If you have never tried to quiet your mind with meditation then you are in for a surprise: your mind is a very noisy place. Brain waves are the electrical movements in our brain, and they always happen, even when we sleep. However, the frequency range of our brain waves fluctuates. Most of us during our waking moments have fast moving beta waves coursing through our brains. To slow down our thoughts, many western doctors are turning to the East and are encouraging the practice of meditation for their patients. Why? There have been various scientific studies that prove regularly practicing meditation has many therapeutic effects including stress reduction. High levels of stress are directly correlated to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues.
From a brain wave perspective the goal of meditation is to move the brain waves from beta into a more relaxed frequency like alpha or even theta. Alpha waves are detected when we are awake but involved in a relaxed state, for example while practicing yoga or meditating. Theta waves are a deeper form of relaxation that happen during deep meditations as well as right before we fall to sleep or upon waking.
Recently, researchers set out to examine the difference between a brain in a stage of relaxation versus the brain of a person meditating. Researchers analyzed the brain waves of people who actively practiced Acem meditation for 9 – 14 years and who had also gone on a three-week meditation retreat in the past five years. Acem meditation is a “non-directive” meditation where practitioners focus on a multisyllabic word that they repeat mentally. While hooked up to an EEG that monitored their brain waves, participants were told to either meditate for 20 minutes or relax for 20 minutes without practicing meditation. The researchers found that both the theta and alpha brainwaves increased during meditation. This means is that learning to meditate actually helps your brain access alpha and theta waves, which ultimately means that your brain may benefit more from learning to meditate.
The heart of the matter is stress reduction. Dr. Herbert Benson is a pioneer in the practice of mind/body medicine is a cardiologist and founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. As a cardiologist he realized that stress and anxiety was taking a physical toll on people with heart disease. He proved scientifically that lowering blood pressure really was a state of mind. He has since developed methods to teach patients to learn how to elicit the “relaxation response” which includes mediation.