Achieving Alpha And Theta States Through Deep and Prolonged Breathing

Sometimes, we feel quite stressed out or at a loss for motivation due to any reason in life. It might be a tough routine, tight deadlines, or personal problems that might lead us to feel in this particular way. And no matter whatever we try to do to come out of this “Low-Zone”, nothing seems to work in our favor at all. It is only after some time when we finally notice a change in our life coming all by itself that takes all our negative energy away.

This fact is no longer surprising that everything inside our bodies is connected. Our body organs work together synchronously after consulting the mastermind – the brain, similarly, our mind is strongly connected with our soul.

It is also said that how we breathe reveals greatly about our inner feelings, apart from depicting our external state. With breathing being a subconscious activity, we do not even at times realize that we are ourselves giving away our real feelings through our changing patterns of breathing. Ever notice how at times when you are angry or frustrated, you seem to breathe faster all of a sudden? All of this happens because of the deep-rooted connections and interlinkages between the brain neurons and the respiratory cycle of a human being.
However, thanks to the recent discoveries and research, we can finally put an end to all of this (by will!) and learn how to achieve a calm and relaxed state of both our mind and personality.
It is all in our hands, and we can very much control it as well! Surprised? Carry on reading!

Taking control of our breathing state is not only concerned with the fact that it would help us think from a clever, broader perspective, or help us in controlling our angry or frustrated state of mind, it would also help us in boosting up the “positive” brain waves, which are the real reason for making us feel calm and relaxed through their naturally acting mechanisms. 

What are the Brain Waves and How Do They Work? 

The brain is considered to be the “Controlling Center” of a living being. The brain is expected to send messages to a particular body organ to carry out a particular function, and that organ has to comply with the instructions sent by the brain.

This communication is made possible because of the “Neurons” which are brain cells, and are billions in number. These neurons carry messages from the brain to the organ of interest, and from that organ back to the brain. These neurons communicate with each other too, and this is how your mood is controlled by the brain. The neurons communicate with each other through messages in the form of electrical impulses. These electrical impulses, if visualized on an electroencephalogram or EEG, are seen to emerge in the form of a wave-like pattern, and hence, were given the name of “Brain Waves”[1].

Since the communication between the neurons keeps on taking place throughout the day, therefore there is a lot of fluctuation in the brain waves’ activity, and they keep on changing on a minute-to-minute basis.

So far, scientists have been able to discover 5 different types of brain waves[2]. All of these brain waves reflect a person’s thought processes and feelings and simultaneously keep on changing throughout the day.
Since these brain waves move at different speeds, therefore they are measured in Hertz.
A brief overview of the different types of brain waves, in increasing order of their speeds, is given as follows:

  • Delta Waves: These are the brain waves with the slowest speed, and measure up to 0.5 – 3 Hz. They are produced when a person is in a state of deep sleep or is deeply meditating.
  • Theta Waves: These brain waves are produced when the brain is in a relaxed and calm state but is open for a reception. They mostly occur during light naps and relaxed meditative states. They have a speed measuring from 3-8 Hz.
  • Alpha Waves: Ranging from 8 – 12 Hz, the Alpha type of brain waves are produced when the body is in an alert yet relaxed state. This is accountable for the times when the person has just aroused from his sleep, but is not doing any stressful activity, and has a mind free from all loads. This is a “resting” phase of the brain and is particularly useful for reducing anxiety and stress.
  • Beta Waves: Produced at a speed of 12-30 Hz, the Beta types of brain waves are fast running waves and are produced when a person is wide-awake, and his brain is in a highly alerted, almost alarmed stated, and is occupied with tasks that require him to use his mental capabilities for solving those problems. These may include decision making and arithmetic problem-solving.
  • Gamma Waves: The Gamma type brain waves are considered to be the fastest running brain waves as they have been measured to have a speed of about 25 – 100 Hz. These brain waves are “High Level” waves, and are observed to emerge during learning, thinking, and memorizing processes.

The Significance of Alpha and Theta Waves in Achieving a Calm and Relaxed Composure

Out of all the five types of brain waves mentioned above, the Alpha and Theta Waves have been given special importance throughout all the studies[3] carried out on brain waves. These brain waves are of that much interest that they are given the designation of a state, the “Alpha Theta State”, which is a state of the mind in which a person feels at complete rest, and is calm and collected with his thoughts, a condition in which both are produced in.
It was revealed through studies that these Alpha and Theta waves can be produced through conscious control of a person, and they can further help in soothing the target person. And this conscious control is achievable through making deep, prolonged exhalation a part of one’s daily routine.
Okinaga[4], or the art of prolonging the expiration step of breathing, greatly helps in achieving this Alpha-Theta state. The Alpha-theta state is a very intuitive and clever state of the brain in which a person is in an almost euphoric state – he is willing to meditate and stay focused on this very state while willing to learn and absorb new information too. All the body muscles are relaxed, and in a completely calm, non-functioning state.
In the same study, results were observed after about 10 minutes of starting the experiment. it was found that while people remained with their eyes closed in a peaceful environment, their Alpha waves surged with the increasing duration of breathing, while the Theta waves kept on surging for as long as the person was breathing at a rate of about 3 to 4 breaths per minute.
Many people strive to achieve this state, and within a few days of regularly learning to master the art of deep and focused breathing, they can very much succeed in doing so as well. 

How to Achieve the Alpha-Theta State?

The Alpha-Theta state[5] can be achieved by anyone. It just requires complete focus and a relaxed mind. As soon as a person enters the Alpha-Theta states, his anxiety and stress levels seem to fade away, and only a relaxed aura is left behind.

These changes can be easily observed on an Electroencephalogram (EEG) which shows how significantly Alpha and Theta-type brain waves seem to rise as soon as a person goes in a relaxed state of mind, causing the Beta waves to decrease significantly. 

Changing one’s thought process, or stopping oneself from thinking about all the negative and worry-inducing energies can also help in stimulating the Alpha-Theta states. The more Alpha-Theta waves a person can produce, the more endorphins (happy hormones!) our body can produce.

Here are a few effective techniques that could help a person in achieving the Alpha-Theta state of mind:

  • Suit yourself in a calming environment
  • Relax your mind and body muscles completely, leave no bodily stress hovering behind
  • Don’t strain yourself, listen to brain-designated music
  • Open yourself for meditation, feel grateful and mindful of everything around you
  • Inhale to up to a count of 4, pause, and then exhale again after an 8 to 16 times count 


With regular practice of this exercise, you would very soon be able to get complete control over your anxiety and would be able to successfully eliminate it from your life in no time. 

References

  1. Roohi-Azizi M, Azimi L, Heysieattalab S, Aamidfar M. Changes in the brain’s bioelectrical activity during cognition, consciousness, and some mental disorders. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2017;31:53. Published 2017 Sep 3. DOI:10.14196/mjiri.31.53
  2. Roberts JA, Gollo LL, Abeysuriya RG, et al. Metastable brain waves. Nat Commun. 2019;10(1):1056. Published 2019 Mar 5. DOI:10.1038/s41467-019-08999-0
  3. Zhang H, Watrous AJ, Patel A, Jacobs J. The Theta and Alpha Oscillations Are Traveling Waves in Human Neocortex. Neuron. 2018;98(6):1269-1281.e4. DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2018.05.019
  4. Komori T. The extreme prolongation of expiration breathing: its Effects on electroencephalogram and autonomic nervous function. Ment Illn. 2018;10(2):7881. Published 2018 Dec 20. DOI:10.4081/mi.2018.7881

Herweg NA, Apitz T, Leicht G, Mulert C, Fuentemilla L, Bunzeck N. The Theta and Alpha Oscillations Bind the Hippocampus, Prefrontal Cortex, and Striatum during Recollection: Evidence from a Simultaneous EEG-fMRI. J Neurosci. 2016;36(12):3579-3587. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3629-15.2016


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