Learning to relax the mind and the body is essential to relieve stress. But how to do so? It has been proved that many relaxation techniques provide a healthier way to manage daily stress: they help with sleep disturbances, decrease the activity of stress hormones, decrease muscular tension and chronic pain, and ease the digestion process. How can we amplify those states of well-being? Description of a not-so mystical phenomenon that will help us understand the relation between our brain and our ability to relax.
Did you know that the brain is made of an average of 86 billion neurons? Without them, we could not do anything! We wouldn't feel emotions, we wouldn't speak, we wouldn't be able to rememberer or learn … Every time I think, do or feel something, I am using this incredible network that receives, processes, and transmits information coming from outside or from my own perceptions through the senses, allowing me to adjust and adapt to the environment.
Imagine: each neuron is in contact with 10 000 other neurons! Through electrical and chemical signals occurring via specialized connections called synapses, neurons are able to exchange information and to communicate. Using neurotransmitters, they transfer signals across a synapse from one neuron to another. The result: a huge interconnected network, a sort of highway for information, where a nerve impulse can travel as fast as 120 m/s or 267 m/h!
The brainwaves, witnesses of our mental activity.
We can imagine the brain as a sort of electric generator. Its power can be observed through an ElectroEncephaloGram (EEG) that detects electrical activity in the brain cells. Using electrodes pasted onto the scalp, it is then possible to measure the electrical impulses that the brain cells communicate with. Depending on which mental state it is in, the brain produces a type, or a combination of brain waves, that can be classified as followed:
. Gamma brainwaves are waves of mental awakening (>30Hz). They reflect intense and high level mental activity.
. Beta waves, waves of the daily monitoring activity (13-30Hz). They are generally produced in active states of awakening.
. Alpha waves, waves of light relaxation (8-12Hz). When our attention gets loose, or when we close our eyes (to lower the amount of visual stimulation), the cerebral activity slows down: the brain generates waves of lower frequencies called alpha waves. Those waves have been observed after practicing relaxing or meditative exercises.
. Theta waves, deep relaxation waves (4-8Hz). Those brain waves are produced in a state of daydream or profound relaxation. When a tasks become so automatic that your brain mentally disengage, the theta state is often free flow.
. Delta waves, sleep waves (0.1-4Hz). They are generally related to unconscious and deep sleep states.
If you want to train your brain to relax, it then seems natural to consciously attempt to modify its brainwaves, especially by increasing alpha waves, the waves linked with relaxed mental states.