To those seeing them for the first time, sound and light devices may seem
bizarre, like something out of a science fiction movie--the users seem laid back, out
there somewhere, wired into a small box listening through headphones to some
unheard sounds while eerie light pulsations flicker inside futuristic goggles. And to
those encountering these devices from a background of meditative practice, the idea
that one can attain heightened or meditative states of consciousness by using a
machine, and the sheer technical computerized hardware of the devices themselves,
must seem coldly materialistic. But while the hardware may seem new, the
techniques being used are ancient.
The knowledge that a flickering light can cause mysterious visual hallucinations
and alterations in consciousness is something humans have known since the
discovery of fire. It must have been knowledge of great value to the ancient shamans
and poets, who learned how to use the images in the flames to enhance their magic.
Ancient scientists were also intrigued by this phenomenon, and explored its practical
applications. In 125 A.D. Apuleius experimented with a flickering light stimulus
produced by the rotation of a potter's wheel, and found it could be used to reveal a
type of epilepsy. Around 200 A.D. Ptolemy noted that when he placed a spinning
spoked wheel between an observer and the sun, the flickering of the sunlight through
the spokes of the spinning wheel could cause patterns and colors to appear before
the eyes of the observer and could produce a feeling of euphoria.
Light researcher David Siever has found that in the 17th century, a Belgian
scientist, Plateau, used the flickering of light through a strobe wheel to study the
diagnostic significance of the flicker fusion phenomenon. As he caused the light
flickers to come faster and faster, he found that at a certain point the flickers seemed
to "fuse" into a steady, unflickering light pattern. Plateau discovered that healthy
people were able to see separate flashes of light at much higher flicker speeds than
were sick people. (In recent years, studies using light sources such as a
tachistoscope to provide rapid light flashes have revealed that long-term meditators
are able to see discrete flashes of light at much higher flicker rates than nonmeditators.)
At the turn of the century, French psychologist Pierre Janet noticed that
when patients at the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris were exposed to flickering lights
they experienced reductions in hysteria and increases in relaxation.
Similarly, humans had always been enthralled by the effects of rhythmic
sounds, and aware of the mind-altering and brain wave entrainment effects of
rhythmic noises, as evidenced for example by the sophisticated auditory-driving
techniques developed over thousands of years by shamans and priests. As
anthropologist and shamanism authority Michael Harner, points out, "Basic tools for
entering the SSC [Shamanic State of Consciousness] are the drum and
Researcher Andrew Neher investigated the effects of drumming on EEG
patterns in the early 1960s and found the rhythmic pounding dramatically altered
brain wave activity. Other researchers of shamanistic rituals, Harner observes, have
"found that drum beat frequencies in the theta wave EEG frequency range . . .
predominated during initiation procedures."
And humans have always been keenly appreciative of the consciousness heightening
powers of music, which is of course, among other things, a succession of
rhythmic auditory signals. For thousands of years musicians and composers have
consciously and intentionally influenced the brain states of listeners by manipulating
the frequency of the rhythms and tones of their music.
SOUND AND LIGHT TOGETHER
Humans have also long been intrigued by the possibilities for influencing mental
functioning that emerge from combining both rhythmic light and rhythmic sound
stimulation. Ancient rituals for entering trance states often involved both rhythmic
sounds in the form of drumbeats, clapping or chanting, and flickering lights produced
by candles, torches, bonfires or long lines of human bodies rhythmically dancing,
their forms passing before the fire and chopping the light into mesmerizing rhythmic
flashes. Some composers of the past, such as the visionary Scriabin, actually created
music intended to be experienced in combination with rhythmic light displays.
Technological advances made possible even more powerful combinations of
sound and light. Moving pictures developed
Modern scientific research into the effects of rhythmic light and sound began in
the mid-1930s when scientists discovered that the electrical rhythms of the brain
tended to assume the rhythm of a flashing light stimulus, a process called
entrainment. Research shifted into high gear in the late 1940s when the great British
neuroscientist W. Gray Walter used an electronic strobe and advanced EEG equipment to investigate what he called the "flicker phenomenon." He found that
rhythmic flashing lights quickly altered brainwave activity, producing trancelike states
of profound relaxation and vivid mental imagery. He was also startled to find that the
flickering seemed to alter the brain-wave activity of the whole cortex instead of just
the areas associated with vision. Wrote Walter: "The rhythmic series of flashes
appear to be breaking down some of the physiologic barriers between different
regions of the brain. This means the stimulus of flicker received by the visual
projection area of the cortex was breakiing bounds--its ripples were overflowing into
other areas." The subjective experiences of those receiving the flashes were even
more intriguing: "Subjects reported lights like comets, ultra-unearthly colors, mental
colors, not deep visual ones."
Walter's research aroused the attention of many artists, including the American
novelist William Burroughs, and they put together a simple flicker device called the
Dreammachine. As Burroughs described it in the 1960s, "Subjects report dazzling
lights of unearthly brilliance and color. . . . Elaborate geometric constructions of
incredible intricacy build up from multidimensional mosaic into living fireballs like the
mandalas of Eastern mysticism or resolve momentarily into apparently individual
images and powerfully dramatic scenes like brightly colored dreams."
A flood of subsequent scientific research in the 1960s and 70s revealed that
such flicker effects at certain frequencies seemed to have amazing powers. Various
scientists discovered that such photic stimulation could have a variety of beneficial
effects, such as increasing I.Q. scores, enhancing intellectual functioning and
producing greater synchronization between the two hemispheres of the brain. Other
researchers found that the addition of rhythmic auditory signals dramatically
increased the mind-enhancing effects.
Throughout history technological advances, such as those in cinema, have
quickly been seized upon to stimulate the human fascination with rhythmic sound and
light. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, technological advances also made it
possible for scientists to understand more fully how sounds and lights influenced the
electrochemical activity of the brain. The result was the flood of studies mentioned
above, dealing with photic and auditory entrainment, and hemisperic synchronization.
In the early 1970s, Jack Schwarz, known for his feats of self-healing and selfregulation,
began selling a device known as the ISIS, which used varible frequency
lights mounted in goggles combined with rhythmic sounds to produce heighted
mental states. In 1973, scientist Richard Townsend published a description of his
research with a device using goggle-mounted lights for photic entrainment. In 1974 a
scientist at City College of New York, Seymour Charas, obtained the first patent on a
combined sound and light stimulation device, though it was never put into
commercial production. But by the early 1980s the time was right for a breakthrough
in the combination of sound and light.
The catalyst was the revolution in microelectronics that was taking place at that
time, a revolution that allowed home electronics buffs and garage inventors to put
together astonishingly sophisticated and complex devices for producing and
combining sound and light—devices that could produce a rich assortment of tones,
chords and even beat frequencies; that permitted the selection of a variety of lightflash
patterns and intensities; that enabled the user to select the mode of interplay
between lights and sound; that contained a number of preset “programs” designed to
produce specific states of consciousness, ranging from sleep to meditation to extreme
alertness, at the push of a button; and that permitted the users to design and store
in the device’s computerized memory a variety of their own programs. Before the
breakthroughs in microelectronics, such complex computerized devices would have
been enormously expensive to build, and like the old UNIVAC vacuum-tube
computers, their circuitry and components would have been huge and unwieldy. But
these new sound and light stimulators were relatively small—some of the first models
were about the size of a portable typewriter; soon models were being made with
consoles not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes.
As happened with personal computers, there seem to be new advances, new
machines, and new generations of older devices appearing almost constantly; and as
with PCs, the advances have included smaller size, greater versatility and power, and
steep reductions in price. As this is written, there are well over 20 sound and light
machines in commercial production around the world, and we seem on the verge of
an entirely new generation of devices that combine sound and light stimulation with
biofeedback capabilities. These new devices enable the machine to read the user's
dominant brainwave activity, and then provide the optimal frequency of sound and
light to entrain brainwave activity toward the "target" frequency. One such device
(the DreamWave) is already on the market.
Another significant development is the advent of a sound and light system on a
simple board that can be plugged into your computer's expansion slot. One example
currently on the market is the MindsEye Synergizer, a hardware-software
combination that turns an IBM PC XT/AT/386 or clone into a research laboratory
grade audio-visual synchronizer, permitting users to program hundreds of sessions of
almost any length and complexity, to program each eye and ear independently (this
permits extraordinary effects, such as combining alpha and theta frequencies, or
setting up visual "beat frequencies"), create sounds, chords and beat frequencies on
the computer with a stereo synthesizer, and program thousands of time ramps and
sound-light levels into a single session.
These developments point the way toward the future. I believe it will be only a
short time until we have a fully computerized integrated and interactive system that
would allow the user to put on a few electrodes that would monitor EEG as well as
other physiological indicators (muscle tension [EMG], skin potential, heart rate, skin
temperature, breathing, etc.) and display them on the computer screen in real time;
would use this information to provide the optimal type of sound and light stimulation
(as well as cranial electrostimulation and appropriate digitized music selections or
preprogrammed audio suggestions, hypnotic inductions, information for accelerated
learning, etc.); and would permit the storage of thousands of sessions, with
individual users able to select desired mind states or experiences with the ease of
selecting a channel on the TV, or play back or re-experience past sessions. The
technology for such a system is already available.
SOUND AND LIGHT RESEARCH
It has been well established that these devices can rapidly produce states of
deep relaxation, and may increase suggestibility, receptivity to new information, and
enhance access to subconscious material. New work into the effects of these devices
being undertaken around the world, and preliminary results suggest that the
machines may of being beneficial in the treatment of migraine headaches and
learning disorders, alleviation of pain, enhancement of immune function, and much
more. Here's a summary of some of the most interesting work done in the last
In one preliminary 1980 study of one of the sound and light machines, Dr.
Thomas Budzynski, then of the Behavioral Medicine Associates clinic in Denver, found
that "Results ranged from production of drowsy, hypnagogic-like states (with theta
frequency used), to vivid, holograph-like images. At times, images from childhood
were experienced." This led Budzynski to speak of the device as a "Hypnotic
Facilitator," and a "Facilitator of 'Unconscious Retrieval," that could have therapeutic
value, since the device seemd "to allow the subject to recall past childhood events
with a high degree of 'being there' quality." He also suggested that the device could
be effective for accelerated learning, since it seemed capable of putting users in the
theta (or "twilight state") of hypersuggestibility and heightened receptivity to new
Medical researcher Dr. Gene W. Brockopp of Buffalo, New York, speculated that
sound and light stimulation could perhaps "actively induce a state of deactivation in
which the brain is passive, but not asleep; awake, but not involved with the 'clutter'
of an ongoing existence. If this is true, then it may be a state in which new cognitive
strategies could be designed and developed." Brockopp also suggested that "If we
can help a person to experience different brain-wave states consciously through
driving them with external stimulation, we may facilitate the individuals' ability to
allow more variations in their functioning through brreakup up patterns at the neural
level. This may help them develop the ability to shift gears or 'shuttle' and move
them away from habigt patterns of behavior to become more flexible and creative,
and to develop more elegant strategies of functioning."
In 1988, anethesiologist Robert Cosgrove Jr., Ph.D., M.D., undertook
preliminary studies of sound and light stimulation. In his initial evaluations, in which
he used the Alpha-Pacer II device, Cosgrove, an authority in pharmaceutics and
biomedical engineering, noted that audio-visual stimulation was "clearly very
powerful in its ability to cause deep relaxation in most subjects. Its effectiveness has
been so great that we are very enthusiastic about the prospect of evaluating the
[device] for its sedative properties in patients prior to, during, and immediately
following surgery. We are also undertaking studies to prove [its] utility in chronic
"We are also," Cosgrove continued, "quantitating the electroencephalographic
(brainwave, EEG) effects… in both volunteers and patients. Our preliminary results
show strong EEG entrainment.”
The device, Cosgrove noted, "with appropriately selected stimulation protocols
has been observed by us to be an excellent neuropathway exerciser. As such we
believe it has great potential for use in promoting optimal cerebral performance. . . .
Furthermore, the long-term effects of regular use of the device on maintaining and
improving cerebral performance throughout life and possibly delaying for decades the
deterioration of the brain.
In 1989, another researcher, D.J. Anderson, used photic stimulation using red
LED goggles to treat seven sufferers of migraine headaches--none of whom had been
able to relieve their migraines with drug treatments. He found that out of 50
migraines noted, 49 were rated by subjects as being "helped," and 36 sttopped by
the photic stimulation. Significantly, brighter lights were found to be more effective.
Further evidence of the potential therapeutic value of photic stimulation has
come from researcher Jill Ammon-Wexler, Ph.D., of the Innerspace Biofeedback and
Therapy Center in Los Gatos, CA, using a device that uses a flickering light stimulus
without an accompanying sound stimulus. The device, called a Lumatron, uses a
strobe light with color filters to provide rhythmic photic stimulation in variable
frequencies and in selected wavelength or color bands [MEGABRAIN REPORT will
devote a full-length article to this device in a future issue]. Ammon-Wexler did a
controlled study of twenty subjects suffering from phobias and found that
"remarkable resolution of the subjects' phobic systems had occurred over the process
of the 20 experimental sessions. There was also 'across the board' evidence for
enhanced self-concept, and clinically-significant reductions in both anxiety and
Dr. Ammon-Wexler's findings about the potential medical benefits of photic
stimulation have been echoed recently by William Harris, M.D., director of the Penwell
Foundation, an organization for the investigation, research and application of
different modalities for the treatment of those with AIDS/HIV. In preliminary work
with a number of AIDs sufferers he has experimented with the use of a sound and
light machine (the IM-1) and found it extremely effective. He speculates it may boost
immune function by producing states of deep relaxation, by enhancing the patients'
receptivity to suggestions for healing, by improving patients' ability to visualize and
the clarity of their visualizations. "At this point it's conjecture," says Harris, "But I
think that this type of machine may actually be stimulating . . . the body to produce
its own chemical substances," and that these natural substances may enhance
immune function and healing.
In 1990 Bruce Harrah-Conforth, Ph.D., of Indiana University completed a
controlled study of one of the computerized sound and light machines (the MindsEye
Plus) the result of over two years of research into the field of brain entrainment, and
found that compared to the control group, which listened to pink noise with eyes
closed, the group receiving sound and light stimulation showed dramatic alterations
in their EEG patterns responding to the frequency of the sound and light device, and
also showed evidence of hemispheric synchronization. Participants in the study were
asked to describe their experiences. According to Dr. Harrah-Conforth, "the subjects'
comments were such typical descriptions as 'I lost all sense of my body,' 'I felt like I
was flying,' 'I was deeply relaxed,' 'I felt like I was out of my body,' etc."
The report by Harrah-Conforth suggests that sound and light devices may
cause simultaneous ergotropic arousal, or arousal of the sympathetic nervous system
and the cerebral cortex, associated with "creative" and "ecstatic experiences," and
trophotropic arousal, or the arousal of the parasympathetic system, associated with
deep relaxation and "the timeless, 'oceanic' mode of the mystic experience." In
humans, Dr. Harrah-Conforth concludes, "these two states may be interpreted as
hyper- and hypo- arousal, or ecstasy and samadhi."
In a separate letter to MEGABRAIN REPORT, Harrah-Conforth writes: "I have
little doubt that brain entrainment technology is a highly effective means of inducing
changes in consciousness." He continues, "Brain entrainment, at least within my own
research, has shown itself to be virtually foolproof and does indeed facilitate whole
brain experiences." While pointing out that our current understanding of brain
entrainment technology is only in its infancy, he writes "there seems to be little doubt
that this technology has a remarkable future. The evidence, my own and others,
clearly indicates that brain-wave entrainment is produced by these machines. EMG
tests have also made it quite clear that one of the byproducts of this entrainment can
be the relaxation response. And subjective reports range from heightened creativity,
to beautiful visual trips, to increased alertness, and many other states." He
concludes that "the early indications are strong that this now-developing technology
will profoundly revolutionize both our concepts of, and interaction with, our
consciousness. . . . The evolution of human consciousness is a tangibly manipulable
process. We can control our destiny. . . . It would appear as though brain
entrainment will be among the technologies leading the way."
California psychologist Julian Isaacs, Ph.D., working with a private research
group called "The Other 90 Percent," is now engaged in an ongoing study of the
brain-wave effects of sound and light as well as other mind-altering devices.
Megabrain, Inc. is providing assistance in this research by, among other things,
making available a number of devices. Isaacs and his colleagues are using a 24
electrode color brainmapping EEG, with newly developed software that permits
extremely precise and sensitive measurement and statistical analysis of whole brain
electrical activity. In a discussion of his preliminary findings, he told me that there
was "very clear evidence of brainwave driving" using sound and light. He also said
he'd found a very strong correlation between the intensity of the lights used (whether
red LEDs or incandescent bulbs) and the brain-entrainment: the brighter the lights,
the more entrainment. He mentioned one device he had tested that used dim lights,
and found it had "no brain driving capacity at all."
However, Isaacs pointed out that it was easiest to entrain brain-wave activity in
the alpha range, while it seems much more difficult to drive the slower brain
frequencies, such as theta (a fact discussed by the machine manufacturers in the
roundtable discussion elsewhere in this issue). However, the EEG evidence was quite
clear that people using the devices did indeed spend much of their sessions in theta.
Often, however, their dominant theta frequency was very different from the theta
frequency being flashed by the sound and light machine. How to explain this? Isaacs
suggested the possibility that while the devices can clearly and quickly entrain
brainwave activity into the low alpha range, what happens next is that the brain
becomes habituated to the repetitive stimulus and the Reticular Activating System--
the volume control and attention-directing part of the brain--simply tires of the
repetitive stimulus and ignores it, or "blanks out" the conscious perception of the
lights. As a result, the brain drops into the theta state.
The effect, that is, may be very much like that of the ganzfeld, which uses a
featureless and unvarying visual field to cause the "blank out" effect. This theory
brought to my mind the work of Dr. Gene Brockopp mentioned above, who suggested
that sound and light stimulation could perhaps "actively induce a state of deactivation
in which the brain is passive, but not asleep; awake, but not involved with the
'clutter' of an ongoing existence. If this is true, then it may be a state in which new
cognitive strategies could be designed and developed."
HOW TO USE MIND TECHNOLOGY FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE--AN INTRODUCTION
by Michael Hutchison
Today, PCs have transformed virtually every aspect of our lives, and recent surveys
show that nearly 25 percent of all households in the U.S. have at least one PC, that
PCs are used in virtually every office in the country, and that well over 50% of the
population have some familiarity with PCs. It's hard now for many of us to imagine
how we ever lived without our computers.
What happened over the last decade that made PCs into mass market consumerelectronics
items? The first thing was that the hardware went through a series of
extraordinary and rapid transformations: each new generation was smaller, easier to
operate, vastly more powerful and far less expensive.
The second key to the mass popularity of PCs was the development of a huge variety
of software--programs that enabled users to apply the massive computing power of
the hardware toward specific tasks, ranging from word processing to spreadsheets to
design to publishing to game playing. Without such software, the hardware would
have remained virtually inaccessible to most users. Think now: how often would you
use your computer if there were no software, if you had to create your own programs
and do all your computing through your operating system?
The parallels are obvious: brain machines, which first were unwieldy, expensive,
complex, and carried the weird-scientist aura of the laboratory, have now gone
through a rapid evolution and emerged as small, easy to operate, inexpensive and as
sleekly designed as miniature Braun coffee grinders. As an example, the old Synchro
Energizer described in the first edition of Megabrain was the size of a suitcase, had to
be manually operated, and cost over $8,000. Today far more sophisticated and
effective devices the size of a pack of cards, containing a multitude of computerized
programs that can be operated with the touch of a button, and costing less than
$200, are sold by the thousands through mass market catalogues like Hammacher
Schlemmer, Sharper Image and DAK.
Today the hardware of brain technology--the mind machines themselves--exists. It is
inexpensive, effective, innovatively-designed, and, increasing amounts of scientific
evidence indicate, when used skillfully can produce peak performance brain states,
heightened mental powers and enhanced mind-body interaction.
What is lacking, in our mind-machine-PC parallel, is the mind-tech software--the
programs, systems, techniques or operating environments that will allow the user of
the mind machine to apply its sophisticated circuitry and advanced potentials and
capacities toward specific tasks and applications, such as accelerated learning, sports
training, weight loss, or stress reduction; ways the machines can be used--not just
passively experienced as novelties or instruments of pleasure and entertainment, but
actively used as immensely powerful tools to attain desired goals.
Because of this lack of programs, many mind machine purchasers end up putting the
devices on a shelf in the back of their closets once the novelty of the experience itself
has worn off. "I really liked it," they say; "when I first got my light and sound
machine I used it several times a day. It was fun, I had lots of fascinating
experiences and I felt great. But then, after a few weeks, I just kind of lost interest.
I mean, after a point, what are you supposed to do with it?"
What follows is an initial step toward the development of a compendium of mind
machine "programs." In this article I present a variety of
strategies/systems/applications/techniques that I have found to be extremely
powerful and effective when used in combination with mind technology. The
techniques have emerged from my own personal exploration, from experimentation
with thousands of people in Megabrain Workshops, from the work of skilled therapists
and clinicians who have made extensive use of mind machines in their practices, and
from my conversations and correspondence with hundreds of explorers and
experimentalists around the world.
Because this is an introduction, and due to space limitations, my descriptions of these
techniques in this issue take the form of brief summaries (with information about
where you can get more information about each technique in a "Resources" section at
the end of the article). In future issues of Megabrain Report I will provide in-depth
treatments of some of these techniques, including case histories, relevant research,
and detailed, step-by-step instructions for using these techniques yourself.
The techniques are effective with virtually all of the brain technology now available,
including light/sound, binaural beats (i.e. "brain sync" tapes), cranial
electrostimulation, movement devices, acoustic field systems (Vibrasound, Betar,
Genesis, etc.), flotation tanks, ganzfelds, biocircuits; and (it should go without
saying) they're also effective with various combinations of brain technology used
synergistically (i.e. CES while on biocircuits while listening to binaural beat tapes; or
light and sound stimulation while on a motion system). For convenience and brevity,
I will throughout this article use the abbreviation MT for mind technology, and it will
refer to all the varieties of MTs mentioned above.
The first step toward making active, systematic and productive use of your MT is to
learn to use it to put you into a state of profound relaxation. But wait, you say, isn't
that the responsibility of the machine? After all, many of these devices claim in their
literature to be "relaxation" devices, and many of them, such as the light/sound
machines, offer a variety of preset "relaxation" sessions.
It's true that numerous scientific studies have shown that MTs can induce deep
relaxation states in untrained subjects; some studies have found MTs even produce
relaxation states in untrained subjects as deep as or deeper than the relaxation
attained by subjects with extensive training and practice in relaxation techniques
such as Progressive Relaxation. Speaking generally, put on your MT (such as an
alpha beat frequency tape or a light/sound machine that ramps down into alpha) and
within 10 to 15 minutes you should be more relaxed.
The problem is that qualifier "more." Many of us start from such a high level of
stress, muscular tension and/or nervous arousal that even though we become more
relaxed in relative terms, we're still, in absolute terms, not in true deep relaxation--a
highly beneficial hypometabolic state in which muscular tension throughout the whole
body is dramatically decreased (users describe it as feeling their body "go to sleep" or
"melt away," or as simply losing all awareness of having a physical body), and in
which the beta brainwave activity of active consciousness diminishes, while alpha and
theta activity increases and becomes dominant.
Also, many of us have had the experience of being so tense or agitated that we know
we would benefit from relaxing, we know that using our MT would help us relax, but
we're simply too wound up to put it on, or if we do put it on, we're unable to let go
sufficiently for the MT to carry us into a relaxed state.
In fact one of the main
problems with popular relaxation and stress reduction techniques of all kinds--
including biofeedback, "relaxation response" meditation techniques, and systematic
relaxation procedures--is what the researchers call "lack of transference." They may
be highly effective in a training seminar, during a quiet evening at home, at a doctor
or therapist's office, or when you're in a mood of curious or calm self-exploration, but
still remain extremely difficult to use effectively in the midst of the pressures and
urgencies of the everyday world.
And finally, even though the MTs are effective in producing relaxation for most of us,
in many cases it can take 30 minutes or more to let go of muscle tension and mental
chatter and reach a truly relaxed state. If we have set aside a half hour or 45 minute
period for our MT session, then we have little time to pursue active strategies such as
those we explore in the rest of this article before our session is over and we're back
into our busy schedule again.
And yet true relaxation is a key to most of the various strategies and techniques that
follow, from accelerated learning to visualization to problem-solving to self-healing to
attaining a state of hyperreceptivity and hypersuggestibility. Fortunately, since the
MTs themselves are helping induce deep relaxation, they speed up the learning
process enormously: relaxation techniques that might take weeks of disciplined
practice to master without the use of MTs can be mastered in just a few sessions on
an MT. In fact, research suggests that all methods of relaxation or mental or physical
self-regulation work more powerfully and effectively in combination with mind
machines than in any other environment.
So no matter what MT we use, and no matter what our levels of stress, tension and
arousal, all of us can profit enormously, and amplify the power of our MTs, by
learning and practicing a relaxation technique that we use in conjunction with our MT.
I suggest that each time you put on your MT your first step is to use your relaxation
technique. Soon this will become almost automatic, and the relaxation process will
accelerate: a technique that at the start might allow you to reach deep relaxation in
ten minutes will soon take just seconds. Over time, your relaxation technique will
become linked with your MT, so that simply by putting on your MT you will find
yourself returning almost instantaneously to a relaxed state.
Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School has studied the beneficial, healing
"relaxation response," as well as many of the techniques, ranging from ancient
meditative disciplines to modern systems, used to trigger this response. He found
that they all worked by using certain specific techniques or elements in combination.
The key elements he identified are:
Mental Device. There should be some sort of constant stimulus, such as a word or
phrase repeated silently or audibly, fixed attention on an object or process. Attention
to this mental device or technique shifts you away from logical, externally oriented
Passive Attitude. Let the process happen, do not attempt to force it or control it.
If distracting thoughts arise, simply observe them, let them go, and return to the
Decreased Muscle Tonus. Get into a comfortable position so that minimal muscular
tension is required.
Quiet Environment. Try to use your MT where you won't be interrupted or
distracted by external stimuli.
By using these elements in combination with your MT, you can quickly reach deep
levels of relaxation. Following are brief summaries of some of the relaxation
techniques that can be used to enhance your MT experience.
Abdominal Breathing. Relax your abdominal muscles, so that when you inhale,
your belly expands, when you exhale your belly contracts. Shallow breathing
(expanding and contracting the chest and rib cage) is physiologically linked to the
fight-or-flight response; thus chest breathing causes the autonomic nervous system
to remain in a state of arousal and inhibits relaxation.
Nose Breathing. One effective technique is simply to focus attention on the breath
as it passes in and out of the nose. Feel the air, the coolness at the tip of your nose
as you inhale. As you exhale, focus on the warmth at the same spot. If you wish,
count your inhalations, numbering each from one to ten; when you reach ten begin
with one again. Should thoughts rise into your awareness, don't resist them but
allow them to pass, and then return all attention to your breathing.
Moving Around the Body. With each breath, direct your total attention to a
particular spot in your body. Move systematically through your body (e.g. you may
begin at the top of your head, and move breath by breath downward through your
head, neck, chest, right arm and fingers, left arm and fingers, torso, right leg and
foot, left leg and foot, and back up again to end at the top of your head; some find it
more effective to count each spot, beginning at the top of the head with one, and
ending up back at the top of the head at a count of sixty or so). As your attention
moves from place to place it creates and is accompanied by strong body sensations--
feelings of melting, warmth, brightness, growing "softer." By the time you have
made a full cycle you should be deeply relaxed.
Visualization of Light. The nostril breathing practice described above can be
combined with visualization: see the air entering your mostrils as pure white light.
As you inhale, follow the flow of light through your nasal passages, into your
abdomen; visualize it radiating to every part of your body. The as you exhale, see the
light flow back out of your body. Focus on your breathing entirely.
There are many variations. For example, use visualization of light in combination
with the moving around the body technique--with each count, as you focus your
attention on another part of the body, see the light flow to that part, see it glowing
warmly. Move the light around your body.
Breath awareness is one element of a practice called mindfulness that can not only be
an effective relaxation technique, but if practiced regularly can lead to profound
transformations in your life. On the most basic level, mindfulness involves simply
being aware, observing patiently, with detachment and without judging, what you are
doing. Ultimately, with practice, mindfulness can lead to "waking up" from ordinary
consciousness into a state in which each moment is a peak experience, and in which
one has direct and immediate access to one's full powers.
The first step to mindfulness is breath awareness. As in the exercise above, simply
focus your attention on your breathing and hold it there. Be aware of the sensations
that accompany your breathing. Pay attention. Don't attempt to do anything; don't
attempt to control your breathing; don't attempt to think about your breathing.
Simply be aware. As thoughts arise, don't fight against them, don't judge them,
simply be aware of them and then return your attention to your breathing. If you
suddenly realize something has carried your mind off, notice what it was, and return
your attention to your breathing.
You will find this practice rapidly calms the body and mind. Very quickly you become
aware of your thoughts and feelings, and by observing them and returning your
attention to your breathing, you learn that you are not your thoughts and feelings,
that you can detach yourself from them. In time it can lead to feelings of inner
stillness, clarity, and centeredness.
Body Scan. As your mindfulness practice progresses, and you find you can maintain
sustained periods of continuous attention to your breath, you may want to practice
other types of mindfulness. One technique is the Body Scan. As you become relaxed,
turn your attention from your breath to your body, moving in a step-by-step fashion
around your body, focusing attention on each part in turn, being aware of sensations,
feelings, thoughts, whatever arises into consciousness, and then returning awareness
to that part of the body. Feel each region fully, breathe to that region, be in that
region, and then let go, feel all the tension and fatigue in that part of the body
flowing out, and finally move on to the next region.
Mindfulness can also be directed at music: use a music tape in conjunction with your
MT, and as you become relaxed, turn your attention from your breath to the music,
not thinking about it or listening to it judgmentally, but simply being aware of the
music, moment by moment, as pure sound, hearing each note. If thoughts arise or
your attention is drawn away, simply return awareness to the music.
As your practice progresses, you may want to focus your attention on the thoughts
that flow through your awareness. Be aware of their content, and the emotional
charge that may accompany them, but don't judge them; simply observe them as
"events," and let them go. Notice what thoughts keep coming back to you, what
feelings and moods; don't get drawn into thinking about your thoughts, simply notice
them and let them go.
Mindfulness and enhanced perceptions. Mindfulness is a practice that can be
carried beyond your MT session into the rest of your daily life. The evidence is that it
can have profound effects, ranging from boosting your immune system to enhancing
your mental functioning to heightening your awareness to intensifying the pleasure
and the quality of your life. One series of studies done at Harvard Medical School
tested a group of subjects who practiced mindfulness and a control group, and
compared their abilities to perceive brief, millisecond flashes of light on a device
called a tachistoscope. The mindfulness group's perceptions were extraordinarly
keen: while the control group was barely able to see the flashes or separate one flash
from the next, the mindfulness group was able to perceive the flashes with such
clarity that they could observe the instant the flash started, the moment it reached
its peak, the moment the flash began to cease, the moment the flash was gone, etc.
Such studies are a clear indication that the practice of mindfulness can have dramatic
effects on brain functioning and consciousness. Fortunately for users of MTs, reports
from users suggest that MTs can be a powerful adjunct to mindfulness, not only
helping novices learn mindfulness, but actually increasing our powers of mindfulness
For over 20 years Dr. Les Fehmi has been one of the leading biofeedback
researchers, with a particular interest in developing techniques to induce peak
performance brain states. His research led him to believe that one key to peak brain
function was whole-brain synchrony--a phenomenon in which the dominant
brainwave activity throughout the whole cortex shifts into a single, coherent, inphase
Fehmi designed a biofeedback device that would monitor the brainwaves for
synchrony, and give the user a signal when synchrony was occurring. I have written
in Megabrain about this device, the Biofeedback Brainwave Synchronizer. I've also
used it extensively in Megabrain Workshops, and have found it's an extraordinarily
effective tool for rapidly teaching users to produce heightened states of
consciousness. But of course few can afford to own a $3,000-plus biofeedback
machine. Fehmi began searching around for a simple technique that would induce the
same state of whole-brain synchrony as could be learned by using the Brainwave
To do this he hooked subjects up to the Brainwave Synchronizer and tried various
spoken inductions and procedures, searching for something that would produce
synchrony. As he experimented, Fehmi drew on his own experiences as a Zen
meditator. He felt that whole-brain synchrony was linked to attention. In modern
western civilization, he observed, we value the ability to have a narrowly focused
attention: the ability to concentrate on a single matter and ignore other "distractions"
is highly rewarded. Unfortunately, Fehmi became convinced, this narrow focus of
attention also leads directly to tension, stress, and all the stress-related ailments.
Experienced Zen meditators, on the other hand, strive to open up their field of
attention to take in everything. They have what Fehmi called open focus. When he
analyzed the brain state it took to produce whole-brain synchrony on his Biofeedback
Brainwave Synchronizer, Fehmi discovered that it too was an open focus state. He
found, as he told me, that brain synchronization "is correlated experientially with a
union with experience, an 'into-it-ness.' Instead of feeling separate and narrowfocused,
you tend to feel more into it--that is, unified with the experience, you are
the experience--and the scope of your awareness is widened a great deal, so that
you're including many more experiences at the same time. There's a whole-brain
sensory integration going on, and it's as if you become less self-conscious and you
function more intuitively."
Seeking a simply way to produce this widening of attention, this open focus, Fehmi
developed a spoken induction that uses "objectless imagery" to guide the listener
through a progressive opening of focus. When subjects were hooked up to his
Brainwave Synchronizer EEG, he found that the open focus exercise produced a state
of whole-brain synchrony. As he began to experiment with the open focus exercise,
he also found that it was effective in learning enhancement, stress management, pain
control, improved health, psychotherapy, and peak sports performance, among
When you listen to the basic Open Focus exercise, what you hear is a voice asking
you a series of questions that begin with the words, "Can you imagine. . . ?" You
begin with an opening of awareness in your head (Can you imagine the distance
between your eyes . . . between your ears . . . the volume of your tongue . . . the
space inside your throat) that progresses throughout your entire body, requiring a
gradual opening of awareness (Can you imagine the distance between your hands,
the volume of your fingers, the space between your feet, the volume of your feet),
and moves you beyond the limits of your own body to an awareness of everything
within you and around you.
The tape ends by having you imagine that you can enter this open focus state any
time you wish, and there's no doubt that after you've gone through the exercise
enough times you can learn to enter the open focus state at any time, simply by
remembering what it feels like and by intentionally being there. Most importantly for
the purposes of this article, the open focus state adds an extraordinary dimension to
the use of any mind machine.
On the first level, you can listen to an Open Focus tape while using an MT, and I think
you'll find there's a unique synergy: the MT seems to make you more "into it" (to use
Fehmi's terms), more at-one with your experience, and thus more able to enter the
open focus state; the guided exercise on the tape, on the other hand, seems to
organize or give shape to your MT experience, giving it a direction and a dynamism
that it might otherwise lack.
On the higher level, once you have learned to enter the open focus state quickly, on
demand, you can begin all of your MT experiences by putting yourself into open focus
and then doing whatever else it is your primary purpose, such as accelerated
learning, sports performance training, self-suggestion, self-healing, etc. Being in
open focus seems to make all these other techniques and practices even more
One of the most often-mentioned uses for MTs is as "superlearning" tools. Some MT
manufacturers even label their products "relaxation and learning" devices. But
exactly how are these tools supposed to be used for learning? There are several
quite different techniques, each of which has different results and can be used for
different types of learning. I will summarize these different accelerated learning
techniques in this section.
But first, it's important to point out that the manufacturers' claims (and the
widespread perception) that MTs are effective tools for accelerated learning are based
on strong scientific evidence. I'll review a few of the most compelling studies linking
MT use with increases in types of learning (for more detailed discussions, see the
new, revised and updated 1992 edition of Megabrain).
At Texas A&M, a controlled study compared the learning and thinking abilities of a
group that heard the lessons while relaxing in a dark room with a group that heard
the same lessons while in a float tank. The groups were later tested on how much
they'd learned, with the learning being evaluated on three levels of increasing
difficulty: 1) simple memory or rote learning, 2) the ability to apply the learning to
new situations and problems, and 3) "synthesis thinking," the ability to combine the
ideas learned in new and creative ways.
The results showed that the float group learned much more than the control group on
every level. Most intriguingly, as the degree of difficulty and complexity of the
learning tasks increased, the superiority of the float group over the control group
increased sharply. The scientist who conducted the study concluded, "There's no
question that the [float] group learned more, but where they learned is the most
important point. People who floated learned at a different cognitive level. The results
showed that the more difficult the concept, the bigger the difference in the
performance of the two groups."
In a carefully controlled study of learning, Dr. Daniel Kirsch and Richard Madden
compared the learning abilities of a group that was given a computer-learning task
while being stimulated with low levels of cranial electrostimulation (CES) with a group
doing the same computer-learning task without receiving CES. The CES group not
only learned more than the control group, but over repeated trials, when the control
group's learning levels dropped off (perhaps due to boredom or fatigue), the CES
group's learning rate continued to increase. Other studies using CES have shown
increased learning as a result of CES, and still others have demonstrated increases in
IQ (for alcoholics and subjects with brain damage).
Investigating the effects of motion devices (such as the Graham Potentializer and the
SAMS Potentializer), EEG researcher Marvin Sams of Dallas has found that such
devices can optimize the Neuro-Efficiency Quotient--the speed with which neurons
pass information--an EEG measure that is closely correlated with IQ. Ongoing studies
using light/sound machines and light/color devices (such as the Lumatron) suggest
that these devices can have powerful learning-enhancement effects.
Granted the evidence that MTs can serve as excellent accelerated learning tools, how
can they be used most effectively for specific learning tasks?
The most obvious method of MT accelerated learning is presenting the material to be
learned while in the midst of the MT experience. The research of Bulgarian
psychiatrist and educator Georgi Lozanov (popularized as Superlearning in a book of
the same name by Lynn Schroeder and Shiela Ostrander) suggests that we can tap
into the brain's extraordinary powers of learning and memory by presenting the
material to be learned while the learner is in an optimal learning state. The essential
elements of this optimal learning state include:
--Relaxation. Lozanov and similar accelerated learning techniques attempt to
induce relaxation in the learner by using rhythmic breathing and playing slow stately
music (such as Baroque largos) intended to produce relaxation and slow brainwave
activity. Interestingly, researchers studying the Lozanov technique have found that
not only is deep relaxation essential to the process, but the deeper the relaxation, the
more the student is able to learn.
--Slow brainwave activity. The various Superlearning techniques use music,
breathing and relaxation to shift the brain from the beta brainwaves of ordinary
waking consciousness to the slower alpha and theta brainwaves, characterized by a
heightened receptivity to new information, and (as suggested by the Texas A&M
study mentioned above) a heightened ability to synthesize ideas, think creatively and
master difficult concepts.
The Lozanov and other similar Superlearning techniques have proven to be extremely
effective in boosting learning abilities. However, a wealth of research into the effects
of MTs suggests that they can be far more powerful learning boosters, in part
because they simply are more effective in producing the essential elements of
accelerated learning. As for relaxation, for example, as we have seen, MTs can assist
the user in rapidly attaining states of relaxation far deeper than most people can
reach without MTs, even though they may have extensive training and practice in
As for slow brainwave activity, most MTs are designed with the specific purpose of
slowing brainwave activity into the alpha and theta ranges through such techniques
as entrainment, restricted environmental stimulation, or rhythmic movement of the
Virtually all MTs can be used in combination with audiocassettes. Some, such as CES
devices, binaural beat frequencies and flotation tanks, can be used with
videocassettes as well. An ideal program for accelerated learning would be to begin
use of the MT, use one of the quick relaxation techniques described above, and then,
after five to ten minutes, begin presenting the material to be learned via
audiocassette. One convenient way of doing this if you're working by yourself is to
put the material to be learned on a cassette that begins with five to ten minutes of
relaxing music and then moves on to the material to be learned.
Alpha or Theta? Since many MTs, such as light/sound devices and beat frequency
tapes, permit the user to select a target brainwave frequency, the question arises as
to what is the best state, or the "appropriate depth," for learning: the relaxed,
receptive alpha state, or the hypersuggestible, drowsy, dreamlike twilight or theta
Evidence suggests that alpha is ideal for learning new information, data, facts,
material that the learner wants to be fully aware of and readily available in waking
consciousness. On the other hand, theta is the ideal frequency range for the uncritical
acceptance of external suggestions, for bypassing defense mechanisms and
resistance and presenting important self-change messages to the deeper parts of the
mind. That is, to present messages having to do with attitude or behavior change to
the unconscious mind, without the critical screening present in waking consciousness,
it is best to get into the theta range. As Dr. Thomas Budzynski points out, "the
material is being stored in the brain much the same as verbal information assimilated
during anesthetic surgery, i.e., it cannot be recalled, but does influence behavior."
Thus a suggestion for those who have light/sound machines and other variable
frequency devices and want to find the best program for peak learning: if the
material to be learned is informational, a useful program might be to begin by
entraining brainwaves from a waking EEG (anywhere from 14 to 18 Hz--experiment
to find what "feels" right), ramp down slowly to a low alpha frequency (from 8 to 10
Hz, again find out what feels right), remain at this frequency for the duration of the
learning tape, and then ramp back up to a final relaxed but alert frequency (from 10
to 14 Hz).
Those wishing to learn material having to do with attitude or behavior change would
begin by entraining brainwaves in beta, ramp down slowly to theta (around 4 to 6 Hz
seems most effective), remain at theta for the duration of the learning session, and
then ramp back up to 10 to 14 Hz. For both types of learning the material seems to
be better assimilated if the user spends several minutes after the learning material
has been presented remaining in a relaxed alpha or theta state before ramping back
up to beta, ending the session and returning to ordinary consciousness.
CES devices, of course, permit you to use a wider range of learning modalities,
including reading, writing, typing, using a computer, etc.
Evidence from several
studies, and anecdotal reports by many CES users, suggest that when you're using
the machine your memory and concentration are at a peak. Some speculate that the
electrical stimulation of the brain "turns up the volume" on the reticular activating
system (the brain's alertness and attention control system) and stimulates the
hippocampus (a key to the formation of memories).
Most MT users notice a feeling of mental clarity and sensory acuity that lasts many
hours after a MT session. This can be explained by the continuing elevation of certain
neurochemicals associated with heightened consciousness, and with the continuing
presence of slow brainwave activity.
There is evidence, from tests of blood and cerebrospinal fluid, that MTs, including
light/sound and CES devices, produce elevations in such neurochemicals as betaendorphin,
norepinephrine and dopamine, all of which have been linked by
neuroscientists to feelings of heightened mental clarity and to the formation of
memories. In addition, research indicates that the slow brainwave activity induced by
the MTs can be detected many hours, even days, after an MT session. One study of
floaters, for example, found that a one hour float raised theta activity sharply. But
surprisingly, when the researchers did follow-up EEG tests of both the float group and
a control group, they found that they could still detect higher levels of theta activity
in the brains of the floaters three weeks after their float session.
There's no doubt that most MT users experience an increase in mental and physical
acuity for several hours after a session. That makes this post-session period an ideal
time for enhanced, high-efficiency, high-quality learning: the brain is still extremely
receptive to external information, and still in a free-floating state that is conducive to
imaginative and creative thinking. Many have found that it's in the hours after a
session that they find themselves discovering solutions to problems or being seized
with new ideas, and often notice that this is a time when reading, studying, listening
to music and so on are particularly rewarding and productive.
Remember also the Texas A&M study mentioned above demonstrating that users of
one type of MT (the flotation tank) not only learned more than a control group, but as
the difficulty of the concepts to be learned increased, their superiority over the
control group increased. And it was in the highest, most difficult type of learning--
"synthesis" thinking or creativity--that the float group was most superior to the
control group. Since the period after a session still partakes of many of the elements
of the session itself--relaxation, mild euphoria, heightened clarity, slow brainwave
activity, elevated mind-enhancing neurochemicals--it makes sense that this period is
an ideal time for learning, particularly learning of the more difficult type, learning that
involves opening up to new ideas and trying to understand difficult or subtle
concepts. This is the time, for example, to open up that philosophy text, or to get
your mind around the ideas in that book about the new physics, or to synthesize
some of the concepts in that sprawling world history or comparative religions book.
This is the time when the exciting Eureka! can take place.
There are certain types of learning, I believe, that are best accomplished when the
learning takes place before the MT session. The best example of this is one I cited in
Megabrain. One floater, a flower-farmer from Long Island who was trying to learn
Dutch (for his flower-buying trips to Holland), told me that he had recently gone for a
float immediately after his Dutch lesson. He didn't get time in the next few days to
review the lesson or to study at all, but when he went in for his next lesson, he had
virtually total recall of the last lesson, and his instructor remarked that he must have
studied very hard! He felt that somehow the float had subconsciously solidified the
information in his brain. Was that possible?
Shortly after that I was reading some reports of sensory-restriction research and read
of a study in which researchers read a lengthy passage from Tolstoy's War and Peace
to two groups of subjects. They didn't tell the subjects to remember this passage,
didn't even say why they were reading the passage. Then the control group stayed
in an open room while the experimental group went into a sensory-restriction
chamber. After 24 hours the groups were retested. The researchers found that while
there was a steep drop in retention of the Tolstoy passage for the control group,
there was none for the experimental subjects. In fact, the sensory-deprivation group
remembered more after 24 hours than at first! In interviewing the subjects, the
researchers found that none of them had expected a retest on that material, and only
one had reported that he had even thought about the Tolstoy passage during the
interim. The researchers dubbed this the "reminiscence effect." Somehow, simply
being in a state of sensory restriction caused an increase in memory for something
that happened before the sensory restriction.
How to explain this? Scientists now agree that there are at least two different types
of memory, generally known as short-term memory (STM) and long-term memory
(LTM). STM deals with information we need to hold in our minds temporarily, like a
phone number, but which can then be quickly forgotten. On the other hand, there's
another type of information that can be held in consciousness just as fleetingly as,
say, a telephone number, but can become so permanent taht it can be recalled with
absolute clarity a lifetime later, such as the memory of some brief event observed
momentarily by a child, but remembered clearly 90 years later. This is information
that has passed into LTM.
Studies using drugs that inhibit protein synthesis in the brain have proved that STM
consists of short-acting electrochemical changes in the brain, while protein synthesis
in the brain (i.e. actual physical growth of axons or dendrites, increase in number of
glia, increase in number and reichness of dendritic connections) is necessary for LTM.
When drugs that inhibit protein synthesis in the brain are given soon after subjects
learn something, the information is forgotten--that is, it never makes it into LTM.
However, when the drugs that inhibit protein synthesis are given more than an hour
(in some studies two hours) after the learning, the information is not forgotten, which
means it has already become a part of LTM. In other words, information passes into
LTM--protein-synthesis takes place in the brain--during the hour or two after the
information is received.
Other studies by psychologists have demonstrated a similar sort of disrupting effect
on learning by interposing other events or information. That is, when subjects are
given something to learn, and then, within an hour (i.e. before protein synthesis has
taken place in the brain and the information has passed into LTM) something else
happens--a vivid event, other types of information to be learned--the original
material is not remembered as well.
To return to the "reminiscence effect," we can surmise that this effect results from
the fact that after being given the information, the sensory-restriction group was
placed in an environment that cut them off from new sensory input, from things that
would compete with the information for long-term memory.
Thus, the original
information, in this case the passage from Tolstoy, was given enough time for protein
synthesis to take place, enough time for the information to "solidify" or become a
part of LTM.
Clearly MT users can put this reminiscence effect to good use as a part of their MT
accelerated learning program. Whatever information they want to put into their longterm
memory should be studied prior to their MT session (or should be presented via
video or audio tapes during thed early part of the session). The session that follows--
ideally at least an hour--should allow time for the necessary protein synthesis to
occur in the brain to permit the information to become consolidated and committed
to long-term memory.
This pre-session learning, I believe, is ideal for certain types of learning, specifically
rote-learning types of information: vocabulary words and tenses, facts, data, details.
The kind of material you want to feed into your own data banks. On the other hand,
this is probably not the best time for complex or synthesis types of learning. That
kind of subtle learning dependent on synthesizing ideas and information from many
different sources probably does not get directly translated to LTM very effectively,
since it's largely dependent on creating new information from information that
already exists in LTM. The ideal time for this type of synthesis or creative learning,
for understanding difficult concepts and combining these concepts in original and
imaginative ways--to come up with new answers to problems, to create new
knowledge--is, as suggested above, during the session itself or in the post-session
There's no doubt MTs can be a revolutionary instructional tool, with students of all
fields of study using MTs as a means of rapidly absorbing large amounts of
information and gaining insight into difficult concepts. But where MTs can be of
greatest value, I suspect, is on the cutting edge of knowledge--in solving problems,
in creating new wisdom and understanding. For it the MT's learning-enhancement
effect increases as the difficulty and complexity of the material being learned
increases (as the Texas A&M float tank study suggests), then it must be the scholars,
the original thinkers, the creators, the finest nminds, dealing with the newest and
most difficult information and concepts, who will profit most.
BEYOND RELAXATION: SELF-HYPNOSIS AND SELF-SUGGESTION
One of the most direct and powerful ways to use the MT experience to effect changes
in your attitudes and behavior is by using autosuggestion while you are in a
hypersuggestible state. This is just another way of saying self-hypnosis.
As noted above, one of the characteristics of the theta or twilight state is
hypersuggestibility (i.e. suggestions or statements enter directly into your brain or
unconscious mind, and are accepted as being true, bypassing the mental filters and
critical defense mechanisms by which we usually judge such statements). In theta, as
Budzynski points out, our mind has the property of "uncritical acceptance of verbal
material, or almost any material it can process." Our subjective experience of theta,
however, is one of a drowsy, largely unconscious state--as soon as we become
conscious, or begin actively paying attention to something, we pop out of theta, and
are no longer hypersuggestible, since our critical screening defenses are once again
operating. For that reason, the best way of profiting from the hypersuggestibility of
theta is by using audiotaped suggestions (or suggestions spoken by someone else).
That way we can stay in theta and let the suggestions wash over us without paying
any attention to the suggestions or the process.
Self-hypnosis, on the other hand, permits us to enter a hypersuggestible state and to
actively offer ourselves suggestions for personal action and change even while
monitoring ourselves to be certain we remain in a hypersuggestible state and while
remaining in conscious control of the process. Self-hypnosis is not a difficult or
arcane procedure. It is quite simple, and can be easily learned from any of the
popular "how to" books available. It consists mainly of three elements: deep
relaxation, focused attention, and suggestions.
We know that MTs are unprecedented tools for producing states of profound
relaxation. As for focused attention, I've suggested above in the sections on
Mindfulness and Open Focus that MTs, in part by effectively blocking out external
stimuli, provide an unparalleled environment for calming, clarifying and focusing the
mind. Some research with MTs and hypnosis has been done, and as you might
expect, it shows that people using MTs go into a deeper state of hypnosis than they
do when hypnotised without MTs. In addition, there's evidence that MTs significantly
increase hypnotizability--that is, people who ordinarily can't be hypnotized can go
into deep hypnosis when using an MT. One study of flotation, for example, concluded
that some of the subjects who initially were virtually unhypnotizable "became
hypnotic virtuosos" in the tank.
The first step toward self-hypnosis is called induction. Without MTs, this process can
be lengthy, but much of the time is spent in becoming progressively more deeply
relaxed and mentally focused. However, with MTs, this process can be speeded up
enormously, simply by using one of the relaxation techniques described above, and
combining it with a focusing of attention on the induction procedure, using the
focusing skills gained from your practice of mindfulness or Open Focus.
Relaxed and focused, you can proceed with your induction by using some sort of
sequence that takes you progressively deeper into hypnosis. For example, you might
count backwards from 100 to 0, combining your count with suggestions to yourself
that you are becoming more suggestible, more focused and more relaxed with each
count, and that by the time you reach zero, you will be in a deep, relaxed, focused,
hypersuggestible trance. (There are countless ways of moving into trance; examples
include visualizing yourself walking down stairs or moving down a series of
escalators, each one taking you deeper into hypnosis; floating downward through
clear tropical waters; somersaulting backwards through space, with each somersault
taking you deeper into trance, etc.)
Once you are deeply relaxed and focused, you can offer yourself suggestions for
personal change. A few general principles that will enhance the effectiveness of
Suspend judgment (try to feel that the suggestion is true, experience it as
real in your imagination);
Be positive (positive suggestions seem to have more force than negative
ones; instead of "I am not afraid . . ." you might say, "I am bold . . ." or "I reject fear
. . .");
Be concrete and specific (brain research indicates that right hemisphere
speech comprehension is simple and concrete, that that it doesn't process abstract
material well, if at all);
Use many senses (don't simply use a verbal suggestion, but visualize--
actually see yourself successfully performing the activity--and, where appropriate,
smell and feel the activity);
Repeat (repetition is perhaps the most widely used suggestion technique, used
by everyone from political leaders to TV commercials; repeat your suggestion several
times using various wordings and images);
Use rhythm (suggestions are more effective when stated rhythmically, and
linked to your own rhythms of breath and voice; researchers have found that voice
intonation and rhythm are processed through the right hemisphere and can have
greater emotional impact--compare the powerful rhythms and changing voice
intonations of gospel preachers with the monotonous, unrhythmic speech patterns of
a Henry Kissinger).
While in trance you should capitalize on your hypersuggestibility to implant
suggestions that will help you reenter the hypnotic state quickly and easily. Many
like to use a signal or cue word: e.g. you might suggest to yourself that when you are
in a relaxed state and speak the word "shazam" to yourself, it is a signal for you to
go directly into a deep hypnotic trance, relaxed, focused and hypersuggestible.
Ideomotor Signals. While in a trance state one has more direct access to hidden or
unconscious material. One effective way of learning information that is hidden away
in your unconscious mind is the use of ideomotor finger signals: suggest to yourself
that you will ask yourself questions, that you will respond to those questions
truthfully, and that if the answer to a question is "yes" you will respond by moving
your right forefinger; if the answer is "no," you will move your left forefinger. This is
a valuable technique for everything from uncovering past (and long suppressed)
traumas to making decisions to remembering where you put the car keys.
One of the most remarkable features of being in a trance state is that you can plant
suggestions so that they take effect at some later point, when you're no longer in
trance. We're all familiar with the concept of post-hypnotic suggestion: the hypnotist
plants the suggestion in the hypnotized subject that when the subject receives a
certain signal or stimulus, a whistle, for example, the subject will then feel compelled
to tie his shoelaces. In recent years a variation of this technique has been developed
and refined that permits individuals in trance to give themselves a trigger mechanism
that later, when it's employed, can automatically activate specific desired behaviors
or states. The device is called an anchor.
An anchor is basically a stimulus/response mechanism: Pavlov conditioned his dogs
to salivate at the sound of a bell by teaching them to associate the bell with food.
Anchors are created whenever we're in a heightened or intense mental state, and we
receive a specific signal or stimulus at the peak of that state: at that point a
neurological link between the stimulus and the state is created. Pavlov's dogs were in
a heightened state (hunger) when they were given food, and at the peak of that state
the bell rang; in time the bell alone was enough to cause the dogs to salivate. In a
similar way hundreds of Oldies but Goodies trigger a response in me: I was in a
heightened state (sexual arousal) in the back seat of a car, for example, when the
Fleetwoods came on the radio playing "Mr. Blue," and now thirty years later when I
hear the song it triggers a Pavlovian response in me--the song is an anchor for that
intense psychophysiological state.
Anchors can be created under virtually any circumstances--we do it all the time,
when we unconsciously link a specific slogan with a specific product ("Just Do It"), or
a signal with a feeling-state (a Christmas tree), or a signal with an action (the stop
light turns red). Athletes anchor themselves constantly: the batter tugs his
shirtsleeves just so, pounds the bat twice in exactly the same spot, pulls the bill of
his cap once, and only then, having anchored a feeling of confidence, is he ready to
swing at the pitch. However, we now know that the more intense or heightened our
mental state, the more rapidly and powerfully are we going to create anchors, and
the longer will those anchors last. Mind machines, as much evidence indicates, are
highly effective tools for creating intense and heightened mental states. In the selfhypnotic
trance we enter a heightened and intensified condition called
hypersuggestibility. The combination of these two, self-hypnosis and mind machines,
is one of the most extraordinarily effective and rapid ways of creating powerful
anchors that has yet been discovered.
How do you create anchors? The first step is to get into the state you wish to anchor.
This is where self-hypnosis is so valuable. Let's say you tend to get flustered and
slow-witted when in the midst of staff meetings, and want to anchor a feeling of coolheadedness
and verbal ease, fluency and control. You put on your MT, enter your
hypnotic trance, and when in a hypersuggestible state, you visualize yourself at a
staff meeting, seeing all your associates, creating the meeting room, hearing the
sounds, smelling the smells, feeling your chair, all in concrete detail; and you
experience yourself as being fluent, cool-headed, witty and controlled. You
experience this as intensely and powerfully as possible. Then, at the peak of this
entire experience, when you are fully and intensely experiencing the exhilaration, the
confidence, the sensations of mastery . . . at that point, create your anchor.
The anchor may be any distinctive stimulus. You might, for example, place your
thumb against the first knuckle of your right forefinger. Evidence indicates that the
best anchors are those that combine several different sensory modalities--sound,
image, sensation, etc. So you might want to create an anchor that combines the
thumb against right forefinger with a spoken word (something like "Speak Now");
perhaps you might even want to add an image to the anchor (perhaps a bright image
of a sun shining).
Once created, the anchor serves as a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion. The next staff
meeting when you feel the need to speak you will then activate your anchor. You will
find yourself experiencing the feelings of verbal mastery and coolheadedness that
you experienced in your trance state: these feelings are neurologically linked to the
If you create your anchor when you are in a highly focused and intense state, one
time will be enough to produce a strong response when you activate it later.
However, in all cases repetition serves to strengthen an anchor. By enabling you to
quickly, consistently and reliably return to your deeply relaxed, focused state, MTs
are invaluable for the creation of strong and effective anchors.
Having intentionally created one anchor you can then move on toward the creation of
an entire repertoire of anchors--one for relaxation, one for a sudden burst of physical
energy, one for pleasure, one for intense concentration, one for creativity, one for
self-healing, one for pain relief, one for confidence, etc. (In fact Robert Monroe,
creator of the Hemi-Synctm tapes, has devised a tape series that in effect helps you
create a multitude of anchors. He has called the series H-Plus (Human Plus), A
Program of Planned Self-Evolution. Each of the more than 50 tapes presents the
listener with a new anchor [what Monroe calls an "action signal"], ranging from
anchors to enhance memory to anchors for enhanced circulation to the brain. I
recommend this series highly, and have found it works well when used in
combination with other MTs.) In any case, your ability to create and use anchors is
limited only by your imagination.
SELF-REGULATION AND EXPLORATION
Once you have learned a few of the simple techniques outlined above, a whole new
universe of ways to use your MT opens, and your MT use becomes not simply a way
to relax and passively entertain and enjoy yourself, but a versatile tool for actively
transforming your life. In the sections below I will briefly touch on a few of the ways
you can use your MT for self-exploration, problem-solving and personal growth.
There's abundant research showing that virtually all type of MTs--float tanks, CES,
light/sound, motion systems, binaural beats at certain frequencies--are effective in
alleviating pain. Evidence indicates that, among other pain-alleviating effects, many
of these MTs stimulate the release of beta-endorphins, with their opiate-like pain
reduction properties. However, there are ways of using MTs to increase and
accelerate their pain-reduction power.
Body-Scan. Perhaps the best way to start working on your pain is to use the
mindfulness body-scan technique mentioned above. Use the body-scan to focus on
your pain, and to become aware of how it effects the rest of your body and your life.
This mindful body-scan may provide you with information about how you can
alleviate your pain, and how you might be able to change your style of living or your
activities to alleviate the pain. For example, someone with chronic headaches might
find on an attentive body-scan that they have tension in their shoulders or neck, and
that by loosening that tension they can eliminate their headaches. Similarly, by using
your MT session to conduct a daily body-scan, you can be aware of the increases and
decreases in your pain, and begin to associate levels of pain with your daily activities:
you might find, for example, that your lower back pain peaks the day after you spend
long hours completing a report on your computer, something you've never noticed
before, and then take action to change your physical posture at the computer.
Breathing. Having completed a body-scan, you might want to then use one of the
breathing techniques outlined above and visualize each breath as a white light that
eliminates pain--as you inhale, the pain-relieving light flows directly to the source of
your pain, where it creates a glowing ball of light. With each inhalation, the ball of
light grows in intensity, with each exhalation, you visualize yourself exhaling pain. In
a very short time you'll find the pain diminishing and disappearing.
Self-hypnosis. Or, after completing your body-scan, you may want to do a selfhypnosis
induction. Having reached a state of hypersuggestibility, you may suggest
to yourself that your pain is gone--this suggestion can be strengthened by using
different sensory modes, for example visualizing your pain as a tight knot and then
seeing it loosen, expand and dissolve, like a Chinese paper flower in water; or,
experiencing your pain as being red hot, and then replacing it with ice, and feeling it
become cool. When you're truly hypnotized, the powers of suggestion are enormous-
-hypnosis has been widely used to anesthetize patients undergoing serious surgery,
childbirth and dental work, and afterwards the patients report experiencing no pain
Much of our behavior as well as our image of ourselves and our beliefs are the result
of suggestions or programs that have lodged themselves in our psyches in moments
when we were particularly receptive or suggestible. Many of these suggestions, or
"scripts," are a result of childhood experiences. Dr. Thomas Budzynski points out: "If
you slap a child,or in any way get it into an altered state . . . and then say something
to the child, you're going to be laying down a script in the right hemisphere, which
may not have access later on to consciousness in the left hemisphere, but
nevertheless will alter the behavior and attitudes of that child as an adult."
Budzynski points to such scripts as "You're no good" and "You'll never amount to
anything" and "You'll never learn" as particularly powerful scripts, leading to constant
self-sabotage in adult life.
However, the MTs are a perfect tool for counteracting these negative scripts, or
"rescripting." Dr. Budzynski, who uses MTs for rescripting in his own practice,
observes that "The technique involves, first, the uncovering of the scripts, second,
the creation of counter-scripts which present a more positive outcome, and third, the
repeated presentation of the counter-script, preferably while in a deeply relaxed or
hypnotic state. The L/S [light/sound machine] is used both to facilitate the
uncovering and the rescripting itself." Budzynski notes that "the L/S, during the
uncovering, can help produce this deeply relaxed state and, possibly, entrain the EEG
pattern that was dominant at the time of the trauma." This refers to the fact that
light/sound machines can help users to enter the theta state--the brainwave state
that is predominant during most of the childhood years, when the original scripts are
laid down. "During the rescription phase," Budzynski continues, "the L/S again helps
produce the deep relaxation (or facilitates the hypnosis) as the positive outcome
scene is repeatedly imagined."
Uncovering. The first step toward rescripting is uncovering. After putting on the MT,
relaxing and moving into a deep theta state (or entering a self-hypnotic trance), you
may find suppressed memories surfacing spontaneously in the form of visual
flashbacks or images. You may want to proceed with a conscious process of
uncovering by using ideomotor finger signals. You may ask if the problems you want
to deal with are the result of a single traumatic experience. If so, you may continue
using your ideomotor signals to narrow in on the date (how old were you when the
experience occurred), the location, etc. You may combine this with suggestions that
you can visualize the experience. Dr. Budzynski points out that "Uncovering is a very
sensitive and potentially anxiety-evoking process" and recommends it be attempted
only by trained mental health professionals. However, you may feel confident that
you can confront these past experiences; and you may provide an additional
safeguard by having another ideomotor finger signal (such as a movement of the
thumb) that indicates to you, "I don't want to deal with this material at this time,"
and is a signal for you not to delve more deeply until a later time.
Rescripting. Once the harmful script has been uncovered, the next step is to
develop a counter-script. Budzynski mentions several types of rescription: "The
client can change the way he or she was thinking in the situation (cognition), or the
external behavior (behavior), or the words that were said (verbal), or any
combination of the three. Usually, a change in external or verbal behavior will
produce a change in the other person's behavior and therefore, a different, hopefully
more adaptive, outcome."
While in your deeply relaxed state, you should recreate the original traumatic
experience, using as much concrete detail and as many sensory modalities as
possible. However, as the scene is recreated, you should alter it in such a way that it
produces a positive outcome. Budzynski describes a case of a woman who had an
inexplicable pain in her arms who, upon going into hypnosis and using ideomotor
signals, revealed that while she had been hospitalized and unconscious after a fall
from a horse, and while a nurse was inserting an IV in her arm, a visiting relative
remarked, "Gee, that looks like it would sting!" The woman's unconsious mind, in an
altered state, apparently took this as a command. "The rescription was simple," says
Budzynski, "an old but wise 'Dr. Welby' type physician was introduced to the scene.
When the triggering remark was made, the wise physician said, 'Oh sure it stings for
a few seconds, but then it feels as good as new.' When the client awakened, the pain
Like anchoring, rescripting gains in power with repetition, and the more vivid the
rescripted experience (engaging several senses and with contrete details) the more
power it has to counter the old script.
A slightly different rescripting technique is widely used by practicioners of Neuro-
Linguistic Programming (NLP), and is called the Swish pattern. NLP teaches you how
to do a Swish pattern in ordinary consciousness. However, I've found that using this
(and other NLP techniques) in the midst of an MT experience boosts it to a higher
order of effectiveness. I have used this technique in many of my Megabrain
Workshops, and have found that it can produce rapid and dramatic effects. As
Anthony Robbins writes, "A swish pattern takes internal representations [i.e. scripts]
that normally produce states of unresourcefulness and causes them to automatically
trigger new internal representations [i.e. counterscripts] that put you in the
resourceful states you desire."
Having uncovered, for example, the script that causes you to overeat, you create a
script that would counter the overeating script, and establish a mental link between
the two scripts, so that each time you think of overeating, the counterscript would be
Once you have entered the MT experience and taken yourself to a deeply relaxed,
theta or self-hypnotized state, the first step is to identify the behavior you want to
change. Having done so, the next step is to create a visual image of it--a simple but
vivid scene or "picture." The next step is to crfeate a second picture--a
representation of yourself as you would be if you had made the desired change in
The next step is to "swish" these two pictures to that the unwanted behavior
automatically triggers the new behavior. Anthony Robbins describes this procedure:
"Start by making a big bright picture of the behavior you want to change. Then, in
the bottom of the right-hand corner of that picture, make a small dark picture of the
way you want to be. Now take that small picture, and in less than one second, have
it grow in size and brightness and literally burst through the picture of the behavior
you no longer desire. As you do this process, say the word 'wooosh' with all the
excitement and enthusiasm you can." Having done this, open your eyes for a split
second to break the state, and then repeat.
The key to the swish is speed and repetition. Once you're in your theta state, or your
hypnotic trance, perform the swish pattern over and over, taking only a second or so
for each repetition. If you experience this swish pattern intensely enough, you
should find that whenever you begin to act out your old, harmful script, you will
immediately find yourself switching to your new script.
Another learning/uncovering, mindfulness, and problem solving technique that is
highly effective when used in combination with MTs is called Focusing. Developed by
University of Chicago psychologist Eugene Gendlin, focusing enables practicioners to
manipulate their brains in such a way that they reach new insights that lead to
dramatic and beneficial behavioral changes.
In focusing, one attempts to get a "felt sense" of the problem, and through a series
of focusing steps that turn attention away from the external environment and
increase awareness of subtle emotional states and physical sensations, one reaches a
point at which one experiences a "felt shift," an experience marked by a sudden
release of tension, a feeling of deep physical relief, a sense that the problem or
unclear feeling has been understood.
We've all experienced focusing and felt shifts. For example: you leave your house and
soon have an uneasy feeling you've forgotten something. You "focus," trying to
identify the problem: have you left the gas on? the water running? In each case you
know that's not the answer because you feel no inward release. Finally you get the
correct answer--you forgot your briefcase--and with a "felt shift," a feeling of
understanding, release from tension, and satisfaction sweeps over your body. Aha!
One EEG researcher was curious to find out what happens to brainwave activity when
one of these "felt shifts" occurs. Making a computer analysis of over 8,000 EEG
readings, he discovered that just preceding the moment the felt shift occurs, there
were peaks of alpha and theta activity.
If alpha and theta activity accompany the focusing process, it's likely that by actively
inducing alpha and theta activity by using an MT, we can induce or facilitate the
To learn more about some of the techniques and procedures I've touched on above,
you might want to consult some of the following books and tapes.
Relaxation. A number of relaxation techniques are included in my work The Book of
Floating (Morrow/Quill, 1984). See also The Relaxation Response (Morrow, 1975) and
The Mind/Body Effect (Simon & Schuster, 1979) by Herbert Benson, M.D.; also
Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, by Joan Borysenko (Bantam, 1988), and The
Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration and Meditation, by Joel Levey (Wisdom
Mindfulness. Perhaps the best introduction to mindfulness meditation is Full
Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. (Delacorte, 1990). Other excellent
works are Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation, by Joseph
Goldstein and Jack Kornfeld (Shambala, 1987), Stephen Levine's A Gradual
Awakening (Anchor/Doubleday, 1979), and Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's
Mind (Weatherhill, 1986).
Open Focus. The best introduction to Open Focus is The Open Focus Handbook by
George Fritz, Ed.D. and Les Fehmi, Ph.D., or the Open Focus Audiotapes, available in
a six-tape or twelve-tape series, leading from a basic introduction through advanced
tapes for pain control and sports training.
Accelerated Learning. A fine overview of accelerated learning techniques is
Superlearning by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder (Delacorte, 1979) and the
more recent Super-Memory: The Revolution, (Caroll & Graf, 1991) which includes
information about the use of brain machines for enhanced mental functioning.
Self-Hypnosis. An introduction to self-hypnosis is included in The Book of Floating
(William Morrow/Quill, 1984), which I wrote before writing Megabrain. For more, see
Leslie LeCron, Self-Hypnotism (Prentice-Hall, 1964). A superb and consciousnesstransforming
work that includes much valuable information about self-hypnosis,
including sample induction and self-suggestion scripts, is The Psychobiology of Mind-
Body Healing by Ernest Rossi (Norton, 1986). See also The Answer Within: A Clinical
Framework of Ericksonian Hypnotherapy, by Lankton and Lankton (Bruner/Mazel,
Anchoring and the Swish Pattern. For a good introduction to these and other NLP
techniques, see Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins (Fawcett, 1986). The "H-Plus"
tape series from the Monroe Institute of Applied Science provides numerous "action
signals" (i.e. anchors), delivered in combination with binaural beat frequencies and a
spoken induction that guides you into a hyper-suggestible state, delivers the action
signal, then brings you back to waking consciousness.
Rescripting. See Thomas Budzynski's excellent articles, particularly "Brain
lateralization and rescripting," Somatics, 3, 1-10 (1981), and "Clinical applications of
no-drug-induced states." In B. Wolman and M. Ullman (Eds.) Handbook of States of
Consciousness (Van Nostrand-Reinhold, 1986). A wonderful classic is Programming
and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer by John C. Lilly (Julian, 1972). See
also the valuable Software for the Mind: How to Program Your Mind for Optimum
Health and Performance by Emmett Miller (Celestial Arts, 1987).
Focusing. See Focusing by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D. (Everest, 1978).
Visualization. An excellent introduction is Seeing with the Mind's Eye, by Mike
Samuels, M.D. and Nancy Samuels (Random House, 1975). See also Creative
Visualization by Shakti Gawain ( b??????) for helpful guided visualization and selfsuggestion
techniques and scripts.