To those seeing them for the first time, sound and light devices may seem bizarre, like something out of a science fiction movie--the users seem laid back, out there somewhere, wired into a small box listening through headphones to some unheard sounds while eerie light pulsations flicker inside futuristic goggles. And to those encountering these devices from a background of meditative practice, the idea
that one can attain heightened or meditative states of consciousness by using a machine, and the sheer technical computerized hardware of the devices themselves, must seem coldly materialistic. But while the hardware may seem new, the techniques being used are ancient.
The knowledge that a flickering light can cause mysterious visual hallucinations and alterations in consciousness is something humans have known since the discovery of fire. It must have been knowledge of great value to the ancient shamans and poets, who learned how to use the images in the flames to enhance their magic.
Ancient scientists were also intrigued by this phenomenon, and explored its practical applications. In 125 A.D. Apuleius experimented with a flickering light stimulus produced by the rotation of a potter's wheel, and found it could be used to reveal a type of epilepsy. Around 200 A.D. Ptolemy noted that when he placed a spinning spoked wheel between an observer and the sun, the flickering of the sunlight through
the spokes of the spinning wheel could cause patterns and colors to appear before the eyes of the observer and could produce a feeling of euphoria.
Light researcher David Siever has found that in the 17th century, a Belgian scientist, Plateau, used the flickering of light through a strobe wheel to study the diagnostic significance of the flicker fusion phenomenon. As he caused the light flickers to come faster and faster, he found that at a certain point the flickers seemed to "fuse" into a steady, unflickering light pattern. Plateau discovered that healthy people were able to see separate flashes of light at much higher flicker speeds than were sick people. (In recent years, studies using light sources such as a tachistoscope to provide rapid light flashes have revealed that long-term meditators are able to see discrete flashes of light at much higher flicker rates than nonmeditators.) At the turn of the century, French psychologist Pierre Janet noticed that when patients at the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris were exposed to flickering lights they experienced reductions in hysteria and increases in relaxation.
Similarly, humans had always been enthralled by the effects of rhythmic sounds, and aware of the mind-altering and brain wave entrainment effects of rhythmic noises, as evidenced for example by the sophisticated auditory-driving techniques developed over thousands of years by shamans and priests. As anthropologist and shamanism authority Michael Harner, points out, "Basic tools for entering the SSC [Shamanic State of Consciousness] are the drum and
Researcher Andrew Neher investigated the effects of drumming on EEG
patterns in the early 1960s and found the rhythmic pounding dramatically altered brain wave activity. Other researchers of shamanistic rituals, Harner observes, have"found that drum beat frequencies in the theta wave EEG frequency range ... predominated during initiation procedures." And humans have always been keenly appreciative of the consciousnessheightening powers of music, which is of course, among other things, a succession of rhythmic auditory signals. For thousands of years musicians and composers have
consciously and intentionally influenced the brain states of listeners by manipulating the frequency of the rhythms and tones of their music.
Humans have also long been intrigued by the possibilities for influencing mental functioning that emerge from combining both rhythmic light and rhythmic sound stimulation. Ancient rituals for entering trance states often involved both rhythmic sounds in the form of drumbeats, clapping or chanting, and flickering lights produced by candles, torches, bonfires or long lines of human bodies rhythmically dancing, their forms passing before the fire and chopping the light into mesmerizing rhythmic flashes. Some composers of the past, such as the visionary Scriabin, actually created music intended to be experienced in combination with rhythmic light displays. Technological advances made possible even more powerful combinations of sound and light. Moving pictures developed Modern scientific research into the effects of rhythmic light and sound began in the mid-1930s when scientists discovered that the electrical rhythms of the brain tended to assume the rhythm of a flashing light stimulus, a process called entrainment.
Research shifted into high gear in the late 1940s when the great British neuroscientist W. Gray Walter used an electronic strobe and advanced EEG equipment to investigate what he called the "flicker phenomenon." He found that rhythmic flashing lights quickly altered brainwave activity, producing trancelike states of profound relaxation and vivid mental imagery. He was also startled to find that the flickering seemed to alter the brain-wave activity of the whole cortex instead of just the areas associated with vision. Wrote Walter: "The rhythmic series of flashes appear to be breaking down some of the physiologic barriers between different regions of the brain. This means the stimulus of flicker received by the visual projection area of the cortex was breakiing bounds--its ripples were overflowing into other areas." The subjective experiences of those receiving the flashes were even more intriguing: "Subjects reported lights like comets, ultra-unearthly colors, mental colors, not deep visual ones."
Walter's research aroused the attention of many artists, including the American novelist William Burroughs, and they put together a simple flicker device called the Dreammachine. As Burroughs described it in the 1960s, "Subjects report dazzling lights of unearthly brilliance and color. . . . Elaborate geometric constructions of incredible intricacy build up from multidimensional mosaic into living fireballs like the mandalas of Eastern mysticism or resolve momentarily into apparently individual
images and powerfully dramatic scenes like brightly colored dreams."
A flood of subsequent scientific research in the 1960s and 70s revealed that such flicker effects at certain frequencies seemed to have amazing powers. Various scientists discovered that such photic stimulation could have a variety of beneficial effects, such as increasing I.Q. scores, enhancing intellectual functioning and
producing greater synchronization between the two hemispheres of the brain. Other researchers found that the addition of rhythmic auditory signals dramatically increased the mind-enhancing effects.
Throughout history technological advances, such as those in cinema, have quickly been seized upon to stimulate the human fascination with rhythmic sound and light. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, technological advances also made it possible for scientists to understand more fully how sounds and lights influenced the
electrochemical activity of the brain. The result was the flood of studies mentioned above, dealing with photic and auditory entrainment, and hemisperic synchronization. In the early 1970s, Jack Schwarz, known for his feats of self-healing and selfregulation, began selling a device known as the ISIS, which used varible frequency lights mounted in goggles combined with rhythmic sounds to produce heighted mental states. In 1973, scientist Richard Townsend published a description of his research with a device using goggle-mounted lights for photic entrainment. In 1974 a scientist at City College of New York, Seymour Charas, obtained the first patent on a combined sound and light stimulation device, though it was never put into commercial production. But by the early 1980s the time was right for a breakthrough
in the combination of sound and light.
The catalyst was the revolution in microelectronics that was taking place at that time, a revolution that allowed home electronics buffs and garage inventors to put together astonishingly sophisticated and complex devices for producing and combining sound and light—devices that could produce a rich assortment of tones, chords and even beat frequencies; that permitted the selection of a variety of lightflash
patterns and intensities; that enabled the user to select the mode of interplay between lights and sound; that contained a number of preset “programs” designed to produce specific states of consciousness, ranging from sleep to meditation to extreme alertness, at the push of a button; and that permitted the users to design and store in the device’s computerized memory a variety of their own programs. Before the breakthroughs in microelectronics, such complex computerized devices would have been enormously expensive to build, and like the old UNIVAC vacuum-tube computers, their circuitry and components would have been huge and unwieldy. But these new sound and light stimulators were relatively small—some of the first models were about the size of a portable typewriter; soon models were being made with consoles not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes.
As happened with personal computers, there seem to be new advances, new machines, and new generations of older devices appearing almost constantly; and as with PCs, the advances have included smaller size, greater versatility and power, and steep reductions in price. As this is written, there are well over 20 sound and light machines in commercial production around the world, and we seem on the verge of an entirely new generation of devices that combine sound and light stimulation with biofeedback capabilities. These new devices enable the machine to read the user's dominant brainwave activity, and then provide the optimal frequency of sound and light to entrain brainwave activity toward the "target" frequency. One such device (the DreamWave) is already on the market.
Another significant development is the advent of a sound and light system on a simple board that can be plugged into your computer's expansion slot. One example currently on the market is the MindsEye Synergizer, a hardware-software combination that turns an IBM PC XT/AT/386 or clone into a research laboratory grade audio-visual synchronizer, permitting users to program hundreds of sessions of
almost any length and complexity, to program each eye and ear independently (this permits extraordinary effects, such as combining alpha and theta frequencies, or setting up visual "beat frequencies"), create sounds, chords and beat frequencies on the computer with a stereo synthesizer, and program thousands of time ramps and
sound-light levels into a single session.
These developments point the way toward the future. I believe it will be only a short time until we have a fully computerized integrated and interactive system that would allow the user to put on a few electrodes that would monitor EEG as well as other physiological indicators (muscle tension [EMG], skin potential, heart rate, skin
temperature, breathing, etc.) and display them on the computer screen in real time; would use this information to provide the optimal type of sound and light stimulation (as well as cranial electrostimulation and appropriate digitized music selections or preprogrammed audio suggestions, hypnotic inductions, information for accelerated
learning, etc.); and would permit the storage of thousands of sessions, with individual users able to select desired mind states or experiences with the ease of selecting a channel on the TV, or play back or re-experience past sessions. The technology for such a system is already available.
SOUND AND LIGHT RESEARCH
It has been well established that these devices can rapidly produce states of deep relaxation, and may increase suggestibility, receptivity to new information, and enhance access to subconscious material. New work into the effects of these devices being undertaken around the world, and preliminary results suggest that the machines may of being beneficial in the treatment of migraine headaches and learning disorders, alleviation of pain, enhancement of immune function, and much more. Here's a summary of some of the most interesting work done in the last decade.
In one preliminary 1980 study of one of the sound and light machines, Dr. Thomas Budzynski, then of the Behavioral Medicine Associates clinic in Denver, found that "Results ranged from production of drowsy, hypnagogic-like states (with theta frequency used), to vivid, holograph-like images. At times, images from childhood were experienced." This led Budzynski to speak of the device as a "Hypnotic
Facilitator," and a "Facilitator of 'Unconscious Retrieval," that could have therapeutic value, since the device seemd "to allow the subject to recall past childhood events with a high degree of 'being there' quality." He also suggested that the device could be effective for accelerated learning, since it seemed capable of putting users in the
theta (or "twilight state") of hypersuggestibility and heightened receptivity to new information.
Medical researcher Dr. Gene W. Brockopp of Buffalo, New York, speculated that sound and light stimulation could perhaps "actively induce a state of deactivation in which the brain is passive, but not asleep; awake, but not involved with the 'clutter' of an ongoing existence. If this is true, then it may be a state in which new cognitive
strategies could be designed and developed." Brockopp also suggested that "If we can help a person to experience different brain-wave states consciously through driving them with external stimulation, we may facilitate the individuals' ability to allow more variations in their functioning through brreakup up patterns at the neural
level. This may help them develop the ability to shift gears or 'shuttle' and move them away from habigt patterns of behavior to become more flexible and creative, and to develop more elegant strategies of functioning."
In 1988, anethesiologist Robert Cosgrove Jr., Ph.D., M.D., undertook
preliminary studies of sound and light stimulation. In his initial evaluations, in which he used the Alpha-Pacer II device, Cosgrove, an authority in pharmaceutics and biomedical engineering, noted that audio-visual stimulation was "clearly very powerful in its ability to cause deep relaxation in most subjects. Its effectiveness has been so great that we are very enthusiastic about the prospect of evaluating the
[device] for its sedative properties in patients prior to, during, and immediately following surgery. We are also undertaking studies to prove [its] utility in chronic stress." "We are also," Cosgrove continued, "quantitating the electroencephalographic (brainwave, EEG) effects… in both volunteers and patients. Our preliminary results show strong EEG entrainment.” The device, Cosgrove noted, "with appropriately selected stimulation protocols has been observed by us to be an excellent neuropathway exerciser. As such we believe it has great potential for use in promoting optimal cerebral performance. . . .
Furthermore, the long-term effects of regular use of the device on maintaining and improving cerebral performance throughout life and possibly delaying for decades the deterioration of the brain
In 1989, another researcher, D.J. Anderson, used photic stimulation using red LED goggles to treat seven sufferers of migraine headaches--none of whom had been able to relieve their migraines with drug treatments. He found that out of 50 migraines noted, 49 were rated by subjects as being "helped," and 36 sttopped by the photic stimulation. Significantly, brighter lights were found to be more effective.
Further evidence of the potential therapeutic value of photic stimulation has come from researcher Jill Ammon-Wexler, Ph.D., of the Innerspace Biofeedback and Therapy Center in Los Gatos, CA, using a device that uses a flickering light stimulus without an accompanying sound stimulus. The device, called a Lumatron, uses a strobe light with color filters to provide rhythmic photic stimulation in variable frequencies and in selected wavelength or color bands [MEGABRAIN REPORT will devote a full-length article to this device in a future issue]. Ammon-Wexler did a controlled study of twenty subjects suffering from phobias and found that"remarkable resolution of the subjects' phobic systems had occurred over the process of the 20 experimental sessions. There was also 'across the board' evidence for enhanced self-concept, and clinically-significant reductions in both anxiety and
depression." Dr. Ammon-Wexler's findings about the potential medical benefits of photic stimulation have been echoed recently by William Harris, M.D., director of the Penwell Foundation, an organization for the investigation, research and application of different modalities for the treatment of those with AIDS/HIV.
In preliminary work with a number of AIDs sufferers he has experimented with the use of a sound and light machine (the IM-1) and found it extremely effective. He speculates it may boost immune function by producing states of deep relaxation, by enhancing the patients' receptivity to suggestions for healing, by improving patients' ability to visualize and the clarity of their visualizations. "At this point it's conjecture," says Harris, "But I think that this type of machine may actually be stimulating the body to produce its own chemical substances," and that these natural substances may enhance immune function and healing.
In 1990 Bruce Harrah-Conforth, Ph.D., of Indiana University completed a controlled study of one of the computerized sound and light machines (the MindsEye Plus) the result of over two years of research into the field of brain entrainment, and found that compared to the control group, which listened to pink noise with eyes closed, the group receiving sound and light stimulation showed dramatic alterations
in their EEG patterns responding to the frequency of the sound and light device, and also showed evidence of hemispheric synchronization. Participants in the study were asked to describe their experiences. According to Dr. Harrah-Conforth, "the subjects' comments were such typical descriptions as 'I lost all sense of my body,' 'I felt like I
was flying,' 'I was deeply relaxed,' 'I felt like I was out of my body,' etc."
The report by Harrah-Conforth suggests that sound and light devices may cause simultaneous ergotropic arousal, or arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and the cerebral cortex, associated with "creative" and "ecstatic experiences," and trophotropic arousal, or the arousal of the parasympathetic system, associated with deep relaxation and "the timeless, 'oceanic' mode of the mystic experience." In humans, Dr. Harrah-Conforth concludes, "these two states may be interpreted as hyper- and hypo- arousal, or ecstasy and samadhi."
In a separate letter to MEGABRAIN REPORT, Harrah-Conforth writes: "I have little doubt that brain entrainment technology is a highly effective means of inducing changes in consciousness." He continues, "Brain entrainment, at least within my own research, has shown itself to be virtually foolproof and does indeed facilitate whole brain experiences." While pointing out that our current understanding of brain entrainment technology is only in its infancy, he writes "there seems to be little doubt that this technology has a remarkable future. The evidence, my own and others, clearly indicates that brain-wave entrainment is produced by these machines. EMG tests have also made it quite clear that one of the byproducts of this entrainment can be the relaxation response. And subjective reports range from heightened creativity,
to beautiful visual trips, to increased alertness, and many other states." He concludes that "the early indications are strong that this now-developing technology will profoundly revolutionize both our concepts of, and interaction with, our consciousness. . . .
The evolution of human consciousness is a tangibly manipulable process. We can control our destiny. It would appear as though brain
entrainment will be among the technologies leading the way."
California psychologist Julian Isaacs, Ph.D., working with a private research group called "The Other 90 Percent," is now engaged in an ongoing study of the brain-wave effects of sound and light as well as other mind-altering devices. Megabrain, Inc. is providing assistance in this research by, among other things, making available a number of devices. Isaacs and his colleagues are using a 24 electrode color brainmapping EEG, with newly developed software that permits extremely precise and sensitive measurement and statistical analysis of whole brain electrical activity. In a discussion of his preliminary findings, he told me that there was "very clear evidence of brainwave driving" using sound and light. He also said he'd found a very strong correlation between the intensity of the lights used (whether red LEDs or incandescent bulbs) and the brain-entrainment: the brighter the lights, the more entrainment. He mentioned one device he had tested that used dim lights, and found it had "no brain driving capacity at all." However, Isaacs pointed out that it was easiest to entrain brain-wave activity in the alpha range, while it seems much more difficult to drive the slower brain frequencies, such as theta (a fact discussed by the machine manufacturers in the roundtable discussion elsewhere in this issue). However, the EEG evidence was quite clear that people using the devices did indeed spend much of their sessions in theta.
Often, however, their dominant theta frequency was very different from the theta frequency being flashed by the sound and light machine. How to explain this? Isaacs suggested the possibility that while the devices can clearly and quickly entrain brainwave activity into the low alpha range, what happens next is that the brain becomes habituated to the repetitive stimulus and the Reticular Activating System--
the volume control and attention-directing part of the brain--simply tires of the repetitive stimulus and ignores it, or "blanks out" the conscious perception of the lights. As a result, the brain drops into the theta state.
The effect, that is, may be very much like that of the ganzfeld, which uses a featureless and unvarying visual field to cause the "blank out" effect. This theory brought to my mind the work of Dr. Gene Brockopp mentioned above, who suggested that sound and light stimulation could perhaps "actively induce a state of deactivation in which the brain is passive, but not asleep; awake, but not involved with the 'clutter' of an ongoing existence. If this is true, then it may be a state in which new cognitive strategies could be designed and developed."
by Michael Hutchison
Today, PCs have transformed virtually every aspect of our lives, and recent surveys show that nearly 25 percent of all households in the U.S. have at least one PC, that PCs are used in virtually every office in the country, and that well over 50% of the population have some familiarity with PCs. It's hard now for many of us to imagine
how we ever lived without our computers. What happened over the last decade that made PCs into mass market consumerelectronics items? The first thing was that the hardware went through a series of extraordinary and rapid transformations: each new generation was smaller, easier to operate, vastly more powerful and far less expensive.
The second key to the mass popularity of PCs was the development of a huge variety of software--programs that enabled users to apply the massive computing power of the hardware toward specific tasks, ranging from word processing to spreadsheets to design to publishing to game playing. Without such software, the hardware would have remained virtually inaccessible to most users. Think now: how often would you use your computer if there were no software, if you had to create your own programs and do all your computing through your operating system?
The parallels are obvious: brain machines, which first were unwieldy, expensive, complex, and carried the weird-scientist aura of the laboratory, have now gone through a rapid evolution and emerged as small, easy to operate, inexpensive and as sleekly designed as miniature Braun coffee grinders. As an example, the old Synchro
Energizer described in the first edition of Megabrain was the size of a suitcase, had to be manually operated, and cost over $8,000. Today far more sophisticated and effective devices the size of a pack of cards, containing a multitude of computerized programs that can be operated with the touch of a button, and costing less than $200, are sold by the thousands through mass market catalogues like Hammacher
Schlemmer, Sharper Image and DAK.
Today the hardware of brain technology--the mind machines themselves--exists. It is inexpensive, effective, innovatively-designed, and, increasing amounts of scientific evidence indicate, when used skillfully can produce peak performance brain states, heightened mental powers and enhanced mind-body interaction. What is lacking, in our mind-machine-PC parallel, is the mind-tech software--the programs, systems, techniques or operating environments that will allow the user of the mind machine to apply its sophisticated circuitry and advanced potentials and capacities toward specific tasks and applications, such as accelerated learning, sports training, weight loss, or stress reduction; ways the machines can be used--not just passively experienced as novelties or instruments of pleasure and entertainment, but actively used as immensely powerful tools to attain desired goals.
Because of this lack of programs, many mind machine purchasers end up putting the devices on a shelf in the back of their closets once the novelty of the experience itself has worn off. "I really liked it," they say; "when I first got my light and sound machine I used it several times a day. It was fun, I had lots of fascinating experiences and I felt great. But then, after a few weeks, I just kind of lost interest. I mean, after a point, what are you supposed to do with it?"
What follows is an initial step toward the development of a compendium of mind machine "programs." In this article I present a variety of
strategies/systems/applications/techniques that I have found to be extremely powerful and effective when used in combination with mind technology. The techniques have emerged from my own personal exploration, from experimentation with thousands of people in Megabrain Workshops, from the work of skilled therapists and clinicians who have made extensive use of mind machines in their practices, and
from my conversations and correspondence with hundreds of explorers and experimentalists around the world.
Because this is an introduction, and due to space limitations, my descriptions of these techniques in this issue take the form of brief summaries (with information about where you can get more information about each technique in a "Resources" section at the end of the article). In future issues of Megabrain Report I will provide in-depth
treatments of some of these techniques, including case histories, relevant research, and detailed, step-by-step instructions for using these techniques yourself. The techniques are effective with virtually all of the brain technology now available, including light/sound, binaural beats (i.e. "brain sync" tapes), cranial electrostimulation, movement devices, acoustic field systems (Vibrasound, Betar, Genesis, etc.), flotation tanks, ganzfelds, biocircuits; and (it should go without
saying) they're also effective with various combinations of brain technology used synergistically (i.e. CES while on biocircuits while listening to binaural beat tapes; or light and sound stimulation while on a motion system). For convenience and brevity, I will throughout this article use the abbreviation MT for mind technology, and it will
refer to all the varieties of MTs mentioned above.
The first step toward making active, systematic and productive use of your MT is to learn to use it to put you into a state of profound relaxation. But wait, you say, isn't that the responsibility of the machine? After all, many of these devices claim in their literature to be "relaxation" devices, and many of them, such as the light/sound
machines, offer a variety of preset "relaxation" sessions. It's true that numerous scientific studies have shown that MTs can induce deep
relaxation states in untrained subjects; some studies have found MTs even produce relaxation states in untrained subjects as deep as or deeper than the relaxation attained by subjects with extensive training and practice in relaxation techniques such as Progressive Relaxation. Speaking generally, put on your MT (such as an alpha beat frequency tape or a light/sound machine that ramps down into alpha) and
within 10 to 15 minutes you should be more relaxed.
The problem is that qualifier "more." Many of us start from such a high level of stress, muscular tension and/or nervous arousal that even though we become more relaxed in relative terms, we're still, in absolute terms, not in true deep relaxation--a highly beneficial hypometabolic state in which muscular tension throughout the whole
body is dramatically decreased (users describe it as feeling their body "go to sleep" or"melt away," or as simply losing all awareness of having a physical body), and in which the beta brainwave activity of active consciousness diminishes, while alpha and theta activity increases and becomes dominant.
Also, many of us have had the experience of being so tense or agitated that we know we would benefit from relaxing, we know that using our MT would help us relax, but we're simply too wound up to put it on, or if we do put it on, we're unable to let go sufficiently for the MT to carry us into a relaxed state. In fact one of the main problems with popular relaxation and stress reduction techniques of all kinds-- including biofeedback, "relaxation response" meditation techniques, and systematic relaxation procedures--is what the researchers call "lack of transference." They may be highly effective in a training seminar, during a quiet evening at home, at a doctor or therapist's office, or when you're in a mood of curious or calm self-exploration, but
still remain extremely difficult to use effectively in the midst of the pressures and urgencies of the everyday world.
And finally, even though the MTs are effective in producing relaxation for most of us, in many cases it can take 30 minutes or more to let go of muscle tension and mental chatter and reach a truly relaxed state. If we have set aside a half hour or 45 minute period for our MT session, then we have little time to pursue active strategies such as those we explore in the rest of this article before our session is over and we're back into our busy schedule again. And yet true relaxation is a key to most of the various strategies and techniques that follow, from accelerated learning to visualization to problem-solving to self-healing to attaining a state of hyperreceptivity and hypersuggestibility. Fortunately, since the MTs themselves are helping induce deep relaxation, they speed up the learning process enormously: relaxation techniques that might take weeks of disciplined practice to master without the use of MTs can be mastered in just a few sessions on
an MT. In fact, research suggests that all methods of relaxation or mental or physical self-regulation work more powerfully and effectively in combination with mind machines than in any other environment.
So no matter what MT we use, and no matter what our levels of stress, tension and arousal, all of us can profit enormously, and amplify the power of our MTs, by learning and practicing a relaxation technique that we use in conjunction with our MT. I suggest that each time you put on your MT your first step is to use your relaxation technique. Soon this will become almost automatic, and the relaxation process will
accelerate: a technique that at the start might allow you to reach deep relaxation in ten minutes will soon take just seconds. Over time, your relaxation technique will become linked with your MT, so that simply by putting on your MT you will find yourself returning almost instantaneously to a relaxed state. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School has studied the beneficial, healing"relaxation response," as well as many of the techniques, ranging from ancient meditative disciplines to modern systems, used to trigger this response. He found that they all worked by using certain specific techniques or elements in combination.
Mental Device. There should be some sort of constant stimulus, such as a word or phrase repeated silently or audibly, fixed attention on an object or process. Attention to this mental device or technique shifts you away from logical, externally oriented thought.
Passive Attitude. Let the process happen, do not attempt to force it or control it. If distracting thoughts arise, simply observe them, let them go, and return to the process. Decreased Muscle Tonus. Get into a comfortable position so that minimal muscular tension is required.
Quiet Environment. Try to use your MT where you won't be interrupted or distracted by external stimuli.
By using these elements in combination with your MT, you can quickly reach deep levels of relaxation. Following are brief summaries of some of the relaxation techniques that can be used to enhance your MT experience. Breath Awareness Abdominal Breathing. Relax your abdominal muscles, so that when you inhale, your belly expands, when you exhale your belly contracts. Shallow breathing (expanding and contracting the chest and rib cage) is physiologically linked to the
fight-or-flight response; thus chest breathing causes the autonomic nervous system to remain in a state of arousal and inhibits relaxation.
Nose Breathing. One effective technique is simply to focus attention on the breath as it passes in and out of the nose. Feel the air, the coolness at the tip of your nose as you inhale. As you exhale, focus on the warmth at the same spot.
If you wish, count your inhalations, numbering each from one to ten; when you reach ten begin with one again. Should thoughts rise into your awareness, don't resist them but allow them to pass, and then return all attention to your breathing.
Moving Around the Body. With each breath, direct your total attention to a particular spot in your body. Move systematically through your body (e.g. you may begin at the top of your head, and move breath by breath downward through your head, neck, chest, right arm and fingers, left arm and fingers, torso, right leg and foot, left leg and foot, and back up again to end at the top of your head; some find it more effective to count each spot, beginning at the top of the head with one, and ending up back at the top of the head at a count of sixty or so). As your attention moves from place to place it creates and is accompanied by strong body sensations-- feelings of melting, warmth, brightness, growing "softer."
By the time you have made a full cycle you should be deeply relaxed. Visualization of Light. The nostril breathing practice described above can be combined with visualization: see the air entering your mostrils as pure white light. As you inhale, follow the flow of light through your nasal passages, into your abdomen; visualize it radiating to every part of your body. The as you exhale, see the light flow back out of your body. Focus on your breathing entirely.
There are many variations. For example, use visualization of light in combination with the moving around the body technique--with each count, as you focus your attention on another part of the body, see the light flow to that part, see it glowing warmly. Move the light around your body.
Breath awareness is one element of a practice called mindfulness that can not only be an effective relaxation technique, but if practiced regularly can lead to profound transformations in your life. On the most basic level, mindfulness involves simply being aware, observing patiently, with detachment and without judging, what you are
doing. Ultimately, with practice, mindfulness can lead to "waking up" from ordinary consciousness into a state in which each moment is a peak experience, and in which one has direct and immediate access to one's full powers.
The first step to mindfulness is breath awareness. As in the exercise above, simply focus your attention on your breathing and hold it there. Be aware of the sensations that accompany your breathing. Pay attention. Don't attempt to do anything; don't attempt to control your breathing; don't attempt to think about your breathing.
Simply be aware. As thoughts arise, don't fight against them, don't judge them, simply be aware of them and then return your attention to your breathing. If you suddenly realize something has carried your mind off, notice what it was, and return your attention to your breathing.
You will find this practice rapidly calms the body and mind. Very quickly you become aware of your thoughts and feelings, and by observing them and returning your attention to your breathing, you learn that you are not your thoughts and feelings, that you can detach yourself from them. In time it can lead to feelings of inner stillness, clarity, and centeredness.
Body Scan. As your mindfulness practice progresses, and you find you can maintain sustained periods of continuous attention to your breath, you may want to practice other types of mindfulness. One technique is the Body Scan. As you become relaxed, turn your attention from your breath to your body, moving in a step-by-step fashion around your body, focusing attention on each part in turn, being aware of sensations, feelings, thoughts, whatever arises into consciousness, and then returning awareness to that part of the body. Feel each region fully, breathe to that region, be in that region, and then let go, feel all the tension and fatigue in that part of the body flowing out, and finally move on to the next region.
Mindfulness can also be directed at music: use a music tape in conjunction with your MT, and as you become relaxed, turn your attention from your breath to the music, not thinking about it or listening to it judgmentally, but simply being aware of the music, moment by moment, as pure sound, hearing each note. If thoughts arise or your attention is drawn away, simply return awareness to the music.
As your practice progresses, you may want to focus your attention on the thoughts that flow through your awareness. Be aware of their content, and the emotional charge that may accompany them, but don't judge them; simply observe them as"events," and let them go. Notice what thoughts keep coming back to you, what feelings and moods; don't get drawn into thinking about your thoughts, simply notice them and let them go.
Mindfulness and enhanced perceptions. Mindfulness is a practice that can be carried beyond your MT session into the rest of your daily life. The evidence is that it can have profound effects, ranging from boosting your immune system to enhancing your mental functioning to heightening your awareness to intensifying the pleasure and the quality of your life. One series of studies done at Harvard Medical School tested a group of subjects who practiced mindfulness and a control group, and compared their abilities to perceive brief, millisecond flashes of light on a device called a tachistoscope. The mindfulness group's perceptions were extraordinarly keen: while the control group was barely able to see the flashes or separate one flash from the next, the mindfulness group was able to perceive the flashes with such clarity that they could observe the instant the flash started, the moment it reached its peak, the moment the flash began to cease, the moment the flash was gone, etc.
Such studies are a clear indication that the practice of mindfulness can have dramatic effects on brain functioning and consciousness. Fortunately for users of MTs, reports from users suggest that MTs can be a powerful adjunct to mindfulness, not only helping novices learn mindfulness, but actually increasing our powers of mindfulness
For over 20 years Dr. Les Fehmi has been one of the leading biofeedback researchers, with a particular interest in developing techniques to induce peak performance brain states. His research led him to believe that one key to peak brain function was whole-brain synchrony--a phenomenon in which the dominant brainwave activity throughout the whole cortex shifts into a single, coherent, inphase
Fehmi designed a biofeedback device that would monitor the brainwaves for synchrony, and give the user a signal when synchrony was occurring. I have written in Megabrain about this device, the Biofeedback Brainwave Synchronizer. I've also used it extensively in Megabrain Workshops, and have found it's an extraordinarily effective tool for rapidly teaching users to produce heightened states of consciousness. But of course few can afford to own a $3,000-plus biofeedback machine. Fehmi began searching around for a simple technique that would induce the same state of whole-brain synchrony as could be learned by using the Brainwave Synchronizer.
To do this he hooked subjects up to the Brainwave Synchronizer and tried various spoken inductions and procedures, searching for something that would produce synchrony. As he experimented, Fehmi drew on his own experiences as a Zen meditator. He felt that whole-brain synchrony was linked to attention. In modern western civilization, he observed, we value the ability to have a narrowly focused attention: the ability to concentrate on a single matter and ignore other "distractions" is highly rewarded. Unfortunately, Fehmi became convinced, this narrow focus of attention also leads directly to tension, stress, and all the stress-related ailments.
Experienced Zen meditators, on the other hand, strive to open up their field of attention to take in everything. They have what Fehmi called open focus. When he analyzed the brain state it took to produce whole-brain synchrony on his Biofeedback Brainwave Synchronizer, Fehmi discovered that it too was an open focus state. He found, as he told me, that brain synchronization "is correlated experientially with a
union with experience, an 'into-it-ness.' Instead of feeling separate and narrowfocused, you tend to feel more into it--that is, unified with the experience, you are the experience--and the scope of your awareness is widened a great deal, so that you're including many more experiences at the same time. There's a whole-brain sensory integration going on, and it's as if you become less self-conscious and you function more intuitively."
Seeking a simply way to produce this widening of attention, this open focus, Fehmi developed a spoken induction that uses "objectless imagery" to guide the listener through a progressive opening of focus. When subjects were hooked up to his Brainwave Synchronizer EEG, he found that the open focus exercise produced a state of whole-brain synchrony. As he began to experiment with the open focus exercise,
he also found that it was effective in learning enhancement, stress management, pain control, improved health, psychotherapy, and peak sports performance, among others.
When you listen to the basic Open Focus exercise, what you hear is a voice asking you a series of questions that begin with the words, "Can you imagine?" You begin with an opening of awareness in your head (Can you imagine the distance between your eyes between your ears the volume of your tongue the space inside your throat) that progresses throughout your entire body, requiring a gradual opening of awareness (Can you imagine the distance between your hands, the volume of your fingers, the space between your feet, the volume of your feet), and moves you beyond the limits of your own body to an awareness of everything within you and around you.
The tape ends by having you imagine that you can enter this open focus state any time you wish, and there's no doubt that after you've gone through the exercise enough times you can learn to enter the open focus state at any time, simply by remembering what it feels like and by intentionally being there. Most importantly for the purposes of this article, the open focus state adds an extraordinary dimension to
the use of any mind machine. On the first level, you can listen to an Open Focus tape while using an MT, and I think you'll find there's a unique synergy: the MT seems to make you more "into it" (to use
Fehmi's terms), more at-one with your experience, and thus more able to enter the open focus state; the guided exercise on the tape, on the other hand, seems to organize or give shape to your MT experience, giving it a direction and a dynamism that it might otherwise lack.
On the higher level, once you have learned to enter the open focus state quickly, on demand, you can begin all of your MT experiences by putting yourself into open focus and then doing whatever else it is your primary purpose, such as accelerated learning, sports performance training, self-suggestion, self-healing, etc. Being in open focus seems to make all these other techniques and practices even more