Sunday 19 February 2012

Neurofeedback for neuroshaping

Neurofeedback historically has taken many forms.  Initially, the focus was on reinforcing alpha waves on the assumption that they were associated with relaxation and calm, meditative states.  Reinforcement of beta and SMR waves has also been applied to treat clinical disorders such as epilepsy and ADHD.  Alpha-theta training is used to treat clinical disorders such as alcoholism and anxiety.  With the development of normative databases applied to 19 channels of EEG (QEEG), a more holistic approach to treating clinical disorders has evolved with the idea that virtually any condition that is associated with patterns that are sufficiently outside of norms can be successfully treated with individually targeted neurofeedback.

Alpha and alpha-theta protocols are used most commonly to induce meditative states.  With increased knowledge of gamma waves and their role in deep meditation, alpha-theta-gamma protocols are also used to induce meditative states.

Another, quite different approach, is to use neurofeedback to strengthen meditation skills, such as noting, a meditation technique associated with insight meditation.  Theoretically, it should be possible to establish EEG signatures for certain processes, such as mind wandering, thinking, hearing, and so on, and signal to the meditator their presence in a matter of milliseconds, long before the meditator would normally be aware of them.

Consider the implications of this approach.  The emphasis would not be on inducing a meditative state or experience.  It would be on strengthening sensitivity to psycho-physical processes (i.e., guarding the six sense doors), an essential component of mindfulness meditation..    

Saturday 18 February 2012

State versus skill

In relation to meditation, the predominant use of brainwave entrainment technologies and neurofeedback seems to be to induce a meditative experience or state.

Consider Holosync, one of the most heavily advertised of the brainwave entrainment methods:
"Holosync helps you meditate even more deeply than a Zen monk.  Get all the benefits of meditation--but without all the struggle... Holosync not only allows you to meditate more deeply than with traditional methods--it allows you to experience the benefits of meditation in a fraction of the time."

That sounds pretty good.  And how does that happen?  By just sitting quietly with earphones and listening to binaural beats.

There is abundant evidence that entrainment works to the extent that the brain can be induced to produce specific brainwaves with this technology.  However, by using this technology, do we become proficient meditators, like those who have years of practice in the traditional manner?

The methods clearly differ.  Holosync appears rather passive, while the traditional methods are more active and effortful.  One induces a state, the other involves training a skill.  It is possible that the repeated experience of meditative states, especially when done in a well thought-out sequence, could lead to deeper and deeper meditative states.  Does this endow the individual with a skill, in particular, a skill equivalent to that of a monk, one that could be used in different contexts, perhaps even continuously?  Does it endow the user with the characteristics of "mindfulness" presumably found in the monk?  I doubt it.

Monday 6 February 2012

EEG signatures for Zazen

I recently obtained and read Zen Meditation and Psychotherapy by Tomio Hirai (1989).  It reports some of the early scientific studies of Zen meditation. Dr. Hira, a Japanese psychiatrist, studied the practice of Zazen by seasoned priest practitioners and controls using EEG and various physiological measures. He found that there were four distinct phases in the meditation of the experienced priests:  Stage I-- appearance of alpha waves, Stage II-- increasing alpha amplitude, Stage III-- decreasing alpha frequency, and Stage IV-- appearance of rhythmical theta trains.  He introduced various sounds, clicks and names, to see what happened to the brain waves of the meditators and controls.  While both the experienced meditators and the controls initially reacted to these stimuli by blocking the then dominant rhythm, the meditators' blocking time was a matter of a few seconds and the controls much longer.  However, whereas the controls habituated to the sounds very quickly, the experienced meditators did not.  This indicated that the controls got caught up by the stimuli with associations, but eventually ignored the stimuli, whereas the experienced meditation quickly let go of whatever associations that may have occurred to them and remained open to new stimuli.

Dr. Hirai discussed EEG biofeedback and the potential to bring brainwaves under conscious control.  However, he did not speculate on the possibility of using this technology to assist individuals in developing meditation skills.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Neuroshaping to mindfulness

Neuroshaping can be defined as the use of methods that have demonstrable and lasting impact on the brain with the purpose of creating or increasing desired experiences, states, or skills.  These methods may include low-tech approaches, such as meditation, or high-tech approaches such as brainwave entrainment and neurofeedback.

My project is to see how technologies such as neurofeedback can be used to shape the brain to create the conditions for mindfulness to arise. I call this project "neuroshaping to mindfulness." In future posts, I will describe in greater detail the project, the technologies it uses and some of the results I have had.

A few days ago, my book on meditation, The Attentive Mind Workbook:  Self-healing through Meditation, was published.  It can be obtained from my website,

Please feel free to comment or, if you wish, direct questions and comments to me directly at drampsych at