Imagination Equipment, Imagination Examined

Theta Brainwaves: The Little Known Door to the Unconscious – [Post: Imagine]

doorknockerOur brains, waking and sleeping, pump out an assortment of brainwaves: beta, theta, delta, gamma, alpha. Of this list, theta may be the most important for exploring and using the imagination. Research and experience since the 1960s shows theta enhances creativity; increases insight; discharges old and unresolved emotions; and opens us to changing and adding beliefs.

Theta was first explored in detail by Elmer Green. Green invited all sorts of meditators into his biofeedback lab to see what type of brainwave activity they could produce.  Deeper meditation and experienced meditators produced more theta and less alpha and beta. Curious about his own practice of observing imagery, emotions, and insights as he coasted off to sleep (hypnagogia), he had someone monitor his brainwaves as he moved from regular awareness to deep inner observation. There, too, were higher levels of theta.

Peniston and Kulkosky came along later and tried theta biofeedback training on people who were suffering from major psychological issues such as trauma and addiction. Several times a day and for several days, patients would be coached on how to let go of tension in their bodies and in their minds.  The deeper they were able to relax, the more theta was produced and the biofeedback machines provided tones to let the patients know they were on the right track.  In recent years, the theta training  protocol has been refined and streamlined from multiple sessions across multiple days to single sessions once or twice a week.

Anna Wise attached theta work to goals commonly sought by recent explorers of self-development. Answers from within could be evoked and brought up from the deep unconscious. In fact, theta work seems to work better if it is purpose-driven in the sense we set out and expect to do some inner work when we go to theta. Wise points to two types of content worthy of exploration: specific events of our past and current feelings; and general content such as what makes a good life; what is inner peace; image of god; wisdom, etc.

How Can Theta Waves Do What They Do?

Few have explained how theta waves can produce such results. However, some research (see references section) is connecting  learning and memory to theta.  This makes sense when we consider that it has been known that young children, roughly 4 to 7 years old, produce more theta than older children or adults.  Assuming that the ages 4 to 7 (some say 2 to 5) is a crucial period for a child to learning the most important lessons of living (i.e. look both ways; how to recognize a friend from a foe; a happy person from an angry person), then theta could be facilitating rapid and deep learning.

If this is true, learning to produce theta at will, pushes are ability to learn to new levels and speed.  We could learn new patterns such as habits and core beliefs.  And we could replace old, unhelpful habits and beliefs with new ones that are healthy and helpful. Essentially, get into theta and slip back to when your mind was very young, very open, and very capable of learning at a tremendous pace and depth. We have a second chance to get things right.

Knocking on the Door With Your Theta Brain-waves – The options:

Option 1 – Find a biofeedback center and ask for Alpha-Theta protocol training.
Don’t expect this to be short and cheap. It can take 20 to 30, half-hour sessions costing $150 or so per session.

Option 2 – Purchase and Experiment with Neurosky/Mind Reflector
Mind Reflector is affordable and comes with a built-in alpha/theta protocol created by biofeedback/neurofeedback experts.

Option 3 – Work with the Anna Wise System of Imagery
Anna Wise did a great deal of work charting brainwaves and their related mental and physical experiences. Wise wrote that we can learn to spot theta brainwaves at work by watching imagery. Not what is appearing in the imagery, but the qualities of the images. When alpha brainwaves are predominant, images will appear sharp and clear. In theta, imagery appears less defined. She doesn’t explain why that is, but in my experience, theta imagery is fuzzy because we are not simply observing the images as we do in alpha but becoming immersed within the images.  We are getting lost in the dream-like experience and we lose touch with ourselves. Just like in our waking life, if we are immersed in getting through the day, most sensory details are fuzzy since we have little attention focused on them as they happen.

I highly recommend her book, The Awakening Mind for its fantastically helpful insights and information alongside her imagery scripts. CD Baby sells recordings of the scripts narrated by Anna Wise herself.


See Elmer Green’s – Beyond Biofeedback (out-of-print but used copies can be found)
See Anna Wise – Awakening the Mind: A Guide to Harnessing the Power of Your Brainwaves