Despite the obvious appeal and increased accessibility of meditation training with programs such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), it remains a significant challenge for many individuals to maintain a consistent practice. Early meditators often complain that they do not know if they are “doing it right” or give up before realizing any significant benefits. By providing the meditator with immediate feedback on their brainwave state, a neurotherapist can help define and refine the process, potentially increasing motivation, interest and impact.
Research examining the role of attention, intention, brainwave states and brain regions involved has shown that there are basically four different types of meditation practices; these include Focused Attention, Open Monitoring, Automatic Self-Transcending and Loving-Kindness/Compassion. Each of these styles of meditation impact the brain in different ways, making each an ideal match for specific mental health concerns. Focused Attention or concentration practices provide the exact type of brain training needed for ADHD and concerns of focus and distractibility. Open Monitoring practices, such as mindfulness meditation affect the brain in ways that make it perfectly suited for managing stress and anxiety. Automatic Self Transcending is similar to an Open Focus approach and is helpful for quieting down the overactive self-referencing that is so common with personality disorders and addictions. Loving-kindness and compassion practices change the brain in ways that can have a significant impact on depression or mood concerns.
By combining these specific meditations with neurofeedback protocols it is possible to target the brain waves and brain regions that are consistent with these meditations, helping the client to more easily and consistently achieve the desired state of consciousness. For example, an Open Monitoring neuromeditation session might involve connecting sensors to two or more locations on the clients scalp which monitor brainwave activity. One sensor might focus on theta activity in the frontal lobes (anterior cingulate gyrus), providing a pleasant tone when this activity increases. Another sensor might monitor alpha activity in the back of the brain (Precuneus) and offer a second tone when the brain decreases alpha activity. When both of these tones are present, the person is very likely to be in a state of “observing the self.” The client can sit with their eyes closed, engaged in a mindfulness meditation, quietly and nonjudgmentally watching every thought, bodily sensation and emotional reaction that passes through consciousness. This practice leads to a healthy detachment to the difficulties caused by our over analytic, obsessive and worrying thoughts, allowing relief from stress and anxiety.
Using brainwave feedback to provide a reward signal for increases in frontal theta activation, one of my neuromeditation clients described the experience like this:
“This protocol, or at least the way I was approaching the session led to a very mellow, pleasant state of mind. Very calming, slow and relaxed. I just let go of any thoughts and don’t try to force anything to happen or to not happen. I seemed to receive the reward when I was a little bit more focused rather than so easygoing as my typical meditation is, or as I would like it to be. I came out of this session not wanting it to end nor wanting to speak or verbalize my experience.”
A session review graph, after a period to allow for adjustment to the protocol, clearly shows a gradual increase in FM theta at ACC and a reduction of alpha in the Precuneus.
ACC Theta and Precuneus Alpha during an OM Neuromeditation session
Neuromeditation has become my “go to” intervention for any clients wanting the benefit of neurofeedback, but also wanting to develop skills that can be practiced at home. The combination of these ancient and modern technologies enhances both and promises to be a powerful tool for improved psychological and emotional wellness.