What is actually happening in your brain on a physical level when you meditate or practice self-hypnosis?  Moreover, what is the nature of mental activity, and how do our minds perceive things as being ‘real’?

Scientific studies have shown that our brains produce wavelength frequencies, and that these frequencies change with the nature of our consciousness.  This is the brainwave activity typical of ‘normal’ waking consciousness:  High Beta (30 – 23 Hz) is typical of panic and hyperactivity;   Beta (22.99 – 16 Hz) of excitation;   Low Beta (15.99 – 14.5 Hz) corresponds to normal waking consciousness; Beta / Alpha (14.49 – 13.5 Hz) indicates a state of relaxation and calm; and High Alpha (13.49 – 12.4 Hz) correlates to reverie.  States of ‘altered’ consciousness are as follows:  Alpha (12.39 – 9.9 Hz) meditative;  Low Alpha (9.89 – 8.2 Hz) deep insight, inspiration;  Alpha / Theta (8.19 – 7.7 Hz) light trance;  High Theta (7.69 – 7.1 Hz) onset of bypassing critical faculties;  Theta (7 – 4.9 Hz) bypassing critical factors;  Low Theta (4.89 – 4.3 Hz) deep trance;  Theta / Delta (4.29 – 3.9 Hz) o.b.e.; Delta (0.5 – 3.89 Hz) sleep, deep trance.

A recent article by Mark Kaufman in the Washington Post, citing a study on Tibetan meditation practitioners states:  “Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness.”  Furthermore, “researchers at the University of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able to translate those mental experiences into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination. And they have pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the left forehead, as the place where brain activity associated with meditation is especially intense.”

One key discovery of this study is the scientific evidence in favor of the theory of neuroplasticity:  the theory that we can indeed change the physical structure of our brain through mental activity.  This theory corresponds to an analogy I used in a previous article – that of ‘exercising’ the brain, or the mind, just as we would any muscle group.  Therefore, it is thoroughly realistic to acknowledge that the introspective peacefulness achieved through self-hypnosis or meditation results not only in short-term change in brainwave activity, but also achieves a long-term residual effect.

I like to tell my clients that when they entertain a certain thought or emotional condition or behavior, what they are doing is firing an electrical impulse down a certain neural pathway.  I don’t know, not do I really care, if this is true.  But it does seem likely.  In accordance with my theory, the more frequently we fire the same neural pathway, the stronger this pathway grows, and the more likely we are to use it again in the future.  It is through hypnosis, and then, through actualization of the hypnotic suggestions given, that we can best change these neural pathways, allowing troublesome ones to atrophy, and creating, in their place, new and positive ones.

While some of these pathways were created in our imagination, most were initially created through experience.  These experiences most likely occurred through one or a combination of our five senses:  sight, sound, taste, smell, and feeling.  What is the difference between actually experiencing an event, and remembering or imagining it?  Steven Kosslyn, a pioneer in research on visual imagery, has concluded that we use the same parts of the brain to visualize and to imagine as we do to see. (Ian Robertson, “The Mind’s Eye”, pp. 55-56, Bantam Press, Great Britain, 2002)  These three activities – imagining, experiencing, and remembering an event - actually produce the same brainwave patterns, and activate the same neural pathways.  And so, what occurs in the brain is real to the brain.  When we deeply imagine a situation occurring as we would like it to occur, it dramatically increases the likelihood that it will happen that way.  We can thus, in many ways ‘envision’ or ‘preview’ the future. 

It has also been frequently stated that we attract what we think.  And it is fairly obvious to most of us that we tend to attract like-minded people.  It is for these reasons that it is very important that we focus our thoughts on the positive future we want for ourselves, rather than on what we see as our weaknesses, limitation, or obstacles towards reaching that future.  Energy flows where our attention goes, and therefore, keeping our attention on the goal is of utmost importance.  This principle has been described as the ‘Magnetism of Thought.’

Similar to this principle of magnetism of thought is the phenomenon of brainwave synchronization.  It is a well known fact that our biorhythms synchronize on a very subtle level – for example, a group of women living together, over a period of time begin to experience the same menstrual cycle.  Some of us have had the experience, while sober, of encountering a group of people high on drugs and feeling a ‘contact high.’  We can ‘sense’ the emotional intensity or degree of relaxation among a group of people almost instantaneously.  It is fair to say that we actually are able to perceive, and are aware of, far more than we generally recognize or admit to ourselves.  When put in the perspective of this subtle and generally unacknowledged level of communication we all participate in, the power of our thoughts, at all levels of consciousness, is clearly seen to have a huge impact on the reality we create for ourselves.  In fact, it is reasonable to say that our thoughts are the reality we experience, in more ways than one.