Mind Altering Experiences Without Any Side Effects: How meditation changes your brain waves
As you become a more skillful meditator, you may find yourself motivated to remove the training wheels that have moved your practice forward. For instance, you may not need to meditate in a room that is completely quiet. In fact, I regularly meditate with my two kids running around or doing whatever active children do. Or you may not need the soft music playing in the background. You may even find yourself dropping your prayer word or mantra. Meditation without a repeated word or phrase is my favorite way to sit. This technique is often referred to as breath meditation. I believe that it’s the most powerful and yet one of the simplest methods to learn.
Brain Wave 101
Mental activity is measured by brain waves. When we think, wave patterns in the brain result. There are four main types of brain waves. When we are awake and thinking, we’re in the “beta” state. When we’re falling asleep and the mind begins to quiet, we are in the “alpha” state. When we are asleep or quietly meditating, our brains are in the “theta” state. Lastly, in deep sleep, where there is no body-awareness, we are in the “delta” state. We can also access this final state in meditation.
Most people who are meditation newbies and are experimenting with different techniques vacillate between the beta and alpha states. These stages are relaxing and peace-inducing. With consistent practice, however, you’ll most likely seek to quiet your mind to the theta and delta levels. I’ve found that breath meditation is one of the most effective ways to plunge into the deeper brain wave states.
Simple, But Not Easy
Breath meditation has one instruction: follow your breathing. But don’t let its simplicity deceive you because it can be truly challenging. In this practice, you forego the mantra or prayer word. Instead, you just quietly observe your breathing. As you sit up straight in chair or on a cushion, you focus all of your attention on the natural movement of inhales and exhales. You can breathe through your mouth or your nose, it doesn’t matter.
If something distracts you, simply return to your breathing. When stressful or uncomfortable thoughts arise, don’t put much effort into ignoring or pushing them away. In fact, you can even gently acknowledge them, and then return to your breathing. By calmly recognizing the presence of distracting thoughts, they will eventually diminish, your mind will become quieter, and with enough practice, your brain waves will slow to the theta and delta states. From there, stresses will dissolve and a sense of well being will emerge.
I encourage you to practice breath meditation everyday. In fact, twice a day is my daily dosage: once in the morning and again just before bed. Although you can meditate at any point, by setting aside a specific time to meditate everyday, it will become habit. Through consistency, you’ll develop peace of mind that you’ll be able to carry with you both on and off the meditative cushion.