Meditation has been around for thousands years, originating from ancient Buddhist practices. However, a modern form of this ancient tradition has recently been shown to increase alpha waves in the brain. The general family of this modern type of meditation is known as mindfulness meditation, and the specific form of mindfulness meditation examined in this research study was mindfulness based stress reduction, or MBSR.
MBSR was developed in the United States and combines elements of mindfulness, specific awareness, and certain yoga positions. For many people, MBSR is a gateway to full meditation, although the goals of each are different. With meditation, there really is no goal, whereas with MBSR, the goal is stress reduction and an increase in alpha waves in the brain.
Alpha Waves Help the Brain
The importance of stress reduction is well-known, but what are the benefits of increased alpha waves? Alpha waves in the brain work as a sort of complex filter, helping the brain choose which things to concentrate on consciously and which ones to ignore. The need for adequate alpha waves is not felt when the brain has just one thing to do, but when several processes are being attempted simultaneously, the brain needs this selective filter to help it prioritize and complete these tasks in the correct way.
In a way, alpha waves are more important in this modern world of multi-tasking than they were previously. Consider what the brain must do to complete a multi-step scenario such as driving at high speeds, answering a cell phone call, and eating a chicken sandwich, all while trying to solve a complex mathematics problem. An increase in alpha waves will allow the brain to focus on what needs to be done as well as the priority in which it must be accomplished. While we certainly do not recommend multi-tasking at high speeds, utilizing MBSR for its alpha wave generating properties may not be a bad idea. In order to fully experience the cognitive benefits from MBSR, it is important to provide the brain with the right nutrients and mental exercise so that it can utilize the increased alpha waves. Think of it this way – there is no reason to put Mac OSX Mavericks on the original Apple II computer – it just won’t work. In a similar way, the increase in alpha waves will not be helpful if the brain is not already receiving the essential nutrients it needs.