While it has been possible for celebrities and the wealthy to stave off the external effects of physical aging with creams and potions, skin peels, laser treatments, liposuction, and surgical face and body lifts, until now, no one has offered a makeover for your brain! Instead of having to submit to the seemingly inevitable effects of brain aging – and eventual senescence – now you can intervene and make some wonderful changes. Instead of waiting helplessly with nothing you can do while the clock ticks and your mental and intellectual functions and joy for life decline, now you can successfully intervene and reverse those declines. When you train your brain to produce more alpha waves, the benefits go far beyond anti-aging – it actually reverses the brain’s aging. Experiences with hundreds of trainees demonstrate that a 70-year old can be trained to create the brain wave pattern of 35 or 40! Even though the person may have lived seven decades, their newly re-awakened youthful brain wave pattern will give them youthful motivation, interest, and abilities. Imagine! The wisdom of seven decades and the motivation and the energy and the enthusiasm of someone in their 30’s- now that is a winning combination! How, you ask, can this be possible? Let us look at the science.
Atherosclerosis can begin at remarkably early ages, and once it begins, the alpha frequency slows down at a rate of about 0.8 Hz per decade. Alpha ranges from 8
– 13 Hz. So if someone started with alpha activity at 10 Hz- which is common – in less than three decades, the alpha would be gone. If the alpha has slowed below 8 Hz, it’s not alpha anymore. That person has entered the brain wave twilight zone of senescence or senility. Once the alpha is gone—has slowed out of existence—people tend to die fairly soon. One hospital admission looked at the relation of non-alpha EEG records and early death. In this study, the hospital technicians routinely made an EEG recording from everyone admitted for any reason- pregnancies, elective surgeries, stabbings, gunshot wounds, auto accidents- any reason. Then they followed up on those people six months later. Half of those admitted with no alpha in their EEG record was dead within six months. Alpha indicates life, and when alpha
fades away, so does life.
One of my former colleagues, Dr. Charles L. Yeager, studied EEG activity throughout his professional career. In the 1950s, he set up EEG labs in all of the California state hospitals. California had a model system of State Hospitals. During the 1950s and up into the 1980s, Dr. Yeager made annual visits to each hospital to record EEGs from the patients, some of whom were quite elderly. Dr. Yeager obtained healthy-looking EEGs from some patients who were over 100 years old. In this 30+ year span of research, Dr. Yeager learned that if an aged patient had abundant or even just normal alpha in their EEG record, they would still be alive and well when he revisited the next year. However, if a patient’s annual recording showed the loss of alpha activity in the year since the prior recording, Dr. Yeager would say a special ‘Good Bye’ to that patient because he knew the person would probably die before his next annual visit. So a 37-year-old patient whose alpha had disappeared would be much more likely to die within the next year than a 100-year-old patient who had a good alpha in their EEG record, to a certain extent, alpha trumps age when it comes to life expectancy and everyone’s hopes for healthy longevity. Remember, alpha isn’t what you think.
When we look at the biological science underlying alpha waves and the processes by which people lose their alpha waves, it is perfectly understandable how a 100-year-old person with good alpha waves would have a better life expectancy than someone in their 20s or 30s with no alpha waves. As you learned in the previous chapter, Calming the Hurricane in Your Brain, many stressful aspects of modern life work on you to reduce your alpha and to promote beta brain waves instead. But there is even more than that stress at work in a person’s loss of their beneficial alpha waves.
The mechanisms involved in the loss of alpha include reduction of blood flow to the brain. It has been shown that clamping one of the carotid arteries in monkeys
results in loss of alpha in that hemisphere. When the left carotid artery is clamped, that shuts off most of the blood flow to the left hemisphere. There is a little bit of interhemispheric circulation in the Circle of Willis, but that is not much compared to the volume of blood that comes surging into the brain via the carotid arteries on the left and right sides the neck. In that study with monkeys, when the blood flow was interrupted to one hemisphere, the alpha in that hemisphere disappeared and was replaced by the senile EEG pattern of mixed Theta and Beta. When the monkey’s carotid artery was unclamped, and blood flow resumed, the senile pattern of mixed Theta and Beta went away. It was replaced by alpha activity, which then returned to its normal alpha pattern.
We can now understand that when alpha begins to diminish in an older person (or even a younger person), this may signal an unhealthy and hazardous reduction
in blood flow to the brain. The most common cause of reduced blood flow to the brain is clogged arteries. Indeed, blood flow varies as the inverse third power of
the diameter of the blood vessel. This simple mathematical relationship has alarming consequences for the brain when arteries get clogged, and the effective diameter of the blood vessel shrinks. For example, if the opening inside a blood vessel shrinks to ½ of normal size, blood flow is reduced to ⅛ of normal flow. That is because 2 to the third power is 8, i.e., 2 × 2 × 2 = 8. So if the diameter is reduced to ⅛, the blood flow is reduced to ½ * ½ * ½ = ⅛. Reducing blood flow to ⅛ of normal starves the brain, and the alpha waves vanish in the resulting famine, as the brain is deprived of the oxygen and glucose that it needs to run itself, and all of which must be delivered via the blood flow to the brain. The reduction of blood flow also impairs the function of all the brain’s hormonal and biochemical regulation. Digestion can go awry, nutrition can suffer, and general health can enter a steep and rapid decline, resulting in death.
Now the body does have some defenses against this reduction in brain blood flow that result from clogged arteries. The number one response of the body is to
raise blood pressure. Why is this? If the blood vessels get clogged, so their open passages inside them are smaller, there is a reduction in blood flow. However, if the blood pressure could go up, a higher pressure will force more blood through the clogged arteries and veins. You may have had this experience when you are in the shower. You may have a good stream of water spraying down on you, and the temperature is all adjusted perfectly, and then someone flushes a toilet or opens a faucet, or starts the clothes washer. All of a sudden, the pressure drops, and less water comes out. Or perhaps you started your shower when the washer was filling, so you had to turn on the faucets all the way to get enough water for your shower. Then when the washer is full and stops drawing off the water, the pressure in the pipes surges, and you get blasted with more water than you want, and maybe even the spray is so forceful that it hurts your lips. You have just demonstrated how a reduction in pressure will reduce the flow of water and how an increase in pressure will increase water flow. It works the same in your body with your blood flow.
So now you can see how the body is being perfectly sensible in turning up the blood pressure in response to clogged or partly clogged arteries. It is the fastest way for the brain to keep up with the blood supply that it needs. Ah, but there is a dark side to that solution. As you know, high blood pressure can be a killer. High blood pressure can make your kidneys fail. Their fragile internal structures are damaged and ultimately destroyed by high blood pressure. Each organ system has its failure point when blood pressure gets too high, and the most catastrophic failure is when blood vessels are pressurized too highly, and one or more of them burst. This is called a stroke, and it can kill or cripple the person. Increased blood pressure, while being a temporary solution to a brain starving for blood [lack of oxygen and glucose delivered by the blood flow], is not a good long term solution.
The typical medical intervention with high blood pressure is to give drugs that lower blood pressure. This might spare the person the ravages of high blood pressure, but it does nothing to address the underlying cause of the high blood pressure, which is often insufficient blood flow to the brain. Many people taking medicine for high blood pressure- medicine that effectively lowers their blood pressure, will report that they do not feel as alert as they used to and are experiencing ‘brain fog.’ This is a logical consequence of reduced blood flow to the brain. So let’s look at the sequence of events: Arteries clog [many reasons for this], and blood flow drops- especially blood flow to the brain diminishes. The brain begins to starve for blood, and the alpha waves diminish. The brain calls out for more blood, and the body responds by increasing the blood pressure, delivering more blood to the brain. Everything looks fine again. But then the arteries clog more, and the cycle repeats.
Eventually, the blood pressure is so high that it comes to a medical doctor’s attention, who prescribes blood pressure-lowering drugs. This causes the blood pressure to fall, but blood flow to the brain begins to starve for blood again. This causes the alpha waves to drop, and the person feels low energy and mental fogginess. The brain sends out signals to increase blood pressure, but the body ignores these signals because the blood pressure-lowering drugs are at work. So the brain drifts into a state of decreasing blood flow and decreasing alpha waves, and decreasing mental alertness. People begin to look and think and act old. But at least the risk of kidney damage and strokes has been reduced.
Fortunately, there are other alternatives. In many cases, intervention with suitable EEG alpha feedback training can restore brain blood flow without drug use and can thus dramatically increase alpha wave activity, which has the benefits of resourceful alterations in mood and personality. Increased alpha wave activity
brings increasing optimism, motivation, and a general state of happiness and well-being. These beneficial changes both extend the life and improve the quality of life.
Alpha feedback training changes that natural course of aging to a natural course of age-reversal without drugs or stimulants.
When most people hear of these possibilities, they immediately want to know how it works. There are many factors at work here, and we will consider two of them:
Both serve to increase blood flow to the brain without dangerous increases in blood pressure.
4.1.1 Dilating Blood Vessels
Many people first heard of the word ‘biofeedback’ associated with people learning to warm their hands or relax their muscles. Hand temperature biofeedback is conceptually very simple. You hold a small thermometer in your hands and watch it. Or a temperature sensor is strapped around one of your fingers or toes, and a wire runs to a small meter that reports the temperature in a digital number or in a sound, where the sound might rise or fall in pitch as your finger rises and falls in temperature. Or the device might beep faster when your skin temperature is rising and beep more slowly as your skin temperature falls. Whatever the mechanism, the principle is the basic biofeedback principle. In 1970 I formulated the axioms of biofeedback, and the first axiom is this:
Any process in your brain or your body about which you can be given accurate and immediate information can learn to control.
Hand temperature feedback has been used as a general stress reduction technique teaching people to warm their hands and fingers and has been able to cure some previously incurable medical conditions like Reynaud’s Disease. Here’s how it works. It is so simple. While you are getting the feedback on your hand or finger temperature, you think of pleasant, calming, and warm situations. Perhaps you say silently to yourself, ‘My hand is heavy and warm.’
But how does it work? You may be wondering. Very simple. With skin temperature feedback, you learn how to dilate the blood vessels that flow out to your hands and fingers. Yes, some of you will jump ahead and infer (correctly) that if you can dilate the blood vessels that flow to your fingers, then you can also, with the right kind of alpha feedback, dilate the blood vessels that flow to your brain. Of course, we know how that increases alpha brain waves and has all kinds of other beneficial effects. But for now, let us stay with the dilating blood vessels to your fingers. This allows more warm blood from the core of your body to flow out to your hands and fingers, thus warming your hands. This also triggers a generalized stress reduction response that has many health benefits. Remember we just talked about Reynaud’s Disease being cured by hand temperature feedback? Well, let us look at that remarkable cure because it is a classic example of how a problem that was almost incurable by traditional allopathic medicine was simply and easily eliminate by a biofeedback procedure of hand temperature feedback. In Reynaud’s Disease, there is a constriction of blood flow to the fingers and toes. Cold hands and feet are no fun, but in serious cases, this becomes very painful. The fingers and toes turn blue, and the suffering becomes intense. Traditional medicine was unable to effectively treat this condition that Doctors took to amputating the offending fingers and toes. Ouch! Fortunately, along came biofeedback for skin temperature. People learned how to dilate the blood vessels feeding their hands simply by giving feedback about a related parameter, namely skin temperature. The hands are cold when there is reduced blood flow because the blood vessels are constricted. So when the person gets immediate and accurate feedback about even subtle changes in skin temperature, that person has the means to learn how to dilate the blood vessels that bring warming to the fingers and an end to the pain and suffering of Reynaud’s Disease.
No one could probably tell you how your conscious intention to warm your fingers combines with the skin temperature feedback information to produce dilation of the blood vessels. It is one of the deep mysteries of life how any intention gets translated into actions by the body. But it works. It happens, and the Reynaud’s Disease sufferer is healed. The pain is gone; their hands, fingers, and toes are warm again.
In the same (mysterious) way, the alpha brain wave feedback tones and scores are partially related to the amount of blood flow to the brain.
There are many other factors that I have identified that can contribute to alpha increases, and I coach my Alpha Trainees on all of them, but blood flow is clearly one of the relevant parameters. And for people with high blood pressure, it is one of the more important parameters. So it is another one of those deep mysteries of life how a person’s intention for alpha increases combines with the alpha feedback information and then gets translated into actions by the body, such as a dilation of the blood vessels that feed the brain. But it works. It happens, and the blood flows to the head so easily that people sometimes come out of the feedback chamber with an ‘alpha tan.’ There has been so much blood flow to the head that it includes the brain and the face and the ears and the neck, and people are lit up with a healthy glow looking like they just spent 2 weeks in Barbados or the Bahamas.
When I worked with the Federal Grant’s older women, most of them had some degree of high blood pressure. And when they would ‘get it’ and their alpha would surge upward, they would often talk about the experience of an ‘opening’ in their necks and their head. An ‘opening,’ huh? Well, how about the dilation of their carotid arteries for starters? Oh yes, in every single older woman whose alpha increased, there was a subsequent reduction in their blood pressure. Probably
this is more than a coincidence, especially since we have such a clearly apparent mechanism for this important ‘side effect’ of the alpha brain wave training.
So hand temperature biofeedback produces the learned ability to dilate the blood vessels feeding the hands and fingers. And alpha brain wave biofeedback (Neurofeedback) produces the learned ability to dilate the brain’s blood vessels. The hand temperature feedback can save the fingers of Reynaud’s Disease
patients and the alpha brain wave feedback can save the lives of high blood pressure patients and people whose alpha has diminished or disappeared due to insufficient
blood flow to the brain.
4.1.2 Reducing the Blockages Within the Blood Vessels
While it is wonderful to have alpha feedback means to dilate blood vessels to allow more blood to flow through to the brain, there may still be a significant
amount of blockage in those blood vessels from deposits of cholesterol and mats of bacterial plaques that line the blood vessels’ insides. Coronary artery disease is characterized by occlusion of the blood vessels and reduced blood flow through them. There is an interesting pioneer in Reversing Coronary Artery Disease- Dr. Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF. For the past 25 years, Dr. Ornish has directed clinical research demonstrating, for the first time, that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse even severe coronary heart disease without drugs or surgery. He is the author of five best-selling books, including the New York Times’ bestseller Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. I have been to lectures by Dr. Ornish and have spoken with him about his important work. He shows pictures of an artery 90% closed up with deposits and then the same artery after some time in his program, maybe only 40% blocked. That is a huge improvement in blood flow because blood flow varies with the 3rd power of the diameter. Let’s do the numbers. With a 1-centimeter diameter artery, a 90% blockage would mean it only had a tiny 10 percent of the original diameter available and open for blood to flow through. That 10% of 1 centimeter would be a 1-millimeter opening. Death is knocking on that door. But with a clearing to only a 40% blockage, that would mean 60% of the original 1-centimeter diameter is open again. 60% of 1-centimeter is 6-millimeters of opening in that blood vessel. Life is again an option. So the change from a 1-millimeter opening to a 6-millimeter opening is a 6 times increase, which translates into a huge blood flow increase. Remember, blood flow varies with the 3rd power of the diameter. That’s a big ’wow’ and a big increase in blood flow, and if that blood vessel is feeding the brain, that leads to a big increase in the person’s potential for alpha waves.
Now how does Dr. Ornish help his patients achieve this remarkable clearing of the clogged blood vessels? Well, you can read his books, and you will find that it
boils down to three factors: (1) Mild exercise, (2) A strict diet, and (3) Meditation. I’ve read some of Dr. Ornish’s own analyses of his research work. Particularly, I’ve focused on some of his secondary analyses that discovered that the ‘heavy lifting’ in this recovery program is done by meditation. You can imagine that Dr. Ornish has worked with people who did not apply themselves equally to all of the three components of his program over the years. Yet, some of them still got amazing benefits. Dr. Ornish found that those who did very well in the meditation but not so well in the diet and exercise had better clearing of their arteries than people who slighted the meditation but were very strict about their exercise or diet. Of course, for best results, you will do all three, but if you were ONLY going to do one of those components, the meditation is the one that would give you, by itself, the best results in clearing your clogged arteries.
You are probably already jumping ahead to the correct conclusion of how your alpha feedback training might help to clear your arteries. You are right to go there
because 7 days of the Alpha One Brain Wave Feedback program at Biocybernaut is the equivalent of 21-40 years of Zen meditation. This comparison involves looking at the Alpha One graduates’ brain wave changes and the brain wave changes of Advanced Zen meditators with a daily practice extending from 21-40 years. So if
you put together the findings that (1) Dr. Dean Ornish’s secondary analyses show that the meditation component of his program for Reversing Coronary Artery Disease does the heavy lifting in his program with (2) Dr. Jim Hardt’s finding that the Biocybernaut Alpha One Training produces brain wave changes in 7 days that are comparable to those produced in 21- 40 years of Zen meditation, then you might reasonably conclude that the Alpha One training could contribute significantly to reversing coronary artery disease. This clearing of the blood vessels, over time, following your Alpha One Training could help to sustain the brain blood flow increases that are likely to occur in your Alpha One Training because of learned dilation of the blood vessels feeding your brain and within your brain.
The heart and arteries are affected by how a person views life and reacts to a stressful situation. People cynical or have hostile attitudes or suppressed anger have been found to have more atherosclerosis and blockages of coronary arteries.
Individuals in a chronic struggle to exert domination and control [known as Type A personalities] may also be ‘coronary prone,’ particularly if they are hostile. Chronic activation of the central nervous system sympathetic [‘fight-or-flight’] response means that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine is liberated in
increased amounts from the ends of sympathetic nervous system fibers, acting upon blood vessels, the heart, and other organs. Excessive norepinephrine has also been associated with hostile attitudes. In excessive amounts, it may do damage to the lining of coronary arteries, provide a chemical insult to the heart muscle, promote high blood pressure, and disturb platelets and red blood cells – all of which can contribute to the increased risk of myocardial infarction or some other form of serious heart disease.
The constant turning on the sympathetic response can also trigger a coronary artery spasm, resulting in a heart attack.
Also, imbalances between the sympathetic nervous system, which mostly accelerates our bodies’ functions (the fight-or-flight response), and the parasympathetic system, which usually slows down functions of our body (the withdrawal response), can trigger cardiac arrest or arrhythmia.
Over-reaction to stress may stir up other biochemical changes that can threaten our cardiac health. Cholesterol levels rise, and uric acid goes up, and each of these is associated with heart disease. Alpha Training can heal the cynical and hostile attitudes that underlie these dangerous physiological changes. The forgiveness
work in the Alpha One Training can undo a lifetime of suppressed anger and can help the person transform that energy and those experiences into love and joy. This transformation of negative emotions into positive emotions that result from the Biocybernaut Alpha One Training can have a range of beneficial effects that span
the range from physical, mental, and emotional healing to spiritual growth and awakening.
4.1.3 Negative Emotions, Stress, and Aging
Experiencing many emotional or physical traumas in life can accelerate the process of brain aging. Over time as we age, we develop habits of behavior. We are all familiar with certain conscious habits because we do them every day. Some are ingrained, like going to the bathroom, and some we learn, like brushing our teeth or washing our face or taking a shower. Other habits are preferences, such as how we pour our coffee in the morning, the route we take to work or the supermarket, or our daily routine. We also developmental habits or patterns of thought. As we get older, one of the reasons our brain starts to decline is that we get stuck in the rut of using the same thinking patterns repeatedly. If our brain is used to doing the same thing repeatedly, it stops creating new neural connections. The brain wave neurofeedback protocol I use at Biocybernaut and require of all of our Trainers includes deep emotional and forgiveness work which creates new neural connections in the brain resulting in a vibrant self-renewing, versus static and degraded, brain wave pattern.
Most of us stay stuck in old negative emotional patterns that lead to sadness, depression, anger, and fear. When we are unaware of these patterns’ source, it’s impossible to change or remove the pattern. Even if we know the source, most traditional therapy or self-help does little to break the pattern.
These negative emotional patterns lead to accelerated brain aging because they suppress alpha.
At some point in our lives, most of us do some surface work on the issues through counseling, behavioral therapies, or personal growth workshops, but the pattern
stays basically stuck. We may be aware of our pattern, the reason for it, and we may keep trying to change it by willful methods, but with little success. I am convinced that the only way to change the pattern, to defuse the charge permanently, is to work on it in a high alpha state using brain wave biofeedback, ideally with the support of a trained ‘coach’ who is your Biocybernaut Trainer.
The Alpha One Brain Wave Training is all about educating you in the details of how your brain works and how your emotions work. Every one of the 7 days of this training, you are using the proprietary and computerized Biocybernaut Mood Scales coupled with computerized monitoring of the map of your brain (described in Chapter3). This process helps you begin to open some doors within you that allow you to look at your unconscious negative emotional patterns.
With the skilled Trainers’ help, trainees become more aware of their patterns and can deal with them in a supportive, safe space. We always find certain painful
events in people’s lives, usually from childhood, that we call forgiveness targets. The trainee is coached to go into the chamber, create a high alpha state, and then revisit the causal incident.
There is a safe space they can relive or re-experience their feelings about what was said or done and learn what erroneous beliefs about themselves they
created because of it. Forgiveness is a required part of the process, and without it, alpha remains suppressed as if there’s a lid clamped down, which prevents any further increases. Without forgiveness, trainees can only go so far in creating a high alpha state. It is necessary to do forgiveness work for both sides of the grievance- both you and the other person, to release the emotional charge around the event. The forgiveness process will be covered in depth in Chapter 6, Zen and the Art of Smart Thinking.
Once a trainee can release these mental habits, they can create new healing events and feelings in their place while in a high alpha state. This creates
both more alpha and more neural connections. Not only do they create more neural pathways, but they also create them in a more positive alpha state. The neural pathways that keep the brain is mostly a Beta state (anxiety, anger, fear, sadness) are released so more alpha waves can be created.
It’s like dusting away cobwebs with a broom. As you start doing that more frequently, your brain starts getting increased blood flow, which, in itself, leads to more alpha. More alpha feels good, making it easier to go after other memories that still need some work. Trainees quickly learn that their brains can get rid of those negative emotional experiences and that motivation is enough to move people forward even more. Then all of a sudden, people have a breakthrough in the chamber, and their alpha explodes! It starts with breaking a bad habit and learning a good new one.
4.1.4 Anxiety and Aging
At Langley Porter, I was the principal investigator for a large federal grant entitled: Anxiety and Aging: Intervention with EEG Alpha Feedback. Elderly subjects
in this study learned how to restore youthful brain wave patterns using my unique neurofeedback technology and methods. When older women successfully restored
their youthful brain wave patterns, there were remarkable reversals of many aging aspects. They showed major improvements in their personality profiles,
including reduced anxiety and depression. Furthermore, they showed improvements in motivation, energy, and happiness.
Elderly subjects (up to their late 80s in age) suggest that restoring youthful amounts of EEG alpha with neurofeedback can restore the brain’s ability to regulate the mind, body, and emotions in healthful ways like it did when you were much younger. Women in their mid 70’s went to college, getting degrees, even advanced degrees. They started new relationships and even started new businesses.
Reversing age-related changes in brain function restores remarkable degrees of function in older adults. Restoring youthful brain wave patterns restores significant amounts of youthful states of mind and the happiness and enthusiasm associated with youth. Also, there are physical health benefits because the more youthful brain is once again able to regulate the body’s physiological systems properly. Our study saw reductions in high blood pressure in every older adult who increased her/his alpha EEG activity. Older men have successfully used this training in rehabilitation from heart attacks. We even had one man who had a heart transplant and overcame a common heart transplant problem, which is that the new heart races too fast and is not well regulated by the brain. With his Alpha Training, this man trained his transplanted heart to perform more appropriately to his changing activity levels.
Over the years, I have further optimized the technology and protocol to produce reversals of many aging aspects. We can now teach people how to restore youthful brain wave patterns through large EEG alpha increases in just one week of intensive training. Reversing age-related changes in brain activity allows the brain to reverse many of aging’s physiological and psychological aspects. It enables the trainees to function with youthful degrees of vigor, motivation, enthusiasm, happiness, and greater physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.