Archive for 'Stress Relief and Relaxation'

New Study Points to Significant Relationship Between Brainwave Entrainment and Heart Rate Variability

Over the past year, Dr. Elio Conte and a team of researchers from the University of Bari in Italy have been conducting a study using Neuro-Programmer 3. Their work ultimately led to the finding of a statistically significant relationship between alpha brain wave entrainment and enhanced heart rate variability. In September 2013, their work was accepted after peer review, and published in the World Journal of Neuroscience. Because of the tremendous importance of HRV, and the scarcity of known HRV interventions, this research is incredibly exciting.

The study focused on ten subjects, 4 males and 6 females, 28 – 62 years old, ascertained to be in healthy condition. For each subject, the research team first took HRV measurements during 5 minutes at rest, in complete quiet and with the patient in a comfortable position. Then, each subject listened to 20 minutes of alpha stimulation (at 8 – 10 Hz), generated by Neuro-Programmer 3.

The research team then compared the average total HRV experienced by subjects during the at rest state to that experienced during the alpha stimulation, and noted an increase for each subject in total variability, ranging from a 20% to a 68% improvement.

We’ve created a new page on our site to better explain the importance of HRV, and why this research could be so significant. We link to the full text of the study from that page as well. You can find all of that information at this link:

Research in focus: “Alpha-rhythm stimulation using brain entrainment enhances heart rate variability in subjects with reduced HRV”

Alpha frequencies and hallucinations

Mind Hacks has a great write-up about the Dream Machine, one of the original mind machines, and its use for inducing visual hallucinations:

Anger, stress and healing time

The last few weeks have been taken up by my favorite part of this job: testing new equipment. I’ve been working on making the BioScan and EMWave (HeartMath) devices compatible with our Mind WorkStation software. We also received the latest LightStone hardware from Wild Divine. So, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time lately in stress-free biofeedback bliss.

But some of my fellow Columbus residents haven’t been so lucky.

In a recent study by Jean-Philippe Gouina, at our own Ohio State University, 98 Columbus residents valiantly lent their forearms to the cause of science, in order to confirm that high anger levels will likely increase the time it takes to heal:

A sample of 98 community-dwelling participants received standardized blister wounds on their non-dominant forearm. After blistering, the wounds were monitored daily for 8 days to assess speed of repair.

Individuals exhibiting lower levels of anger control were more likely to be categorized as slow healers. The anger control variable predicted wound repair over and above differences in hostility, negative affectivity, social support, and health behaviors. Furthermore, participants with lower levels of anger control exhibited higher cortisol reactivity during the blistering procedure. This enhanced cortisol secretion was in turn related to longer time to heal.

These findings suggest that the ability to regulate the expression of one’s anger has a clinically relevant impact on wound healing.

Find the study here.

So, next time your boss yells at you, or some guy cuts you off on the highway, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that they can’t heal as fast as you.

Subconscious perception

It is daunting to realize how much the subconscious knows without telling us.

One of the most telling examples of this can be found in a fascinating condition known as “blindsight“.

As a result of certain types of brain lesions, people can lose conscious awareness of their vision. That is, they become blind. But, only consciously blind. Their eyes work and their brain still receives visual input. It is only their conscious awareness that has become disconnected from the visual input.

In people who suffer from blindsight, the subconscious can still see perfectly fine. This can be demonstrated by placing an object in front of them and asking them to make a guess about it on instinct. Is it a triangle or a square? Is it red or green? Although they cannot “see” the object, their guesses will be remarkably accurate. Much more so than random guesses from those who truly are blind. Now, if you simply asked them where the object is, they would not be able to tell you. Only if you force them to hazard a wild guess will their answers become accurate!

In many cases, your instinct is also much faster than your conscious awareness. Daniel Smilek, a neuroscience professor at the University of Waterloo, studied the speed that people were able to find a specific object among a bunch of similar objects. Kind of a like a visual search for a needle in a haystack. He found that relaxing and going on gut instinct is much more efficient than consciously searching for the target. Here is a quote from the abstract:

In Experiment 1 participants were instructed to search while either actively directing their attention to the target or by passively allowing the target to just “pop” into their minds. Results showed that passive instructions led to more efficient search on a hard task but not on an easy task.

These findings suggest that the efficiency of some difficult searches can be improved by instructing participants to relax and adopt a passive cognitive strategy

His study is entitled “Relax! Cognitive strategy influences visual search”. Cognitive Daily has an online recreation of this here (and I personally experienced very similar results on this).

Another shining example of subconscious perception is our ability to “pick up” on the mental states of other people. Maureen O’Sullivan, a psychology professor at the University of San Francisco, has spent many years studying people who have the uncanny ability to detect lies. Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, lies are often extremely hard to detect. Many people make more eye contact and fidget LESS while lying. Yet, there are a talented few among us who are incredibly accurate at distinguishing truth from a fib. Much like the blindsight phenomenon, O’Sullivan says that human lie detectors are usually completely unaware of how they do it. Due to extensive social experience, and perhaps some built-in talent, their subconscious is able to interpret a huge range of nonverbal cues to reach an accurate conclusion.

A few years ago, I met someone with a similarly impressive ability to read nonverbal signals, and spent several months working with her. Looking back, it really was an interesting encounter. But at the time it was quite nerve wracking. Similar, I imagine, to hanging around this guy:

(yes, that’s the mind-reading cop from Heroes) 

Of course, there is a time and a place for gut instinct. Certain decisions should be carefully considered and weighed. Financial decisions. Career choices. Stock picks. Buying a house. The name of your first born.

The best advice we can derive from research on intuition and the subconscious is this:

Relax! And always make a mental note of your instinct and first guess. Use that as a guide for a conscious decision.

Short term vs long term meditation on attention and delta waves

The beneficial effects of meditation on general health are well known, but what is surprising to many researchers is its positive effect on attention.

Australian Neuroscientist Dylan DeLosAngeles measured the brainwaves of a 13-person meditation group as they progressed through five different meditative states. He expected to find a brain pattern that slowly moved toward sleep, or increased Delta waves.

Instead, he found that Delta waves actually decreased. The brainwaves of these meditators indicated a calm, attentive mind, as opposed to a sluggish or dazed one. Alpha waves increased during the first states of meditation analyzed, and later decreased as the meditators moved on to other states.

Last month another study was published on the meditation-attention link, this time analyzing the effects on inexperienced students after just 5 days of meditation training.  This is unique because most of research so far has been focused on experienced meditators.

Here is what they found:

Recent studies suggest that months to years of intensive and systematic meditation training can improve attention. However, the lengthy training required has made it difficult to use random assignment of participants to conditions to confirm these findings. This article shows that a group randomly assigned to 5 days of meditation practice with the integrative body–mind training method shows significantly better attention and control of stress than a similarly chosen control group given relaxation training. The training method comes from traditional Chinese medicine and incorporates aspects of other meditation and mindfulness training. Compared with the control group, the experimental group of 40 undergraduate Chinese students given 5 days of 20-min integrative training showed greater improvement in conflict scores on the Attention Network Test, lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, and higher vigor on the Profile of Mood States scale, a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol, and an increase in immunoreactivity. These results provide a convenient method for studying the influence of meditation training by using experimental and control methods similar to those used to test drugs or other interventions.

This matches the subjective reports I’ve received from people over the years. It doesn’t take long to see a noticeable effect. This is great news for meditation newbies, but don’t discount the beneficial effects of a long-lasting daily meditation routine. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, studied both experienced and novice meditators. He found long-time meditators to be less susceptible to “attentional blink”, which means they are able to distinguish between two closely spaced objects where other people can not. He also found that extremely experienced meditators showed less brain activation in response to distracting sounds, while showing more activity than novices in regions related to concentration.