Consciousness Tools for the New Millennium
The Earth Channel (EC) interviews nationally recognized biofeedback researcher and expert, A. Martin Wuttke (AMW).
EC: Today, we have the pleasure of visiting with Mr. A. Martin Wuttke, internationally known biofeedback expert. Marty is the president of the Georgia AAPB (which stands for e Georgia Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback) as well as the founder/Director of the Southern Institute of Applied Psychophysiology, Inc. Biofeedback has made a tremendous gain in social acceptance in the last few years and much of this is due to new technology. Mr. Wuttke has been involved in biofeedback for many years and has agreed to share some information with us today. Marty could you briefly describe to our listeners and readers what biofeedback is and how it has been historically used over the years?
AMW: Well essentially, the key to what biofeedback is and what it means is in the word itself. Any biological mechanism that can be 'fed back' to our awareness, will allow us to eventually learn to gain control over that particular mechanism, whether it is muscle tension, skin temperature, heart rate, perspiration or brain wave activity. If we can become aware of a physiologic mechanism reflected through a computer and actually see the signal on the screen or hear the signal audibly, we will learn how to control that signal and therefore control that physical mechanism. Historically, biofeedback has been used for several decades. Some of the original work was principally with EMG biofeedback in two areas. One, just simply learning how to relax spastic muscles and muscles that were hyper-tense and two, something called neuromuscular re-education as applied to rehabilitate muscle that has been damaged and lost tone. For that type of biofeedback, the computer could actually serve as another nervous system, so the person could learn how to strengthen and rehabilitate damaged muscle.
EC: What does EMG stand for?
AMW:EMG stands for Electromyography and in regard to this type of biofeedback, it is non-invasive. When most people hear EMG or EMG studies, they are reminded of the EMG that a neurologist might use where they actually put needles in the muscles. EMG Biofeedback just uses electrodes that are placed on the surface of the skin and sense the muscle tension. It is sometimes referred to as "Surface EMG Biofeedback". The electrodes transmit levels of muscle tension back to a computer where it is analyzed and fed back to the individual. Then, there is EEG biofeedback, which stands for Electroencephalograph, which literally measures the brains electrical activity. Again, the same type of sensors is used ... just placed on the scalp in appropriate areas. The computer analyzes the brain wave activity, amplifies it and feeds it back to the individual. There have been a variety of modalities and treatments that have evolved over the years. Skin temperature biofeedback, for instance, has been used for problems like Migraine headache and Raynauds phenomena. Raynauds is a disease where the hands and feet are chronically cold due to lack of blood flow. You can actually learn how to raise the skin temperature in the fingertips and in the feet by attaching a little temperature sensor. There is heart rate biofeedback which has its applications for stress management and cardiac problems ... even types of biofeedback that will give blood pressure signals back to the individual. This has been found to be very beneficial for hypertension.
EC: So people have used biofeedback over the years to control what would normally be considered uncontrollable aspects of human physiology.
AMW: Exactly. Biofeedback gives us access to the involuntary or autonomic nervous system. It is that portion of the peripheral nervous system we once thought was totally out of our control. Now we know, through this technology, that almost anything that we can measure, in terms of mechanisms that are happening inside the body, and can feedback to you, can ultimately be controlled.
EC: I suppose that mystics and yogis have used the process of controlling these aspects of physiology, for centuries. We have heard over the years that there have been certain spiritually advanced folks on the planet that could slow or stop their heart rate or reduce their breathing to a negligible amount for long periods of time. I recall reading several reports about that over the years.
AMW: Sure. I think we are just rediscovering and bringing some very powerful principles and tools that have been part of ancient traditions and spiritual teachings forward with modern technology. By combining these principles with modern technology we are able to facilitate rapid change in individuals and effectively treat a broad range of physical and psychological disorders. The yogis who are known to be able to exhibit almost supernormal control over their physiology spend years learning how to do that. For instance, Swami Rama was among the first to be studied in the United States at the Menninger Institute in Topeka, KS. He participated in several studies where he found that with just a few minutes of feedback on the computers, he could demonstrate remarkable control. He was able to fibrillate his heart and essentially stop his heart for several seconds. He could also alter the surface temperature across the palm of his hand by approximately 10 degrees F. In other words, on the left side of his palm the temperature would be 80 degrees and on the right side the temperature would be as high as 90 degrees. He could do this at will. He could also demonstrate remarkable control over his brain wave activity. He could go into a predominantly Delta rhythm within minutes, hold that state and then come out at will. Of course, he spent decades in training learning how to do that. From those experiments came the realization that by using this equipment and technology, we could teach the average person how to do the same type of thing in a much shorter period of time.
EC: How did you get involved with this biofeedback practice?
AMW: I was originally doing clinical hypnosis and found we could provide our patients with a good degree of relief from physical problems. I started to work with addictions; drug addictions, alcoholism and psychiatric disorders at a large psychiatric hospital in North Georgia. I started using a lot of meditation and relaxation techniques with my patients and observed remarkable results with all the people we were treating. Then, being curious and wanting to take things always a step further, I started to use biofeedback equipment early on in my career. As I mentioned, we could accelerate many of the changes that we were trying to bring about through the relaxation techniques and meditation. We saw people respond rapidly in very short periods of time ... getting significant relief from all types of chronic pain and emotional, behavioral and psychological symptoms, as well. We observed patients, and I guess this is why the ancient traditions used some of these techniques to gain control over their bodies, actions and reactions ... they began to evolve in a different way. Going deeper within themselves, they discover some interesting aspects. In other words, they go beyond the idea that their bodies are out of control and realize that their emotions, thoughts and intentions are a force that produce changes in their bodies and therefore, their bodies are an extension of their minds. We would see patients begin to transform and unfold spiritually as they developed and went through the process of biofeedback. And again I think that is why many of the spiritual traditions taught techniques of mind-body mastery as a preliminary process for spiritual unfoldment. Learning to calm the emotions, quiet the mind, and control the distractions that the body produces was part of the self-discipline so that the spiritual aspirant could conserve and devote his energies to contemplation and meditation.
EC: You mentioned earlier that Swami Rama had the capability of changing his brain wave states and could achieve Delta. I know that there are different brain wave frequencies that relate to different mental states, could you describe these for us?
AMW: These are called bandwidths. They are named after letters of the Greek alphabet. Delta is the slowest frequency of brain wave activity. Frequency is a measurement of the oscillations, or the cycles per second, of the brain waves. This electrical activity is hypothesized to emerge from vast aggregates of neurons as they communicate and process information. The source of this activity is considered to be the postsynaptic changes in electrical potential along the membrane of the dendrites. Delta is the slowest brain wave and is measured from .5 to about 4 cycles per second. Delta is only seen in the adult EEG in the deep sleep state that occurs within the first two hours of the sleep cycle. If it is seen in the waking state in an adult, it could indicate some type of abnormality.
EC: You said that Delta is normally only found in deep sleep, is that something we all go through every night or is that a more rare occurrence?
AMW: Ideally, we all go through the Delta sleep stage. Delta is where the real restorative mechanisms occur in that first two hours of sleep and (delta) is absolutely essential for that restoration to occur. If Delta is blocked, you can lay in bed for 12 hours and not feel like you had a good night’s rest. If someone drinks too much alcohol and goes to sleep, they will feel more tired when they wake up than before they went to bed. Alcohol effectively blocks Delta sleep ... so do several other drugs, caffeine included. Delta sleep is absolutely essential for the restorative process to occur. That brings to mind an important point. Swami Rama and many yogis do this ... consciously go into Delta for two to three hours a night and that is all the rest and sleep that they need. The technique is called "Yoga Nidra". Loosely translated it means "sleepless sleep" defining a state of consciousness where the mind is awake, completely still and observant while the body is essentially asleep.
EC: So you are saying that by staying in the Delta state for as little as 2 hours, you will feel as rested as if you slept for 6, 8 or even 10 hours a night?
AMW: Well that is a possibility... but for the average person we do know that the additional 4-6 hours spent going in and out of the other sleep cycles are also essential for the processing and storing of information from our waking activities. Perhaps in persons who have evolved and learned how to process the daily accumulation of mental and emotional information, the other sleep cycles are not necessary.
The next brainwave bandwidth is Theta. Theta occurs between 4 and 8 cycles per second. Theta in the adult EEG can indicate drowsiness, it-can also indicate some abnormalities. Sometimes people with head injuries will show excessive Theta activity either at the site of the injury or other areas of the brain. Theta has also been found to be outside the norm in some children with ADD and ADHD and sometimes in children with learning disabilities.
EC: What does ADD and ADHD stand for?
AMW: ADD is Attention Deficit Disorder. ADHD is Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder. There has been some research using topographic brain mapping which is like taking a picture of all the electrical activity that is occurring in the brain. Some of that research has indicated that Theta tends to be excessive for the age groups of children with those disorders. Similar findings with some distinctions are found in adults. We train children (and adults) with these diagnosis to inhibit excessive Theta activity and to enhance Beta, which, when successful, alleviates many of the attention, behavioral and cognitive problems associated with these disorders. This protocol is also used with people who have had brain injury, stroke and certain types of depression. It may take as many as forty to sixty sessions but I think most people agree that the results are worth the effort.
EC: Is it correct that ADD and ADHD have apparently become quite prevalent in grade school children?
AMW: Yes. Roughly 6 percent of children. It tends to occur more in males. Here in Georgia as many as 10 percent of children are on medication for ADD so there is some concern that parents and/or educators may be looking for a "quick fix".
EC: And some correlation has been found between brainwaves and these disorders?
AMW: Yes. There seems to be, however, there are also many other theories and, therefore, more research needs to be done. There is a good paper on quantitative EEG analysis that definitely shows some relationship. The brain is maturing all the way up until 19 or 20 years old and some Theta in the EEG is considered to be quite normal. However, with these children there tends to be an excessive amount of Theta. It is quite interesting, as the brain matures you see the frequencies gradually working their way up to a peak frequency of Alpha rhythm at 10 to 11 Hertz by late adolescence-early adulthood. It stays there until 60 or 65 years old and then actually starts to back down in frequency as we get older.
EC: What other psychological characteristics are related to Theta?
AMW: Theta can be associated with day dreaming, drowsiness and what we call in "street terms", spacing out. When you are talking with someone and you see their eyes glaze over, and they go off for a moment or two, if they are not having what is called an absence seizure, they may be going into Theta. Of course, blood sugar levels have a lot to do with Theta production as well. This may sound odd, but there is good Theta and bad Theta. We also know that Theta is associated with creative insight that can occur in the Reverie State. Have you heard the story of how Albert Einstein first glimpsed the theory of relativity? It wasn't while he was looking through textbooks or intellectually dissecting mathematical formulas. He was doing some creative imagery and day dreaming and visualized himself riding on a beam of light across the universe and imagined what the universe would look like. Theta can be a source of deep knowledge, profound inner peace and intuition that apparently lies resident deep within our consciousness.
EC: Is this a source of inspiration?
AMW: I believe it is. I mentioned before that Theta could be associated with drowsiness and day dreaming. However, meditators tend to produce a lot of Theta at a particular stage in their meditation. It has been well documented and proven that it isn't drowsiness. In these instances, theta seems to be associated with that extremely quiet state of being where the meditator is simply listening, watching ... not actively thinking, but observing so that awareness is actually heightened. There also seems to be other frequencies present in harmonic relationship to the Theta as well as greater coherence along the entire frequency spectrum of the EEG in advanced meditators.
EC: So Theta is an important frequency for those who are seeking to discover their internal workings.
AMW: Certainly, but it may be a brain wave frequency that is a couple of steps up the ladder. Some people actually have to develop their ability to concentrate before they can start to go into Theta states. Simply because Theta states can bring up a lot of unconscious material, what we call reverie and hypnagogic material, that if the person is not adept at concentration, objectivity and focusing, they tend to become swept away with some of that unconscious reverie material. Flashbacks and other uncomfortable experiences can occur in persons who have had negative, or perhaps traumatic events in their lives. This also goes back to some of the spiritual traditions where we find concentration taught prior to deep meditative practice. In Patanjali's The Eight Limbs of Yoga, we notice that before meditation and contemplation, sense-withdrawal and concentration exercises are advised. It is interesting that we are finding the same thing with this technology. Theta is very important but, what may be more important before a person can go into those deeper Theta stages is learning how to focus and concentrate and to maintain a state of control and objectivity.
The next bandwidth is Alpha. The mental state of Alpha is similar to putting the clutch in before shifting the gears; it is just sort of a holding pattern. Approximately Ninety-five percent of the population has a peak Alpha frequency with eyes closed and that is considered very normal. Alpha predominance essentially represents a brain that is quiet and at rest. An important point is that Alpha ranges from 8 to 12 cycles per second. There is some research that shows a difference in the mental activity of; let's say, 8 cycles per second Alpha and 12 cycles per second Alpha. In other words, you can do some focused thinking at 12 cycles per second Alpha, that you can't do at 8 cycles per second Alpha. We are finding that the bandwidths are actually very broad and are used to identify the morphology, that is, the shape of the waves. Specific frequencies within those bandwidths may correlate with slightly different mental activity.
EC: The bandwidths were described several years ago before the equipment was as sophisticated as it is today. These specific frequencies were lumped into the bandwidths due to gross changes as opposed to subtle changes, is that correct?
AMW: Yes and as I mentioned the waves in the respective bandwidths have particular morphology that distinguishes them from one another. EEG bandwidths were first identified by a German Neuropsychiatrist named Hans Berger back in 1929.
EC: So biofeedback has been around a long time?
AMW: No. Actually, EEG has been around a long time. Biofeedback in general and brainwave biofeedback are more recently developed tools.
EC: How would you describe Alpha?
AMW: Alpha is a relaxed, but alert state. It is the state before drowsiness, Just about everyone makes Alpha with eyes closed. Once the eyes close and the visual pathways to the brain stop processing visual input, the mind immediately starts to quiet. There have been some other Alpha types identified. There are some people that do not have a lot of Alpha for a variety of reasons. There are also those people that have Alpha with eyes open, as well as eyes closed. There is an interesting correlation with those individuals, in that they tend to be hyper-suggestible and make extremely good hypnotic subjects. Also of interest is the fact that Alpha tends to be predominate in the posterior regions of the brain.
EC: Do different areas of the brain generate different frequencies?
AMW: Yes. If you were to look at a topographic brain map, which is a color picture of the activity that is occurring in the brain, you would see centimeter by centimeter differences in frequencies occurring. We have to remember that there are approximately 50 billion neurons in the human brain. The communication and processing activity between all of those neurons is reflected by this electrical activity that we are measuring on the surface of the scalp. Various parts of the brain have various functions, from moving muscles to interpreting sensory input and associating all the sensory input that comes in and then, acting on that input. There is a vast array of processes that must occur in each area of the brain and we are only just beginning to uncover the incredibly intricate networks of communication.
EC: When you measure the brain wave activity, are you are actually averaging all of the activity over the whole brain?
AMW: Not exactly. You are more or less measuring the difference in electrical potential between two sites on the surface of the scalp. There are many factors that go in to the production of the electrical activity being recorded. There are deeper structures within the brain that act as electrical pacemakers and large current shifts that occur within the cortex, just to name a few, that influence this activity at the surface. There are a variety of frequencies occurring most of the time, except for perhaps Delta. We typically go to a specific site on the brain and measure the predominate frequency at that site.
EC: We have talked about Theta, Delta and Alpha waves, but there is another that we have not talked about.
AMW: Yes that's right. There is Beta. This is anywhere from 13 cycles per second all the way on up to over 32 cycles per second. This is where things get very interesting. Low frequency Beta, between 13 and 15 cycles per second, has also been referred to as "sensory motor rhythm" and it seems to be a very important rhythm. It has the ability to organize the brain in terms of biofeedback. It is being used for ADD and learning disabilities, as well as a variety of emotional problems, and for peak performance models. It has to do with the coordination of many areas of the brain. When we do 14 hertz training, sometimes we put the electrodes at a very specific site, almost right on top of the head. This is called the supplementary motor area, which contains a crude neuronal representation of the entire body and is about the size of a half-dollar. By teaching that area to make more low frequency Beta activity, it actually effects many pathways within the brain in many different ways. We have found that people who practice a lot of hatha yoga, the stretching and moving stage of yoga, have naturally developed a lot of that particular activity. It is very restorative to the brain. We use it often for sleep disorders. From 15 hertz on up, we speed up in frequency so the brain becomes more focused, more concentrated ... up to about 20 hertz. From 20 hertz on, too much Beta activity can backfire. What starts to happen is that there is too much activity, too much electrical noise occurring in the brain. You actually see functioning, organizational and concentration abilities start to deteriorate from there on, with the exception of 40 hertz. However, some researchers are now looking at extremely high frequencies of Beta ... going from the 100 cycle per second range, all the way up to the 120-hertz range in specific areas of the brain ... primarily the temporal areas, which are on the sides of the head. They are looking at those frequencies because they suspect there is a correlation between those very high frequencies and psychic abilities, as well as advanced levels of meditation where the meditator experiences a dramatic shift in consciousness known as transcendence. I must also mention again, the relationship of harmonic frequencies across the entire frequency spectrum. In other words you might see predominance among several frequencies at the same time, as if they were all resonating with one another. This is a fascinating subject unto itself with incredible potential; however, we really don't have the time to delve into it in this forum.
EC: For most people then, could we say that Beta above 20 cycles per second might be considered nervous energy?
AMW: Yes it can be, but you must look at the person. When Beta gets very high, attention can become disorderly, moving more towards nervousness.
EC: Obviously, there is a lot more that needs to be done to figure out what is going on inside our heads. You have had many years of research with many different types of personalities. How have you seen people benefit from the biofeedback process?
AMW: The most remarkable thing we have seen is that we can almost fine-tune a person's brain through the process. Many people are in the state of hypo-arousal where areas of their brains are literally not active enough. With brainwave biofeedback, we can localize specific areas in the brain and teach a person how to activate various pathways in the brain and increase their abilities to concentrate, focus and to learn. We even see short-term memory and other physical problems being effected by the ability to wake the brain up. This is very useful for patients with depression or some kind of problem associated with a lack of motivation. Then, on the other hand, there are those people who are hyper-aroused, the typical "type A personality", who can't slow down and are always moving, and get the physical and emotional problems that are associated with that personality type. By using the brainwave feedback we can teach them how to slow things down so the brain can reorganize itself and quiet all the systems. An important point about the central nervous system's function is that it is the mediator of all the other systems of the body. By affecting the brain, down the line, we are also affecting all of these other systems as well. This includes the immune system, cardiac and circulatory system, the endocrine system, etc.
EC: So by using biofeedback, you can literally fine-tune the brain to control many aspects of your personality and physiology.
AMW: Exactly, because behavior, personality and to a degree, physiology, are reflections of the activity of the brain.
EC: I know that many of our listeners are always looking for ways to fine tune their skills and accelerate their personal growth. I understand that there have been some indications that through the use of biofeedback, one can perhaps achieve deeper meditative states in a more rapid manner. Is that correct?
AMW: Most definitely. I do have to say one thing about meditation, it is not a static process, and it is a dynamic one. When you hook a meditator up using 24 sensors on the scalp ... then watch the brain as the meditator goes through the process of meditation over a half an hour to an hour, you see that it is really a river that is flowing and constantly changing within that time period. There is a predominance of certain rhythms at certain times. So again, meditation is not just one thing. What we have found with brainwave biofeedback is that we were not just training for deeper states. We may have to train for more concentration ... more heightened activity in a certain part of the brain and then, eventually on down the line move toward deeper states.
EC: So the key is control as opposed to one particular set of frequencies.
AMW: Control and flexibility. Flexibility is an important issue here. Sometimes the brain is stuck in a pattern and the pattern can be there for a variety of reasons. It may be defensive and instead of being adaptive (which the original response was intended to be) the response has become maladaptive. We've observed this a lot with post-traumatic stress disorder. This is most known to occur with people that have been traumatized by one or more events. There is usually a very specific brain wave pattern that you will see in these people that keeps them stuck in a particular reaction pattern, sometimes referred to as the "fight or flight" response ... a constant be-on-the-alert mode. Many times what we may do is use the feedback to push a person out of those modes so they start to develop more flexibility. We may also use low level photic stimulation to evoke changes in the EEG pattern and gently facilitate the breaking-up of these "locked-in" patterns. Photic stimulation is a very powerful and useful tool, especially when used in conjunction with brainwave biofeedback.
EC: Is there the potential for dramatic psychological change?
AMW: Absolutely, the break throughs are huge and a lot of psychologists and counselors are using this technology now. They are just astounded when they see patients making extremely rapid progress, especially those that have been stuck in particular areas.
EC: You mentioned early the concept of peak performance. How does this relate to the current research being done?
AMW: When we talk about peak performance, most people think of athletic ability. Some athletes have even identified a state that has been dubbed, " the zone". It is a tangible mental/emotional/physical state. They know that when they are in that state, they are at their peak level of performance. Many of us experience degrees of this and certainly, we all have that potential. The interesting thing about the "zone" is that it is associated with brainwave flexibility and with certain brainwave states. Teaching the brain to achieve its peak level of performance in terms of flexibly and control requires knowing when to have the brain activated and when to have the brain quieted. This essentially is the foundation for peak performance. And this does not just apply to peak performance for athletes but has obvious applicability to every area of a person's life from job performance to relationships, etc. The better the brain can function ... the more flexible it is ... the more states we can enter at will, the greater will be our fulfillment.
EC: What do you see in the near and distance future for brainwave biofeedback?
AMW: I think the future of brainwave biofeedback will be getting very specific in terms of feedback and localizing specific areas of the brain, with more and more fine tuning to where we get exact in terms of what we can teach the brain to make more of and then what to inhibit. The brain may need more of one frequency and less of another. As the technology improves, I think we can make it more entertaining. Within the next few months, I think we will see some home trainer biofeedback software and hardware that will be on the market for a very low cost. I know of a few people that are working on them right now. Also, I mentioned this earlier, we will start seeing more combinations of feedback. The heart-breath-brain connection is of particular importance and the results we’ve already demonstrated when we combine these modes have been astonishing.
EC: How long does a session last?
AMW: A total session, including hook up, lasts about 1 hour. Actual time on the computer averages between 30 and 45 minutes.
EC: How many sessions can one expect to have before experiencing a change?
AMW: Some people will notice change within the first 6 sessions. But remember, it is training. You are actually learning a skill and that requires a good bit of time and patience. It generally takes 30 to 40 sessions to become adept and achieve a level where those changes will be permanent and continue to increase over time. I mentioned earlier that with children, we might go as high as 60 sessions to get results.
EC: It sounds like biofeedback is an aspect of technology that we will be seeing much more of over the next few years.
AMW: Absolutely. I must say, also, that it is not a panacea or a magic bullet. It is a complimentary tool that when combined with the appropriate interventions and clinical skills, produces powerful results.
EC: We should mention that the sensors are placed on our scalp and fed into a computer and that they only measure brainwaves. They can not and do not read our thoughts.
AMW: Absolutely not. They can not tell "what" a person is thinking, however, in some instances we can tell "how" a person is thinking in terms of emotional content.
EC: Thank you Marty for your time today. For those of you that are interested in biofeedback, you can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any specific questions you would like to have addressed, email us or you can email Marty directly at email@example.com or call the Center for Neuro-Transformation 770-649-5321.