Though the biggest part of our brains are composed of structural cells called glial cells and astrocytes, in between these are the cells we all associate with brain activity – namely, neurons. The average human brain is said to contain about 100 billion neurons and each neuron is connected to approximately 1000 other neurons. This results in vast and complex neural networks. These networks are the mainstay of the brain’s ability to control everything from walking to thinking.
Because neurons conduct electrical impulses as they communicate with each other, these impulses can be measured, and are what we know as ‘brain waves’.
Brain waves are measured in cycles per second. We identify brain wave activity as frequencies and measure them in Hertz. The lower the number of Hz, the slower the brain activity or the slower the frequency of the activity.
Our overall brain activity is a mix of all the frequencies at the same time, however usually some are in greater quantity than others. In the 1930s and 40s, brain scientists identified four broad types of brain waves. These are:
– Delta waves (below 4 hz) – occurring during sleep.
– Theta waves (4-7 hz) – these are associated with sleep, deep relaxation (like hypnotic relaxation), and visualization
– Alpha waves (8-13 hz) – which occur when we are relaxed and calm
– Beta waves (13-38 hz) – happen when we are actively thinking, problem-solving, etc.
Since that time other brainwaves have been noticed but these remain the four large areas used for definition when we speak about brain waves.
Now you may have already known all of that, but did you also know:
- In a study of seven terminally ill patients, the researchers found identical surges in brain activity moments before death. (1)
- Nondirective meditation yields more marked changes in electrical brain wave activity associated with wakeful, relaxed attention, than just resting without any specific mental technique. (2)
- Meditation can produce a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs.(3)
- Theta brain waves are associated with high relaxation, drowsiness, and dreaming. They are also associated with dreaming sleep, creativity, reduced anxiety and effective meditation.
- Children generally have considerably higher theta brain wave activity than adults(4)
- In the 1960s, after the Second Vatican Council, a decision was taken to adopt vernacular language for worship. In a move to become more modern, the Catholic Church decided to stop age-old practises like chanting in Latin. This was a decision that had unexpected consequences. In a Benedictine monastery in France, where the monks had a long tradition of chanting, the monks began to become lethargic and fall ill. In February 1967, a French ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, was sent to investigate. After some investigation, Dr. Tomatis began a programme that enhanced the monks hearing, and he also recommended that they reinstate their chanting. His belief was, that the tones produced by the monks as they chanted together, created reactions in their brains that energised them and helped them to remain healthy and happy. Within nine months, the problem was solved.