There are a limited number of activities available to me during my house arrest in mandatory quarantine. Almost all of them involve some kind of intellectual engagement. A person can only take so much of that before it’s time to change the channel. Interestingly, the channels are made of brain waves.
Every action, thought, and feeling that we have is the result of synchronized electricity in our brain. This electricity comes in waves. The waves take on different shapes depending on what we are doing, and they can be measured.
Gamma waves, for example, are close together but low in voltage. That means that our brain is rapidly producing little zaps. This kind of wave is seen when we are intensely focused, such as during active learning and problem-solving.
Beta waves are a little slower and a little stronger. Betas occur when we are still actively engaged, but paying attention to something external, like having a conversation or watching a movie. The dominant activities of American culture involve Gamma and Beta waves––they are the waves of “Doing.”
Alpha waves are even slower than Betas, but also have higher electrical peaks. They come with the relaxed, passive attention that follows completing a task and then taking a break. Alphas are the waves of pausing and resting.
Theta waves are the slowest and highest voltage of our waking patterns. These are generated during deep relaxation with inward focus. They occur during daydreaming or repetitive tasks that don’t require much attention, like exercise. Thetas are same waves produced during meditation and channeling, and also found during the dreams of sleep.
Both Alpha and Theta waves allow for creative flow, or dancing with the muse, and we are often in these states when new ideas seem to pop up out of nowhere. Alpha and Theta are the waves of “Being.”
The slowest but most intense waves are the Deltas, which occur during deep sleep. We need them for rejuvenating sleep, immune function, and cellular repair. Without enough Delta time, our brain and body will begin to decline and malfunction. Deltas are the “rest and restore” waves.
This knowledge about waves can be applied to everyday life. We can choose which wave pattern we are in by choosing different activities. As in everything, balance is crucial. If we are pushing ourselves all day with caffeine or anxiety or willpower, we will be stuck in Gamma-and-Beta-land. We will be constantly producing rapid-fire small zaps.
When we step back and take a break throughout the day, we can allow some Alpha and Theta activity. Their slower waves allow for restoration and their bigger peaks allow access to deeper parts of our mind. Relaxing gradually, through Alpha and then Theta, can help us slow down and prepare for a good Delta night. And getting adequate Delta time can prevent premature cognitive, mental and physical illness––it can literally keep us from short-circuiting!
A simple way to understand this is through sound waves. If we never stop to rest we will have a band made up of only piccolos (Gammas), with a few bass drum beats (Deltas) thrown in. Living harmoniously requires the whole symphony.