In my twenties and early thirties, there would be no way in the world you would ever get me to meditate. Absolutely no way. Meditation was for hippies and yogis and not for me. It is funny how many people have an unfavourable view of meditation; they imagine somebody sat cross-legged on the top of a hill, next to a monk or a beautiful person. However, most people are either sitting in bed in the morning or on their favourite seat just having a quiet moment.
Meditation isn’t woo-woo
I love the moment when I introduce the concept of meditation to a client. I see their facial expressions change, and they start to shift around uncomfortably in their chair. When I ask them if they would like to ‘try meditation’, they never say ‘no’, it’s nearly always a cautious ‘yes’. Most of the time, in the next session, they explain how they really enjoyed the experience of meditation and how it has positively impacted their mood that day.
These studies used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG) technologies to explain how meditation works:
- A review published in 20151 confirmed that meditation has a positive impact on your neurotransmitters, serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters directly regulate your mood, behaviour and anxiety.
- A study2 published in 2016 showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels after twenty-one days of meditation. Higher cortisol levels are an indicator of stress.
- Two studies published in 2014 and 2018 found that yoga and meditation significantly raised Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), also known as the ‘longevity molecule’, and Growth Hormone, also known as the ‘fountain of youth’.
- A study published in 1995 found that running and meditation had similar effects on mood because both activities produce endorphins.
If that isn’t enough, in his book Tools of Titans, Tim Ferris interviewed billionaires, icons and world-class performers to discover their tactics, routines and habits. More than 80% of the interviewees have some form of daily mindfulness or meditation practice.
There are many different types of meditation, and I have shared some easy places to start.
When you have a brainwave
Brainwaves are produced by electrical pulses from your neurons communicating with each other and are detected using EEG sensors which are placed on the scalp. Your brainwaves will change depending on how you are feeling and what you are doing.
The five major brainwaves are divided into bands and are measured in cycles per second called Hertz (Hz). The following table describes each of the brainwaves and specifies tools and techniques to induce a particular state of being.
You often hear of people talking about being in a ‘flow state’ or ‘in the zone’.
Being in a state of flow is something that many executives and entrepreneurs wish to create on demand as it puts them in the ‘zone’ and enables them to operate at peak performance. However, reaching a state of peak performance and being in a state of flow is something that many people strive to make happen, yet so many people struggle to create the right conditions for it to occur. The flow is the optimal state of consciousness and typically occurs at the boundary of the alpha and theta state.
Increasing alpha, theta and gamma brainwaves
A straightforward, free and effective way to increase alpha brainwaves is to express gratitude. Parents are often telling their children that they ‘need to be more grateful’ but are adults genuinely grateful themselves? We rush from one thing in life to another and rarely take time to be sincerely thankful for the essential elements in our lives.
When people report as feeling grateful, thankful and appreciative in their daily lives, they also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful and enthusiastic.
‘The antidote to fear is gratitude. The antidote to anger is gratitude. You can’t feel fear or anger while feeling gratitude at the same time.’ Tony Robbins
In the 1800s, a Prussian physicist and meteorologist physicist named Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered that listening to two different tones of sound in each ear could change the state of mind. For example, if you heard a tone in your right ear of 300Hz and in your left ear of 295Hz, then your brain gets confused and makes up the 5Hz difference. This difference is called a binaural beat.
The binaural beat makes your brain go into a frequency following response and it then produces brainwaves at the same frequency of 5Hz, which is in the theta state.
If you listen to tones with a larger difference, then you will feel alert and active. Whereas if you listen to tones that are closer together you will feel calm or in a meditative state.
There are many providers online that offer paid for and free binaural beats.
Handling being triggered
This is a technique I learned on my Bulletproof Training and I use it with all my clients. Whenever you experience thoughts that cause you to have an emotional response, either internally or externally manifesting itself, you have activated the freeze, fight or flight response and the chances are you’re reacting in a non-rational way which is either causing you additional stress or stress to those around you. In this state, you are in high beta mode which shuts off alpha and theta.
A straightforward exercise is to accept the emotional response, welcome it, smile at it and then let it dissipate.
I work with a lot of high achievers, who regularly give themselves a hard time for not achieving more; they need to do better, have more money and do a better job. This is what has driven them to achieve success, but it’s no longer serving them. It’s adding stress to an already stressful lifestyle. This is their inner critic bubbling up, and it’s something that I struggled with for years.
Developed in the 1950s by Dr John C. Lilly, flotation tanks are dark and soundproof pods used for floating in warm magnesium-rich water. The aim of their development was to experiment and explore further with the human consciousness.
There have been a few small scientific studies done on flotation tanks and the mechanisms by which it works are not fully understood due to so many sensory stimuli being altered during floating. A 2018 study examined the antidepressant effect of floating and stated:
‘Moreover, participants reported significant reductions in stress, muscle tension, pain, depression and negative affect, accompanied by a significant improvement in mood characterized by increases in serenity, relaxation, happiness and overall well-being.’
Floating is becoming more popular, and it’s well established that relaxation is good for you and so is bathing in Epsom salts. Floating attracts people due to the benefits they have experienced, which include:
- It helps to manage pain by removing the force generated by gravity, helping your muscles to relax, and relieving pressure and stress.
- It increases brain function because it enables your brain to be dominant in alpha and theta brain waves. This is the same state you reach with meditation.
- It helps manage stress by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. This results in the release of endorphins and dopamine which help with pain relief and mood enhancement.
- It enables magnesium absorption because it contains a high concentration of Epsom salts.
I use flotation tanks to hit the reset button and to spend some time focusing on myself.
Neurofeedback is an advanced biohack requiring specialised equipment and can be relatively expensive. It involves measuring the brainwaves using sensors to understand the current state of the brain and then to use external stimuli such as sound or light to train your brain. This results in something called neuroplasticity, which is where your brain changes and adapts to create new connections.
Neurofeedback is being used as an alternative treatment and in a 2016 review it was shown to improve ADHD, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, insomnia, drug addiction, schizophrenia, learning disabilities and dyslexia. However, the review did also point out that it can be expensive and take a long time to see the desired results. It’s not a short-term fix.
Neurofeedback is quickly gaining traction, and there are centres in Europe and the USA where you can have neurofeedback training in week-long retreats. Tony Robbins is quoted on one of their testimonials as saying it’s ‘one of the most valuable things I’ve done in my life’.
This blog post is based on content from my book Limitless. You can pick up a copy on paperback and Kindle here:
Nick Powell is the founder of Stronger Self and he works with entrepreneurs and senior leaders to enable them to take their personal and professional performance to the next level.
Nick’s approach uses cutting edge tools and techniques from the worlds of biohacking, productivity, anti-aging and neuroscience; harnessing the exciting intersection between biology and technology.
Nick has developed his Peak Performance Coaching Programmes to enable his clients to deliver extraordinary results across all aspects of their personal and professional lives.
He runs his Coaching sessions face to face in London & Surrey and across the World via Zoom.