We are so fortunate to live in an age where we can look under the bonnet of the working brain.
I am particularly fascinated by this. In my first ever blog post I wrote how I’ve always been curious about the power of the subconscious mind ever since seeing a BBC TV Series in the 1970s called The Mind of Man. In particular an experiment involving measuring a Yogi's metabolism in an airtight box had a huge impact. The Yogi cut his oxygen requirements to a quarter of the minimum rate thought to be possible.
This finding was at odds with orthodox thinking in Western Medicine at the time and opened the door to the possibility that our mental state can, in fact, influence the internal workings of our body – heart-beat, blood pressure, hormones, allergies etc.
Nowadays we have a better understanding of the effects of psychological stress on our physical well-being; I and my hypnotherapy colleagues often see people who have physical symptoms, some of which can be alleviated by reducing their anxiety levels.
So, what’s going on? How can our mental wellbeing affect our physical body? You can easily demonstrate the link between your thoughts and the responses of your body. Just take a minute or two to imagine eating a lemon. Most of us salivate at the mere thought. We're not actually eating a lemon, but just the thought is enough to get our salivary ducts excited.
Now, thinking about eating a lemon is one thing, but did how the Yogi suppress his entire metabolism so effectively? As well as measuring oxygen consumption the experimenters took other measurements including the Yogi’s brainwaves, using an EEG (Electroencephalograph) monitor which showed that the Yogi was in a half-sleeping, meditative state at the points where his metabolism was at its lowest.
An EEG is a non-invasive way of measuring and recording brain activity close to the brain’s surface. You may be familiar with the ‘squiggles’ of a typical EEG:
- Beta waves indicate wakefulness and conscious processing of information
- Alpha waves indicate relaxed alertness and meditative states
- Theta waves indicate deep meditative states and daydreaming
- Delta waves indicate deep sleep
Having seen EEG readouts in text books and on TV for many decades, I never dreamt I would be able to see one in action. However Clifton Practice Hypnotherapy Training (CPHT) in Bristol where I trained has purchased an EEG machine to help students better understand what happens to our clients’ brains during trance, and a week or so ago I attended a demo during a supervision meeting.
A willing volunteer was connected to a neuro-headset which sent signals to a nearby laptop showing that he did indeed have a brain; always a good sign. It was incredible to see the effect of different activities, such as visualising, problem solving, listening etc had on his brainwaves. The demo was even further enhanced by the software actually converting the brainwaves to a two-dimensional map of the brain, showing different areas lighting up at different times.
Of course the best bit was when the operator, psychologist Dr Rachel Gillibrand, herself a graduate hypnotherapist from CPHT, took the volunteer into a hypnotic trance. As we would expect the areas of the brain associated with the meditative state lit up before our eyes. Amazing!
How lucky we are to be able to see the functioning of a living brain in real-time. EEGs, along with MRI scanners, are transforming our scientific understanding of the link between mind and body.