- Your brain has electricity running through it all the time. Electrical signals work with chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and so on) to influence how you experience the world. The pattern of electricity your brain generates is called a brain wave. There are a few different kinds.
- Alpha brain waves are the brain waves Zen monks produce, and also the brain waves you make when you’re in a flow state. They lead to a deep feeling of peace and enhance creativity and productivity.
- You can train your brain to make more alpha brain waves and teach yourself to shift into an alpha state at will. Neurofeedback, meditation, binaural beats, and more all increase your alpha brain waves.
What does the brain of a lifelong Zen monk look like?
It’s an interesting question, and it turns out there’s an answer. In 1966, two Japanese neuroscientists, Kasamatsu and Hirai, packed up their brain-scanning equipment and hiked to a Zen monastery in the mountains of Japan, intent on finding out what happens in the head of a monk.
Kasamatsu and Hirai quickly discovered that monks have unusual brains. They asked the monastery’s master to rank his students by their spiritual advancement. They then measured the electrical activity of each monk’s brain while the monk was at rest. A clear pattern emerged: the more advanced the monk, the more of a specific type electrical pattern he produced. These patterns, called alpha brain waves, linked tightly to the monk’s spiritual advancement and feelings of inner peace.
Kasamatsu and Hira’s discovery sparked a new field of scientific research. Now, 50 years later, we know quite a bit about the benefits alpha brain waves, and how you can increase them.
Increasing alpha is a powerful biohack
Training my brain to make more alpha is the number one most impactful biohack that I have done in my entire life. That’s saying something, because I’ve spent more than a million dollars on personal upgrades and hacking my biology.
Enhancing your alpha is like a permanent level-up for your brain. It affects your creativity, happiness, emotional stability, productivity, relationships, and far more. This article will cover what happens when you boost your alpha waves, and how you can increase them.
What are brain waves?
Your brain has electricity running through it all the time. Electrical signals work with chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and so on) to create your experience of the world.
You can measure your brain’s electrical activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG). If you do, you’ll notice waves of electricity that travel across your brain in a regular, repeating pattern. These are brain waves, and they have a huge impact on how you think and feel. There are a few different types of brainwaves, each with different effects:
- Beta waves mediate attention and sometimes produce anxiety.
- Theta waves rise during drowsiness and daydreaming. They can also increase your sense of connectedness with people around you.
- Delta waves increase during restorative sleep.
Then there are alpha waves. Alpha waves give you a feeling of deep calm, coupled with productivity, creativity, and effortless focus. Let’s take a closer look at them.
The benefits of alpha brain waves
If you’ve ever been in a flow state — where you’ve lost your sense of time and self and become extraordinarily productive — you’ve experienced a burst of alpha. High alpha does a few different things for you:
- Eases anxiety
- Lowers depression
- Boosts creativity
- Increases pain tolerance
- Boosts resilience to stress
Basically, high alpha makes you a calmer, happier, less reactive, more creative and productive person. Increasing my alpha brain waves is the key to me functioning as a CEO; it’s that important.
How to increase your alpha brain waves
The cool thing about alpha is that you can permanently increase it, and permanently instill the benefits that come alongside increased alpha.. Here’s how to permanently increase alpha:
Neurofeedback is so powerful that it prompted me to start a company, 40 Years of Zen, dedicated entirely to boosting alpha through neurofeedback. The company’s name comes from its results: after a 5-day session, your alpha levels resemble those of a 40-year Zen monk’s. Neurofeedback is by far the fastest way to increase your alpha. It allows you to listen to your own brain waves in real time and teaches you to change them at will.
This is the old-school version of neurofeedback. The sense of inner calm and focus you get from meditation is thanks to increased alpha brain waves. I talk about meditation in my book “Game Changers: What Leaders, Innovators, and Mavericks Do to Win at Life”; it’s one of the most common habits of high performers. If you’ve never meditated before, try the Bulletproof 30-Day Meditation Challenge to get started. Even five minutes a day will make a big change in your performance.
Gratitude plus forgiveness
Forgiveness and gratitude are two powerful ways to boost your alpha, and they’re even more powerful when you combine them. You can carry around a lot of unconscious stress from trauma in your past. Combining gratitude with forgiveness can help you process the trauma and let it go, permanently increasing your alpha in the process. Try this: write down something that hurt you, and write down exactly how it made you feel. Close your eyes and feel the painful emotion for a few minutes. Then find a way the situation that caused it benefited you or shaped you into who you are today, feel gratitude for the people who hurt you, and forgive them.
You can use specially designed music that uses the vibration of different frequencies to sink your brain into an alpha state. Binaural beats let you “tune” your brain to any type of brain wave. Check out this guide to binaural beats, complete with a playlist.
Blue light blocking glasses
Blue light (like the light from electronics and LEDs) is the junk food of the light world. It sabotages your sleep and stresses your brain, and you’ll feel a big difference in your day-to-day life if you replace it with better light. This is one of the reasons I made TrueDark glasses. They block 99% of blue light, which causes your alpha to increase immediately. You can see how blocking blue light increases alpha on the left side of the graph below:
It’s worth your time to train your brain to make more alpha brain waves. Use one or all of the above hacks every day; after a week or so, you’ll see a meaningful difference in how you think and feel.