Why Biofeedback Devices Cannot Shortcut Meditation

Brain Waves

Neurons in the brain communicate with each other via electric impulses which fluctuate rhythmically. Using EEG technology (electroencephalogram), it is possible to monitor these patterns, called brain waves. Interestingly, scientists have noticed a striking difference in brain waves patterns between meditators and non-meditators.

This particular field of investigation, stemmed from the work of Dr Richard Davidson. In collaboration with the Dalai Lama, Dr Davidson monitored Tibetan monks’ brain waves activity. One of those monks is Matthieu Richard, who is considered to be “the world happiest man”, due to his exceptional brain waves patterns

But is happiness just the result of brain waves? And can biofeedback devises transform you in a Tibetan monk?

First let’s have a quick look at all the different type of brain waves and their characteristics.

  • BETA waves are the pattern of normal waking consciousness and fluctuate between 12 and 30 times per second. They are associated with concentration, arousal, alertness, and cognition. At the highest point, the most rapid beta waves are associated with anxiety and stress.
  • ALPHA waves are the pattern of relaxation and fluctuate between 8 and 12 times per second. The slowest alpha is a state of deep relaxation, known as the twilight state between sleep and waking.
  • THETA waves are the pattern of dreaming sleep and fluctuate between 4 and 8 times per second. During this state, the rational and critical mind is switched off and it is possible to access directly the subconscious mind.
  • DELTA waves are the pattern of dreamless sleep and fluctuate between 0.1 and 4 times per second. Only advanced meditators can enter into this state whilst awake.
  • GAMMA waves are the patterns of Tibetan monks. They are like spikes of activity which only happens inside Theta waves. Tibetan monks show very high amplitude gamma oscillations, several hundred % higher than the average person. It is estimated that this is the result of thousands of hours of meditation.

Normally people function in beta waves and spend little time in alpha waves during waking hours. There are a number of benefits in slowing down the brain waves patterns: during alpha state endorphins are produced, cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced, the parasympathetic nervous system is enhanced whilst the sympathetic nervous system calms down.

As you might know there are on the market products that claim to slow down your brain's activity, hence offering you all the benefits of meditation without effort. Biofeedback techniques promise to shortcut the thousands of hours of meditation practice deployed by Tibetan monks to reach those states. But is that so?

Osho says: “There is going to be a great misunderstanding in scientific circles, and it has a certain basis. The basis of all misunderstanding is: when the being of a person is in a state of meditation, it creates certain waves in the mind. These waves can be created from the outside by technical means. But those waves will not create meditation – this is the misunderstanding. By creating the waves, you cannot create the situation – because those waves are only symptoms, indicators. It is perfectly good; you can study them. But remember that there is no shortcut to meditation, and no mechanical device can be of any help”.

So biofeedback devises can certainly help you feel more relaxed, calm and peaceful; they are a natural remedy to anxiety, better than a sleeping pill. However, if you are interested in meditation, remember what Osho says: “If you want the real, you will have to go through a deep inner search, a profound understanding of your mind, an awareness of all the cunning ways of the mind so that the mind can be put aside. Meditation cannot be produced by drugs, it cannot be produced by machines, it cannot be produced from the outside”.