Perhaps the most important question for anyone interested in changing brain activation patterns would be: Do they relate to how I think, feel, learn, and perform? Can changing one change the other in lasting ways? Let’s start there.
A brain is not a heart, but both operate with electrical pulses. Both are constantly moving important resources around our bodies. Their efficiency and effectiveness are critical to our health.
The heart distributes 10 pints of blood through the body’s 60,000 miles (96,000km) of blood vessels in a constant response to demands in various areas. The brain uses about 10 Watts of electricity to receive sensory information, process and integrate it, decide what to do about it and program responses among trillions of links in a constant response to demands in various areas.
The heartbeat ideally operates at different levels of activation. Resting heart rate is slow; working heart rate is fast. Stressed heart rate is faster. The more the heart is working, the more energy the system uses. Ideally those energy bursts occur when there is a valuable task at hand. Ideally the heart is able to relax quickly between tasks. Ideally its frequency varies constantly instead of being locked on a specific rate.
The same is true of incoming and outgoing brain pulses, which carry information electro-chemically throughout the body. There is a resting/ready brain state just as there is a cardiopulmonary resting state. A noisy mind, a foggy mind, a frightened mind—all are likely to be tiring—and less productive at task. And all correlate with brains that can’t shift smoothly from resting to active and back.
We can begin understanding the relationships between brain energy patterns and mental/ emotional states by dividing EEG into 3 general categories: Slow frequencies (1.5-8 Hz), Fast Frequencies (12-38 Hz) and Mid Frequencies (8-12 Hz.)
The fast and slow bands both relate to Processing. The middle band does not.
Slow Frequencies tend to relate to our unconscious and subconscious processes—feelings and memories. When a brain is primarily using slow frequencies, we say it is in “Creative/ Intuitive” state. Most brains pass through this twilight state between sleeping and awake. Some, however, are “stuck” in slow frequencies most of the time. They may have poor metabolism, so they can’t sustain higher energy states. They may suffer from injuries that have killed or damaged major areas. They may be traumatized and have split off chunks of experience from conscious awareness.
Fast Frequencies support our conscious/thinking mind. When a brain is primarily using fast frequencies, we say it is in a “Logical/Rational” state. This is common during waking states, especially when we are reading or listening or trying to express our thoughts. Most brains shift into this state in specific areas related to the task at hand many times during our waking hours. However, some brains get “stuck” in fast frequencies—even during times when resting would be more appropriate. They may have decided that their world is very dangerous and requires constant vigilance to avoid threats and risks. Or they may use noisy conscious thinking as a way of blocking out anxious or depressive feelings.
Mid Frequencies are not processing states. They represent pure awareness. They can provide the bridge between sub-conscious and conscious, integrating feeling with thought. They support a resting/ready state of awareness and an ability to perform in auto-pilot. When the brain is primarily using these frequencies, we say it is “Still/Present”. However, some brains get “stuck” in these frequencies and don’t effectively shift out of them when there is a processing task at hand. We are locked in auto-pilot, unmotivated, going through the motions of, for example, reading an article, but without actually learning or thinking.
Flexibility / Range / Control
Ideally a brain should be able to operate at all of these energy levels. The goal of training is not to get all brains into an “ideal” frequency range. It is to improve their ability to shift up and down the scale and sustain each energy level when it is the appropriate one for the job at hand. When a brain is “stuck” in any of these patterns, performance and experience suffer. Each energy level does particularly well in certain areas—poorly in others.
The flexible brain can shift smoothly and immediately among the energy levels. It has a full range from slow deep states through resting/ready awareness to cognitive processing speeds. The controlled brain selects automatically the pattern that is appropriate for its situation, and it sustains the desired pattern.
Next we will look at each of the categories we’ve just discussed—and the specific frequencies included in each. Our special focus will be in how we experience the differences between them in our lives.