While the brain and consciousness are inextricably linked, groundbreaking research into the nature of consciousness, reveals that their relationship is much different from previously assumed. It confirms what spiritual teachers have been telling us for ages:
“We are simply awareness having an experience in physical form, of which the brain is intricately involved in facilitating.”
This is because of consciousness, which encompasses the mind itself, is, in fact, a non-local field of energy, [Jahn, Radin, Stapp, Targ,1,2,3,4,5] which means that the brain is simply an organ which interfaces the mind with physical reality.
To draw an analogy, it is a translator of physical sensation and another experiential phenomenon from the body to the mind and from mind to the body. The brain allows consciousness and the mind to control and move through the body, but they both exist as an energetic field independently of the brain. This is why scientists have never been able to trace consciousness to any specific part of the brain or even to the brain itself.
There are a number of ways to do this, including the meditation above, however, each practice has its own unique effects and lends itself toward giving rise to specific brainwave states, each with their own nuances and benefits.
The Yogic practice of Nadi Shodhana, which is commonly known as ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing,’ is an ancient breathing technique that has the effect of shifting brainwave patterns by synchronizing hemispheric communication through a series of hand and breath coordinated movements. This practice works on a number of different levels to bring balance and harmony to the body and mind (energetically, emotionally, and mentally). It works to shift brainwave state because the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body and the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body. Nadi Shodhana forces the brain and body to constantly alter attention and muscle control between each side of the body and each hemisphere of the brain. As such, it stimulates communication and synchronization between the two through the rhythmic, alternating movements and breathing patterns. This has the effect of shifting brainwaves into an alpha state during shorter practice (1-5 breath cycles) and even into gamma and theta with five or more breath cycles. This is because the longer practice becomes more meditative in nature, which tends to lead toward gamma and theta states.
- Find a comfortable seated position, making sure your spine is straight without straining.
- Relax your left palm comfortably into your lap and bring your right hand just in front of your face.
- With your right hand, bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as a stabilizing anchor. The fingers you will be actively using are the ring finger and thumb.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose with both nostrils left open.
- Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and deeply.
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger, so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief moment.
- Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side of your nose; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
- Then, inhale through the right side slowly and deeply.
- Hold both nostrils closed for a brief moment.
- Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
- Repeat, as many cycles as you like, although 5-10 is a good starting point, allowing your awareness to track and follow you are inhales and exhales.
Note that steps 5-9 represent one complete cycle of alternate nostril breathing. If you are moving through the sequence slowly, one cycle should take you about 20-40 seconds, although it could be shorter or longer. Repeat daily for cumulative effects and this practice can be used as often as you would like, although once in the morning and once at night is a good starting point.
Binaural and Monaural Beats
Brainwave Patterns Generated: Alpha, Delta, Gamma, Theta and more, depending on the music
The sound itself is wavelike, and so it should come as no surprise that it is one of the most powerful influencers of mood and brainwave states known to man. Pioneering research in the 1950’s and 60’s conducted by Robert Monroe showed that by playing two acoustically different sounds with slight differences in their wave frequencies, one into each ear simultaneously resulted in a standing wave pattern in the brain that matched the differential between the individual sounds broadcast into each ear.
Held for long enough, the brainwave state of the individual will eventually synchronize with the acoustically produced standing wave. Technologies that make use of this phenomenon are binaural beats, with other variations on this original technology surfacing in recent decades including monaural beats and isochronic tones, all working along similar lines.
Binaural beats/tones are often combined with music, as they tend to be somewhat monotone. However, this does not lessen their impact. The rhythmic desynchronization of the two binaural sounds heard through each ear produces the psychosomatic effects. As long as quality headphones or properly placed stereo speakers are used, the brain will respond appropriately.
An interesting and useful feature of binaural and monaural beats is that they can be designed to synchronize your brainwave pattern into any specific brain state that the creator of the sounds desires. Therefore, the experience can be much more precise and controlled than you can otherwise achieve with more organic methods, which tend to be more dependent on a number of factors that are not fully understood.
With monaural and binaural beats, you can literally pick the flavor of brainwave state that you would like to experience. This can be very useful for getting yourself into specific states of consciousness to achieve various ends, for example, if you want to deeply relax, then you would want to listen to a delta-wave-inducing track, or if you want to experience enhanced intuition and creativity, you would probably want to listen to a gamma wave or theta-wave-inducing track
Bilateral Eye Movement Therapy
Brainwave Patterns Generated: Alpha, Gamma, Theta
By far one of the quickest and easiest ways to generate harmony and hemispheric coherence in the brain and shift your brainwave patterns into the positive end of the spectrum is using bilateral eye movements. Bilateral eye movements, which are actually quite simple despite the academic-sounding name, are a component of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which has been gaining widespread popularity in recent years for its use in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among many other things.
A number of studies and research papers have shown that specific exercises from the EMDR process have a measurable, positive impact on brain hemisphere synchronization and communication and tend to shift brainwaves toward the alpha end of the spectrum, although gamma and theta wave patterns have been recorded as well.
The practice is quite easy to get the hang of spend about 20 seconds to a minute or so shifting your eyes back and forth from right to left and back in quick but relaxed succession, without straining. It is common to begin feeling your brainwave patterns shifting almost immediately. You should be able to feel your mental coherence increasing as you practice, and many reports noticing shifts and sensations in the brain as they do so. However, if you do not feel these, it does not mean it is not working. You may just be less sensitive than others.
For an advanced practice:
Try using the movements to work through difficult emotions as they come up. When you begin to feel a negative emotion surface, breath deep and begin the eye movements. Notice how things shift for you as you go through the process.
Resonant Vowel Sound Chanting & Organic Instrumentation
Brainwave Patterns Generated: Theta, Gamma, Alpha
While binaural and monaural beats are amazing tools for shifting your brainwave state and expanding consciousness, equally as powerful and perhaps even more so are sounds you generate yourself. For millennia before the advent of musical technologies, some spiritual traditions and indigenous peoples discovered that specific types of sound could readily influence consciousness, and hence brainwave state, in very tangible and dramatic ways. Although the mechanisms by which this occurs are not fully understood, although it likely works in similar ways to some of the other methods outlined in this article, specific forms of chanting and various forms of musical instrumentation have been shown to reliably shift brainwave states to alpha, delta, gamma, theta and beyond.
Perhaps the easiest and in a certain sense the most powerful way to begin practicing this organic method of brainwave influence and consciousness expansion on your own is through resonant vowel sound chanting.
The mechanics and practice are fairly simple: start by saying and holding a specific letter of the alphabet for an extended period, adjusting the tension in your throat and the shape of your tongue and mouth to fine tune the pitch of the toning to facilitate the feeling of resonance in the body and brain. By shifting these four elements—mouth, throat, tongue shape and pitch—you will be able to shift where you feel the sound in different parts of the body and into the brain. As such, shifting these four elements in such a way that you feel the sound in your head tends to have the most profound impact on brainwave state, although letting sounds resonate in other parts of the body can still produce shifts in brainwave state as well, in addition to having other positive effects in the body. Studies have shown that our DNA itself is wavelike in nature and responds to vibration both internally and externally. Resonant vowel sound chanting is one way to activate these inherent mechanisms.
A good place to start is by practicing with the letter ‘O’. Take a deep breath in through your nose and on the exhale, say and hold the letter ‘O’ as long as you can without straining. It can be helpful to close your eyes and tune into the finer subtleties of what you are feeling in your body as you tone and chant. After you get the hang of it, try experimenting with different vowels and letters. Some good ones to start with in order to get a strong resonance going are: O, A, E, I, U, M as these lend themselves best to chanting, toning and holding for extended periods of time. The legendary ‘Om’ or ‘Aum’ chant combines multiple vowels and consonants in a single tone to produce a deeper, consciousness-expanding effect. Practice as long as you’d like although benefits tend to peak around the ten-minute mark in my experience, although that’s just a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule. Noticeable shifts and effects can often be felt much sooner than that as well. Even just a handful of repetitions can help shift your brain into an altered wave state and bring your consciousness into more coherence and harmony.
What I love about toning and chanting is that it’s an organic method of brainwave influence—everything you need is within you. With that being said, certain musical instruments are also known to operate by similar principles and can be a useful adjunct to your practice, either in combination or on their own, for a more passive and perhaps relaxing experience. While all sound shifts brainwave patterns to some degree, there is an entire class of instruments that are truly designed for this purpose and specifically to bring more coherence and balance to the body and mind and shift brainwaves to the positive end of the spectrum. Gongs, handbells, chimes, singing bowls (crystal or Tibetan), didgeridoos, flutes, and even certain types of drums, among other more exotic instruments have been used to induce expanded consciousness and brainwave coherence for thousands of years by ancient cultures worldwide.
Feel free to combine and blend all of the practices and tools outlined in this article for a greater effect. However, more is not always better, and typically combining two or three techniques is the point of greatest return. Introducing too many sounds can often have the opposite effect. A good way to calibrate the ‘sweet spot’ is to use what you are feeling in your body and brain to guide you. If you feel greater harmony, coherence, resonance, and pleasure, you are headed in the right direction.
- Jahn RG, Dunne BJ. 1987. Margins of Reality: The Role of Consciousness in the Physical World. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
- Radin D. 1997. The Conscious Universe. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
- Stapp, in Nadeau R, and Kafatos, M., The Nonlocal Universe: The new physics and matters of the mind, Oxford University Press. (1999).
- Radin DI, Nelson RD. 1989. Evidence for consciousness-related anomalies in random physical systems. Foundations of Physics. 19:1499-1514.
- Targ and J. Katra, Miracles of Mind: Exploring Nonlocal Consciousness and Spiritual Healing, New World Library, Novato CA. (1998).
- Liou, Chien-Hui, Hsieh, Chang-Wei, Hsieh, Chao-Hsien, Lee, Si-Chen, Chen, Jyh-Horng, and Wang, Chi-Hong. Correlation between Pineal Activation and Religious Meditation Observed by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Available from Nature Precedings
- Lutz A, Greischar LL, Rawlings NB, Ricard M, Davidson RJ, Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:16369–16373 (2004)
- Udo Will, Eric Berg, Brainwave synchronization and entrainment to periodic acoustic stimuli, Neuroscience Letters, Volume 424, Issue 1, 31 August 2007, Pages 55-60, ISSN 0304-3940, 10.1016/j.neulet.2007.07.036.
About the Author
Justin Faerman is a visionary change-agent, entrepreneur, and healer dedicated to evolving global consciousness, bridging science and spirituality, and spreading enlightened ideas on both an individual and societal level. He is the co-founder of Conscious Lifestyle Magazine and a sought-after coach and teacher, known for his pioneering work in the area of flow. He is largely focused on applied spirituality, which is translating abstract spiritual concepts and ideas into practical, actionable techniques for creating a deeply fulfilling, prosperous life. Connect with him at consciouslifestylemag.com and artofflowcoaching.com
This article (5 Practices to Expand Your Awareness and Harmonize Your Brain) was created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Justin Faerman and WakingTimes.com.
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