at 10 Hz, so 40 Hz would be a harmonic thereof, which might help explain it. But there is evidence that gamma is a frequency the brain uses to communicate within itself–sometimes called the “binding frequency”.
Almost any two-channel (or more) amplifier can do Gamma synchrony training or gamma amplitude training (some people claim it is amplitude, not synchrony that is important). You can get an excellent 2-channel system for about $1300 that will do this kind of training or most any other kind you want to do, so be careful of getting sucked into seriously overpriced systems.
When I see an adult, especially mid-40s and beyond, with “fogginess” and “memory” issues, I would look at levels of frontal alpha and look at alpha frequency distribution. If the alpha levels in the front are relatively high–as high or higher than theta levels–then I would train them down. If the slow alpha to fast alpha ratio is high, indicating a generalized slowing, then I would train up, say, 10-15 Hz and train down 3-5 and 8-10 Hz. I really don’t like training beta up, especially frontally, since there is not usually a shortage of beta–just an excess of slower activity.
Working memory is usually left prefrontal. Looking in the F3, PF1 and F7 would give an idea of whether there is excessive slow or alpha activity there–or perhaps even excessive very fast activity. Try doing slow-wave reduction in that area. Don’t set any reward frequency. Just inhibit.
Often, though, when we do an assessment of a person who has “memory” problems, we’ll find excellent working memory. If you aren’t actually “present” when you arrive in the classroom–that is, when the teacher is asking for homework to be passed in, you are lost somewhere inside your head and don’t hear it or recognize it as relating to you, you will “forget” to turn in your homework.
People with dominant slow activity in the brain’s activation pattern essentially live in an internal universe. They make representations of the outside world and bring them into their heads and interact with them there. Dominant slow processors (which does not mean that they THINK slowly), have a difficult time staying in contact with an outer reality, and they have a hard time processing language for detail and doing things in steps or sequences.
T3/Fp1 would link the narrative memory center to working memory,
Short-term memory is a tricky one. Many people who simply can’t keep their attention outside themselves appear to have memory problems, but the real problem is that the information never really gets IN to be remembered in the first place. There can certainly be issues in the left prefrontal or the right parietal areas, where working memory tends to be handled, as well.
Presence vs. Memory
There is a very common confusion between problems of memory and problems of presence.
Doing an assessment and working from a training plan would be a good guide to dealing with lots of things, but specifically for the hormone related symptoms. The Othmers claimed to have gotten good results. They did C3/C4 one-channel bipolar training to reduce the amplitude of the whole EEG (squash) and increase amplitude in Sensory Motor Rhythm. Another traditional training for hormone-related issues is SMR training up at C4 or Cz. All SMR training should be done with eyes open. I haven’t worked much with this population, but lots of other physical function issues seem to respond to SMR in the central strip. It’s usually pleasant as well.
Night sweats usually go with training too high, so I’d try a session of just a temporal squish first and see if that helps.
Migraines are parasympathetic rebounds of the autonomic nervous system. They occur when a client has experienced (or created) a fairly chronic level of stress over a significant period of time, changing the Tone of the ANS, which is responsible for maintaining the internal environments of our bodies and linking them with our emotional states. Migraines don’t occur during periods of stress. They occur immediately following significant stress. Instead of re-opening the blood vessels to the head by relaxing the smooth muscles, the parasympathetic system dramatically over-reacts and causes the vessels to open way too much.
Teaching a client to change stress responses is critical to resolving this problem long term, and that usually starts with recognizing that stress is an internal response–not an external cause. Stress is the experience of needing to have more control over a situation than one can have. Learning to let go of that need for control is a very basic (and very difficult) element of success.
I haven’t personally found that all migraines respond to the same thing. Many of the folks with whom I’ve worked have indeed had driven character (which I call the Reversed brain), but others have had what I call the “Disconnect” pattern relating to severe early trauma. I’ve trained a number of these clients with T3/T4, but others who didn’t respond to that at all were helped dramatically by C3/C4. Still others benefited from the Reversal training, if they had that pattern.
I’ve seen some evidence that strong alpha asymmetries in the temporals can be trained with T3/T4, which will also often help. Anything that balances out autonomic function–avoiding the long periods of fight-or-flight stress levels–is likely to have a positive effect as well.
HEG is ideal for headaches, especially migraines, since they often involve blood rushing to the head in a release period after a time of stress (parasympathetic rebound). When the distribution system for blood is limited, not only does prefrontal executive function suffer, many suffer the throbbing headache resulting from too much blood with no place to go. HEG training (I’ve used both with great success) develops the perfusion system by stressing it, and the front of the brain becomes no stranger to significant blood flows.
Jeff Carmen originally developed pIR HEG to work with his migraine clients. It makes some sense that, if at least some migraines are caused by sympathetic rebounds, with excessive blood flow to the head at the end of a stress period, that training which purports to build extended and denser capillary beds would be helpful. It’s like the difference between a road that brings traffic into a town with two cross streets and a road that brings traffic into a town with dozens of cross streets and through streets. Heavy traffic into the first town is almost guaranteed to create backups, while the second will be more able to diffuse the traffic and offer a variety of ways around the main route.
Why chocolate has an effect on Migraines
Placebo-controlled trials showed that caffeine among other chemicals found in chocolate can increase cerebral blood flow and cause the release of norepinephrine. Those who are prone to migraines are already likely to under-regulate cerebral blood flow when it is increasing (so they have a parasympathetic rebound and get too much blood too quickly when stress is released). So they are likely to experience a migraine.
Since chocolate does increase cerebral blood flow, people whose brains are slow, particularly when they feel a need to jack them up can use chocolate to achieve that.
I have personally found Fp01 (referenced either to F3 or F7) beta up and theta down in a (relatively) normal adult male can have a galvanizing effect on motivation (one of the functions of the left orbitofrontal cortex). The only negative I’ve experienced doing it has been that I never finish a session–end up pulling the leads off and going off to DO SOMETHING.
Slow wave activity and slow alpha are common findings [for procrastination] frontal midline is often related to motivation.