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Mindful Eating 101: 8 signs you’re a mindless eater

At a fundamental level, we all know what foods to eat and not to eat for living a healthy life or to lose weight. Eat more vegetables, avoid sugar and eat smaller portions. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet, there are still millions of overweight people all over the world.

Reality check: the problem is not always information, it’s compliance.

We make the decision to reach for the donut instead of the apple, eat the entire bag of chips, or to go back for thirds at a buffet instead of having just one plate.

The mind is extremely powerful, and when left untrained it can become powerless in the face of temptations, whether it’s eating an entire pizza, overspending and accumulating debt, or entering a recurring cycle of toxic romantic relationships. The root cause behind all of these self-sabotaging behaviours is the same – mindlessness.

mindful eating, meditation

Signs of Mindless Eating

To some degree, we all exhibit signs of mindless behaviour such as mindless eating on a regular basis. However, when occasional mindless eating turns to excessive, it can lead to side-effects such as binge-eating and weight gain.

Below are 8 common signs of mindless eating:

    1. Eating with distraction – Do you find you eat meals while working in front of a laptop, scrolling through social media, watching television etc?
    2. Feeling out of control with food around – Do you often have low self-control at a buffet, all-you-can-eat menu, or other social events, and experiencing shame or guilt afterwards?
    3. Eating fast – How long on average does it take you to finish a meal? Do you gulp down food quickly and always end up being the first person to finish a meal compared to others?
    4. Feeling stuffed vs. satiated – Do you have a hard time differentiating between the feeling of satiety vs physical fullness? Do you often find you struggle to stop eating before you are physically uncomfortable?
    5. Grazing throughout the day – Are you constantly snacking, nibbling and grazing throughout the day? Do you mindlessly wander around the kitchen, peeking inside the fridge or cabinets… just because?
    6. Using food to cope with emotions – Are you frequently reaching for food when there is an emotional shift? Do you eat when you’re stressed, bored, or feeling upset?
    7. Lack of awareness – Are you often unable to remember sensory details about meals you’ve eaten, such as taste, texture and smell?
    8. Binge eating – Do you often start off with a few bites, and eventually end up consuming the entire packet, tub or carton of a food item?

Take a moment to recall how many times you mentally nodded your head to each of the above questions. If you resonated with most or all of the signs above, try not to judge yourself or feel guilt, but use this as fuel to start cultivating more self-awareness and shift from mind-LESS eating to mind-FULL eating.

mindful eating, meditation

What Is Mindful Eating?

To understand what mindful eating is, we must first understand the definition of mindfulness as a foundational concept. Mindfulness at its core is deliberating paying attention and being present in the moment with non-judgment.

Mindful eating refers to being fully present while eating a meal and paying attention to:

  • The taste, texture and smell of food
  • Your current emotional state at the time of eating
  • Your body’s hunger and satiety cues

Unfortunately, the art of mindful eating and enjoying a meal at a dinner table with full presence has become increasingly more difficult as our eating environments have become more and more distracting. As Harvard Nutritionist, Dr. Cheung puts it, “the rhythm of life is becoming faster and faster, so we really don’t have the same awareness and the same ability to check into ourselves”. (1)

mindful eating

The Science Behind Mindful Eating


Cultivating mindfulness – whether through meditation or other mindfulness-based training – has the power to physically alter the brain.

For example, mindfulness has been shown to strengthen the neural connections in the brain related to emotional control and logic, and weaken those related to more impulsive, fear-driven and emotional responses. It also leads to a larger volume of grey matter, a part of the brain that is important for self-awareness and introspection. (2)

Based on this knowledge, scientists have been carrying out research focusing on mindful eating in particular – and the results have been very positive. (3)

For example, a 2018 review conducted at North Carolina State University revealed that mindful eating led to weight loss amongst all five studies that were analyzed, strongly recommends including it as part of weight management programs. It concluded, “increased mindful eating has been shown to help participants gain awareness of their bodies, be more in tune ot hunger and satiety, recognize external cues to eat, gain self-compassion, decrease food cravings, decrease problematic eating, and decreased reward-driven eating.” (4)

Another 2018 report published in the British Medical Journal focused on a specific tool used in mindfulness training – the speed at which you eat. The research team tested what would happen to a 59,000 patients with Type II diabetes if they changed their eating speed. The group that went from fast to slow showed a 42% lower rate of obesity than those who continued to eat at a fast speed. (5)

Given what we know about how long it takes the brain to register fullness, this makes sense.

“It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to catch up with your stomach, so if you’re a quick eater, you may consume more calories,”

explains Cara Schrager, M.P.H, R.D., C.D.E. at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. (6)

 

How To Get Started With Mindful Eating

Cultivating a mindful approach to eating takes time – you won’t be able to become 100% mindful after reading this article, or never overeat at Thanksgiving dinner again.
The goal is to start incorporating these practices into your daily life as much as possible until certain habits become second nature.

    1. Sit down at a dinner table – not in front of the TV. Set aside your laptop, phone and any other distraction and eat your meal in silence.
    2. Make your plate look enticing – lay out a beautiful plate and cutlery so that you train your mind to look forward to and focus on the dining experience
    3. Eat at a consistent time or with others – this will prevent you from eating erratically and on-the-go in the car or grazing later on
    4. Slow down – set down your fork in between bites, take breaths between bites and focus on chewing your food
    5. Be grateful – express gratitude (whether verbal or non-verbal) for having a delicious, warm meal in front of you
    6. Check-in midway – stop once or twice during your meal to ask yourself, ‘am I still hungry’? If you’re 75% full, stop eating whether your plate is finished or not.
    7. Meditate – sharpen and train your mind outside of mealtimes, in order to make mindful eating easier. You can begin with our free beginner series in the Muse app. 

Lastly, as a good starting point and eye-opening experience, try this simple exercise that is frequently given to people at meditation and mindfulness retreats. It allows you to truly experience what mindful eating feels like:

mindful eating, meditation

The Raisin Exercise (7)


What you need: five minutes, a raisin  and an open mind

  • Holding – take a raisin and hold it between your finger and your thumb
  • Seeing – take the time to really focus on the raisin and give it your full attention. Examine the unique texture and colour; where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges.
  • Touching – close your eyes and focus on the wrinkled texture of the raisin, and how it feels in your hand.
  • Smelling – hold the raisin up to your nose and smell the raisin; notice any effect that this has on your stomach and mouth.
  • Placing – gently place the raisin in your mouth, and leave it there without chewing. Focus on the sensation of what it feels like in your mouth.
  • Tasting – very slowly and consciously, chew the raisin once or twice. Fully experience the waves of taste emanating from the raisin, how these change over time and changes to the raisin itself in shape.
  • Swallowing – see if you can detect when you first have the intention to swallow, and then consciously swallow the raisin
  • Following – sense how your body is feeling as a whole after eating the raisin

 

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SOURCES

 

  1. Gordinier, J. (2018). Mindful Eating as Food for Thought. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/dining/mindful-eating-as-food-for-thought.html [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].
  2. Gladding, R. (2018). This is your brain on meditation. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].
  3. Burfoot, A. (2018). More and more research points to mindfulness — not certain foods — for weight loss. [online] Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/more-and-more-research-points-to-mindfulness–not-certain-foods–for-weight-loss/2018/03/05/2aa25d48-1c00-11e8-b2d9-08e748f892c0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7f0f0b7ac53b [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].
  4. Dunn, C., Haubenreiser, M., Johnson, M., Nordby, K., Aggarwal, S., Myer, S. and Thomas, C. (2018). Mindfulness Approaches and Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Weight Regain. Current Obesity Reports, 7(1), pp.37-49.
  5. Hurst, Y. and Fukuda, H. (2018). Effects of changes in eating speed on obesity in patients with diabetes: a secondary analysis of longitudinal health check-up data.
  6. Aaptiv. (2018). 9 Signs You’re Unintentionally Overeating – Aaptiv. [online] Available at: https://aaptiv.com/magazine/signs-unintentionally-overeating [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].
  7. Ggia.berkeley.edu. (2018). Raisin Meditation (Greater Good in Action). [online] Available at: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/raisin_meditation [Accessed 30 Apr. 2018].

Meditation for Pain Relief – Changing The Perception of Pain

We all know someone who lives in chronic pain. They’ve tried every type of painkiller, visited several doctors and tested the waters with different therapies, but the pain just doesn’t let up. Maybe that person is even you.

The reality is that this type of situation is far too common – approximately 1 in 10 adults in North America experience persistent pain that can be a source of daily frustration, and for some can be downright debilitating. What makes chronic pain more difficult to treat than acute pain is that it can’t be isolated to just the original tissue damage. Stress, the environment, and emotions are all factors that can enhance the intensity of the pain, and that are difficult to manage. (1)

chronic pain management, chronic pain treatment, meditation for pain, meditation for pain relief

The Missing Piece in Chronic Pain Management

As anyone in pain is well aware, the main therapeutic tool used for chronic pain management is medication – most commonly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), corticosteroids, or opioids, such as morphine and oxycodone. While these medications can provide relief, there are many potentially damaging side-effects on a physical, mental, and emotional level that can arise.

According to Dr. John D. Loeser, an expert in the surgical treatment of pain and multidisciplinary pain management, chronic pain is extremely complex to treat as it is largely influenced by the perception of pain, which in turn influences the extent of suffering experienced and patient behaviours. (2) This is known as secondary pain.

Two types of pain: Primary and Secondary

Primary pain is the physical response to pain, whereas secondary pain is the emotional response to pain. As Dr. Danny Penman explains in an article of Psychology Today, primary pain is the raw information sent to the brain, whereas secondary pain is the mind’s reaction to the pain, which is controlled by an ‘amplifier’ that governs the intensity of suffering. Over time, the brain gets better at sensing pain, which can make it difficult to break free from this pattern. (3)

So, if the intensity of pain can be controlled by the mind’s reaction to pain, is it possible to train the mind to feel less pain? The answer is a resounding yes.

Meditation for Pain Relief – Changing our perception of pain

Research has found that meditation is an effective tool for ‘turning down the volume’ and reducing the amplification of pain. In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, Dr. Fadel Zeidan and his colleagues found that mindfulness meditation – when an individual focuses on their senses yet maintains awareness of transient thoughts – was able to achieve a resounding 40% reduction in pain intensity in contrast to non-meditation. (5)

Speaking to the idea of secondary pain, Zeiden explains that, “meditation teaches patients how to react to the pain. People are less inclined to have the ‘ouch’ reaction, and are able to control their emotional reaction to pain.” (2)

The majority of people are unable to distinguish between their physical pain and the negative thoughts and emotions that arise in response to pain.  Furthermore, some research has shown that what ultimately affects a person’s degree of suffering is the severity of their reactions to their pain.

Rather than escaping pain, mindfulness practice helps to increase your capacity to bear it by helping to untangle the mix of pain and the adverse reactions to it (i.e. primary and secondary pain). As you gradually become increasingly familiar with your reactions to pain you also gain awareness that your thoughts and feelings come and go — just like how the symptoms of pain can wax and wane.

Helping to deepen this awareness without judgement helps the pain to only become one aspect of your experience and teach you that you are capable of overcoming it. So, although mindfulness alone can’t completely eliminate pain, it can help facilitate a different way of observing pain which reduces suffering by improving coping abilities.This perspective provides a new way to relate to distressing thoughts and emotions so they can be accepted as natural rather than avoided.  In a similar way, individuals are encouraged to re-engage in previously avoided valued activities that may now be avoided due to pain. (4)

Interestingly, there’s another hypothesis behind the science of how meditation relieves pain. Back in 1975 there was a groundbreaking study that showed meditation reduced activity/arousal in the sympathetic nervous system – in other words, mediation helped reduce stress. The theory is that if baseline levels of stress are reduced using mindfulness, the overall perception of pain is reduced. Dr. Sonty, a psychologist who works with pain patients at Columbia University agrees — she has found success using visualization techniques with her clients to lower their stress levels and finds that this, in turn, dramatically reduces their pain perception. (2)

Regardless of which theory is correct, there is enough research at this point to show that meditation is an effective, non-invasive tool for pain relief that can have powerful results in improving quality of life for those living with pain.

chronic pain management, chronic pain treatment, meditation for pain, meditation for pain relief

How To Get Started with Meditation for Pain Relief

With the above in mind, two of the key insights we can gain when looking at mindfulness as a way to manage pain are:

  1. When you use mindfulness to help understand your personal response to pain, you can change the relationship you have to your pain and improve your ability to cope.
  2. On a more holistic note, mindfulness recognizes pain and helps you understand that there is more to life than your pain.  By widening your perspective, you can engage more fully with the aspects of your life that give you pleasure.

According to Robert Bonakdar, M.D., director of pain management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego, the first step in practicing mindfulness is to face your pain and fully acknowledge its presence within you, rather than run from it. (6)

For people who are new to meditation, listening to a guided meditation for just 5-10 minutes per day can help provide the structure needed to get started. If you need a place to start, we recommend try the Muse app, which provides guided meditation starting at just 3 minutes per day – and unlike other apps – in combination with the Muse headband can measure your brainwave activity and act as your personal meditation assistant.

Sources

  1. Loeser, J. and Melzack, R. (1999). Pain: an overview. The Lancet, [online] 353(9164), pp.1607-1609. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673699013112 [Accessed 9 Mar. 2018].
  2. Steiner, B. (2018). Treating Chronic Pain With Meditation. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/treating-chronic-pain-with-meditation/284182/ [Accessed 9 Mar. 2018].
  3. Penman, D. (2009). Can Mindfulness Meditation Really Reduce Pain and Suffering?. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindfulness-in-frantic-world/201501/can-mindfulness-meditation-really-reduce-pain-and-suffering [Accessed 9 Mar. 2018].
  4. McCracken LM, Gauntlett-Gilbert J, Vowles KE. The role of mindfulness in a contextual cognitive-behavioural analysis of chronic pain-related suffering and disability. Pain 2007;152:533-542.
  5. Zeidan F, Adler-Neal AL, Wells RE, et al. Mindfulness-meditation-based pain relief is not mediated by endogenous opioids. Journal of Neuroscience. 2016;36(11):3391-3397.
  6. Health.com. (2018). Meditation Can Release and Relieve Pain. [online] Available at: http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189590,00.html [Accessed 9 Mar. 2018].

 

Too Busy To Meditate? Here’s Why You Need It The Most

There is an old Zen saying:  “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” If you’re constantly checking notifications or crossing things off your to-do list, the science shows you probably need to start meditating… right now.

How often have you heard yourself lamenting, “there just aren’t enough hours in the day”, or “things have been so busy”? It’s not uncommon – the reality is that most of us find ourselves running from one task or place to the next, and then filling the gaps in between with distractions like scrolling through Instagram or watching Netflix.

The problem with this need to keep ourselves preoccupied at all times, is that it results in the opposite of ‘getting more done’ – being busy all the time makes the brain less efficient, less productive, and worsens overall performance. It also leaves little room for reflection and a break from routine, which is what makes life more meaningful.

Meditation, how to meditate, meditation for beginners, learn to meditate, how do you meditate, meditation tips

Signs You Need to Meditate: The “busy” trap

Here’s the easiest, single question litmus test that will give you your answer: Do you have 5 minutes a day to meditate? If not, you need to meditate.

Being ‘too busy’ can often be just a reflection of priorities, and not a real reason to take some time for self-care. After all, if high achievers such as Tim Ferriss, Oprah Winfrey, Ray Dalio, and Ellen DeGeneres practice daily meditation, you can too.

Most people believe that although their schedules are jam-packed they are still in control of their life, and how they spend their time. In fact, you may not even be consciously aware of the extent to which keeping yourself busy controls your life. Below are some clear signs that you would stand to benefit from a meditation practice: (1)

  • Are you constantly checking your smartphone for notifications?
  • Do you feel guilty if you don’t have much work to do?
  • Is it difficult for you to relax or take vacation?
  • Is it difficult for you to sit in silence without external stimulation of any kind?
  • Do your days consist of going from one to-do list item to the next?
  • Do you find it difficult not to talk about work?
  • Do others consider you a workaholic?

If you found yourself nodding “yes” to one or more of those questions, you’re in dire need of a heavy dose of mindfulness.

The Benefits of Meditation

Given our fast-paced reality, it is perfectly normal to have one, if not all of the warning signs above resonate with you.

Just as exercise is necessary to train the body and fight against a sedentary lifestyle, so is mediation a necessary tool to train the mind and become more effective in fighting off distraction. Research has shown that the benefits of meditation do extend beyond the current moment, and improve these two areas in particular:

Productivity

A study conducted by the Information School of Washington found that meditation improves memory and the ability to focus on the task at hand. (2) Whether that’s work, a sport, or a conversation with a friend, we all know that being able to give our full attention enhances the overall quality of the experience. The study also showed that people had lower levels of stress and less distraction.

Performance

As recently discussed in this article about brainwaves, meditation does allow us to train our brains to operate at slower frequency states.  These brainwave-changing skills help deepen your ability to focus and control your attention  – abilities that are key for athletic performance as well as work performance.

 

Meditation, how to meditate, meditation for beginners, learn to meditate, how do you meditate, meditation tips

How To Meditate

Fortunately, you don’t need to visit an ashram in India, or hike to the top of a mountain to learn to meditate. The beauty of a meditation practice lies in its simplicity and ease of access.  

One of the simplest forms of meditation for beginners is concentration meditation, where you have a single anchor, such as your breath, to use as a way to bring your wandering mind back from distractions.  The idea is that once you start to practice what is known as attentional loops, you become increasingly more skillful at avoiding distracting thoughts and bringing your mind back into focus.  

Here’s what to do:

  1. Find a quiet and calming space at home where you will be undisturbed.
  2. Sit on a mat or chair in a comfortable position.  Avoid laying down as that may make you potentially fall asleep – this is all about focused attention!
  3. Concentrate on a single point of focus  – this could entail following your breath, staring at a candle flame or repeating a mantra such as ‘Om’.
  4. Anytime you find your mind wandering, shift your attention back to the point of focus. Do not judge your mind for wandering, just become aware of the thought and then let it go.
  5. Try this for as little as five minutes, and then gradually increase the duration. You can stick to five minutes, or go all the way up to one hour if you’d like! Practicing on a consistent basis is more important than duration.

Meditation, how to meditate, meditation for beginners, learn to meditate, how do you meditate, meditation tips

 

Meditation Tips for Beginners

When you’re starting out, your mind is going to wander a lot. This is perfectly normal! The key a successful meditation practice is bringing the mind back from a wandering thought to the point of focus, as much as possible — reinforcing that attentional loop.

To help bring back your mind from wandering thoughts and to make your practice more effective, try some of the meditation tips below:

  • Try guided meditation. This helps provide structure for beginners and keeps the mind more focused. Use an app like Muse to guide you through meditation sessions that are as short as three minutes or up to an hour.
  • Listen to soothing sounds. It’s often much easier to quieten the mind if you’re listening to waves crashing on a beach or the sound of rain. With the Muse app, you can choose from carefully crafted meditation soundscapes such as the beach, rainforest, a city park, ambient music or a desert.
  • Get real-time feedback and take out the guesswork. Measure your brainwave activity during a meditation session with the brain sensing headband, Muse. Using sensors on the forehead, Muse can translate brain activity into guiding sounds. For example, let’s say that you select the soundscape ‘beach’ for your meditation sessions. If your thoughts are bouncing around, the waves will pick up, signalling you to shift your focus. Once your mind is calm, the waves will also become softer.

Lastly, the best advice for beginners is to just do – don’t get too caught up in the ‘how’. Try to commit to a few minutes every morning and check in with yourself after a month to really feel the difference.

SOURCES

  1. Harvard Business Review. (2018). The Busyness Trap. [online] Available at: https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-busyness-trap [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].
  2. Levy, D., Wobbrock, J., Kaszniak, A. and Ostergren, M. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment. Proceedings of Graphics Interface, [online] (2012). Available at: http://faculty.washington.edu/wobbrock/pubs/gi-12.02.pdf [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].
  3. Lustenberger, C., Boyle, M., Foulser, A., Mellin, J. and Fröhlich, F. (2015). Functional role of frontal alpha oscillations in creativity. Cortex, [online] 67, pp.74-82. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945215001033 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].

A Deep Dive Into Brainwaves: Brainwave Frequencies Explained

We’ve all experienced that magical feeling of being hit with ‘a brainwave’. That moment of newfound clarity, shift in perspective or a novel idea. And typically, it seems to appear out of nowhere. In between sips of coffee, while out for a walk, or simply indulging your dog in a good belly rub.

While “a brainwave” can be a figure of speech to describe our thoughts, scientists and clinicians can use literal brainwaves, measured on the head, to help understand the functioning of the human brain.  As it turns out, the key to having more of these ‘aha’ moments lies in understanding the science behind brainwaves. Neuroscientists have been studying brainwaves – the popular name for the field of electroencephalography – for nearly a century.

WHAT ARE BRAINWAVES?

The brain has billions of neurons, and each individual neuron connects (on average) to thousands of others. Communication happens between them through small electrical currents that travel along the neurons and throughout enormous networks of brain circuits. When all these neurons are activated they produce electrical pulses – visualize a wave rippling through the crowd at a sports arena –  this synchronized electrical activity results in a “brainwave”.

When many neurons interact in this way at the same time, this activity is strong enough to be detected even outside the brain. By placing electrodes on the scalp, this activity can be amplified, analyzed, and visualized. This is electroencephalography, or EEG – a fancy word that just means electric brain graph. (Encephalon, the brain, is derived from the ancient Greek “enképhalos,” meaning within the head.)

One way that EEG ‘brainwaves’ convey information is in their rate of repetition. Some oscillations, measured on the scalp, occur at more than 30 cycles per second (and up to 100 cycles per second!) These cycles, also called frequencies, are measured as Hz, or hertz, after the scientist who proved the existence of electromagnetic waves.  

When looked at this way, brainwaves come in five flavours, each of which corresponds to a Greek letter. As we’ll see, these different brainwaves correspond to different states of thought or experience. While there are many other ways to analyze brainwaves, many practitioners of a field called neurofeedback rely on dividing brain oscillations into these five categories.

Some of these brain oscillations are more easily detectable on specific parts of the scalp, corresponding to the parts of the brain just below. The brain has many specialized regions which correspond to different processes, thoughts, and sensations. Particular oscillations often reflect distinct regions and networks in the brain communicating with each other.

brainwaves, brain waves, brainwave frequencies, alpha brain waves

 

THE 5 MAIN TYPES OF BRAINWAVE FREQUENCIES

Different patterns of brainwaves can be recognized by their amplitudes and frequencies. Brainwaves can then be categorized based on their level of activity or frequency. It’s important to remember, though, that brainwaves are not the source or the cause of brain states, or of our experiences of our own minds – they’re just some of the detectable reflections of the complex processes in the brain that produce our experience of being, thinking, and perceiving.

  • Slow activity refers to a lower frequency and high amplitude (the distance between two peaks of a wave). These oscillations are often much larger in amplitude (wave depth). Think: low, the deep beat of a drum.
  • Fast activity refers to a higher frequency and often smaller amplitude. Think: high pitched flute.

Below are five often-described brainwaves, from fastest activity levels to slowest.

brainwaves, brainwave frequencies, alpha brain waves

GAMMA BRAINWAVES

  • Frequency: 32 – 100 Hz
  • Associated state: Heightened perception, learning, problem-solving tasks

Gamma brainwaves are the fastest measurable EEG brainwaves, and have been equated to ‘heightened perception’, or a ‘peak mental state’ when there is simultaneous processing of information from different parts of the brain. Gamma brainwaves have been observed to be much stronger and more regularly observed in very long-term meditators including Buddhist Monks.

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BETA BRAINWAVES

  • Frequency: 13-32 Hz
  • State: Alert, normal alert consciousness, active thinking

For example:

  • Active conversation
  • Making decisions
  • Solving a problem
  • Focusing on a task
  • Learning a new concept

Beta brainwaves are easiest to detect when we’re busy thinking actively.

brainwaves, brain waves, brainwave frequencies, alpha brain waves

 ALPHA BRAINWAVES

  • Frequency: 8-13 Hz
  • State: Physically and mentally relaxed

Alpha brainwaves are some of the most easily observed and were the first to be discovered. They become detectable when the eyes are closed and the mind is relaxed.  They can also often be found during activities such as:

  • Yoga
  • Just before falling asleep
  • Being creative and artistic

brainwaves, brainwave frequencies, alpha brain waves

 THETA BRAINWAVES

  • Frequency: 4-8 Hz
  • State: Creativity, insight, dreams, reduced consciousness

According to Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, “previous studies have shown that theta waves indicate deep relaxation and occur more frequently in highly experienced meditation practitioners.  The source is probably frontal parts of the brain, which are associated with monitoring of other mental processes.”

Most frequently, theta brainwaves are strongly detectable when we’re dreaming in our sleep (think, the movie Inception), but they can also be seen  during :

  • Deep meditation
  • Daydreaming

When we’re doing a task that is so automatic that the mind can disengage from it e.g. brushing teeth, showering. Research has also shown a positive association of theta waves with memory, creativity and psychological well-being. (5) (6)

brainwaves, brainwave frequencies, alpha brain waves

DELTA BRAINWAVES

  • Frequency: 0.5-4 Hz
  • State: Sleep, dreaming

These are the slowest of all brainwaves, and are strongest when we are enjoying restorative sleep in a dreamless state. This is also the state where healing and rejuvenation are stimulated, which is why it’s so crucial to get enough sleep each night.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR BRAINWAVES

Is it possible to change how much we experience these different brainwaves, and the brain states and thought experiences associated with them? In short, yes.  

Conditioning and Neurofeedback

For decades, practitioners have engaged in training programs which are intended to reinforce the brain states which produce increases in certain brain oscillations, and decreases in others. The most common example of this, called neurofeedback, can utilize EEG or other brain sensing modalities.

Neurofeedback practitioners and clinicians find that immediate, direct feedback on brain states, whether in the form of sound, light, or even a video game, can produce changes in underlying behaviors and brain states that are reflected in brainwaves. This feedback seems to accelerate the learning process, by making brain states more apparent to the recipient.

Another important discovery in the recent history of neuroscience is the significant differences in brainwave characteristics of highly experienced meditators. Expert meditators not only have different resting-state brainwaves from non-meditators – they also seem able to control their brainwaves through voluntary thought control with greater ease than others.  

So how do we start to improve our ability to control our brainwaves? These brainwave-changing skills can be learned. Meditation deepens your ability to focus and control your attention.  

brainwaves, brainwave frequencies, alpha brain waves

What Does Muse Do?

Muse has been tested and validated against EEG systems that are exponentially more expensive, and it’s used by neuroscientists around the world in real-world neuroscience research inside and outside the lab. Using 7 finely calibrated sensors – 2 on the forehead, 2 behind the ears plus 3 reference sensors – Muse is a next-generation, state of the art EEG system that uses advanced algorithms to train beginner and intermediate meditators at controlling their focus. It teaches users how to manipulate their brain states and how to change the characteristics of their brains.

The Muse algorithm technology is more complex than traditional neurofeedback.  In creating the Muse app, we started from these brainwaves and then spent years doing intensive research on higher-order combinations of primary, secondary and tertiary characteristics of raw EEG data and how they interact with focused-attention meditation.

It’s important to note that a lot of people confuse what the Muse app measures with traditional neurofeedback (which focuses on training individual frequencies), but it doesn’t map individual frequencies  – it uses a unique and complex combination of the various brainwaves in order to provide results such as calm, active, and neutral states.

If you are interested in measuring individual band powers the Muse headband can be used in combination with Muse Direct for iOS to perform individual brainwave monitoring and recording for more traditional neurofeedback, research projects, art installations, and more!

 


SOURCES

  1. Scientific American. (2018). What is the function of the various brainwaves?. [online] Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  2. Lustenberger, C., Boyle, M., Foulser, A., Mellin, J. and Fröhlich, F. (2015). Functional role of frontal alpha oscillations in creativity. Cortex, [online] 67, pp.74-82. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945215001033 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  3. ScienceDaily. (2018). Alpha waves close your mind for distraction, but not continuously, research suggests. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121008134058.htm [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  4. Haarmann, H., George, T., Smaliy, A. and Dien, J. (2012). Remote Associates Test and Alpha Brain Waves. The Journal of Problem Solving, [online] 4(2). Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/jps/vol4/iss2/5/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  5. Buzsáki, G. (2002). Theta Oscillations in the Hippocampus. Neuron, [online] 33(3), pp.325-340. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S089662730200586X [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  6. White, N. (1999). Theories of the Effectiveness of Alpha-Theta Training for Multiple Disorders. Introduction to Quantitative EEG and Neurofeedback. pp 341-367. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780122437908500146 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  7. Brainworksneurotherapy.com. (2018). What are Brainwaves? Types of Brain waves | EEG sensor and brain wave – UK. [online] Available at: http://www.brainworksneurotherapy.com/what-are-brainwaves [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
  8. Marzbani, H., Marateb, H. R., & Mansourian, M. (2016). Neurofeedback: a comprehensive review on system design, methodology and clinical applications. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, 7(2), 143-158. http://dx.doi.org/10.15412/J.BCN.03070208
  9. Calomeni, Mauricio Rocha, et al. “Modulatory Effect of Association of Brain Stimulation by Light and Binaural Beats in Specific Brain Waves.” Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health, benthamopen.com/FULLTEXT/CPEMH-13-134.

Meditation and Athletic Performance – Upping Your Mental Game

Ask any athlete and they’ll tell you — when it comes to real improvement it’s as much about physical performance as it is about mental performance.  As we continue to evolve our view on optimal sports performance the need to focus on mental health has become increasingly more obvious. But the question remains, can we train our brain the same way we train our body?  Read on to learn about the health benefits of a regular meditation practice paired with physical exercise.  

Meditation and Athletic Performance – What’s the Link?

We’ve moved way beyond the old paradigm of daily exercise alone as a standard routine for athletes.  Through years of biometric and sports performance research we’ve been able to consistently improve how to make athletes, better, faster, stronger, and recovery more quickly… no easy feat!  It’s only now that we’re slowly starting to see the positive effects of a consistent meditation practice on athletic performance in diverse clinical research studies.

 how to focus better, sports performance, sports meditation

Pain and Sports Injuries – Can we change the way we feel pain?

Injuries or “painful interruptions” can be a major cause of delay in any training program.  Injuries resulting from athletic activities (i.e., sports such as football) or the normal activities of life can impede range of motion as well as the ability to bear weight on affected joints. Aging adults are also more apt to develop arthritis in formerly injured joints—and a work-out at the local fitness center can get shortened or halted due to pain in a hip or knee.

Appropriate rest to recover from an injury is paramount, but the speed at which we recover can make or break our ability to get “back in the ring”.  To help speed the process — and engage in recovery treatments — is it possible to change the way we feel pain?  The answer is yes. A study published in Neuroscience Letters revealed that the brain’s transmission of pain signals is lessened through a regimen of meditation and mindfulness (1). This study also found that meditation can positively affect the neural signals that determine pain sensation in the following brain-controlled processes (2):

  • Sensory processes
  • Cognitive processes
  • Affective processes

Similar findings were also found in a study of research participants with arthritis published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine (3). These researchers documented that a gentle exercise routine (e.g., Tai Chi or yoga) decreased arthritic symptoms and increased cardiac function in the participants. Furthermore, the authors of a research article published in 2017 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience concluded that a three-month combined practice of yoga and meditation produced lowered inflammatory biomarkers (and arthritis is the result of inflammation in afflicted joints) (4).

 

Psychosocial States and Inflammation – The Impact of Meditation

Most athletes frequently deal with varying levels of stress and trauma – both physical and emotional. Improving mental toughness means being able to learn, adapt, and emotionally regulate past emotional events. It is widely recognized that emotional stress can be relieved by meditation—and also by aerobic exercise. Since stress is also associated with increased inflammation (as found in Rheumatoid Arthritis, as well as inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s Disease), the relief of stress can also relieve the symptoms of these disorders.

The previously-mentioned article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience — as well as numerous other medical research articles — suggests the link between stress and reactive inflammation. Not only can embarking on a combined meditation and fitness regimen improve the overall quality of life for people who suffer from inflammatory disorders, it can also relieve symptoms of depression and improve energy.

how to focus better, sports performance, sports meditation

 

Improving Focus and Concentration in Athletics – How Meditation Helps

Recognizing where to run to intercept the ball and reacting quickly is vital in volleyball, baseball, football, and soccer. That attention and concentration can be improved by physical fitness (achieved through an aerobic and weight-bearing exercise routine), and also through practicing meditation on a regular basis. The following are areas where positive cognitive changes were produced by meditation, as related to increased attention/concentration (per an article in Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports) (5):

  • Brain function capacity
  • Neural activity
  • Circulatory blood flow

Altering our neural connectivity for the ability to access information quickly as an athlete is crucial. The formation of new neurons through meditation in the brain’s hippocampus region—which is linked to concentration and memory—was shown in study findings published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (6).

This study tracked participants who performed exercise on a treadmill and a meditation practice, which suggested that participants’ increased blood flow and neural activity were the contributory mechanism leading to increased attention and concentration ability.

how to focus better, sports performance, sports meditation
Smith Lowdown Focus mPowered by Muse™

 

Upping Your Mental Game – Learn How To Control Your Focus

Life and sport are filled with chaos and distraction.  It’s not breaking news that a combined regimen of mental and physical exercise is the best way to boost mood, improve sleep quality, improve brain functioning, and boost overall health and well-being. For athletes, this is essential for their ability to execute as a top-performing player!

Meditation alone can be an amazing addition to any training program but if you’re looking for a way to start improving your mental focus now for better focus and concentration welcome to The Lowdown Focus with the Smith Focus App.  Specifically designed to help you develop a heightened sense of self-awareness and train your cognitive performance, the integrated brain-sensing technology provides real-time feedback on your brain’s activity level so you can learn how to control your focus.

LEARN MORE >


References:

  1. Zeidan F, Grant JA, Brown CA, et al. (2012). Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain. Neuroscience Letters 520(2): 165-173. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3580050/
  2. Zeidan F, Grant JA, Brown CA, et al. (2012). Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain. Neuroscience Letters 520(2): 165-173. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3580050/
  3. Prusak K, Prusak K, and Mahoney J. (2014). An integrated mind–body approach to arthritis: A pilot study. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine 4(2): 99-107. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4003709/
  4. Cahn BR, Goodman MS, Peterson CT, et al. (2017). Yoga, meditation and mind-body health: Increased BDNF, cortisol awakening response, and altered inflammatory marker expression after a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 11:315. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5483482/
  5. Acevedo BP, Pospos S, and Lavretsky H. (2016). The neural mechanisms of meditative practices: Novel approaches for healthy aging. Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports 3(4): 328-339. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5110576/
  6. Shors TJ, Olson RL, Bates ME, et al. (2014). Mental and physical (MAP) training: A neurogenesis-inspired intervention that enhances health in humans. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 115:3-9. Webpage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535923/