Brain Wave Coherence and Neurofeedback

The human brain is a bespoke architecture of consciousness, a piece of machinery that manifests perfection elephantine. The brain has a labyrinth of 100 million neurons. Each neuron can connect to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals via 1000 trillion synaptic connections! This is equivalent to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor.

Ever wondered why there are grades of intelligence level? Why do we find it difficult to learn subjects like mathematics? Why do we find it difficult to change our habits? Why is it difficult to change our current belief systems? The answer to these questions lies in the complex yet seamless interplay of neurons in the brain.

Now, scientists have begun to drill down the synchronization in the neural network. Patent US7747549 discloses modelling of functions relating to psychological activities of the brain. It relates to a memory system using an artificial neural network structure (neural network model) for modelling such psychological functions of the brain as ‘intuition’, ‘consciousness or awareness’, ‘memory-chaining’ and ’emotion expression’.

Figure 1. Structure of a neuron

Each neuron (Figure 1.) comprises a cell body which outgrows the dendrites. These dendrites are connected to dendrites of another neuron by a synapse. These dendrites share electro-chemical signals called neurotransmitters. Axon ends have vesicles (membrane around sacs) containing thousands of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters (Figure 2.) are responsible for relaying, amplifying and modulating signals. Some of the common neurotransmitters we are acquainted with are Glutamate, GABA, Dopamine, Adrenaline, Serotonin, Melatonin and Histamine. These neurotransmitters are excited by an electrical impulse which forces them to cross the cell membrane. They reach the chemical receptors of other neurons thereby opening many channels for the flow of charged ions.

Figure 2. Neurotransmitters stimulated to cross the cell membrane onto the dendrites of another neuron

The bond between the neurons gets stronger by practice. This bond is made stronger by Myelin. Myelin is a fatty substance that covers the axons. It forms naturally since our childhood. As we grow older the bond gets stronger as we absorb more myelin. Whenever we are learning something new, we form a unique pattern. We are triggering new connections in the brain. Now the more we practice the newly received learning, the stronger those patterns become. A typical neuron fires 5-50 times a second across 100 trillion synapses. So here a simple equation, “Nerve cells that fire together wire together”.

This shows us that the more we practice something the stronger it registers in our brain and the easier to recall the learning. Myelinated neurons perform better. Thus, perfect practice makes perfect myelin for axons! Making mistakes reflects the inaccuracy of our connections. This also shows that learning something new always challenges the brain as those patterns have never been fired before. Therefore, unlearning old habits and learning new ones always seem to be a challenge.

The Amygdala is responsible for processing emotions of fear, anxiety, stress and threat. Whereas the Pre-frontal cortex is where our higher-order thinking skills get processed. They both follow an inverse relationship. Which means if the former is low the latter is high and vice-versa. The former makes the flow of adrenaline which in turn, makes it hard for the neurotransmitters to get across the synapses. Thus, they are required to work in balance.

Every neuron maintains a voltage gradient due to metabolically driven differences in the concentration of ions namely sodium, potassium, chloride and calcium. If the voltage varies, a nerve impulse is generated. This impulse reflects the brain activity which can be displayed as a waveform called Brain Waves or Brain Rhythm. This pulse travels through the axon.

There are various kinds of electrical impulses that are generated which are called “Brain waves” OR “Brain Rhythms”. Infra-low brain waves are produced from the cortex. These rhythms are responsible for organizing higher functionalities of the brain. Delta brain waves are produced during meditative states or very deep sleep. They are responsible for the healing and regeneration of mind and body. Whenever we begin to learn or think, theta waves are produced. They conduct vivid images in our head and are also responsible for intuitive thinking. While we are mentally relaxed, few thoughts are clogged up in our mind, we are feeling calm, Alpha waves are produced. Waves generated during our normal consciousness or when we are awake are called beta waves.

Infra-Low brainwaves are cortical rhythms that organize our higher brain functions. Gamma waves are the subtle waves which have a very low frequency and can only be accessed through a quiet mind.

So, all our emotions are an intricate amalgamation of these waves. Ever wondered how would it be like if we could control the firing of these neurons? We could heal many psychological issues people are facing today. Research has confirmed that it is possible to Train Your Brain. What could happen if we could control the electrical impulses of the neurons and create synchronized brain wave patterns just the way we desire? What if we could revisit these connections in our memory and re-direct those patterns to wire in a different way? There are colossal possibilities. The brain has its direct effects on the body and any incoherence in the brain can produce multiple psychosomatic disorders.

Neurofeedback is one such solution which helps you to regain control over your brain. It was first experimented on cats to study their SMR (Sensory Motor Rhythm). Unlike MRI and CT scan neurofeedback can access the functionality of the brain. It provides a feedback mechanism to the brain so that the brain can heal itself through neuroplasticity. This procedure is performed through computer games, sound, light or even vibrations. It performs operant conditioning i.e.: there will be an instruction for the user, this instruction may be an audio or visual instruction accompanied by a feedback (Figure 3.).

Figure 3. Basic Set-Up of Neurofeedback

All this happens through software, which acts as an interface between brain wave data and feedback. It is a processing unit providing the user with some logical metrics. For example, you can say that when the brain wave increases in this spot, play a video (Figure 4.). The user must watch an audio-visual display, be it a movie or a game with their heads connected to the electrodes. The electrodes may be carefully applied over the area of the skull that you wish to train. Whenever your EEG signals go out of balance, there is indication provided be it a pause in a movie or something like that. The basic aim of the entire session is to implant new waves in your brain by influencing your subconscious mind. Your brain will subconsciously learn to optimize the out-of-range waves.

Figure 4 . A Typical Neurofeedback Session

The brain uses that data to adjust itself. “Think of neurofeedback as a kind of learning for the brain,” says Kirk Little, a Cincinnati psychologist and president of the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research. “If you tell a dog to sit, push its butt down and give it a cookie 100 times, the dog is going to learn how to sit on its own when you just shake the cookie box. You’re doing the same thing with the brain’s electrical discharges—rewarding people for modifying their brain waves.”

Figure 5 . Neurofeedback Aids In Training The Brain

Some of the benefits of this technology are:

  • Improves focus and attention
  • Improve the quality of sleep
  • Increase energy level
  • Improve mental and muscular recovery
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines
  • Improve mood
  • One study shows neurofeedback may increase IQ by 12 points.

Neurofeedback training has successfully cured ADHD, anxiety, the symptoms of autism and Asperger’s syndrome, depression, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), migraines and headaches, stress, sleep issues and sleep disorders. It improves attention and memory. Learning from new experiences becomes easier as the feedback reflects you the necessary weakness in the wiring patterns of the brain.

There are various neurofeedback assessments namely QEEG (Quantitative EEG), Loretta, LENS maps and Avatar 3-dimensional maps which aid in wave coherence. However, good care must be taken while the application of electrodes, as a wrong application, could result in training areas of the brain that might have counter-effects. They require expertise and experience.

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