The Brain & Brainwaves

The brain is the center of our central nervous system.  It is a sophisticated command and control center that is responsible for controlling all the other systems in the body.  It receives and processes information from your body and the environment. It enables you to process and store information and formulate appropriate responses, much of it without your conscious awareness.  This is all made possible by a vast and wonderful neural network. An average human brain has 100 billion neurons and many trillions of synapses.  Neurons communicate with each other using electrical signals.  The electrical signals emanating from the brain are measured as brainwaves.  The frequencies of the brainwaves tell us a lot about the state of the brain at a given moment.

Brainwaves are categorized based on the frequency of the wave, which are measured in cycles per second (hertz or Hz).  1 Hz (or 1 times a second) is a very big slow wave as far as the brain is concerned, and 40 Hz is a very fast small wave. Researchers have, in the past, grouped some of these waves together and given them names based on which were discovered first. Some of the traditional groupings would be disputed today, now that we can obtain very precise digital data compared with that obtained from old analogue equipment, but the types of waves are still often discussed according to these names:

  • If we start at the bottom, the biggest slow waves of 1 and 2 Hz are called Delta, and these are dominant in a person who is sleeping.
  • Then comes Theta. There is “good” Theta” and “bad” Theta. “Bad” Theta pulses predominantly at 3Hz and 5Hz, and can carry emotional and cognitive reactivity. Old traumas can be carried here. But “good” Theta, or 7 Hz, brings with it tremendous healing and sometimes wonderful realizations.
  • Alpha is 8-13 Hz (these numbers do vary a little depending upon the researcher and the equipment they are using), and is present particularly when you relax with eyes closed. It can bring with it a feeling of well-being and peacefulness. SMR is 14 Hz or sensory motor rhythm. We call it the “cat frequency”, because cats produce a lot of it when sitting very still with their eyes closed. But if something (like a little mouse) were to cross in front of them, they would be on it in a flash. It’s a state of great physical stillness, with awareness of what is going on both in your body and around you, but not having any thoughts about it.
  • Beta, on the other hand (15-18 Hz), is very focused narrow attention. Unfortunately, it is also the “stress response”, so it can feel very uncomfortable if the patient is trained to increase beta, as most approaches do. It is not a frequency that is used in NeurOptimal any longer. There are other frequencies that give you all the focus and attention and other benefits without the unpleasant side effects. There are many other, higher frequencies that are worked with in NeurOptimal, but those four categories are the most well known. 

How Does NeurOptimal Work?

The various things we do during a normal day require different levels of consciousness and awareness. Your brain needs tremendous flexibility to shift from one “mode” to another. The heightened state of awareness necessary to complete a work task is obviously not the best state for sleep. That’s why brain flexibility is so important.

NeurOptimal is essentially a brain workout. It trains your brain to be more flexible and resilient. Without pushing it in any specific direction, the NeurOptimal system interacts with your central nervous system in a way that improves neural plasticity. A mind that is more flexible adapts and responds quicker and more appropriately to changes in your environment.  The more easily your brain adjusts to changes encountered in a normal busy day, the better you feel.

NeurOptimal can also help build brain resilience, or an increase in the central nervous system’s ability to “bounce back” from a negative event.  Negative feelings associated with a personal conflict or bad day at work can hover hours after the actual event has passed. The destructive effect of nervousness, repetitive, or self-critical thinking is magnified in more severe events such as physical or emotional trauma or the loss of a loved one. Instead of staying stuck in the negativity of these events, the resilient brain will snap back and return to its normal baseline more quickly. Individuals with a more resilient brain report feeling happier and enjoying a more profound sense of peace.

NeurOptimal is designed to work with the brain as an information-detection system. By simply giving the brain information about its own activity — about what it has just done— NeurOptimal helps the brain re-organize itself, thereby activating its own intrinsic healing wisdom. NeurOptimal monitors your brainwaves and alerts your central nervous system when it is not functioning smoothly. When brain activity shows signs of turbulence, the music within the NeurOptimal software is momentarily interrupted. This subtle cue alerts your brain that it is operating inefficiently.  With repeated training sessions, the brain learns to “reset” itself and function more smoothly.  All of this learning is non-invasive and happens outside your conscious awareness. Over time, NeurOptimal adjusts itself automatically in response to your brain’s activity, individualizing the training microsecond by microsecond to your own brain’s functioning.

Sound simple?  That’s because it is simple.  The true complexity of the neurofeedback training is embedded in the NeurOptimal software.  NeurOptimal has so many features that describing them adequately — including their value to you as a user, is a daunting task. It can get very technical. What we are doing here is presenting a non-technical overview of some of the most major features:

NeurOptimal is an Information-Based Technology
The most over-arching feature of NeurOptimal is that it has been designed from the ground up to work with the brain as a non-linear dynamical system (we call this “dynamical neurofeedback”). As the brain itself is a non-linear system, interacting with it in a non-linear dynamical way is a perfect match— like talking to the brain in its own language. No more diagnosis or treatment planning! Instead, NeurOptimal more elegantly and “simply” offers the brain the information it needs to organize and re-organize itself.  Presented with the right information, the brain can become more flexible and resilient, which results in a better quality of life for the patient.

Incredible Ease of Use
Although non-linear dynamical theory and its application can be complex and involved, NeurOptimal is incredibly simple to operate. NeurOptimal provides the information the brain needs moment by moment while the difficulty level automatically adjusts itself (we call this “auto-nav”) based on the brain’s behavior each micro-second. Individual sessions require no up-front planning on the part of the patient.

The Elegance of Working with Instabilities
NeurOptimal works with brain instabilities, not amplitudes or any other linear measures used by older-style neurofeedback systems. As the brain starts to move into an instability in a particular frequency range (we call these “targets”), the sound pauses very briefly. The brain immediately brings itself “back to the present” (this is not a conscious process and you don’t “try” to do it – you can just sit and relax and close your eyes if you want and your brain responds). Over time, the brain learns to maneuver around instabilities— instead of just falling into them— resulting in increased flexibility and resilience. Because we work with instabilities and how the brain responds to those instabilities, muscle movement and other sources of “artifact” are far less of an issue than when running older-style systems, making effective training much easier.

Permissive Non-Directive Healing Stance
NeurOptimal doesn’t “push” the brain by telling it what it needs to do. NeurOptimal provides information to the patient’s brain about its own activity— that is all. The brain then does its own reorganizing. While it is true you can sometimes get dramatic effects by pushing the brain in a particular way as other systems do, it is also very possible that you can push the brain into a de-stabilized state, resulting in unpleasant side effects. NeurOptimal is designed differently. Simply giving the brain information rather than telling it what to do results in powerful shifts in a positive direction for the patient, gently and easily.

Real-time JTFA
NeurOptimal works with real-time Joint Time Frequency Analysis (JTFA) in a special way that accurately and precisely captures the “event-structure” of our brainwaves. This is state-of-the-art and no other brain training system has this capability even if they claim to be “non-linear”. With superior precision, unmatched in the industry, NeurOptimal’s sampling rate of 256 samples per second is coupled with incredible precision of filtering, targeting and triggering of feedback. The data of other systems, (you can import their data and look at it in NeurOptimal) looks incredibly “smeary” in comparison, when viewed through the sharp eye of NeurOptimal.

Information-Rich Matrix for the Brain
NeurOptimal works with sixteen different targets (filter sets) throughout the range of 0.001 – 64 Hertz. This means broad-based patient transformation across the board— no chipping away at patient challenges with a limited toolbox, as with older style systems. The high-precision technology under the hood, combined with its non-invasive mechanism of action, is why Natural Balance Brain Health has invested in the NeurOptimal equipment and software for our patients.