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What Are Brainwaves?

Your brain is a fascinating machine.

This three-pound organ contains a staggering 100 billion brain cells. It can process thoughts at thousands of miles per second. It contains left and right hemispheres, each dealing with specific functions. And its cortical networks can rewire themselves, effectively remapping the mind.

But have you ever thought about how the human brain actually works?

Your brain consists of billions of little nerve cells, known as neurons. In order for your brain to work, these neurons have to talk to each other. The neurons communicate using electricity.

When millions of neurons are communicating at the same time, this all generates a significant amount of electrical activity - which can be detected using sensitive scientific equipment, such as an EEG (electroencephalograph) machine.

This combined electrical activity in the brain is known as a brainwave pattern. It's called a brainwave due to its wave-like patterning.

Here's a copy of the very first human EEG (electroencephalograph) reading, taking by Hans Berger back in 1924. The first line is the EEG reading, the second is a 10Hz timing signal:

This is effectively the first brainwave ever recorded. And you can quite clearly see the wave-like pattern of the electrical signals here.

Now, different brainwave patterns have different names, depending on their frequency. (The frequency is measured in pulses per second.)

So, for example, the “Beta” pattern is typically emitted when we are consciously alert, and is our dominant waking frequency. Think concentration, cognition. On the Hertz scale, this ranges from 12 pulses to 30 pulses per second (Hz).

Going deeper, “Alpha” is another brainwave pattern, which usually occurs when we are in a state of physical and mental relaxation, though still aware of the world around us. Think creativity and deep chill. It has a range of 8-12Hz.

There’s also “Theta,” which stands at 4-7Hz, and is often associated with daydreaming, or feeling very sleepy. Think meditation, intuition, memory. It’s also strongly associated with creative states.

Plus, “Delta” which is the stage between 0.1 and 4Hz, and really represents the lowest amount of activity possible.  This typically only occurs during deep sleep, and can also trigger growth and body healing.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, above Beta, there also exists “Gamma” which is a critical yet mainly supportive frequency, found to exist during certain Buddhist meditations. Think inspiration, higher learning, focus. Gamma exists at 30 to 100+Hz, yet never exists solely – it is always complemented by other brainwaves.

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