The advent of affordable EEG devices and its subsequent incorporation into Transparent’s software has been the biggest improvement in brainwave entrainment technology in a decade. Now, for the first time, you can add EEG technology to your practice for what you would spend for a light and sound machine!
The devices, Mind Wave Neurosky, a single channel unit that retails for $99, and the Emotiv Epoc , which retails for $299, are both solid units that each have their pluses and minuses. The Neurosky has the advantage of being extremely affordable and simple to use, but it is only a one channel unit, and the data you can collect from it is limited. The Epoc is a 14 channel unit and can provide EEG data to drive brainwave entrainment sessions, but costs more and requires a bit more setup each time you use it. Both units were originally designed and marketed to be game controllers.
For the serious user, the Emotiv Epoc will deliver far more accurate information, and can drive brainwave entrainment sessions, adjusting the frequency of a session to the most dominant brainwave within a set range instantly in real time. Research has found that the brain will entrain to the most dominant brainwave frequency and to those adjacent to it. With the Mind Workstation software, and the Epoc, you can experience the power of audio and visual stimulation attuned to these dominant frequencies. The results are nothing short of amazing, as it takes all the guesswork out of designing sessions.
Upon receiving your Epoc, the first thing you’ll need to do is to plug it in and charge its battery. The device is wireless, connecting to your computer with a dongle. Use this time to download the software and look over the instructions on how to set the unit up. You can download the Brain Activity Map for under $10, but the 3-D brain map software is well worth the additional investment. It will allow you not only to view your brainwave activity in real-time, it also allows you to record your brain activity during a session and then go back and see just what kind of affect your session is having. Both versions can be run simultaneously with either Neuroprogrammer or Mind Workstation.
Next you will have to install the felt sensor heads onto the headset. This can be quite frustrating, you may want to do an alpha session before attempting! You will receive a hydrator pack with 14 felt pads and their sockets. You give the heads a good soaking with saline solution, a small bottle is provided. Emotiv recommends using contact lens saline, as it contains a preservative. I have found that just regular table salt and water works just fine. A drop or two of iodine or bleach will provide antibacterial benefits if you wish. Next, remove the pads with the sockets, and attach them to each of the sensor arms of the headset. The sockets will lock in place with a quarter turn. Unfortunately, I discovered this when I installed my last sensor. While doing this, you will undoubtedly find yourself on your hands and knees chasing these little felt pads around. If you have a cat, lock it out of the room during this process. Emotiv does not provide you with any spares. No matter how careful you are, eventually you will end up losing one of these dots. Just recently, I watched in slow motion as one magically popped off the sensor arm, and went down the garbage disposal as I was rehydrating the sensors. Replacement pads are ridiculously expensive for what they are. You can make your own out of felt, but I found a small bit of cotton stuffed in the sensor socket works just as well if not better, and is disposable. Emotiv recommends taking the sensor heads out and storing in the hydrator pack each time you use it. If this was the case, I would be getting better sensor readings because I would have no hair left! Leave the pads in and rehydrate with a dropper bottle. Just don’t do it over an open drain! After a couple weeks of use, take sensor heads out and clean the gold contacts. Hopefully this whole ordeal will be spared when Emotiv comes out with their dry polymer sensors. This will be a retrofit, and they are hoping to have them out before Christmas. After that it’s just a matter plugging in the dongle, and positioning the unit on your head.
The traditional position of the headset on your head will work okay, but will have some challenges. Remember this unit was designed primarily as a joystick, picking up facial movements. I found wearing the headset backwards will put more sensors on the crown of the head, which is where entrainment is traditionally measured. This configuration will also allow you to lie down or recline, which is desirable to most for relaxation sessions. Just remember that the sensor map will be backwards. Experiment around to find which position works best for you. You should get an alpha spike when you close your eyes. Regardless of what position you are wearing, over the ear headphones will be impossible. You may be able to get on the ear phones to work, but it will be difficult. I have a set of Koss sport headphones that clip on the ear, and a pair of Klipsh noise limiting in the ear headphones that work great. Light goggles can be worn without too much difficulty.
Neuroprogrammer is limited to BioOptimization and will configure with a wizard just as you would a GSR device such as the Thoughtstream or the IOM. Optimization will be determined on EEG “scores” for meditation, focus, excitement, or frustration. These “scores” are algorithms based on research, and are surprisingly accurate.
You will need Mind Workstation to do EEG driven and neurofeedback sessions. While a number of the sessions are included in the Regular version, the Professional or Enterprise version with its timer and graphing engines will give you the most for your investment. You will also need the Enterprise version to export EEG sessions in real time. The timer function will allow advanced construction of sessions using multiple frequency ranges. As an example, you can entrain in the alpha range for a period of time and then ramp down to theta for the remainder of the session. A number of these advanced sessions are included in a separate download for Professional and Enterprise users. Using these sessions as a template, it is surprisingly easy to construct your own EEG driven sessions. It is even possible to specify which sensors will control which tracks, enabling construction of asymmetrical sessions. With the graphing engine you can record all the variables available from the Epoc, such as the EEG “scores”, and dominant brainwave frequency. Together with the 3-D brain map, the data is simply astounding for what you can do with a home unit.
When trying EEG driven sessions for the first couple times, don’t be surprised if you get that mild vascular headache. Even after years of entrainment, I got a headache couple of times. To me that was proof that the EEG driving is much more powerful, producing more blood flow to the brain. With the stimulus constantly changing with your EEG patterns, habituation is not an issue.
With this unit you will discover things about yourself and brainwave entrainment that just wasn’t possible without a hefty investment of time and money. I encourage anyone doing entrainment to join the 21st century and try one of these units out. Makes you wonder what is next, home MRI’s?