What are Brainwaves?
Alpha, beta, theta, gamma, delta… These are all names for bands of frequencies, or cycles per seconds, that the brain produces in its internal communications. Neurons fire messages through small electrical signals, and these have rhythm! We can measure these electrical vibrations by placing sensors on the scalp (or inside, but attaching them to the surface with a sticky paste that easily washes off will do..). The resulting EEG signal is fed into an amplifier and via software this can be analysed: We can detect rhythms with higher amplitudes in certain bands or ranges.
We can record brain waves: A 19-sensor cap that is easily set up, attaches to an amplifier that feeds raw EEG data into a laptop. This is called a qEEG. The data can then be analysed, for which there are a variety of platforms. Neurofeedback London-Brighton uses specialised software created by one of the founders of the field of neurofeedback to analyse brainwaves and generate a brain map.
Alpha was the first distinct rhythm discovered with EEG technology in the 1920s. At around 10 cycles per second, roughly the same for most people, this is particularly prevalent on the back of the head when eyes are closed. It’s a natural resting rhythm of the brain indicating a relaxed conscious state of awareness, and is particularly strong in meditators.
Alpha is also our brain’s ‘refresh’ rate – we sample the world ten times per second. What’s more, we all do this at around the same rate by the time we’re adults, which would seem to promote a sense of synchrony between people. More evidence of this is the fact that if we watch a strobe light with the same intensity or brightness at 10Hz, we perceive it to be brighter when set at 10Hz then at say, 7 or 13Hz – the only thing that’s changed is the frequency, not it’s actual brightness.
Generating alpha has become synonymous with being relaxed and aware, a highly desirable state that contrasts with anxiousness on the one hand and drowsiness on the other.
This is the next slower band which is associated with dream-like imagery and deeper relaxation. Hypnosis, light sleep and REM sleep are often linked to this, as are psychic realms.. It is not well understood, and yet we pass through this stage daily between deep sleep and awakening, and vice versa.
Theta is involved in memory consolidation, and neurofeedback training has shown to improve performance.
Dreamless, bodily restorative sleep is characterised by a predominance of brainwaves in this band. Not much appears to happen here, and yet the brain is active – the brain never ‘switches off’ completely. Some meditators can accentuate this activity.
This is our awake mode. While there are brainwaves occurring in all bands in all states, beta dominates when we are busy with cognitive tasks, interacting with others and going about our daily lives. The lower part of this range (12-15Hz) is also called the Sensorimotor Motor Rhythm, or SMR . This is the preferred rate of communication within our sensorimotor cortex, the central part of our neocortex running from one ear to the other via the top of our head. Early neurofeedback therapies focused on this frequency band and scalp area.
Higher frequencies than beta are called gamma waves, and these appear to form the core of intra-brain network communications. For quick reactions, we need to be able to process more information, which is what this frequency range lends itself to. In fact, information is ‘coupled’ through theta-gamma multiplexing so as to maximise the information throughput from one area of the brain to another, or different networks. There are even neurons that generate their own specific gamma rhythm, and around 40Hz seems to be a sweet spot for this activity.
Infra-Low Frequency (ILF): sub – 0.1Hz
The range of frequencies below 0.1Hz was explored by the Othmer’s as the technology advanced in the early 2000s. Training frequencies as low as 0.0001mHz can now be achieved. Measuring signals with such slow wavelengths (days), and analysing them real-time is similar to amplifying deep space signals picked up by satellites, and it is no coincidence that the engineers behind this are literally rocket scientists.
These frequencies comprise the lowest organisational frequencies known in the brain, such as the circadian rhythm (24 hours, or 0.011mHz). The ultradian rhythm (90-120 minutes, or 0.15mHz) reflects intra-day cycles of rest and activity, and our sleep is organised in similar stages.
The source of these rhythms is attributed to various sources, including sub-thalamic nuclei and astrocytes. These interstitial cells linking neurons are responsible for myelination and maintaining extracellular homeostasis.
What’s the Big Deal?
So, with all these different frequencies available to choose from, let’s help the brain find it’s ideal rhythm when it’s not where we want it to be. Some people find it hard to wind down and relax. Others have too much low frequency activity that makes it difficult for them to focus. Emotions and memory are affected by a lack of right rhythm. Motor functions can be impaired too as a result of such dysregulation.
The point is, we are able to help the brain adjust better by guiding it, or the relevant parts of it, to the right rhythm. Binaural Beats are one way of doing this. Neurofeedback is another.
What are Binaural Beats?
There’s plenty of meditation soundtracks on youtube boasting of binaural beats to support different states of mind, so what are these about?
By feeding the brain with a different steady tone in each ear, the brain combines the sounds and generates a third signal internally, called the binaural beat. Its tone is the difference between the two signals heard. So, for example, by playing a 435Hz signal to the left ear and 445Hz to the right, just around the ‘A’ sound of 440Hz, the brain generates another internal vibration at 445-435 = 10Hz, or the dominant alpha signal. This actually originates in the brainstem, the superior olivary nucleus to be prices, which is where contra-lateral auditory input is integrated. From this point deep inside the brain it is then transmitted throughout the brain through the reticular activating system, thus changing brain-wave activity.
This works for sounds played below 1500Hz, and is usually done around 150-250Hz, i.e. very low sounds (D3 to B3). You can make this yourself by separating the left and right channels using Audacity. When you hear a slightly warbling sound you know this is happening; the brain soon gets used to it. It’s essential to wear headphones to get the best effect! Weirdly, this works even when masked with white noise.
Why use it?
The idea is to get the brain into a more relaxed state. This usually means encouraging it to produce more alpha, or even theta waves. To start with, we’d ideally pick the brain up from where it is, normally in beta state when awake, so around 18-20Hz. We then take it on a journey down to alpha (8-12Hz) or even theta (4-7Hz). Good binaural beat soundtracks will take you on this ride at a pace the brain understands and can relate to.
We take a holistic approach to healthy brain self-regulation, rather than categorisation or diagnosis. In our view, and experience, symptoms resolve when our system is balanced.
A brain map is an analysis of brain wave behaviour as measured by a qEEG recording. We record 20 minutes of the brain activities with a 19-sensor qEEG recorder. There is no stimulation, and contact between the sensors and the head is via an easily removable gel applied to specific points. From this recording, we can generate a brain map using Kaiser Neuromap software.
The functional connectivity between various brain areas allows us to see vulnerabilities to character traits or behaviour patterns.
Neurofeedback training is a process where we give the brain feedback about its own activity at a particular cortical site in real time, via visual, auditory or tactile means. There is no direct stimulus to the brain and the sensors attached are for measurement of cortical EEG, or tiny electrical currents detectable on the surface of our head. This signal is then amplified and analysed by software in real-time, and this information is used to provide feedback to our brain.
We use a movie of choice as the feedback mechanism – our conscious mind engages with the film, and feedback is delivered by small changes in volume or picture size. Our pre-conscious mind adapts its behaviour to preserve the more comfortable volume and picture size, and learning occurs.
Neurofeedback training is safe, effective and non-invasive.
Neurofeedback is evidence-based.
Guided by a Kaiser Neuromap, our neurofeedback training targets specific brain areas, neural hubs and networks. This improves integration of the brain area we are training, as well as its network and sub-cortical connections.
Developed by a founder of the field of neurofeedback, and with a wealth of over 3,000 brain maps and thirty years’ of experience, Personalised Brain Training uses advanced neurofeedback protocols.
A qEEG-brainmap takes under an hour to obtain and is a non-invasive process. A nineteen-sensor cap is comfortably fitted and we record about twenty minutes of brain activity. Using specialised software, we obtain a visual analysis which we will communicate verbally. This also forms the basis of our training plan. Note that we do not provide diagnosis.
This brain map approach is unique in that it analyses the connectivity of a functional brain area, rather than simply geographic areas of the brain.
Connectivity is a measure of regional integration of specific brain areas with other areas and key networks. This is a relative measure – to be meaningful, it has to be referenced to a baseline. Rather than use an average as a reference, we compare results to a set of hand-picked individuals who are both high-performing professionals and well-balanced individuals. Our ability to engage with others, form friends and alliances, and make consensual decisions is deemed as important for success as professional specialisation and technical performance.
A functional brain area, as first delineated by Korbinian Brodmann in 1909, was first defined by variations in the number of layers in its grey matter. This difference in physical property still holds as a valid way to separate brain regions, and each has its own function while being connected to other areas of the cortex via white matter, as well as to the brainstem, in particular, the thalamus. With a brain map, we gain insights into both cortical integration (how well the area connects with its surrounding areas), as well as its thalamo-cortical integration.
Neurofeedback Training Sessions
Personalised Brain Training aims to optimise the cortical connectivity, as well as promoting improved thalamo-cortical connection. Neuroplasticity, the ability of neural networks in the brain to make new connections, is an essential and continuous process that underpins our ability to learn. With brain training, we can promote this process.
Protocols are generally around 30-45 minutes per brain area that we train; as such, training sessions are ideally around 90-120 minutes. This corresponds to the average length of a movie. This is also the length of our ultradian rhythms – attention cycles that govern our day, letting us perform at more than 100% at peak, and less than this at trough – think of the lull we experience around lunchtime. By training the brain throughout a complete cycle, we are more likely to provide the brain with a challenge at different points in its attention cycle for a more comprehensive training.
The primary feedback mechanism in Personalised Brain Training is auditory, that is, a subtle change in volume. The brain recognises this, preconsciously, while our conscious mind is focused on the movie, and corrects its behaviour to preserve the continuity of the watching (or listening) experience. A secondary, visual feedback mechanism can be activated, whereby the picture size changes too, though this is optional in cases of high visual sensitivity (e.g. migraines).
We can track progress by remapping the brain at intervals, usually after every 20 hours of training. Ten sessions will give a good indication of responsiveness, which besides subjective feedback we can ascertain with a further remap. With neurofeedback training, we are showing the brain a more efficient state during a session. Upon repetition, the brain learns to adopt this new state. The person has to then implement this new learning in their life. Internal changes have to be externalised. Training success depends on this ability thus results can vary.
Neurofeedback training begins with two to three sessions per week and the frequency of training can then be adjusted to need and symptom improvements. Intensive courses involving two or more sessions per day can also be accommodated.
Contact Daniel on +44 (0)7966 699430 or email@example.com to arrange sessions.
We record qEEG brain activity for about 15-20 minutes. This process takes about 30-45 minutes overall and we discuss results a few days later via call or in person. This provides the basis for the Personalised Brain Training Plan.
Comfortably watching a movie of choice, we train specific brain areas per our Personalised Brain Training Plan. Sessions are two hours (shorter if necessary), and ideally we aim to do two or three per week. Alternatively, intensive courses can accommodate two sessions per day. Generally, we would look to do 40 hours or 20 sessions.