vipassana and the brain

Vipassana Meditation and the Brain: A Scientific Experiment

Contents

Introduction

Over the years, my yogi friends have consistently urged me to explore Vipassana meditation, claiming that I, as a self-proclaimed meditation nerd, would find it profoundly transformative. These recommendations often came from individuals who had ventured into the depths of consciousness through various practices, including Ayahuasca ceremonies. So, I would inquire about their experiences and often heard responses like, “It’s on par with the spiritual growth from Ayahuasca,” or even, “It delves even deeper than Ayahuasca.”

Such endorsements left an indelible mark on my curiosity. After all, I’m no stranger to exploring the far reaches of the mind. In the past, I ventured into the Brazilian jungle to measure the effects of Ayahuasca on the human brain.

Now, here was another modality of inner exploration touted to be even more profound. I was intrigued, to say the least. So, I embarked on a journey to Nepal, equipped with my trusty Muse2 Brain-sensing headband, to experience this ancient meditation technique for myself.

kathmandu
The ancient, mystical and beautiful city of Kathmandu, Nepal

What is Vipassana?

Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique introduced by the OG (original guru/gangster) of consciousness, Gautama Buddha, some 2500 years ago. Its history is intriguing, as it was lost to most of the world for centuries but preserved in Burma. In the 1960s, it made its way back to India and subsequently spread worldwide, primarily due to the efforts of Goenka-ji.

Today, hundreds of Vipassana centers exist globally, offering this technique through 10-day silent retreats. During these retreats, participants maintain silence, surrendering their computers, phones, and even books at the outset, resulting in a complete detox from distractions. The retreat unfolds with approximately 10 hours of daily meditation over nine consecutive days, culminating in a half-day of silence on the 10th day, followed by the joyous return to speech.

Vipassana was introduced by the OG meditator - Gautama Buddha

The technique’s instructions are dispensed incrementally each day. It begins with refining awareness on a small part of the body, typically the upper lip. By day 4, this heightened awareness is used to perform a body scan, a process that becomes progressively deeper and subtler. There are only two meals daily and a light evening snack. Days commence at 4:30 AM and lights-out at 9 PM.

The results of this mind-altering experience, as reported by participants, are often profound and transformational. On the 10th day, when the silence finally breaks, there’s a distinct buzz, akin to a shared psychedelic experience.

Many participants return to the Vipassana ashram year after year, often volunteering or extending their meditation for longer periods. For some, Vipassana becomes the path to enlightenment.

My Experience with Vipassana

Entering the retreat, I assumed that my daily meditation practice of 2-3 hours would grant me an advantage. However, meditating for 10 hours daily proved an entirely different challenge. It pushed me to the limits of my consciousness, particularly during adithan, or strong determination sits, where participants are expected to meditate without any movement for 2-3 hours daily.

Around day 5, I began to experientially grasp the essence of Vipassana, and it was nothing short of mind-blowing. One of its central concepts is the impermanence of mind. During the body scan, we identify aches, pains, and sensations, both obvious and subtle. Through extended observation, we witness firsthand the transient nature of these sensations—how they come and go. They are not real; they are illusory.

This realization extends to mental sensations, including thoughts, images, and emotions. They are no different from physical sensations—equally illusory and fleeting.

impermanence picasso
The moment the realisation of impermanence hits

By day 5, a monumental realization struck me: if all sensations are impermanent, in constant flux, and yet there exists a permanent observer of these sensations, then, essentially, there is no “me” beyond this observer. The pain, the emotions, the ego, and the memories, often associated with the “self,” are, in reality, illusions. I am an illusion—an egoic hologram. Yet, something remains permanent—the observer, the witness. Everything else is ephemeral.

You may read these words and find them logical, and I had heard similar concepts in the past. However, there’s a world of difference between intellectual knowledge and experiential realization. On that day, standing outside the meditation hall, the realization hit me like a ton of bricks. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself and smiled. “Holy fucking shit.”

The subsequent five days delved even deeper into this understanding, and I emerged profoundly transformed.

The Effect of a 10-day Vipassana Retreat on the Brain

However, this article isn’t about my subjective experience alone. I was keen on understanding whether practicing Vipassana in silence for 10 days would have a measurable impact on my brain waves. The answer, resoundingly, is YES.

Experimental Design, Hardware & Software

To assess the impact on my brain, I employed the same hardware and software I typically use—the Muse2 Brain-Sensing Headband paired with the MindMonitor software. The unique conditions within the ashram, regulating every aspect from diet to sleep, created an ideal environment for collecting pristine brain data.

The design was straightforward: I collected a baseline snapshot of my brain activity just before entering the Vipassana ashram and another snapshot immediately after the retreat.

Results & Conclusion

The contrast between my brain waves before and after the retreat is astonishing.

– The Power Spectral Density (PSD) of Gamma Waves, often associated with expanded consciousness and heightened awareness, increased by over 800%. Tibetan monks have demonstrated the ability to activate their gamma waves at will, sometimes increasing them by over 800%. In my Ayahuasca experiment, I observed that consuming Ayahuasca also led to a surge in the PSD of gamma brain waves.

– Brain hemispheric coherence, a measure of the synchronization between the brain hemispheres, increased dramatically. Before the retreat, my brain waves were slightly negatively correlated (-16%). After the retreat, they were more than 50% correlated. This level of coherence is significant. To put it in context, after 30 days of Ayahuasca, my brain waves were only 15% correlated, which was already a noteworthy result.

The data suggests that Vipassana has a profound impact on the brain, specifically on gamma waves and brain coherence. While it appears that Vipassana might go deeper than Ayahuasca, more data is needed for conclusive confirmation.

In conclusion, Vipassana stands as an incredibly potent meditation practice, known for its ability to expand consciousness and lead individuals to profound realizations. As Buddha taught, Vipassana is not bound by dogma; it offers a direct path to truth, non-duality, and oneness.

Raw Data

The data collected during this case study is freely available here. If you have any questions, or better yet new discoveries shoot us a message on Instagram here

Unveiling the Power Within: A Complete Guide to the 7 Chakras and How to Activate Them

Unveiling the Power Within: A Complete Guide to the 7 Chakras and How to Activate Them

image of the chakras

In our daily lives, we often experience physical sensations and emotions that seem to originate from deep within us. Have you ever noticed how overthinking can trigger a throbbing headache? Or how stage fright can manifest as those familiar “butterflies in the stomach”? And that magical moment when the person you love looks into your eyes, you may feel an inexplicable sensation of your heart opening.

These seemingly ordinary occurrences are actually connected to a profound system within us known as the chakras. By exploring ancient techniques, we can awaken and activate these chakras, which are dormant areas within our nervous system, and embark on a transformative journey towards a more fulfilled and enchanting life.

In this comprehensive guide to the Chakras, we will delve into the fundamentals of chakra theory for beginners, dispel common misconceptions, explore the scientific aspects of chakras, and take a profound dive into each of the main chakras. Additionally, we will provide you with specific exercises to help activate and harmonize these energy centers, empowering you to unlock their immense potential.

What are Chakras?

The word “chakra” originates from Sanskrit and translates to “wheel” or “vortex.” The latter translation, “vortex,” is particularly acute. In essence, chakras can be likened to powerful vortices that have the transformative ability to expand our perception, both internally and externally.

Chakras represent concentrated areas of heightened neural activity situated at specific points along the physical spinal cord. Additionally, there exists the concept of the astral spine, which resides within the physical spine and encompasses the metaphysical aspects associated with each chakra. Every chakra possesses a unique combination of physical and metaphysical characteristics.

chakras metaphysical and physical
Chakras are areas of heightened neural activity situated at specific points along the physical spinal cord

Maintaining a balanced chakra system is vital to facilitate the unrestricted flow of energy throughout both the physical and non-physical aspects of our being. When chakras become blocked, they often manifest as physical, mental, or emotional ailments.

Chakras, with their intricate interplay of energy and consciousness, play a fundamental role in our overall well-being and spiritual growth. Exploring and understanding the chakras can offer profound insights into ourselves and provide valuable tools for personal evolution and self-healing.

How Many Chakras are There?

In reality, the human body encompasses a vast network of 114 chakras intricately connected to 72,000 nadis. However, for our focus, we will explore the 7 fundamental chakras (along with an important, but lesser-known, chakra outside the body known as Bindu).

Comprehending and cultivating experiential knowledge of these core 7 chakras provides a strong foundation to embark on a journey towards joy and a more fulfilling life.

Are Chakras Real?

Yes, chakras are indeed real, powerful, and have the potential to bring about life-changing experiences. However, in the Western world, they have often been misunderstood.

When the word “chakra” is mentioned, what images come to mind? Perhaps you think of your hippie cousin with dreadlocks who mentioned something about his heart chakra during a Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe you envision that eccentric lady living down the street who has numerous cats and constantly smells of incense.

These associations with the concept of “chakra” are also valid and reflect the influence of art, memes, mental impressions, and cultural depictions. However, what is the true essence behind these impressions?

Simply put, chakras are areas of heightened nervous activity located along the physical spine. They function as switches, capable of activating dormant regions of the brain.

chakra neurons spine
Intelligence is not confined to the brain; it forms a distributed system that extends along the entire spine

Intelligence and consciousness are not solely confined to the brain; they actually form a distributed system that extends along the entire spine and into every part of the body. While the physical brain serves as a crucial hub and is associated with the ajna chakra, commonly referred to as the third eye, the chakra system extends beyond it. Each chakra possesses unique intelligence and governs various aspects of our being, including sexual desire (sacral chakra), motivation and procrastination (navel chakra), love (heart chakra), and oral expression (throat chakra) – just to name a few.

The Science of Chakras

Chakras play a fundamental role in our neurophysiology, functioning as miniature brains within our energetic system. To grasp this concept, we can draw parallels between the chakras and our main brain, known as the ajna, third eye or the control centre.

Interestingly, we can identify a remarkable resemblance between each chakra location along the spine and nerve plexuses. For instance, the HeartMath Institute in California conducted research revealing the presence of approximately 40,000 neurons at the anahata chakra or cardiac plexus.

To gain a deeper understanding of the chakras, it’s helpful to connect their traditional Sanskrit names with corresponding regions in Western scientific anatomy. This alignment reveals that each chakra corresponds to a plexus or gland—regions of the spine characterised by heightened neural density.

chakra science
Chakra Location and Western Anatomy Correlation

By recognizing the chakras as physical areas of increased neural density, any doubts regarding their existence dissolve, giving way to a profound truth. Just like any other part of the brain, chakras can be trained, sensitized, and strengthened. The next step is to explore the specific techniques and practices for each chakra, but before we explore that, let’s delve a bit further into the theory.

Chakras vs. Kshetrams

One aspect that often causes confusion when discussing chakras is the way they are depicted artistically, predominantly shown at the front of the body. While this visualization can be helpful, it can also be misleading. As we already know, most chakras are actually located along the spine (with the exception of Root, Crown and Bindu Chakras). If you’ve ever questioned their existence because you couldn’t see or feel them at the front of your body, you’re absolutely right. After all, the front side primarily consists of skin and flesh, so how could the chakras be there?

 

Chakras vs. Kshetrams
Kshetrams at the Front, Chakras at the Back

In truth, it is the kshetrams that lie on the front side of the body. Think of kshetrams as the mirrored reflection of the spinal chakras on the front side. It’s important to note that the muladhara (root chakra) and sahasrara (crown chakra) do not have corresponding kshetrams. However, each of the other chakras in the body has its respective kshetram located at specific points on the front side.

To fully engage in chakra awakening meditation techniques, it’s important to grasp the significance of these kshetrams. They play a pivotal role in practices that involve visualizing energy ascending through the front kshetrams and descending through the chakras at the back. 

Chakras vs. Nadis

Nadis play a vital role in the intricate energy system of the body. These energy channels are responsible for the transportation of prana, often referred to as the life force, throughout our being. While there are a staggering 72,000 nadis in total, we will focus on the three main ones: Ida, Sushumna, and Pingala.

nadis
Chakras vs. Nadis: chakras are the switches, nadis are the wires

Sushumna takes center stage as the primary energy channel, running along the spine. It serves as the core pathway, connecting the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Consider it the central highway for pranic flow.

In addition to Sushumna, we have Ida and Pingala, two other significant energy channels that also traverse the spine. Ida, often associated with the lunar energy, courses on the left side of the spine, while Pingala, linked to solar energy, flows on the right side. These two channels work in harmony with Sushumna to create a balanced flow of prana throughout the body.

An effective way to comprehend the relationship between chakras and nadis is to envision the human body as an intricate electrical system. In this analogy, the chakras serve as the switches, activating and regulating energy flow, while the nadis act as the wires through which this energy travels. Just as the three main nadis—Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna—can be seen as the central main lines within this energetic network.

While the topic of nadis warrants a more detailed exploration, understanding their connection to chakras provides a deeper comprehension of how energy flows within our being.

What is a Blocked Chakra?

A blocked chakra occurs when the harmonious balance of physical, psychological, and emotional aspects associated with that particular chakra is disrupted. 

Let’s take the manipura chakra as an example: persistent indigestion (physical), lack of motivation (psychological), and heightened irritability (emotional) are often indications of an imbalanced manipura chakra.

This pattern of imbalance can manifest in both the physical and metaphysical realms, affecting various aspects of our well-being. It’s important to recognize that the interplay between multiple chakras often contributes to a complex web of seemingly unrelated issues.

prana blockage
Post-2007 Homo Sapien posture often leads to blocked chakras

Herein lies the transformative potential of the chakra system and ancient Eastern practices like Kundalini Tantra and Kriya Yoga. By understanding this perspective, the process of unblocking chakras and alleviating seemingly unrelated afflictions becomes clearer. Specific techniques can be employed over time to target and improve the crucial areas of our neurophysiology responsible for these blockages.

It’s worth noting that working with the chakra system requires a holistic approach, considering the interconnectedness of our physical, mental, and emotional states. By addressing the underlying imbalances and nurturing the flow of energy within our chakras, we can promote overall well-being and enhance our self-healing capabilities.

How to Open your Chakras

There are various approaches to open your chakras and experience a profound shift in your perception of reality. These methods encompass a range of practices, including:

  1. Plant Medicine: Utilizing potent substances like Ayahuasca or Peyote to facilitate chakra opening and transformational experiences. 
  2. Asana and Pranayama: Combining physical yoga positions (asanas) with specialized breathing exercises (pranayama) to activate and balance the chakras.
  3. Kundalini Tantra: Engaging in advanced kriya meditation techniques rooted in Kundalini Tantra, a powerful path for chakra awakening.

At Amargi, we specialize in Kundalini Tantra, Asana and Pranayama. We offer a comprehensive chakra awakening course that delves into numerous meditation techniques for opening each chakra. Additionally, the course provides a wealth of valuable bonuses to support your journey.

In the following sections of our Deep Dive, you’ll discover specific asanas and meditations dedicated to opening and activating each chakra. These practices are designed to enhance your connection with the chakra system and unlock its transformative potential.

Remember, the journey of chakra opening is deeply personal, and finding the right approach that resonates with you is key. It is through dedicated practice and exploration that you can embark on a remarkable transformational journey toward self-discovery and heightened consciousness.

Chakra Deep Dive

Welcome to our profound journey into the depths of the chakras. Together, we will embark on a comprehensive exploration of the seven primary chakras (and bindu). Each chakra possesses a unique color, mantra, physical and metaphysical properties, symbol, element, and powerful techniques for unblocking and activating these energy centers. Consider this your invaluable reference guide and launching pad for boundless self-exploration.

As we delve into the intricacies of each chakra, we’ll link to detailed instructions on various exercises to awaken and unblock them. Over time, we will continue to enrich this resource with additional links, ensuring you have access to comprehensive guidance. To stay informed and connected, be sure to follow us on instagram or twitter. Prepare to unlock the radiant potential within you and embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery. Let’s begin this wondrous odyssey together!

Root Chakra

The Muladhara Chakra, also known as the Root Chakra, is the foundation of our energetic system. Located at the base of the spine, it represents our connection to the Earth and our sense of stability and security. This energy center is like the roots of a tree, grounding us and providing a strong foundation for our spiritual growth. When the Muladhara Chakra is balanced, we feel grounded, safe, and supported. It is through this chakra that we can tap into our primal instincts and awaken a deep sense of belonging and rootedness. Nurturing and balancing the Muladhara Chakra is essential for establishing a solid and harmonious spiritual journey.

muladhara root chakra

Sanskrit Name: Muladhara

Translation: “Root of Existence”

Location: Perineum

Color: Red

Symbol: Four-petaled lotus

Meaning: Foundation, stability, grounding

Element: Earth

Mantra: Lam

Signs of blockage: Feelings of insecurity, lack of stability, financial difficulties

Yoga Poses to unblock: Mountain pose (Tadasana), Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana)

How to Awaken: Moola Bandha (perineal contraction)

Sacral Chakra

The Svadhishthana Chakra, also known as the Sacral Chakra, is a swirling vortex of energy located at the sacral plexus. It is the center of our creativity, passion, and emotional well-being. This chakra is like a sacred cauldron where our desires, sensuality, and pleasure reside. When the Svadhishthana Chakra is in balance, we experience a harmonious flow of our emotions and an uninhibited expression of our creative energy. It is through this chakra that we tap into our deepest desires, allowing them to manifest in the physical realm. By nurturing and balancing the Svadhishthana Chakra, we unlock our authentic creative potential and embrace the vibrant and sensual aspects of our being. This chakra invites us to explore and embrace the richness of life, igniting a passionate and joyful existence.

sacral chakra svadhishthana

Sanskrit Name: Svadhishthana

Translation: “Where your being is established”

Location: Sacral Plexus

Color: Orange

Symbol: Six-petaled lotus

Meaning: Creativity, sexuality, emotional well-being

Element: Water

Mantra: Vam

Signs of blockage: Lack of creativity, low libido, emotional instability

Yoga Poses to unblock: Bound Angle pose (Baddha Konasana), Pigeon pose (Kapotasana)

How to Awaken: Vajroli/Sahajoli Mudra, Ashwini Mudra

The Manipura Chakra, is a radiant powerhouse of energy located at the solar plexus. It is the seat of our personal power, confidence, and inner strength. This chakra is like a blazing sun within us, fueling our self-esteem and empowering us to take charge of our lives. When the Manipura Chakra is balanced, we radiate a sense of purpose and assertiveness, and we have the courage to pursue our goals and dreams. It is through this chakra that we tap into our inner warrior, embracing our unique gifts and stepping into leadership roles. By nourishing and harmonizing the Manipura Chakra, we ignite our inner fire and unleash our authentic power, allowing us to manifest our desires and embody our true potential. This chakra encourages us to stand tall and shine brightly, illuminating our path with confidence and determination.

Navel Chakra, Manipura

Sanskrit Name: Manipura

Translation: “City of Jewels”

Location: Solar plexus

Color: Yellow

Symbol: Ten-petaled lotus

Meaning: Personal power, confidence, willpower

Element: Fire

Mantra: Ram

Signs of blockage: Low self-esteem, lack of motivation, digestive issues

Yoga Poses to unblock: Boat pose (Navasana), Warrior III pose (Virabhadrasana III)

How to Awaken: Agnisar Kriya, Uddiyana Bandha

Heart Chakra

The Anahata Chakra, the Heart Chakra, is the radiant center of love and compassion within us. Nestled in the cardiac plexus, it connects us to the infinite wellspring of unconditional love and kindness that flows through the universe. This chakra is like a blossoming flower, opening our hearts to the beauty and interconnectedness of all beings. When the Anahata Chakra is balanced, we experience deep emotional healing, forgiveness, and a profound sense of empathy. It is through this chakra that we cultivate harmonious relationships, not only with others but also with ourselves. By nurturing the Anahata Chakra, we embrace the power of love as a transformative force, healing our wounds and expanding our capacity to give and receive love. This chakra reminds us that we are all interconnected, and it encourages us to lead with compassion, kindness, and acceptance in our interactions with the world. With an open and balanced Anahata Chakra, we become beacons of love, radiating warmth and harmony to all those around us.

heart chakra, anahata

Sanskrit Name: Anahata

Translation: “unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten”

Location: Cardiac Plexus

Color: Green

Symbol: Twelve-petaled lotus

Meaning: Love, compassion, emotional healing

Element: Air

Mantra: Yam

Signs of blockage: Difficulty in giving and receiving love, feelings of isolation, heart-related issues

Yoga Poses to unblock: Camel pose (Ustrasana), Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana)

How to Awaken: Bhramari Pranayama, Ajapa japa meditation

Throat Chakra

The Throat Chakra, also known as the Vishuddha Chakra, is the center of self-expression and communication. Located near the thyroid gland, it is the gateway through which our authentic voice emerges. When the Throat Chakra is in harmony, we find the courage to speak our truth, share our thoughts, and express our creativity with clarity and confidence. This chakra empowers us to communicate not only with words but also through the power of sound, song, and art. It is through the Throat Chakra that we connect our inner world with the outer world, bridging the gap between our thoughts and the manifestation of our ideas. By nurturing the Throat Chakra, we unlock our authentic expression and honor our unique voice in the world. It encourages us to listen deeply, speak our truth with integrity, and embrace the power of our words to uplift and inspire. With a balanced Throat Chakra, we find ourselves in harmony with our inner voice and in alignment with our purpose, shining our light brightly and sharing our authentic message with the world.

throat chakra

Sanskrit Name: Vishuddha

Translation: “especially pure”

Location: Thyroid gland 

Color: Blue

Symbol: Sixteen-petaled lotus

Meaning: Communication, self-expression, truth

Element: Ether

Mantra: Ham

Signs of blockage: Difficulty in expressing oneself, fear of public speaking, throat-related issues

Yoga Poses to unblock: Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana), Fish pose (Matsyasana)

How to Awaken: Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock), Khechari Mudra (tongue lock), Ujjayi Pranayama (psychic breath)

Third Eye Chakra

The Ajna Chakra, the Third Eye Chakra, is the mystical gateway to expanded awareness and intuitive insight within us. Situated at the pineal gland, it is the seat of our inner wisdom and higher perception. This chakra is like a portal to unseen realms, enabling us to tap into the infinite wellspring of knowledge and transcendental wisdom that flows through the cosmos. When the Ajna Chakra is awakened and balanced, we experience a heightened sense of clarity, inner vision, and deep spiritual connection. It is through this chakra that we cultivate the ability to perceive beyond the limitations of the physical world, delving into the realms of subtle energies and higher consciousness. By nurturing the Ajna Chakra, we open ourselves to profound revelations and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the universe. This chakra serves as a guide, encouraging us to trust our inner guidance and follow the path of our soul’s purpose. With an awakened and aligned Ajna Chakra, we become vessels of divine wisdom, navigating life with clarity, intuition, and a profound connection to the sacred mysteries of existence.

third eye ajna chakra

Sanskrit Name: Ajna

Translation: “command” (or “perceive”)

Location: Mid-brain, Pineal Gland

Color:  Indigo

Symbol: Two-petaled lotus or a downward-pointing triangle within a circle

Meaning: Intuition, inner wisdom, perception

Element: Light

Mantra: Aum or Om

Signs of blockage: Lack of clarity, difficulty making decisions, poor intuition

Yoga Poses to unblock:Child’s pose (Balasana), Headstand (Sirsasana)

How to Awaken: Anuloma Viloma Pranayama, Trataka (concentrated gazing), Shambhavi Mudra

Bindu Chakra

The Bindu Chakra, the Divine Point, is the ethereal center of transcendence and cosmic consciousness within us. Located outside the body at the back of the head, it is the gateway to the realms beyond the physical and the union with the divine. This chakra is like a sacred portal, connecting us to the boundless expanse of cosmic energy and the infinite potential that permeates all creation. When the Bindu Chakra is awakened and harmonized, we experience a profound sense of oneness, bliss, and spiritual illumination. It is through this chakra that we transcend the boundaries of the material world and merge with the divine essence that flows through everything. By nurturing the Bindu Chakra, we open ourselves to the divine grace and infinite possibilities that exist beyond the realm of ordinary perception. This chakra is a reminder that we are not separate from the cosmos, but an integral part of its vast tapestry. With an awakened and balanced Bindu Chakra, we merge with the cosmic dance of creation, expanding our consciousness and embodying the highest realms of spiritual enlightenment.

bindu chakra

Sanskrit Name: Bindu

Translation: “point” (or “drop”)

Location: Outside the head, towards the back

Color: Translucent or pure white

Symbol: Beyond form or shape, often represented by the Moon

Meaning:  Ultimate consciousness, union, bliss

Element: N/A

Mantra: Shivoham

Signs of blockage: Lack of spiritual connection, Disconnection from universal energy, Limited perspective

Yoga Poses to unblock:Child’s pose (Balasana), Headstand (Sirsasana), Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana)

How to Awaken: Moorchha Pranayama, Shanmukhi Mudra

What Happens in the Brain during a 15-Minute Ice Bath?

Popularized by Wim “The Iceman” Hof, cold exposure and particularly ice baths have become increasingly fashionable – and rightly so. Ice baths have scientifically proven benefits to the human body, mind, and spirit.

Anyone who has done an ice bath knows that it can induce an altered (often blissful) state of consciousness. However, I was curious – what exactly happens in the brain during an ice bath? How do the brain waves behave?

To find out, I strapped on my trusty Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband paired with specialized brain wave monitoring software and submerged myself in an ice bath for 15 minutes.

Ice Bath Benefits

I’m a huge fan of the Wim Hof Method, where cold exposure is key. But it wasn’t always that way for me. When I started, I loved the breathing technique but despised cold showers.

However, after researching the health benefits of ice baths and with friends pushing me to try it, I took the plunge – and haven’t looked back since.

 

Rustic, outdoor cold shower in the French countryside

Surprisingly, I discovered that cold showers actually relax my body more than warm ones (even though our egos adore the latter). Hot showers can help you feel relaxed, but cold showers help you to truly be relaxed. Let that sink in.

Hot showers can help you feel relaxed, but cold showers help you to truly be relaxed.

Hot showers causing one to feel relaxed versus cold showers making one be relaxed is a subtle but important distinction. It’s comparable to watching Netflix vs meditating.

Netflix n’ Chill can definitely make you feel relaxed. Indeed, the ego finds solace in Netflix just like it does in a hot shower. However, we all know that watching Netflix every night does not promote long-lasting feelings of contentment. The positive feelings experienced while watching a movie do not transfer into everyday (non-Netflix) life. 

Meditation, however, can change your life. Fascinatingly, it has been scientifically proven that regular meditation can actually alter the structure of the nerve cells in your brain, leading to lasting feelings of contentment, reduced stress, and higher levels of focus. That means with regular practice, meditation can enable you to be relaxed (literally, on a cellular level!)

Analogously, although hot showers are easy, enjoyable, and relaxing (like Netflix), they do not teach you how to experience those same positive feelings when the hot shower is over. Cold showers on the other hand, though much harder on the ego and initially less relaxing, teach your mind and body a new way to be and can act as a catalyst for lasting personal evolution (like meditation).

Some proven ice bath benefits are:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Decreases recovery time after physical exercise 
  • Helps regulate the central nervous system
  • Trains the vagus nerve
  • Improves sleep
  • Reduces stress
  • Boosts immune system

But don’t take it from me. One of the things I really appreciate about Wim Hof is his enthusiasm for science – read all about the scientifically proven benefits of cold therapy from the man himself here.

The health benefits of cold therapy are well known, but what I wanted to know was – what exactly happens in the brain? How do the brain waves change during an ice bath? What clues could this provide about the nature of the ego?

What Happens in the Brain during an Ice Bath?

To find out, I used the Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband device and sat in an ice bath for a bit over 15 minutes.

This was my first ice bath so I was excited to collect virgin brain data (yes, you read that right). Since I had never experienced an ice bath (no previous conditioning except occasional cold showers lasting max 2 minutes), I assumed my brain readings would be very honest and was excited about the results. 

ice bath brain waves
Sitting in ice and measuring brain waves

What are Brain Waves?

One of my scientist friends made a valid point one night at chess club when I told him about this experiment. He rightfully asserted:

“if you knew in advance that you would stay in the ice bath for 15 minutes, then probably your brain waves are going to behave differently as you approach the 15-minute mark. You would know that your time is almost up and that alone is going to affect the reliability of your data”.

This is absolutely true. The brain is the only organ that studies itself, therefore paradoxes like this often arise when doing experimental neuroscience.

Luckily, I actually did not intend to stay in the ice bath for 15 minutes. I was planning for 3 minutes, but I fell into such a state of bliss that I lost track of time (more on that later). So thankfully, this actually allowed me to collect better and more realistic data (otherwise my friend’s comment would have been certainly valid).

The brain is the only organ that studies itself

Pairing the hardware with MindMonitor, I was able to capture the full spectrum of brain waves ranging from low-frequency delta waves to high-frequency gamma waves and everything in between.

brain wave spectrum
Human brain waves

For a deeper understanding of brain waves, check out this short video:

Ice Bath Effect on Brain Waves

After collecting, cleaning, and analyzing the raw data collected using Muse2 and Mindmonitor, we have an answer to what happens in the brain during a 15-minute ice bath:

ice bath brain waves
Brain wave behaviour during 15-min ice bath

Time, measured in minutes, is on the x-axis and PSD (Power Spectral Density) of the brain wave is on the y-axis. 

For our purposes, you can think of PSD as the “loudness” or amplitude of the wave. Although the relationship between brain waves, PSD, and mental state is much more nuanced than this, for our purposes we could rightly interpret lower PSD to mean a mind that is much calmer, still, and tranquil. The story my brain waves above tell during the 15-minute ice bath is quite compelling:

subjective and objective experience during 15-min ice bath
Objective & subjective experience during 15-min ice bath

Upon entering the ice bath, during the initial minute, I experience a complete freak-out. My body and mind are shocked, desperately craving warmth and wanting to escape the cold.

In that first minute, I distinctly recall thinking:

Oh, shit…maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Perhaps I’m just not cut out for this because it feels extremely uncomfortable right now.”

You’ll notice that the PSD (or “loudness”) of each brain wave type actually increases during this initial minute. This aligns well with my intense state of discomfort. My monkey mind (ego) is screaming at the top of its lungs: GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS ICE BATH!

stepping into ice bath
Oh FUCK, maybe this wasn't a good idea

After the initial minute of freaking out, I recalled the importance of my breathing. Instead of dwelling on the unbearable nature of the ice bath, I focused on deep belly breaths and prolonged exhalation to activate my parasympathetic nervous system and induce relaxation. You can clearly observe this shift occurring between the 1st and 4th minute on the brain wave chart, as my mind started to become much calmer.

From minutes 4 to 14, it can only be described as absolute bliss. I no longer felt the cold, and at times, I even experienced warmth. Time seemed to slip away, and I was surprised when my friend informed me that I had already been in the bath for 15 minutes, highlighting the importance of having a companion for safety. I was immersed in pure joy and serenity. At one point, a muscle in my pelvic area spasmed and then released, dissolving tension I hadn’t even been aware of. This sensation opened up more space in my body and intensified the feeling of ecstasy. It seemed like I could comfortably remain in the ice bath for an even longer duration.

Throughout this blissful period, the Power Spectral Density (PSD) of all my brain waves remained low, indicating a state of calmness in my mind. This aligns perfectly with the euphoric emotions I experienced during that time.

Here’s the remarkable part—observe that the PSD of all my brain waves during this period is actually lower than before I entered the ice bath. This suggests that my brain became quieter and more meditative while in the ice bath compared to my normal, non-icy life.

It’s mind-boggling and unexpected. Who would have guessed that my mind could become more relaxed while sitting in an ice bath? Even if I could endure it for 15 minutes, I would have assumed it required sheer willpower and pushing through the discomfort.

However, in reality, it wasn’t about pushing through; I had to let go and surrender to the bliss, and my brain waves reflect that. It’s absolutely fascinating! This is why I conduct experiments. While I am genuinely curious about the brain’s response during an ice bath, my true interest lies in the human experience, the nature of the ego, and consciousness itself.

 

I had to let go and surrender to the bliss, and my brain waves reflect that

Ice Bath Effect on Brain Hemispheric Coherence

Brain coherence is considered important in the realm of consciousness neuroscience by influential researchers like Joe Dispenza. I measured my brain coherence during the ice bath by calculating the correlation between brain wave activity originating from the left hemisphere and that from the right hemisphere.

Below is how my brain coherence behaved during the 15-minute ice bath:

brain hemispheric correlation during 15-min ice bath
Brain hemispheric correlation during 15-min ice bath

The chart provided above is rather inconclusive. There seems to be a decrease in hemispheric coherence during the blissful period (minutes 3-10), which is somewhat noteworthy since I would have anticipated the opposite—heightened coherence during such a profound state of bliss. However, this unexpected finding is one of the intriguing aspects of experimental neuroscience, where surprises and inconclusive results can occur.

Therefore, the question arises: Is brain coherence entirely unrelated to cold exposure, or do we simply need to gather more data? My inclination is towards the latter, and I intend to delve deeper into this subject through future case studies.

Ice Bath Insights: Nature of the Ego

My ultimate passion lies in exploring the human condition and the essence of consciousness. It can be argued that the human experience is essentially the light of pure consciousness refracted through the prism of the ego.

Regardless of how we perceive this experience, the ego assumes a crucial position within it. Therefore, every time we gain a deeper understanding of the ego, we come closer to unraveling the mysteries of our own consciousness. After all, the ego and consciousness are intricately intertwined partners, at least during our existence in this physical form.

Human experience is simply the light of pure consciousness refracted through the prism of the ego

The ice bath provided me with two significant lessons regarding the ego:

1. It’s not always about persevering; there is strength in letting go.

In Western society, we tend to embrace the mentality of fighting through challenges with slogans like “No pain, no gain,” “Just Do it,” and “Push through it.” While there is value in this culture of assertive energy (yang), my experience with the ice bath taught me that it doesn’t encompass the entirety of human potential. Relaxation and receptive energy (yin) are often undervalued because we believe they lead to decreased productivity and power. However, reality lies in finding balance, as true strength arises from the harmonious integration of yin and yang. In our society, we idolize the yang (representing the sympathetic nervous system) and undermine the yin (representing the parasympathetic nervous system). The brain wave measurements from the ice bath reveal the untapped potential in the yin aspect that the yang lacks. The data clearly demonstrates that my mind and body become calmer and more relaxed during the ice bath compared to before entering it. I couldn’t have forced my way through a 15-minute ice bath; I had to surrender to it. This act of letting go enabled me to achieve something I believed was impossible (considering it was my first ice bath, and I initially expected to last barely three minutes).

2. The same ego that often deceives you can also speak the truth.

The ego serves the crucial role of self-preservation. In the first minute, my ego was in a panic, bombarding me with thoughts like, “This is dangerous, you’re going to die, get out now!” Clearly, this was a false narrative. I didn’t perish, and I felt great afterward. It’s not surprising that the ego frequently fabricates stories. However, what fascinated me was that around the 14-minute mark, the same ego calmly suggested, “Hey, buddy, it might be a good time to consider getting out, no rush, just putting it out there.” Wow, ego, you had an entirely different demeanor 14 minutes ago when you were in full-blown panic mode! Yet, it’s the same ego, but this time it was fulfilling its genuine purpose of self-preservation. That’s the lesson to be learned. The same ego that tells you false narratives about yourself and the world also acts as your protector. Recognizing when to heed the ego’s warnings and when to disregard its fallacies is a crucial aspect of personal growth and development.

Hardware & Software

I used the same hardware/software stack as I have for previous case studies, such as the Ayahuasca Experiment.

The hardware used was the Muse2 Brain-sensing headband – a portable 4-node EEG technology that adheres to the 10-20 international node placement system

While the device itself is wonderfully reliable, the company software associated with it was designed for the retail meditation market and not scientific inquiry. Therefore, I paired the Muse2 with a more robust 3rd party software called MindMonitor (also used in previous cases studies, read about it here)

Conclusion

I am acutely aware that this study is limited to a single participant, which is not ideal in scientific experiments where a larger sample size is preferred.

However, the answers to the inquiries I seek are often not easily attainable. It would be impractical to gather ten individuals and have them consume ayahuasca in the jungle for an extended period of 30 days while measuring their brain waves. Hence, I took it upon myself to undergo this experience.

Likewise, in the case of the ice bath, it would be exceedingly challenging to find ten volunteers willing to immerse themselves in freezing water for a duration of 15 minutes while having their brain waves measured.

On that particular day, I did encounter two other courageous enthusiasts of brain data who were willing to partake in the ice bath and have their brain waves monitored. However, their time spent in the ice bath was under 3 minutes each, making it scientifically unsound to compare their results to mine, considering my extended duration of 15 minutes.

That being said, upon examining their data, it does appear that their brain waves exhibit similar patterns to mine during the initial entry into the ice bath. The power spectral density (PSD) of their brain waves also initially spikes (signifying an ego-induced reaction) before rapidly declining as the participants begin to relax. This observation is quite intriguing and bolsters my confidence in formulating the following hypotheses:

  1. The PSD of all brain waves experiences an initial spike upon entering the ice bath, followed by a decrease as the mind becomes calmer during the duration of the immersion.
  2. The PSD of all brain waves starts to exhibit increased electrical activity shortly before the participant must exit the ice bath. This could be interpreted as a natural and healthy survival instinct.

Raw Data

The data collected during this case study is freely available here. If you have any questions, send me a message

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Powerful 15 Min Morning Routine that will CHANGE your LIFE

Quantum morning routine creates the ideal energetic vibration for your entire day. You will be in God-mode (technically, you are God, but that’s a different topic!).  Charge up your Earthship with this epic morning workout routine.

Humans are Quantum

In both massive universal phenomena and tiny quantum interactions alike, the initial conditions are of tantamount importance. 

For example, the initial conditions at the Big Bang set the tone for the rest of the universe’s evolution. What if the first hydrogen and helium atoms had formed 10 minutes after the big bang (instead of after about 5 minutes)?

Image: Evolution of universe, the Big Bang is quite the morning routine!

Well, in all likelihood, the first stars, galaxies and planets would have formed much later. Earth would probably not exist (at least, not in any recognisable form). Let’s say Earth somehow did come into existence despite this 5 minute delay, then certainly life on Earth would look completely different. All this because of a 5-minute difference in initial conditions.

This butterfly effect is even more relevant on the very small quantum scale (and a lot stranger!). In fact, in the context of quantum uncertainty, particle-wave duality, tunnelling and reversal of cause and effect (just to name a few of the weirder ones), one could almost argue that the initial conditions are all that matter. 

Image: Computer simulation of quantum fluctuations; various constellations dependent on initial conditions

In high school, I found it incredibly odd when my teachers would admit that Newtonian physics is a false theory and yet ask us to use it for practical purposes because “quantum theory is only for atoms and stuff”. “But, aren’t we made of a bunch of atoms? Why wouldn’t it also apply to us?” I would ask – often to the annoyance of my teachers.

We are made of atoms, atoms are composed of subatomic particles which abide by the laws of quantum mechanics. Thus, we as humans are just extremely complex quantum mechanical systems. Even at our enormous scale, each human being actually has a wavelength – albeit a minuscule one – but a wavelength, nonetheless. 

Although we do not yet possess the technology to accurately model and understand all the interactions happening within us at the quantum level, we are inescapably quantum – because we are composed of subatomic particles.

Going the route of my high school teachers and coddling Newtonian physics because the quantum is too complex to be useful mass level is inauthentic at best. It’s equivalent to saying “I know the Earth must be round in theory, but since I can’t see the curvature from this scale, let’s just assume it’s flat”. Yes, I said it, assuming we are Newtonian objects of mass is equivalent to being a flat-earther!

Rant over 🙂

The point is that humans beings are part of the universe. We are also complex quantum systems. Therefore, setting our initial conditions each day are just as important to our well-being as the big bang was to the evolution of the universe. 

So what is the Quantum Morning Routine? Keep reading.

Quantum Morning Routine

This 15-minute, 3-part morning routine is designed to cultivate the optimal internal vibration at the start of our day. I mean that literally and figuratively. Since we lack the technology to measure the quantum interactions inside the human body, this morning routine must be valued experientially.

So try it out yourself, start your day the quantum way:

Part I: Get High 🌞 – 3 Rounds of DMT Breathing

Amazingly, we homo sapiens create DMT effects through only breathing. There are several guides online on how to do this – they all work. My version is motivated by my background in yoga and kundalini tantra. I place focus on the internal landscape of breathing as well as the external mechanics. It takes a bit more focus, but I believe the superior potential for personal growth, awareness and expansion merit the effort. Check out my detailed guide on how to product DMT through meditation here

Part II: Get Pumped 💪 – 3 Rounds of Pushup Pranayama

Pushup pranayama is a practice that combines a classic strength-building exercise with deep, full breathing and breath retention. Similar to my philosophy on DMT breathing, I focus on internal awareness as well an external alignment. Check out full instructions on pushup pranayama here

Part III: Get Cold 🥶 – 3 Minutes Cold Shower

Popularised by Wim Hof, cold showers and cold therapy have increasingly gained mainstream traction – and rightfully so! The health benefits are manifold. I’ve learned to love cold showers. Yes, love. I love cold therapy because it’s the real ego killer. Think about it – proper form pushups and correct breathing technique take time and practice to master. In contrast literally anyone can do a 3-minute cold shower, so where does the resistance come from? It’s all from the ego. The ego seeks to maintain the status quo (in this case, your skin temperature) and craves comfort. For this reason, a cold shower is one of the most efficient ways to remind the ego that it’s full of it – and naturally release tons of feel-good chemicals as well.

General Breathing Tips:

Breathing is something all of us do, yet few do well. We must actively teach ourselves how to breathe properly. Check out some great tips on general breathing mechanics, technique and intention here

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DMT Breathing: How to produce DMT through Meditation

Fascinatingly, we humans actually produce DMT naturally in our body. There are many theories as to why we do this – however, I’m going to delve into the “how”. How can you use breathing to tap into your own reservoir of DMT?

Breathing Tips

First, a refresher on breathing.

There are several instructional videos online on the topic of releasing DMT through breathing. What they all have in common is the philosophy of “I don’t care how you breathe, just get the air in there!”. 

This is actually true. The human body is so amazing that if you just breathe long, hard, and fast enough, you will get high. 

My argument is that the self-induced psychedelic trip you get from practicing the right breathing techniques as opposed to “just getting the air in there” is analogous to the difference between a premium crystal-packed strain of marijuana versus sub-par street weed with lots of seeds.

So, let’s get high on the good stuff by following these breathing guidelines:

  • Breathe fully and deeply into the belly, chest and head (in that order).

  • Experience yourself as breath. Close your eyes and use your intuition to follow the flow of your breath from the inside. Become absorbed into that rhythmic flow.

  • When you sit to breathe – you are no longer human. You are a cylindrical container that can pump breath in and out – that’s all. Forget everything else

  • Minimise the pauses between exhale and inhale and between inhale and exhale. There is just one constant stream of breath – let your consciousness become enthralled in this homogenous, directionally-agnostic flow.

I go into a lot more detail on the mechanics of breathing here.

Warm Up

Next, warm up the Earthship. 

The Earthship is this mind-body carrier vessel that transports our consciousness through the human journey.

Although our consciousness is clearly hyper-dimensional – our mind, body and ego that bind us to this physical reality is not.

Indeed, it’s the conundrum of housing a God-like consciousness in a monkey ego-body that makes the human experience so unique. I like to think of it like this:

Why is my consciousness tied my body? What’s the nature of that relationship? I wondered 🤔 well, it’s like a sea-bird🕊 and a ship🚢 traveling deep at sea. The bird (consciousness) comes to the ship (body/ego) to land and rest sometimes and then takes off again. The bird and the ship have an open relationship. The bird follows the ship until it reaches land and then becomes independent again (death). The danger is when the bird spends so long on the ship that it mis-identifies itself as a ship, loses its wings and becomes a chicken 🐓  #fuckchickens

The dual nature of our human experience has been addressed by philosophers, yogis, mystics and intellectuals for millennia. For the purpose of getting high on our own supply of DMT, it suffices to understand that we need to grease up the Earthship (or warm up the body, if you prefer) beforehand to achieve the best results.

Here are some of my favourite ways to prepare for DMT breathing:

  • 30 – 60 minutes of Hatha Yoga

  • A few rounds of Pushup Pranayama

  • 2-5 minutes of shaking – just plant your feet on the ground and shake. Breathe and shake. (Very simple, but powerful. See Below)

How to produce DMT through Meditation

Ok, great – the Earthship is warmed up and now we are ready to produce some DMT and have a psychedelic experience purely through breathing.

Before I get to the method, a quick point on safety: be safe. 

Don’t do this if:

  • You are driving or operating heavy machinery

  • You are pregnant

  • You have epilepsy

  • You are in or near water

Your best bet would be to do this lying down in bed or sitting comfortably in a safe environment.

So, here’s how to do it:

    1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable, safe environment
    2. Close your eyes and breathe calmly through the nose for a few minutes. Using the breathing guidelines, become anchored to your breath and ultimately into the moment.
    3. Take 25 deep breaths through your nose. Watch the air fill your belly, expand into your chest, upper chest, neck and head. Contract your abs to exhale.
    4. After the 25th breath, accelerate your pace of breathing for another 25 breaths
    5. After 25 accelerated breaths (50 breaths in total), exhale fully and retain the breath out for as long as feels comfortable. Do not strain. Try to sense equilibrium in your body. Advanced practitioners can pull the abs inwards and upwards (uddiyana bandha) in this step.
    6. When you are ready to inhale, first relax the abs, then inhale deeply and fully, filling the belly, chest, neck and head. Advanced practitioners can tilt the chin up about 20 degrees (this can get you even more high, but be careful, I have passed out doing this).
    7. Once your lungs are as full of air as possible – hold the breath in and squeeze the air upwards. Contract your abs inwards and upwards. Simultaneously pull your shoulder blades back and down the spine – this opens up more space in the upper chest and neck. Hold the breath in with this muscular engagement for 20-30 seconds. Exhale
    8. Sit and feel the after effects of DMT breathing. Enjoy 🙂

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Pushup Pranayama – Supercharge Your Energy in 3 Minutes

Hello Earth-People,

Pushup Pranayama is an active breathwork exercise that combines Muay Thai conditioning training with selected techniques from Kundalini Tantra

As Wim Hof and shamanic breathing practitioners already know, repeated deep breathing can often feel like a psychedelic experience.

Pushup Pranayama combines conscious, full breathing with a classic strength-building exercise. The result is an absolutely prana-popping sequence that will reset your day.

I like to practice this technique:

  1. Right before meditation 🧘🏽 (a bit of pre-meditation pranic plumbing, it ain’t much, but it’s honest work)
  2. A few rounds as a morning routine before coffee ☕
  3. As a warm-up before strength training 🏋️‍♂️ or martial arts 🥋

Health Benefits

Pushup Pranayama has a plethora of health benefits as it combines the best of both worlds: a classic strength-building exercise with deep full breathing and breath retention. Here are a few proven benefits of this practice (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Increases lung capacity 
  • Improves posture
  • Increases functional strength (full body activation)
  • Enhances cardiovascular system
  • Boosts immune system
  • Increases willpower
  • Improves concentration
  • Boosts energy level / reduces fatigue
  • Rapidly increases muscle definition
  • Stimulates blood circulation in the abdomen and blood flow to the brain

Requirements

  • Human body containing lungs (if you do not have one, please DM @amargi.life)
  • Mango 🥭 (optional, but highly recommended)

How to do a Proper Pushup

Pushup Pranayama emphasises alignment over number of reps – form is of tantamount importance. It is preferable to do less reps with a focus on perfect internal and external body position than many reps with lackadaisical form.

You see, the problem with pushups is that they work.  No matter who you are, if you do enough pushups you will undeniably build muscle.

The question is – are those new muscles built around and supporting a properly aligned spine thus improving your life or are they re-enforcing and even exacerbating poor posture and alignment leading to massive prana blockage?

That is why we must place a deliberate focus on alignment. Even if you only do one proper pushup you will get the health benefits, and over time you will build up the strength required to increase the number of these perfect-form pushups.

Without further ado, here are some proper pushup guidelines:

  • Imagine a line of energy connecting your heels to your crown. Either end of this line is pulling away from each other. Maintain this engagement throughout the entire pushup motion.
  • Suck your belly inward and upward (aka Uddiyana Bandha). Try to maintain this as best you can throughout the pushup motion. Performing Uddiyana Bandha while doing a pushup is very challenging, so be patient with yourself. The ability will improve with practice.
  • Spread your fingers and engage them by pushing them individually into the ground throughout the pushup motion
  • When you ascend in the pushup, push into the ground and inflect the              shoulders at the top of the motion. Feel the space open up in our upper back and rib cage before descending again. 
  • When you descend in the pushup keep the arms tight into the torso and hinge the elbows backwards. Maintain spinal alignment as much as possible. This is challenging and will improve with time and practice.

How to Breathe

1) Breathe Fully into the Belly, Chest and Head (in that order)

Body shapes breathe and breathe shapes mind. Breathing is something that all of us do, yet few of us do properly.

Indeed, widespread use of smartphones has only exacerbated the issue on a species-wide level, as we spend more time hunched over. Bad posture restricts airflow in the lungs, leading to prana blockage. When our prana is stuck, we feel sad, slow, tired, irritated and small.

Typical post-2007 Homo Sapien posture promotes prana blockage

Pushups with a focus on form builds musculature that promotes a healthy, aligned spine and naturally you will be able to breathe better over time.

Now we are going to address the internal mechanics of breathing itself. The correct way to breathe in Pushup Pranayama is fully and deeply through the nostrils observing the air filling the belly, chest then head. Exhale, also through the nostrils, by forcefully contracting the abs inwards towards the straight and relaxed spine.

This breathing style likely feels unnatural at first – this is deep conscious breathing, not the short shallow breaths and keep us enslaved ;-).

Still, the breathing style is understandably foreign at first, so let’s consider a balloon on a faucet:

When you turn on the water the balloon starts to fill at the bottom first (belly) then the middle (chest) and finally the top (head). The balloon is constantly filling in all parts at all times. Even as the water starts to expand the mid and top parts of the balloon, the bottom is also continually expanding.

Analogously, when we inhale in the Pushup Pranayama, fluid (air or even prana) is filling up the belly first, then your awareness moves to the chest, as the breath fills the chest your awareness moves to the head as you mentally draw the breath up. However, even as your awareness moves from belly to chest to head feel that the belly is continually expanding as you inhale.

The exhale is easy – just contract the abs forcefully towards the straight and relaxed spine. Observe that the better you exhale is the better you can inhale on the next round – and vice versa.

2) Experience Yourself as Breath

What kind of hippie shit is that, amirite? Hear me out, it’s not as far out as it may initially seem. 

One of our primary evolutionary advantages as a species is the ability to role play and create imagined realities. We do this all the time collectively – this is how cultures, religions, nations and states are formed.

Individually we do this too. When we go to a dinner party and sit at a table, we play the role of a bi-pedal mammal sitting in a chair. We eat in a certain way and only say certain things appropriate to that social setting. The version of ourselves at a dinner party is simply a role we play – one of many ways we can experience our sense of self.

Similarly, in a MMA cage fight, the two fighters are playing a role. Their bodily form changes into a defensive position protecting their chin and vital spots. Their breathing changes as well. Certainly, it is not sustainable to maintain this tense combative stance all the time, but for the purpose of the cage fight it is the optimal mind-body state. Again, just another experience of self. 

Finally in sex, we experience ourselves blissfully conjoined with our partner, often in the horizontal position. Again, our breathing changes. We can not walk through life all the time in the horizontal position or delightfully physically fused to another person. Therefore sex is also clearly yet another role we play – one of many possible experiences of the self.

You could argue that in fact all of existence is simply a collection of layered experiences of self (but that is another story).

That feeling when you realise self does not objectively exist

The point is, we humans are excellent actors. The role I want you to play when breathing in Pushup Pranayama is that you are not a physical body anymore – you are only awareness of breath. You are not past memories or future expectations. You do not even have arms or legs. You are just breath and awareness. It’s actually much much simpler than a dinner party, fighting or sex. Comparatively, in each of these roles there is so much to think about – so many moving parts to manage. For example, should I make that joke right now? Should I throw an uppercut or a low kick? Is she enjoying this?

In contrast, to become breath there is only awareness of the flow of breath – and only this – perhaps that is what makes it challenging.

To achieve oneness with breath simply practice sitting still and breathing. As you inhale into the belly, chest and head allow your consciousness to become absorbed in the flow of breath. As you exhale, your awareness shifts to the rapid exit of breathe from your body as you contract the abs. Become absorbed in this rhythm and after some time the awareness of physical body falls away

 3) Your Spine is a Highway, Breath is the Cars – No Traffic Jams!

Final breathing tip. I like to think of my spine as a super highway and my breath as cars travelling along this highway. I want this to be the most boring, peaceful highway ever. I want no traffic jams, no acceleration and no deceleration. I just want cars moving at a constant speed along the entire length of the highway.

Inhale imagining a car cruising up your spine with no stops, acceleration or deceleration. Just cruisin

Analogously, I want my breath to travel up my spine without tension or deliberation. If I find an area of tension that makes breathing difficult, I ask myself “what do I need to release physically or psychologically that will remove this breath traffic jam?”. If I notice my ego trying to fight and gasp for more breath I ask myself “instead of accelerating my breath to get in more air – what do I need to relax in my body or mind so the breath can flow at a constant speed without me forcing it?”.

As best as possible watch your breath and become sensitive to any aberrations in flow. The process of releasing tension, whether physical or energetic, enabling constant, smooth flow of breath will develop a deeper relationship with yourself and heal traumas.

Method 

1. Sit on your heels in vajrasana and close the eyes. Take a few moments to settle the body and mind in this position.

2. Take 10 deep breaths. Inhale deeply and watch the breath fill the belly, flow and fill the chest and all the way up to the head. Exhale by strongly contracting the abs inwards and upwards

3. After the 10th exhalation, fully empty the lungs and retain the breath out. 

4. Lean forward and get into the pushup position with the air held out. Pause in high plank and bring attention to your alignment.

5. Without inhaling, do 10 pushups – again focussing on maintaining proper alignment.

6. After the 10th pushup, inhale deeply into balasana (child’s pose) and hold the breath in for 10-15 seconds.

7. Exhale as you return to vajrasana

8. This is one round. Do as many as you like

Eat Mango (Optional)

Optional, but highly recommended. It is important to reward the monkey mind after such an intense exercise. I enjoy eating the mango with my bare hands on a beach, getting the mango juices and pulp all over my skin and beard, then cleansing post-feast in the ocean.

If you are doing this exercises at home, office, or generally western civilisation, you can replace the ocean with a shower or simply eat the mango like a “normal” person.

Contra-Indications

Important! Do not do it if you:

  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have heart disease
  • Have acute peptic or duodenal ulcers
  • Are pregnant
  • Had abdominal surgery in the last 6-9 months

Practice Notes

Here are some tips to help you go deeper in this powerful practice:

  • Do Pushup Pranayama on an empty stomach
  • The hardest part of Pushup Pranayama is not the pushups, but the concentration on alignment. This can be overwhelming at first. Therefore, each time you practice, fully place attention on a single aspect of perfect alignment (as described in the How to Do a Pushup section). For example, you can first focus on straightening the spine from base to crown. After several sessions with this singular alignment focus, muscle memory will take over and it will become easier. When this happens, shift focus to the next alignment point and repeat the process. Eventually you will be able to put it all together and do a perfect pushup without much thinking.
  • When your form is good and you have been practising for some time, advanced practitioners can start engaging the bandhas. Actually, if you are following the alignment instructions, you already have uddiyana bandha engaged by pulling your abs upwards and inwards. You can also carefully add moolhabandha when you are ready to go deeper in this pranayama. Do this with care and without strain.

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The Ayahuasca Experiment

Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic tea that has been consumed by indigenous tribes in South America for many centuries. More recently, it has gained popularity and mainstream appeal evidenced by increased ayahuasca tourism in countries such as Peru and Brazil. Sometimes fondly referred to as “Mother Ayahuasca”, the active hallucinogenic compound is DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine) which causes vivid visualisations.

Intense visuals aside, it is often claimed that ayahuasca has the power to heal psychological ailments such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, almost everyone who consumes ayahuasca claims it was a life-changing experience (myself included).

Finally and most relevant in our case, it is believed by many that taking ayahuasca can catalyse an enlightenment experience or “kundalini awakening”. As far as I know, no one has tested this notion and this case study attempts to do exactly that.

Can ayahuasca catalyse higher levels of consciousness? 

To even ask this question and have a hope of finding an answer, we must first introduce two concepts:
1) What is Consciousness?

I do not know. Fortunately, we do not need to know what it is to measure its change. For this, I propose the concept of a “Consciousness Fingerprint”.

I define the consciousness fingerprint as a set of pre-defined metrics recorded at a regular frequency that represents the brain state for that period of measurement. In other words, it is a snapshot of the brain. This set of measurements does not address the nature of consciousness itself, but rather provides us a way to track its change over time.

Theoretically, the metrics that compose the consciousness fingerprint are completely arbitrary. For example, you could decide that your emotional state ranging from 1 (very sad) to 10 (very happy) is the consciousness fingerprint for the day. Indeed for some purposes and with sufficient data, this could even be an effective consciousness fingerprint (if the subjectivity of rating one’s own emotional state can be ignored).  However, for this case study I have the hardware and software to create a much more rigorous consciousness fingerprint and have chosen the following set of metrics to be recorded daily:

a) Average power spectral density (read more about this here) of the brain waves produced during Anuloma Viloma Pranayama
b) Average power spectral density (PSD) of the brain waves produced during Ajapa Japa meditation
c) Left/Right Brain hemisphere correlation during Anuloma Vilomna Pranayama
d) Left/Right Brain hemisphere correlation during Ajapa Japa meditation
e) Average breath retention time over 5 rounds of Wim Hof Breathing

These five measurements were recorded daily over the 30-day experiment and enable us to track changes in the brain. The more dissimilar our metrics are, the better resolution lens we have into the state of consciousness on that day.

Measurements (a)-(d) were all taken with the Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband, however, they are capturing different types of meditations and at different times of the day.

Furthermore, measurements (c) and (d) were not concerned with the PSD, rather the correlation of the raw electrical data coming from each brain hemisphere. Wim Hof breath retention (e) was an intelligent addition to the mix as it does not even use the Muse2 and thereby further reduces the correlation between the metrics themselves and the risk of systemic hardware/software error. 

BTW, WTF is Power Spectral Density?

For our purposes, it suffices to think of it as a heuristic for the power or amplitude of a particular type of brain wave. Another way to think of power spectral density is through the following analogy from James Clutterbuck, founder of MindMonitor:

“To understand what this does, think about colour. Any specific colour can be made by mixing red, green and blue. So if you see purple paint, you know it was made by mixing Red and Blue. How much red and how much blue is the relative power density. Now imagine you have thousands of colours and you’re getting closer to what the FFT math does with the RAW EEG signal”

2) How do you measure “higher consciousness”?

Again, I do not know. However, there is a popular theory that gamma waves are associated with states of enlightenment, expanded intelligence, and interconnectedness. Since the Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband can detect gamma waves, we can choose to define “higher states of consciousness” as an increased power spectral density (PSD) in the gamma spectrum of the brain waves.

Another way to measure higher consciousness would be left/right brain hemisphere coherence. Thanks to the placement of the nodes on the Muse2, we can analyse the raw electrical data coming from each sensor on each side of the head and calculate hemispheric correlation.

Now that we have a way to track changes in consciousness over time and we have defined what is meant by “higher consciousness” we can proceed.

Experimental Design

Every day, for 30 days, I made 5 distinct brain measurements. The data from the following 5 measurements comprised my “Consciousness Fingerprint” for that day:
  1. Average power spectral density (PSD) of the brain waves produced during Anuloma Viloma Pranayama 
  2. Average power spectral density (PSD) of the brain waves produced during Ajapa Japa meditation
  3. Left/Right Brain hemisphere correlation during Anuloma Vilomna Pranayama
  4. Left/Right Brain hemisphere correlation during Ajapa Japa meditation
  5. *Average breath retention time over 5 rounds of Wim Hof

*Unfortunately, after a software update, all the data I recorded in the Wim Hof app during the 30-day case study has been deleted. I have contacted support and will update this case study with the Wim Hof breath retention data as soon as the issue is resolved.

The case study was divided into three phases:

Day 1-10Control phase Set Baseline (no ayahuasca)
Day 11-20Test phaseTake Ayahuasca
Day 21-30Integration phaseContinue daily measurements (no ayahuasca)

As the only bodily organ that studies itself, the brain is notoriously biased and often paradoxical. Here is one of my favourite books on the subject.

One great example of a potential bias and how I circumvented it: during course of the case study I only collected data, I never analysed or processed it in any way. I never knew if the experiment was “going my way” or not until after. That is because even the act of knowing how know well the experiment was going while taking measurements would have influenced my brain waves! The brain is indeed a wily beast.

To collect clean and reliable brain data was quite challenging. The brain is a very noisy place and is affected by absolutely everything. Identifying a repeatable brain signal-response is often akin to finding a needle in an electromagnetic haystack.

Furthermore, I collected this data in the jungle which made it even more challenging and prone to experimental error. Empirically however, ingesting ayahuasca has an extremely profound effect on the brain-state. Therefore, I hoped that the significance of this factor would outweigh the noise and produce some detectable signal.

Nonetheless, I followed very austere rules for the duration of the 30-day case study in order to de-noise the retrieved data and produce more statistically valid results:

  • Vegetarian/Vegan Diet
  • No smoking
  • No sex
  • No alcohol
  • No Coffee / Stimulants
  • 16/8 Intermittent fasting
  • No Media (Netflix, Youtube, etc.)
  • Binduasana (I will expound on this in future content)
  • No artificial sugar
  • No fluoride
  • No vitamins/supplements

In a further effort to regulate the data, I followed a very strict daily schedule; standardising both the time of day I took the measurements and (as much as possible) the physical state of my body. The daily schedule was as follows:

  1. Wake up no later than 8 am
  2. First thing after waking → 40 minutes of Hatha Yoga (same sequence every day). Pushup Pranayama would be an excellent (and more time-efficient) option for future experiments.
  3. Immediately following Hatha yoga, 1st measurement→ 5 rounds of Wim Hof, record average breath retention
  4. Immediately preceding breaking my fast (between 1 pm – 2 pm), 2nd measurement session → Anuloma Viloma pranayama measurement with the Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband paired with MindMonitor software
  5. Immediately preceding sleep (at latest 11 pm), 3rd measurement session → Ajapa Japa meditation again with the Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband combined with MindMonitor software

Hypothesis

The power spectral density (PSD) of the gamma wave segment of the brain wave spectrum and the brain hemispheric coherence will increase during the Test phase (Day 11-20) compared to the Control (Day 1-10). It will subsequently decrease in the Integration phase (Day 21-30) but remain elevated compared to the Control. 

Hardware

The hardware used for this experiment was the Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband. The Muse2 is a 4-node EEG device with nodes located at AF7, AF8, TP9, and TP10 according to the 10-20 international node placement system. While the hardware is fairly robust, the associated software is not as it is tailored to a retail meditation market and not scientific inquiry. For that reason, I paired the Muse2 hardware with more advanced software, described next.

Sensor placement on the Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband

Software

The software used in this experiment is from MindMonitor. MindMonitor allows the user to pair the Muse2 and collect raw brain electrical data from each of the nodes. Furthermore, via the Fast Fourier transform, it decomposes the overlapped frequencies entering each node into its constituent parts thereby capturing the power spectral density (PSD) of each brain wave type.

Screenshot of MindMonitor’s real-time EEG software in action #allwavesmatter

Video Diary: A bit of unhinged psychedelic fun

In addition to all the quantitative measurements, I thought it would be fun and informative to make a short video on each day of the experiment. All videos were created in one attempt with no re-takes to, as authentically as possible, demonstrate my psychological state and insights for that day (which certainly do noticeably change over the 30-day period). Check it out here

Results

The data collected over the 30-day experiment was rich, providing potential insights on the full spectrum on brain waves (#allwavesmatter) and more. Check out the full raw data set here. For this case study, I will only focus on the data that concerns the hypothesis, specifically the gamma wave PSD and the left/right brain hemisphere coherence. 

Below is the average PSD of the gamma waves produced by my brain during each phase of the case study. Recall that my hypothesis was that the PSD of the gamma waves in the Test phase would exceed the Control baseline. However, here we observe a different story:

In fact the PSD of the gamma waves throughout the Control and Test periods were almost exactly the same. Furthermore, the standard deviations of these averages, 0.09 and 0.08 respectively, were very close. Therefore, the PSD of the gamma waves throughout the Control and Test phases had essentially the same statistical distribution – the act of taking ayahuasca did not catalyse any change. 

Interestingly however, the PSD of the gamma waves did seem increase in the Integration phase in a statistically significant way (see Conclusion).

A quick note about negative PSD values: don’t worry about. It is simply how the folks at MindMonitor decided the scale the raw data and is totally arbitrary. 

Next, let’s take a look at how brain coherence behaved during the course of the case study. Brain coherence was measured by calculating the correlation between the raw electrical data from the left side of the brain (nodes TP9 and AF7) and the right side of the brain (nodes TP10 and AF8).

My hypothesis seems at least partially correct. Brain coherence increased in the Test phase compared to the Control. However, to my surprise, it apparently continued increasing in the Integration phase as well! A seemingly repeating theme across both the PSD and the coherence results is not to underestimate the importance of the Integration phase. However, we will re-visit this in the next section where we test for statistical significance and determine how well the hypothesis held up.

Conclusion

In order to draw conclusions from the collected data, averages are not sufficient – we must test for statistical significance.

I will now revisit the hypothesis using the data collected and use the one-tailed two-sample t-test to investigate the statistical significance of the difference in means of the gamma wave PSD and the brain coherence during the Control, Test and Integration phases of the case study.

Although the 0.05 significance level is standard in most experiments, I have chosen to use the 0.1 significance level to account for the fact that I am collecting the data in the jungle (this ain’t yo momma’s lab). Despite my best efforts, there is much that could have added variance to the data (mosquitoes, power outages, snakes, giant beetles flying into my face, etc.), so I think p-value = 0.1 is reasonable.

Starting with the gamma brain wave power spectral density, we can ask:

Did the PSD of the gamma waves increase while taking ayahuasca (Test phase) compared to the Control? Short Answer: No Long answer:
 Null HypothesisThere is no difference between the means of the gamma wave PSD in the Control and Test Phases
Alternative HypothesisThe gamma wave PSD in the Test Phase is higher than the gamma wave PSD in the Control Phase
Significance Level0.1
Control Phase Sample Size10 days
Test Phase Sample Size10 days
Control Phase Sample Mean-0.05563540256
Test Phase Sample Mean-0.05583854617
Control Phase Sample Standard Deviation0.09107687979
Test Phase Sample Standard Deviation0.08410346376
Standard Error0.03920253901
Degrees of Freedom17
t-stat-0.00518189931
p-value0.502
ConclusionWe can not reject the null hypothesis 
As expected after visual inspection of the charts in the Results section, there is no statistically significant difference between the power spectral densities of the gamma waves in the Control and Test phases. Let’s consider the last 10 days of the case study, the Integration phase. Did the PSD of the gamma waves increase immediately after taking ayahuasca (Integration phase) compared to the Control? Short Answer: Yes Long answer:
Null HypothesisThere is no difference between the means of the gamma wave PSD in the Control and Integration Phases
Alternative HypothesisThe gamma wave PSD in the Integration Phase is higher than the gamma wave PSD in the Control Phase
Significance Level0.1
Control Phase Sample Size10 Days
Integration Phase Sample Size10 Days
Control Phase Sample Mean-0.05563540256
Integration Phase Sample Mean0.04764017146
Control Phase Sample Standard Deviation0.09107687979
Integration Sample Standard Deviation0.1184136483
Standard Error0.04724065002
Degrees of Freedom16
t-stat2.186159039
p-value0.022
ConclusionWe can not accept the null hypothesis
Shifting now to the left/right brain hemisphere coherence portion of the hypothesis, I utilise the same process as above to test for statistical significance. Did brain hemispheric coherence increase while taking ayahuasca (Test phase) compared to the Control phase? Short answer: Yes Long answer:
Null HypothesisThere is no difference between the mean brain hemispheric coherence in the Test and Control phases
Alternative HypothesisThe mean brain hemispheric coherence is higher during the Test phase compared to the Control
Significance Level0.1
Control Phase Sample Size10 days
Test Phase Sample Size10 days
Control Phase Sample Mean3.32%
Test Phase Sample Mean8.13%
Control Phase Sample Standard Deviation6.32%
Test Phase Sample Standard Deviation5.40%
Standard Error2.63%
Degrees of Freedom17
t-stat1.8303
p-value0.0424
ConclusionWe can not accept the null hypothesis

The brain coherence during the Integration phase is quite surprising. I had hypothesised that brain coherence should increase while taking ayahuasca (which it did), but would decrease during the integration phase (although remaining elevated compared to the Control). Instead, left-right brain hemisphere coherence continued to increase materially during the Integration phase. Astoundingly, my brain coherence increased by about 462% over the course of the 30-day case study.

Did left-right brain hemisphere coherence increase during the Integration phase compared to the Test phase (while taking ayahuasca)?

Short answer: Yes

Long answer:

Null HypothesisThere was no difference between mean brain hemispheric coherences in the Test and Integration phases
Alternative HypothesisMean brain coherence increased during the Integration phase compared to the Test phase
Significance Level0.1
Test Phase Sample Size10 days
Integration Phase Sample Size10 days
Test Phase Sample Mean8.13%
Integration Phase Sample Mean15.34%
Test Phase Sample Standard Deviation5.40%
Integration Phase Sample Standard Deviation13.05%
Standard Error4.47%
Degrees of Freedom11
t-stat1.6141
p-value0.0674
ConclusionWe can not accept the null hypothesis

Sources of Error

As mentioned earlier, this is jungle science baby (this ain’t yo momma’s lab, think this is game? This the jungle). Although I took extensive steps to de-noise the data (see Experimental Design), there are many factors that could have introduced error into the dataset. Here are some of them that immediately come to mind:

  • Due to internet or power outages, on some days I was only able to capture data from one meditation session. On these days the average of PSD or brain coherence was actually just from one reading (Anuloma or Ajapa Japa, but not both)
  • Moon cycles. From past experience, I strongly suspect that the phase of the moon has a statistically significant effect on brain wave behaviour. It’s common knowledge that the gravitational pull of the moon regulates tides in the ocean. Since our brain is mostly water, it would make sense that the moon’s gravity affects it – I will investigate this further in a future case study.
  • Mosquitoes. So many mosquitoes. In one session, a mosquito bit me on my penis. Although I finished the meditation, I am sure this caused anomalous brain wave patterns (i.e., it really hurt). In general, bugs were quite vicious and their effect must be considered. Check out this video on a mosquito that climbed the kundalini corporate ladder:

Further Research

Thus far, I focussed only on the data subset relevant to the hypothesis, namely, gamma wave PSD and brain hemispheric correlation. However, the full dataset is quite rich. Much further research can be done. 

The Muse2 Brain Sensing Headband together with MindMonitor can capture the full spectrum of brain wave activity ranging from low-frequency delta waves to high-frequency gamma waves. I am very confident that there were statistically notable changes in the other parts of the brain wave spectrum. For example, I observed that that PSD of the delta waves decreased significantly over the course of the case study. I am not sure what this means, but it’s certainly interesting. 

Furthermore, lest we forget – this case study covered 3 different measurements: Wim Hof, Anuloma Viloma and Ajapa Japa meditation. Unfortunately, due to a buggy Wim Hof app software update, I was not able to include the breath retention results. However, I am in contact with the Wim Hof technical team to retrieve that data and will update this case study when it becomes available.

Anuloma Viloma and Ajapa Japa are traditional tantric meditations focussed on the ajna (3rd eye) and anahata (heart) chakras, respectively. It would be interesting to investigate if the brain behaved differently during each type of meditation.

Raw Data

The data collected during this case study is freely available here. If you have any questions, or better yet new discoveries shoot us a message on Instagram here

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