Making (Brain) Waves

meditationIn the 1950s, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced a meditation technique in India termed Transcendental Meditation, so-called because its practice was said to transcend normal thought processes to a higher state of consciousness.   Although initially taught as a spiritual or religious practice, in the 1960s, the Maharishi began to take a more behavioral approach to TM, citing health and mental benefits, which … along with the participation of various celebrities such as The Beatles … ushered in a burst of popularity in the United States.  Transcendental Meditation is a mantra meditation in which the meditator focuses on a single word while sitting in a relaxed position with closed eyes for twenty minutes, twice a day.   The idea of achieving this higher state of consciousness without effort in forty minutes a day made it ideally suited to our Microwave Society, although it attracted the ridicule of more traditional practitioners of meditation.   It was also condemned by some religious leaders as a stealth religion or a cult.  However, by the 2000s, it had been taught to millions of people worldwide and established multinational organizations to promote its practice.

A benefit of TM’s popularity is that it produced the most extensive research on the physical and mental effects of meditation, particularly in the West.   While much of the research was funded by TM itself (leading to accusations that it was tainted), TM has been shown to affect the brain’s electrical activity, commonly known as brain waves.  Alpha wave activity, often associated with a relaxed mental state, increases, becomes more widespread and coherent through the brain.  Other studies have found increased gamma waves in the prefrontal cortex or uncommon theta wave activity during deep meditative states.  Now, any good scientist would ask at this point: Are the brain wave changes the result of higher states of consciousness … or do the brainwaves create the sense of a higher state of consciousness?  Thus were born numerous techniques for achieving some of the effects of meditation by brainwave control, for example, by using brainwave monitors to learn to consciously control our brainwaves … or through audio or visual stimulation that influences brain electrical patterns.  This is sometimes described as brainwave entrainment.

Though I still do science for a living, I consider myself in my post-scientific stage of life.  If I enjoy chicken and I enjoy eggs, I don’t care which came first.  The same goes for relaxed states of mind and brainwaves.   If it works, fine, which brings me to the recordings of Dr. Jeffery D. Thompson.  Dr. Thompson’s Center for Neuroacoustic Research has been developing techniques for what it calls Sound Healing and Brain Wave Entrainment for many years and has worked with both companies and individuals interested in quality of life improvement and increased creativity.   He has also produced numerous meditation CDs with specific objectives, like relaxation,healing mind mental acuity, or healing.    To me, much of what I read on brainwave entrainment websites sounds like pseudoscience but the proof is in the practice, so I purchased his Healing Mind System.  The recording contains two 30 minute tracks of what could loosely be described as music combined with electronic sounds.  Think Enya on Valium, almost asleep at the synthesizer.  The day after the New Year, I dragged Healing Mind System to the park, hoping it would help me help me keep my commitment to meditate this year.   I tried it again Saturday.   Both times, I still used my old TM mantra.  I seem to do better with relaxing sound in the background instead of silence (or the chatter of other park denizens) … and indeed, I did find myself in that conscious-but-not state that I love.  You can hear samples of Healing Mind System here on Amazon, as well as purchase it in CD or mp3 form.

If you want to meditate, what the hell, it’s worth a try.

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