Do you know the experience where it feels like your brain is like a room with several televisions all switched on, each on different channels, all vying for attention and never being switched off? Relentless. Most of us know this experience. This is a full power beta brain wave state. It is the only acceptable state of mind in our modern post-industrial world. Yet conscious breathing techniques can calm the mind and de-stress your brain–and body.
‘Don’t dawdle’, ‘stop daydreaming, ‘you’re such a dreamer’, ‘stop playing about’. We’ve all heard these kinds of comments growing up, yet they are really unhelpful and unhealthy injunctions.
- Dawdle, meander and relax. Daily.
- Be in awe and wonder of the mystery and miracle of life.
- Daydream, it is a profound creative state.
- Play. It’s helpful for being super creative and for learning.
- Have fun. A happy brain is a healthy brain.
These are much more brain-friendly, human-friendly injunctions.
Our practices of conscious breathwork and meditation help us land in these qualities, in these super-powers, in these innate human capacities that so much of our cultural conditioning has taught us to stop doing and to stop being these parts of ourselves.
People spend many years practising daily meditations, seeking control over their minds seemingly endless propensity to chatter. This is often called ‘monkey-mind’, or as Patanjali calls it in the Yoga Sutra – ‘frog-like mind’.
Relaxing the Brain
We need to understand our mind so that we are able to work effectively with it. People spend years doing practices like this, often because they don’t understand their mind from a base of biology, and they lack the core strategies to make the mind function transparent and spacious, therefore being able to relax deeper into our core quality of spacious-awareness and presence.
Ideally we have enough space to reach for the remote or find the off switch to these brain functions, and take a breath, take a break and turn it all off for a while, with our skilled and disciplined practices of conscious breathwork and meditative depth.
The awareness function of the whole nervous system and all its aspects from the external senses, through unconscious autonomic function, and the internal senses of proprioception, interoception, gut feeling, heart feeling, our bio-electro-magnetic sense, emotions and through feeling to intellect and thought, can all be understood as mind.
Breathwork and meditation are ideally methods of accessing and relaxing the coherent depth of this web of intelligence and awareness. Brains that are constantly stressed do not work as effectively.
Bodies and minds that are stressed do not work as effectively and can generate all manner of illness from heart disease, other cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, cancers, fatigue and auto-immune conditions, arthritic conditions and so on.
People who feel stressed tend to conflict and fight more, they defend their perceived territory (the I-me-mine domain) with more vigor, and war becomes more prominent, leading to even more stressed out and traumatized humans.
Conscious breathwork and meditative depth are practices with which we find and grow our capacities to manage and relax our own central nervous system, with which we keep in peak states of performance, activity, responsivity, responsibility and relationship.
The capacity to feel and sense inside the body so as to ‘in-know’ what is happening, and to deeply listen to the somatic wisdom of the body – is a key element of this endeavor.
The capacity to consciously relax the CNS (central nervous system) at will through a deep level of practice, and to cultivate this ‘in-knowing’, is going to be one of the most important skills we can ever learn – and one of the most important skills we can offer our children.
We know that these practices change the structure and function of our brains, and that compassion practice also changes the way our brain works, making us happier, more contented and peaceful people.
When we develop these skills, the mind becomes a powerful tool. Mind stories and mental busy-ness are not who we are. Mind is an evolutionary tool at our disposal. A tool with which we can craft a fantastic world of creativity, love, wisdom and celebration. We can have fun with it, rather than being dominated and distressed by it.
Ultimately we have the choice and this is what we find through conscious breathwork and meditation – that we can change our brain. To summarise, the various brainwaves are called Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Theta and Mu. Below I’ll briefly mention the two brain states that the large majority of people will relate to – Beta and Alpha.
Represent the busiest brainwave state and are associated with normal waking consciousness of getting on and about in the world. This is known as the ‘beta brain state’, and is often associated with active, busy, or anxious thinking.
Beta waves are less present just prior to, and during changes in movement. When movement is voluntarily suppressed then beta waves increase, which also may be indicative of why it is so much easier to drop deep into relaxation after a strong movement practice, rather than trying to go deep into relaxation directly from the beta state.
Remember relaxation is not a given, it is a skillset we learn.
Alpha waves represent alert or wakeful relaxation – a kind of daydreaming of the sort that can arise with closed eyes, or if you were gazing peacefully at the ocean of a beautiful natural scene.
Alpha waves can also be present just before you fall asleep, in pre-sleep drowsiness, and are reduced when you open your eyes or actually do fall asleep.
Alpha wave activity can also occur during REM sleep. Why alpha wave activity occurs during REM sleep, we don’t understand – one suggestion is that it represents more wakeful periods in this part of our sleep cycle.
My experience is that taking alpha breaks during the course of a busy beta brainwave day, allows my brain to be more active and less tired than if I didn’t take such breaks.
How do I do this?
I have a breathing practice where I can drop from busy beta to alpha in a minimum of nine breaths. I find this control and capacity very beneficial for my creativity and overall well-being. Do you want this for yourself? Of course you do – we all do! After all, a healthy brain is a happy brain! Here’s a free video to guide you into conscious breathing, enjoy!
This article first appeared at the author’s blog ChristopherGladwell.com and is used with permission.
Christopher Gladwell is a Yoga Master, a Certified Breathworker, and the Founder of Holokinesis. He has taught internationally for twenty years around Europe, Africa and Asia.