Did you know that your brain is actually a highly complex, well-tuned electrical engine?
It’s true! Your nervous system—which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves—communicates through fast-moving electrical signals all throughout your body.
Researchers display the electrical activity happening in the brain as brainwaves, and there are five main brainwave states.
Better understanding these five states can help you go deeper into meditation and hypnosis to gain a sense of inner peace, reprogram old habits and beliefs, and more effectively balance your mental health.
In this blog, I’ve invited a certified hypnotist and colleague (Emma Ehrenzeller, CH) to go deeper into the connection between hypnosis and neuroscience.
Be sure to check out Part 1 to learn the basics of hypnosis! https://community.wholistics.health/are-you-mesmerized-yet-an-introduction-to-hypnosis/
What are the five brainwave states?
There are five brainwave states that we float in and out of each day, and two of them relate heavily to meditation and hypnosis.
Gamma: Gamma is the fastest brainwave state; this means that the brain is more active and creating more electricity!
In the gamma state, the mind is concentrated and likely doing complex problem solving or learning new information. In gamma, you’re highly alert and using a lot of brain power to complete the task at hand.
Beta: The beta brainwave state is the next fastest state, right behind gamma.
When you’re in everyday conversations, doing your taxes, writing a letter, or just getting through the workday, you’re likely in beta. Beta is the state you’re in during everyday consciousness; it’s when you’re alert and focused, but not necessarily hyper-concentrated on a task.
Alpha: With alpha, things begin to slow down. The alpha brainwave state correlates with “relaxed, passive attention” (Abhang, 2016).
In other words, when you’re on autopilot or doing a mundane task, your brain is in alpha. You’re focused and conscious, yes, but you’re also zoned out. When you’re enjoying a walk outside, taking part in a hobby like knitting or pottery, or on a break after a long meeting, you’re likely in alpha.
Theta: Theta is the middle ground between consciousness and unconsciousness. It’s the moment when your alarm goes off and you’re not fully awake, but also no longer sleeping.
Apart from that drowsy state in the morning and evening, we also enter theta when we’re doing repetitive tasks or are immersed in our imagination. Daydreaming and driving for long stretches on the highway often put people into the theta state.
In theta, some people can more easily access their creativity or “flow state,” since their conscious, thinking mind has turned down in volume. Theta can also be accessed through hypnosis and deep meditations, which we’ll dive into in a moment.
Delta: Finally, delta is the slowest brainwave state which we go into when we’re asleep and fully unconscious. We remain in delta when we dream, but our brainwaves slow even further when we are in dreamless sleep.
Hypnosis & Brainwaves
Someone in hypnosis is typically in the alpha or theta brainwave state, depending on how deeply they are relaxed.
Dr. Jan Philamon, who holds her PhD in Psychology, calls the alpha state the “gateway to the subconscious,” while she describes the theta state as the “realm of the subconscious” (Philamon, 2022).
In other words, when you enter the alpha or theta state, you are able to begin changing the habits and beliefs stored in your subconscious, and break out of old patterns that are keeping you stuck.
People who have gone into the alpha or theta state to alter old patterns through hypnosis have been able to…
- Cut a variety of destructive habits
- Decrease their stress and anxiety
- Boost overall feelings of self-esteem
- Manage chronic pain
- Overcome fears and phobias
And more! And the exciting news is that you don’t have to rely on a hypnotist to access the alpha or brainwave state and tap into your subconscious—you can explore this work on your own time.
How can I access the alpha or theta brainwave state?
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a common technique hypnotists use to bring their clients into the hypnotic state (alpha or theta brainwaves). PMR is the process of scanning your body and relaxing each muscle, starting from your face going all the way down to your toes.
Research has shown that PMR is an effective technique for boosting mental and physical feelings of relaxation, especially when coupled with guided imagery and breathwork (Toussaint, 2021). These three in combination essentially build a typical hypnosis session.
Some versions of PMR also encourage you to tense the muscle group before relaxing it to show your brain and body the difference between the tension and relaxation. The YouTube video below guides you through this process:
After the PMR, you can simply relax, or you can practice different self-hypnosis techniques, such as repeating positive affirmations to yourself, or visualizing yourself reaching your goals or taking on a new habit.
When I tried hypnosis over a decade ago for stress management, the hypnotist guided me into PMR by having me visualize slowly going down a flight of stairs to a calm place – I still remember how relaxing and zen it felt!
Want to get started with a hypnotist?
There are many hypnosis associations nationally and internationally.
To find a reliable hypnotist, ensure they have a form of certification. The National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) and Hypnotic World both have reputable training programs.
Titles can range between associations, but Certified Hypnotist or Certified Consulting Hypnotist are standard for those who have undergone foundational hypnosis training, and various board certifications are also possible for more experienced hypnotists as well.
To find hypnotists through the NGH, click here: https://www.ngh.net/request-form/
To find hypnotists through Hypnotic World, click here: https://www.hypnoticworld.com/hypnotherapists/
Abhang, P. A., Gawali, B. W. and Mehrotra, S. C. Abhang, P., Gawali, B., & Mehrotra, S. (2016). Technological Basics of EEG Recording and Operation of Apparatus. Introduction To EEG- And Speech-Based Emotion Recognition, 19-50. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804490-2.00002-6
Crawford, H. J., & Barabasz, A. F. (1993). Phobias and intense fears: Facilitating their treatment with hypnosis. In J. W. Rhue, S. J. Lynn, & I. Kirsch (Eds.), Handbook of clinical hypnosis (pp. 311–337). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10274-015
Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140701338621
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Grégoire, C., Faymonville, M. E., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Jerusalem, G., Willems, S., & Bragard, I. (2021). Randomized controlled trial of a group intervention combining self-hypnosis and self-care: secondary results on self-esteem, emotional distress and regulation, and mindfulness in post-treatment cancer patients. Quality of life research : an international journal of quality of life aspects of treatment, care and rehabilitation, 30(2), 425–436. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-020-02655-7
Philamon, J. (2022). Brain Waves and Hypnosis. M1 Psychology. Retrieved 20 April 2022, from https://m1psychology.com/brain-waves-and-hypnosis/
What is the function of the various brainwaves? (1997, December 22). Scientific American. Retrieved 20 April 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22/
Toussaint, L., Nguyen, Q. A., Roettger, C., Dixon, K., Offenbächer, M., Kohls, N., Hirsch, J., & Sirois, F. (2021). Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2021, 5924040. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/5924040