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5 Types Of Brain Waves And Effects Of Meditation On Them

Medically reviewed by Dr. Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, UCL; MPhil
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5 Types Of Brain Waves And Effects Of Meditation On Them October 22, 2018

Meditation is not just a spiritual experience. Science can explain what it does to your brain.

Brain waves, which are electromagnetic energy, reflect the effects of meditation on your body. Yes, you read it right. There is a whole lot of activity happening in your brain while you meditate, and you can map it and find out about its workings.

Meditation alters the electrical activity of your brain. Curious to know how that happens? Well, read on to find out the effects of meditation on brain waves.

But, before that, let’s learn about brain waves.

What Are Brain Waves?

Brain waves are produced when neurons in your brain communicate with each other. They are synchronized electrical pulses.

Different types of brain waves are produced when you have thoughts, emotions, and behavior. The brain waves differ according to your mood and activity.

Slower brain waves make you feel tired and slow, whereas brain waves of higher frequency make you alert and active.

Let’s find out what meditation does to the brain waves.

Effects Of Meditation On Brain Waves

There are five types of brain waves, and each stands for a particular activity. Brain waves fluctuate according to what you do and feel.
Meditation, when done correctly, can move the brain waves from a higher frequency to a lower frequency, thereby having the ability to change how you feel.

Different parts of the brain get stimulated in a particular manner during meditation:

  • The frontal lobe, which plans and reasons switch off during meditation, helps you detach and relax.
  • The thalamus, which relays motor and sensory signals to the cerebral cortex, slows down its activity, enabling you to keep calm.
  • The parietal lobe, which gives you a sense of time also slows down, helping to lower your stress and anxiety levels.
  • The reticular keeps your brain alert and helps you respond to situations. During meditation, the reticular activity slows down, allowing you to keep calm and be peaceful.

To get a clear understanding, let’s learn about the different kinds of brain waves.

Types Of Brain Waves

  1. Alpha Waves
  2. Beta Waves
  3. Theta Waves
  4. Gamma Waves
  5. Delta Waves

1. Alpha Waves

Alpha waves are the most common brain waves that occur at the beginning of meditation as you try to go into a deeper state of mind. They are electromagnetic oscillations with a frequency range of 8-12 Hz.

Function: Alpha waves calm the nervous system. They lower blood pressure and heart rate. The waves lower the production of stress hormones and promote relaxation.

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2. Beta Waves

Beta waves occur with a frequency range of 12-30 Hz. They become active when the brain is working on goal-oriented tasks, such as planning an event or pondering over an issue.

Function: Beta waves create awareness and improve concentration. They increase logical thinking and develop your conversational abilities.

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3. Theta Waves

Theta waves are often associated with the ‘third eye’ as they help us tap into our wisdom, according to spiritual teachings. These become predominant when we do any task that is automatic like driving, washing clothes, shampooing hair, folding clothes, etc. They are also present in daydreaming and paranormal phenomena.

Function: Theta waves provide a positive mental state and encourage creativity. They improve your problem-solving skills and increase your memory. The waves improve your focus and keep you calm and balanced.

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4. Gamma Waves

Gamma waves are associated with intense focus.

Function: Gamma waves decrease anxiety and fear and increase positive emotions. They reduce depressive feelings and symptoms.

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5. Delta Waves

Delta waves are high amplitude brain waves with a frequency of 0-4 Hz. These brainwaves are associated with the deepest stages of sleep.

Function: Delta waves increase the production of two anti-aging hormones, DHEA and melatonin. They help promote deep compassion and empathy for others, improve social intelligence, and avoid conflict. The waves facilitate quick healing.

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During meditation, the brain shows theta waves predominantly. These waves are associated with a relaxed state of mind as compared to alpha waves, which are associated with an aroused state of mind.

Benefits Of Meditation On The Brain

1. Gray Matter

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Although there is no conclusive scientific proof of this, some studies have shown that meditation is linked to the larger amounts of gray matter in the frontal areas of the brain. More gray matter can increase focus and emotional stability in an individual.

An MRI study conducted at Harvard University showed that meditation leads to thicker gray matter in the parts of the brain that are associated with compassion and self-awareness (1).

2. Anxiety

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Numerous neural pathways emerge from the medial prefrontal cortex of our brain. These trails connect to the brain’s fear and bodily sensation perception centers. When you are in an upsetting situation and feel scared or anxious, the prefrontal cortex is stimulated.

Meditation essentially loosens these tight connections to ensure no strong reaction is triggered in the prefrontal cortex. Meditation reduces the pangs of anxiety (2).

3. Resilience

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Some researchers at Wisconsin-Madison University took MRI images of Tibetan monks and discovered that meditation and resilience have a deep-rooted connection. The study shows that meditation helps the amygdala (which is associated with emotion and emotional memories) recover quickly from trauma or stress (3).

4. Stress

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Reduced stress level is one of the biggest benefits of deep meditation.

5. Creativity

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At Leiden University, Netherlands, researchers found that people who practiced open-monitoring meditation performed better at tasks that demanded divergent thinking (4).

6. Memory

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According to research conducted by the Osher Research Center and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, people practicing mindful meditation could adjust the brain waves to tune out distraction (5). This increases productivity and easy incorporation of new information and thus boosts memory.

All this while, we have viewed meditation as an abstract concept. However, many recent studies have shed light on its mechanism and how it affects different parts of the human brain. Hope this article was able to give you a brief insight into the effects of meditation on brain waves. Please let us know your feedback in the comments section below.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

How often do I practice meditation?

Practice meditation every day for at least 20 minutes.

Can I see a difference in my brain scan before and after meditation?

Yes, you can. Meditation can alter the mechanism of your brain after some time.

The human body makes for a fascinating body of study. The brain which controls it is even more so. All this while, we viewed meditation as an immeasurable quantity which it is. But many recent studies could figure out a coherent manner to display its effects. And, the scientific benefits of meditation could be fathomed from it putting to rest the viability of meditation. Learn about the workings of the brain above and become more aware of your meditation process.

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