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Unbraking Waves
Written by Paul Farrington
February 2013

Unbraking Waves
Sometimes, when I begin to talk about brainwave training, I see that I've already lost my audience. The notion of “brainwaves” often induces the “glaze-over” look that means a listener has disconnected. Because brainwaves are so fundamental to neurofeedback, or brainwave training, a brief explainer is warranted.
Although our entire body makes use of low levels of electricity, our central nervous system is the primary designated electrical network. Recall that electricity is simply the movement of an electrical charge, or the resulting movement of electrically charged particles. We can think of this movement as energy or its result, action. In the brain, all actions begin with this energy, a form of biological electricity. It works like this: each cell in the brain, called a neuron, has links to other neurons, and the ability to communicate with them via flow of a charge or charged particles. These particles are called neurotransmitters. It is important to note that each time a neuron talks to its neighboring neuron, a charged particle jumps from one to the other. The movement of a charged particle is also an electrical charge. That is, there is no action or communication in the brain without the movement of a neurotransmitter, and the movement of electrical charge. The chemical essence of the brain is inextricably linked with the electrical essence of the brain. This movement oscillates, hence we describe it in terms of waves. A crucial aspect of what makes brainwaves work, and how we work with them, is that actual brainwaves result from the synchronous activity of millions of cells working together. Large sections of brain pulsing, communicating in harmony in waves of specific actions.
The other day, a friend of mine asked to try the neurofeedback equipment, to “check under the hood.” Once he was hooked up, I was taken aback by the display of his brainwaves. It looked like some kind of firestorm of asynchronous activity. I asked if he was okay. Through an uncharacteristic kind of grimace, he said he was. My eyes quickly darted between his face and my display. “I don't know what you're trying to do,” I said, “but just drop the whole thing!” In as quick a shift as I've seen, his brainwaves changed from the previous chaos to a display of harmony, like waves of grain in a light breeze. In later discussion, he confessed he was trying hard to be or do something else while the spotlight was shining on the most prized and private window to his inner self.
I share this story because it is a classic, benign example of the kind of misdirected, misapplied effort we all exhibit. Things don't just happen in our brains, it takes electrical energy, which is real effort to make them happen. While it is true that we may not be aware of many of the processes happening in our brain (!) and we may have forgotten why we had begun them and where the off-switch is, a part of us still drives them. And it takes effort.


We are all taught to drive using our one, right foot to step on the accelerator or the brake. For good reason – it prevents us from attempting to go and stop at the same time. Life, though, is not so simple. Whenever there is a conflict within the nearly myriad processes in our heads, many of which are unconscious, we, in effect, step on both pedals simultaneously. Neurofeedback, through analysis of brainwaves, detects the shuddering of the vehicle that can not stop and go at the same time. Neurofeedback brings the switch back within reach. By interrupting the effort underlying the conflicting forces, it asks, “Do you really want to drive with the emergency brake on?” And once you ride without the brake on for a while, you'll answer, by coasting away, effortlessly.

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