Aug 152015

I have always wondered what is happening in my brain when my mind is doing different things. Are there observable differences in brainwave patterns for when I am meditating vs. not meditating? Are there different patterns for different styles of meditation? Is it possible to see changes over the course of minutes or days?

My practices of counting the breath and following the breath are two different styles of meditation. In the practice of counting the breath, I am counting exhalations, internally saying to myself, “one, two, three…”. It can be either counting to ten and repeating, or just counting continuously through the period of meditation. It requires effort to stay focused on the counting process–otherwise all kinds of extraneous thoughts intervene and I find myself daydreaming, stepping from one thought to another. Without the effort, my mind tends to return to a random walk of thinking.

The practice of following the breath seems to follow naturally from the practice of counting. That is, when the jumping around has been quieted by the counting practice, then thoughts tend to subside and simple awareness remains. These are the times when I feel my mind is clear. I wondered whether it would be possible to see a brainwave signature for a clear mind, especially in contrast to the default mode. To do so, I needed to compare it with conditions of non-meditating.

An example of a non-meditative condition would be thinking of things—seeing objects in the minds eye, naming them and seeing where they are located. I have a workshop in the garage with lots of different tools on the wall. In my mind’s eye, I can see where each of these tools is hanging, so I can occupy my mind for several minutes just thinking of all the different tools, seeing an image of each, its name and where it is located. When I run out of tools in the garage, I can think about tools in the kitchen. So “thinking of tools” seemed like a good example of a state of mind which is not meditating.

Below are radar charts for counting the breath, thinking of tools and following the breath for this period.

Counting the breath

Counting the breath – median values

An alpha rhythm predominates in all four sensor locations. In the next segment, I focus on thinking of tools in my garage. the Beta and gamma rhythms are more pronounced.

Thinking of tools

Thinking of tools – median values

Finally, I return to my practice of following the breath. Once again, alpha is stronger than other frequency bands.

Following the breath

Following the breath – median values

In the first and third segments, when counting the breath or following the breath (both with eyes open). When thinking of tools there is more beta and gamma activity in the front of the head (also with eyes open).

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