An Altered State, Part 3
In part one of this series, we discussed the idea of a flow state, in which the prefrontal cortex of the brain turns off and allows other parts of the brain to build connections. In the second part, we discussed how people have achieved these states principally through meditation and active physical risk taking. Now we will talk about why flow states are important to health.
Looking at the brain waves via EEG (electro encephalogram), scientists have identified three major brain waves that correlate with different states of consciousness. The normal waking, working mind, in which the prefrontal cortex is dominating our consciousness, emits beta waves. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain involved in calculating, language, and higher logic, and is the origin of the sense of self. Alpha waves correlate with the contemplative portion of our brain. It is active during classic meditation, yoga, and hiking or walking. Theta waves are emitted during REM sleep and right before falling asleep. The most advanced meditation artists, such as Buddhist monks, are able to maintain their brain wave signature right at the alpha-theta boarder.
Scientists have begun to ask: Is it possible to take the brain wave fingerprint of an individual who is a master at a specific practice and upload it into a novice? The answer is yes and it is currently being done. The results have been found to increase an individual’s learning potential by 50 to 80 percent. We are not talking about the Matrix, in which the ability to do martial arts can be uploaded, but the rate of learning can be increased using a technique called neurofeedback.
Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), scientists have measured eight to twelve frequencies in the brain of masters while they are performing specific tasks. They use this data to create a neurological fingerprint. Then, they place the EEG on a novice as they practice the same task. Whenever the novices’ brain wave signatures line up with the experts’ they are given positive feedback, such as the sound a bird chirping. Similar to the game Hot-Cold, in which an object is hidden in the room and a participant finds it with the help of feedback like “your getting warmer,” the brain will randomly shift its brain waves until it can find the most efficient and effective signature for that task. By giving positive feedback, the brain can match the most ideal brain wave signature 50 to 80 percent faster. These experiments have been performed using archery, chess, and even advanced meditation with the same consistent results.
Neurobiological research has also made impressive advancements in the treatment of psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The Flow Genome Project is one of many new organizations working to understand the biological nature of altered states and to find the most effective ways to induce them. By creating an environment where these conscious states can be turned on and off at will, many psychological disorders can be treated and even reversed. As stated earlier, the prefrontal cortex of the brain dominates our consciousness during our waking days. Although very useful, this area of the brain can easily become our worst enemy. The majority of our self-doubt and self-abuse originates from the prefrontal cortex, housing the perception of self and ego. Usually worries are not real and are made up or old issues we can’t let go of. For instance, anxiety is a fear of the future and depression is holding onto regrets in the past. The past and the future do not exist, there is only the now. By experiencing an altered state like Flow, the self-induced delusional fog in our mind clears and the reality of the eternal now is completely realized.
Altered states of consciousness have always been controversial to study or even to discuss, but modern neuro-physiology and diagnostic tools have just begun to open up our scientific understanding. Research has begun to dissolve the mysticism, shining light on what is happening in the mind, and achieving reproducible and predictable results in clinical settings. This could be the revolution that is sorely needed to spark a collective awaking of our culture and to unlock our fullest potential.
By Kevin Waldron, LAc
Originally published in Listen, Share, and Be Kind