Biochemistry of the Brain
The brain is an electrochemical organ composed of billions of cells, called neurons, using electricity to communicate with each other. The combination of millions of neurons sending signals to one another produces electrical activity in the brain, that can be measured using medical machines such as an EEG (electroencephalogram). The main portion of the brain, the cerebrum or gray matter, is the control center of higher functions such as thought and emotion. In the back of the head, beneath the cerebrum, is the cerebellum, where equilibrium and coordination are controlled. The brain stem, at the base of the brain, is responsible for vital vegetative functions, including circulation and respiration.
The electrical activity in the brain is commonly referred to as “brain wave” patterns, because it is cyclic, or “wave-like” in nature. Beta, with frequencies typically ranging from 15 to 30 pulses per second in the Hertz scale, corresponds to awaken, ordinary state of consciousness. The mind operates at its most critical platform, constantly judging, doubting, reacting and refuting the information received. Alpha, with frequencies around 7 to 14 cycles per second, corresponds to the state of physical, mental and emotional relaxation we experience when falling asleep at night, deeply relaxed, when meditating, or when deeply engrossed in a movie or a book. Theta, ranging from 4 to 7 pulses per second, corresponds to deep sleep or deep levels of meditation. Delta, typically from 0.1 to 4 cycles per second, is mostly found in states of unconsciousness and coma, occasionally very deep sleep and catalepsy.
In hypnosis, we are experiencing Alpha and Theta frequencies. The same brain wave frequencies we experience when we are sleeping and dreaming. We also experience rapid eye movements (REM) similar to those we have when dreaming. However, contrary to the sleep state, we remain perfectly aware of our surroundings. We are more aware in fact, than we tend to be in ordinary Beta state of consciousness, where we are constantly distracted by thoughts, actions and reactions. We can open our eyes at any time and emerge from hypnosis on our own. When we do, we are not groggy or sleepy. On the contrary, our mind is crystal clear. The similarities between hypnosis and sleep partly explain why we feel deeply restored, rejuvenated and replenished each time we emerge from hypnosis.
According to neuroscientists analyzing encephalograms of the Alpha and Theta brain cycles, the attentive, deep, physical, mental and emotional relaxation experienced during hypnosis, as we slow our brain’s natural rhythm, produces significant increases in endorphin levels, the body’s natural opiate system, as well as dopamine and norepinephrine levels, which enhance focus and attention, producing higher levels of mental clarity, better memory retention and retrieval. The significant increase in endorphin levels partly explains why we experience considerable improvement in our feelings of well being, pleasure and good mood when we emerge from hypnosis.
This creates an ideal state of synthetic thought and creativity, functions of the right brain hemisphere, placing us in an ideal and optimal condition to learn new information, remember facts and data, memorize languages, analyze complex situations, all of which in a state of profound, restorative calm. The sense of relief and liberation resulting from finally being able to resolve and release wounds and negative emotions we had carried through our life adds to the lasting sensation of peace, well being and contentment experienced.
The resulting feelings of enhanced mental clarity, focus, attention and measurably improved mood, well being and pleasure have been shown to last for hours and even days after each session, making it possible to experience bliss in the midst of day-to-day chaos.
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