Mind Games - Electronic Meditation: tools or toys?
Sitting “like a Mountain” takes years of practice – are there technological meditation shortcuts?
I have always been intrigued with meditation. I wanted to learn and apply meditational techniques to boost my athletic performance. I have always been intrigued with hi-tech meditational devices. I began my technological explorations back in the 1970s when I was an enthused user of the 1st generation of biofeedback devices. Biofeedback uses electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain wave activity in relation to mental alertness and muscle tension. When using a biofeedback device, you would get “hooked up,” and have electrodes attached to your head with wires running to a control box. Mental activity creates frequencies that are measured and recorded.
Type frequency characteristics
Delta waves .01 to 3.9 HZ a deep dreamless sleep, baby’s sleep in Delta, not adults
Theta waves 4 to 7.9 HZ dreaming sleep, REM, Theta is the usual meditation HZ goal
Alpha waves 8 to 13.9 HZ relaxed daydreaming, being engrossed in a movie or book
Beta waves 14 to 30 HZ awake state, normal, engaged. activities and conversations
Gamma waves 31 + HZ hyper-alert, insightful, vibrant, vigilant
It occurred to me that hi-tech devices had the potential to take the subjectivity out of meditation. Why not hook up Zen priests, Taoist cave monks, Hindu yogis and Sufi mystics to biofeedback devices and find out the frequencies they frequent? What HZs do the heavyweights generate when in their deepest meditative states? Are there frequency commonalities between a 50-year Zen practitioner, a Roshi Priest, and an equally mature and adept Tibetan monk? Would one “reside lightly” in Theta while the other would “bliss out” in Gamma? I wanted to know.
My favorite book on the subject is Zen Meditation and Psychotherapy, by Tomio Hirai, M.D. Written in the 1980s, Dr. Tomio hooked up 98 Zen priests during a week-long intensive Zen Seshin. The monks sat 14 hours a day and maintained silence the rest of the time. They were hooked-up, monitored, and daily subjected to various tests once they settled into deep meditative Zen bliss-states. While the methods were comprehensive and the book fascinating, there were no profound results or mind-blowing conclusions.
I loved biofeedback – for a while. Over time, and with practice, for me, the biofeedback device devolved into just another video game. I got good at biofeedback. I could manipulate my HZs fairly consistently and accurately. While I might be able to hang out in the same brain wave zone as the mystics – other than feeling great after each session – there was no long-term positive effect. The post-session after-glow lasted for 30-60 minutes before ordinary consciousness reappeared.
Early biofeedback devices were cumbersome and required hooking electrodes to your head, often with some sort of greasy salve for better “conductivity.” Modern hi-tech biofeedback devices are clean and slick and a breeze to use in comparison: modern biofeedback devices are streamlined, a set of earphones, a curved device that contacts the skull. No need for electrodes and salves and multiple wires leading from the control device to your head.
Mental snowboarding: behold the modern biofeedback device; slick, svelte, expensive
I would be very curious to see how accurate these modern hi-tech electronic meditation devices are – compared to full-blown lab results. There is no way these off-the-shelf devices are as accurate as going to a laboratory and going through a biofeedback session in a million-dollar lab overseen by four scientists. How close does this modern over-the-counter stuff come when compared to lab results? I would be happy if they got within 5% of laboratory accuracy.
Early biofeedback crumbled and fell into disuse on account of the awkwardness, complexity of use, and the expense of the device. That, and the over-expectations of the users (me included) who expected device mastery would produce some sort of fabulous enlightenment experience, a transformative spiritual experience that would permanently change our personalities and lives. That did not happen.
We got good at controlling respiration, we got good at slowing the heart beat down and relaxing. We got good at attaining the differing frequencies. With lots of biofeedback practice time you could zero in on a particular frequency. Modulating between differing frequencies was like mental snowboarding. I always felt great after a biofeedback session. I cannot remember a single session where I did not feel mentally cleansed afterwards.
But! back then, in my ignorant youth, that was not enough.
No one experienced enlightenment, no one had their lives changed or their consciousness raised. No one was altered or changed in any way to any appreciable degree. Biofeedback fell on hard times.
I explored other Mind tools. I have been exposed to most of the latest cutting-edge hi-tech tools for brain-train and recovery on account of my professional relationships with the Tier 1 Spec Ops community. I have spent quite a bit of time at the top-secret Mind Gym used by the commandos operating out of Dams Neck, Virginia.
The Mind Gym is stuffed with every conceivable hi-tech device. The gym’s theme is mental sharpening and psychological recovery. The Mind Gym is about the restorative arts: heal the warrior physiologically and psychologically; attend to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Chill them out. Relieve tension. Exorcise negativity.
The Mind Gym is an arcade of hi-tech devices designed to improve or heal: they have reflex-amplifying electronic devices, sensory depravation float tanks, sound proof pods for chilling, electronic assessment devices that use leaping as a assessment benchmark, Cryro chambers simulate ice baths, there is a $200,000 table you lay on that with one scan it tells you your exact body fat percentile. A fulltime sport psychologist is on staff. It is a dizzying assortment of major and minor tools, all designed to mentally heal, recharge, and reinvigorate America’s greatest fighters.
This is the way I feel after a Nova Pro session, unfortunately it does not last. Like going to the carnival, at some point you must go home. Still, a Nova Pro session is a fabulous stressbuster.
One “mental recalibration” device that I have come to use often and enjoy every time I use it is the Photosonix Nova Pro 100. This device is designed to deposit you where you would like to land within the alpha-beta-theta-gamma-delta landscape. The Nova Pro system consists of a set of headphones through which sound patterns are pumped.
The soundtrack synchronized with an intense light show shown through goggles. You keep your eyes closed and relax mentally and physically. You need to surrender to what you are being bombarded with. This is virtual reality stuff. An audio and visual psychedelic trip designed to take you out of whatever headspace you find yourself in. Like a Ferrari mechanic tuning up a turbocharged 700-horsepower V-12, Nova Pro maneuvers your brain into a different frequency.
Using pulses of rhythmic sound and light, the Nova Pro alters your brainwave frequency so that you can better concentrate, relax, or (theoretically) reach a higher level of consciousness. 100 sessions are organized in 8 categories: relax, meditate, sleep, learn, energize, visualize, entertain and special. Choose the category that best fits your needs and select an individual session from the list. Additional sessions can be downloaded.
Sound is pumped through the headphones as vivid images are blasted through the Color Track Glasses. The glasses and headphones are interfaced with the Nova Pro 100 electronic central control unit. Call up a 5 to 40-minute Nova Pro session: it is an acid-trip light show synced with an unpredictable alien soundtrack.
A Nova Pro sessions transports and transforms my headspace every time I use it. I always feel better afterwards, like my brain has been dry cleaned or run through a carwash. I get the similar feeling after body-searing steam baths alternated with ice cold showers. The Nova Pro is, for me, a mental steam bath.
I can do a Nova Pro meditation session sitting in an easy chair, on the floor on my zafu in formal Zazen posture. I can sit in my hardbacked rocking chair. I can lie down. You push buttons on the Nova Pro console to dial in session length, type of session, color selection, soundtrack selection, frequency selection. Then down the psychological rabbit hole you go…
Want to dial up Delta? Dial in blue #13 and blue is sent through the glasses. Theta? Aqua is the color you want. Alpha? You need to be bombarded with green. Gamma? Magenta. The Nova Pro has 21 color possibilities.
The Nova Pro meditation system includes a pair of excellent headphones used to pump sounds into your ears. You can elect to use their electronic space-sounds soundtracks (the soundtrack varies with each of the eight programs selected) or you can pump in your own music.
The soundtrack that accompanies the visions seen through the glasses are NOT musical or comforting, the Nova Pro soundtracks are jarring, odd, yet perfectly synchronized with the kaleidoscope of beautiful light patterns pumped through your eyes. You keep your eyes closed; yet the color pattern images are so strong they pass through your closed eyelids. Visual is coordinated with the electronic buzz-saw soundtrack.
I look forward to my Nova Pro sessions. I have everything laid out on a little table I can pick up a move around: headphones, glasses, Nova Pro control box and the instruction manuals. I can control session length and color: yesterday I dialed up green #7 for 15-minutes before training. Today, I used setting #21, right eye bombarded with blue while the left eye is bombarded with green.
Detractors could rightfully call the Nova Pro meditation device an expensive toy. For me, each session delivers a beatific afterglow. What was once not enough now is more than enough. Detractors could rightfully say, “how is a Nova Pro session any different from a carnival ride??” To which I would say, if I could have “the whip” or bumper cars in my living room, I would. Till then a Nova Pro session will do. I no longer long for enlightenment – the predictable afterglow, that state of blissful centeredness that predictably occurs after a Nova Pro meditation session, is more than enough to keep me coming back for more.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.