Your Brain and NeurOptimal®

“I think the thing I most appreciate about NeurOptimal® is the way it takes advantage of the central nervous system’s quite amazing ability to take in and use information.

NeurOptimal® respects the ability of the individual brain to reorganize itself using the information provided, in the way and at the pace that is right for that person. There is no pushing or pulling of the brain in a direction.”

NeurOptimal Trainer

Your brain is the center of your central nervous system. It is a sophisticated command and control center that is responsible for controlling ALL the other systems in your body. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about physical, emotional or mental — your brain is responsible for it all. It receives and processes information from your body and the environment and enables you to process and store information and formulate appropriate responses, most of it without your conscious awareness. This is all made possible by a vast and wonderful neural network called the central nervous system.

It is estimated that the human brain has 15-33 billion neurons and each neuron may have as many as 100,000 synaptic connections. This is vastly more complex than the entire world wide web and yet it all exists inside within your head! Neurons communicate within this enormous network using electrical signals. These signals can originate within the individual neurons, but they also emerge dynamically from groups of neurons. These larger groups oscillate, or pulse, at specific frequencies like a strobe light. These groups then engage in almost magical dances across groups of groups. It is this larger dance that is reflected in the electrical changes measured on the scalp. It’s all a bit difficult to understand, so let’s look at an analogy.

Imagine that each grain of sand on a beach is a tiny strobe light, flicking off and on in a seemingly chaotic “dance” that seems to possess no particular pattern or rhythm. Each flicker of light in turn influences many others to turn on or off, sometimes dancing with, sometimes against and even sometimes in total disregard for, the other lights. Small changes in the overall complex interweaving symphony of lights can alter the entire landscape, just like the smallest sound can trigger an enormous avalanche. Internally the brain is a kind of vastly interconnected network of such little pulsing points, ready to cascade in multiple different ways — just like the snow that’s ready to avalanche — except that these pulses are electrical. Patterns of them can be determined from the ongoing changes in the electrical activity that is measured on the surface of the scalp. These voltage fluctuations are very small compared to the surrounding electromagnetic “ocean” that includes wall current, radio waves, microwaves, X-ray equipment and many other types of electromagnetic activity. Traditionally, these voltage changes on the scalp are understood as “brainwaves” and are represented by squiggly lines on flat pieces of paper. The reality, however, is far more complex, rich and useful than its classical description as “brainwaves” would imply.  In NeurOptimal® we refer to this as Cortical Activity.

“Phenomenal tool to facilitate change. People need to understand it as a catalyst and not as a cure.”

NeurOptimal Trainer

The frequency range of the voltage fluctuations are measured in cycles per second (hertz or Hz). 1 Hz (or 1 times a second) reflects very big slow activity in the realm of the brain, whereas 40 Hz, for example, is considered relatively small and fast. In the past researchers have grouped some of these frequencies together and given them names based on the order in which they were discovered. Now that we can obtain very precise digital data compared with that obtained from old analogue equipment, we have found the old definitions to be imprecise. At Zengar, we have tended to use precise frequency labels such as 3 Hz and 5 Hz, rather than the general term of Theta, or 14 Hz rather than SMR, but the names do persist. We have tried to bridge what we do with the more linear world in our Cartography of Consciousness, which details many of the the frequencies we work with.

If we start at the bottom, the biggest slow waves of 1 Hz and 2 Hz are called Delta, and these are dominant in a person who is sleeping. Then comes “Theta”. Theta has been hotly debated in the field, which would down-train Theta in some circumstances and up-train Theta in other circumstances. At Zengar we have identified more precisely two types of Theta depending upon the frequencies you are referring to. “Bad” Theta pulses predominantly at 3Hz and 5Hz, which we have observed carries 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 can 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. However, you want it to reduce when you open your eyes. Because it is different with eyes open and eyes closed, at Zengar we call this a “swing” frequency, and have identified 10Hz as a problematic frequency if it is present in an eyes open state. Sensory Motor Rhythm or SMR is 14 Hz. We call it the “cat frequency”, because cats produce a lot of it while sitting very still with their eyes open. But if something small and furry were to cross in front of them, they would be on it in a flash. 14Hz is associated with a state of great physical stillness yet with full awareness of what is going on both in your body and around you — but not having any thoughts about it. 15-18 Hz is commonly called Beta and is very focused narrow attention on something “out there”. Unfortunately this is also the stress response! So while it can improve narrow focus and and attention, it can be accompanied by some very unpleasant side effects (feeling anxious, headaches). At Zengar we stopped working with Beta many years ago, as there are other frequencies we work with that give you all the focus and attention and other benefits you want without the unpleasant side effects. We also work with a unique pairing of 21Hz and 40Hz that has many beneficial effects on all the other frequencies, as well as providing an ability to take in information from all around you coupled with narrow focus and attention that is NOT part of the stress response. Working with these and other frequencies higher up in the frequency range is both original and unique to Zengar. You can read about some of them on the Cartography of Consciousness.

In linear neurofeedback, the goal is to increase the amplitude (amount) of a limited set of chosen frequency bandwidths while decreasing others. Sometimes other parameters are chosen like coherence or ratios, but the point is still the same: Increase something specific in the “brainwaves” while decreasing some other specific characteristic. What gets up- and down-trained that session depends on the practitioner, their diagnosis of you and the protocols recommended by the manufacturer. It is a very narrow way of working in our opinion, basically chipping away at an issue by focusing on one or two frequencies at a time. When you work in this way, your central nervous system can be badly thrown off by being pushed too much in one direction, and a big part of the practitioner’s job is watching for unwanted side-effects. Also the next time you come in they will ask how you were in the days after the session to determine whether to continue with what they were doing, or to do something different. This is using VERY slow feedback in our opinion! At Zengar we do not train frequencies up or down — we just provide information to the brain about what it is doing, allowing the brain to make its own decisions. Furthermore, we work across a very complete range of frequencies, so no matter what you come in with, you “get” everything! It is also a very safe way to work because the effects of working with one frequency are naturally balanced by working with its equal and opposite “sister”.  So if, for example, there is a relaxing and “letting go” effect by working with one, there is simultaneously an enlivening and focusing effect by working with its companion. Everything balances itself perfectly. And it all happens naturally!

“After searching for a way to help my children, it provided me the opportunity to change the quality of their life. There are no words! Thank you.”

NeurOptimal User

We firmly believe that if you are a linear neurofeedback practitioner and are going to work in a limited way by doing only one or two things, you had better be exactly right in what you do! One protocol may call for up training Theta and another protocol may call for down training Theta. Making the wrong decision can be a major problem for your client in terms of side effects. Secondly, you must be very skilled, carefully observing for side effects as you work. We do not believe that a single brief training course can provide you with the necessary skill to work effectively with protocols. It would actually take a lengthy apprenticeship of about two years to become skilled, and even then you are still largely relying on your client’s side-effects to guide your decision-making. Not much fun for your client! And if this all were not enough, one of the huge challenges to the field is that changes in amplitude and other linear measures of these “frequency bands” are not well correlated with changes in symptoms! Despite all these problems, such approaches continue to be embraced by traditional neurofeedback practitioners.

To summarize, when you train with NeurOptimal® your brain is given information about the ENTIRE frequency range of activity encoded within the electrical activity of your brain. Moreover, NeurOptimal®, with elegant simplicity, gives information to your brain about what is happening across all of that activity, and your brain sorts out the rest for itself. Miraculously (of course), the brain knows exactly what needs to happen and will seamlessly organize itself. We have found this to be true NO MATTER THE SEVERITY OF THE SYMPTOMS. Truly EVERY brain has its innate intelligence. Once the brain can “see” itself” in the “mirror” provided by NeurOptimal®, it can “defrag” and re-organize itself. Aided by our unique Dynamical Thresholding® and the progression through our ZenModes,  NeurOptimal® offers unprecedented possibilities for safe, NATURAL change.