Our brain is active most of the time, day and night. But our brain needs rest exactly the same way our muscles do. We only get this rest if we are relaxed, balanced, and get a really good night's sleep.
A good night's sleep means moving smoothly through the 5 stages of sleep, especially stages 3 and 4. We can split the 5 stages of sleep into 3 "brain-wave" categories:
First: Beta brain waves (13-22 cycles). This is our normal waking state. The pattern changes as abdominal breathing and the relaxation practice begins.
Second: Alpha brain waves (8-12 cycles). This is the "Relaxation Response," a calm peaceful state of mind with many physical benefits.
Third: Theta brain waves (4-7 cycles). The deeply relaxed state, where healing and recharging take place, and where we are trying to get to when we meditate!
In sleep stages 3 and 4, we are experiencing Theta brain waves.
When we are in Theta brain waves, we are really recharging. Spending time in Theta brain waves every day (or night) allows our fight or flight response, an autonomic nervous system reaction that acts mostly unconsciously, to reset. It is vital to balance this response with good deep sleep and/or meditation. Your decision making center and attention capacity can also be affected negatively by fatigue, so spending time in Theta brain waves will prevent you from feeling too tired, and making poor judgments.
Spending time in these Theta brain waves may even boost our immune system and help us recover from illness.
Next week, we're going to talk about what kind of meditation is right for you, and give you some pointers about how you can tell if you are experiencing the Theta brainwaves or not.