Alpha waves are associated with sensations of wakeful rest. When they occur, people feel reduced anxiety and heightened relaxation.

Conventional research finds that the opening of the eyes disrupts alpha waves and replaces them with beta waves. However, there is now evidence that it may be possible to induce them with eyes open using neurofeedback therapies, giving patients the capacity to feel calm and peaceful, even while working, socializing or learning. 

Alpha Waves And The Brain

Alpha and beta waves serve different functions in the brain. Alpha waves pair with a calm and quiet mind, something that traditional yoga practices attempt to emulate by withdrawing sense from the external world. They increase blood supply and prepare the brain for thought, explaining why they are most likely to occur in the morning upon restful waking. 


Beta waves, on the other hand, are associated with the active thinking brain and activation of the cortex. This type of activity is most commonly associated with planning and reasoning. 

Historical research suggests that alpha brain function ceases when the eyes are open. However, certain meditative practices and psychological interventions may be able to change this, as recent research indicates. 

Using Neurofeedback To Achieve Eyes-Open Alpha Waves

Most study participants are not able to maintain alpha waves after opening their eyes. Thinking begins almost immediately, disrupting longer alpha wave forms. 

However, investigators recently found evidence that EEG biofeedback may be able to preserve alpha waves, even with eyes open. Therefore, it may be possible for western therapists to recreate certain illusive meditative brain states in the clinic, without requiring patients to commit to years of practice. 

Chief evidence for the efficacy of neurofeedback comes from research by John Putman on army reservists. He collected 77 U.S. military personnel and hooked them up to a neurofeedback EEG system. He then initiated alpha enhancement training, measuring feedback from electrodes. 

Putman’s research found that eyes-open alpha enhancement training led to substantial increases in alpha band activity and decreases in unwanted theta activity. These findings contrast with eyes-closed research where both alpha and theta are elevated. 

Putman concluded that even brief eyes-open neurofeedback training made army reservists less vulnerable to burnout. He suggested that this might improve task performance during long shifts, if administered preventatively. 

Why Does Neurofeedback Work?

Low alpha waves are associated with heightened anxiety, fewer restful waking states, and enhanced stress. Fatigue, depression and chronic pain often occur simultaneously with alpha wave dysregulation. 

Meditation and other traditional mindfulness techniques can induce greater alpha activity with closed eyes, but they are not as effective with eyes open. Neurofeedback, however, seems to work, even with eyes open, because of its unique mode of action. It attempts to heal the brain using its innate neuroplasticity.

Eyes-open neurofeedback works by providing the brain with reinforcing, positive feedback so that it can heal itself. Lights, sounds, vibrations and even computer games reward the brain when it reaches a desired state, as measured by the EEG output. Repeated eyes-open sessions train the brain to enter more alpha-dominant states over time, enhancing quality of life for the patient and, potentially, reducing disease.

Neurofeedback is similar to a coach providing feedback on a person’s dancing or singing. It works on the basis of “operant conditioning.” The more positive feedback a patient receives, the more likely the brain will be to associate reward with desirable states, and the more likely it is to enter those states. 

Ultimately, the effectiveness of eyes-open neurofeedback can be understood via analogy. Just as a physiotherapist attempts to heal physical tissues in the body so that they can function normally again, neurofeedback heals psychological structures by allowing the brain to correct itself. Furthermore, because alpha waves occur in the wakeful, eyes-open state, the therapy is something that patients can use in their daily lives, not just during yoga class. 

The Bottom Line

In summary, connecting to alpha waves while opening your eyes is possible. However, it requires using proven techniques, such as neurofeedback. These work by stating the goal – such as boosting brain alpha waves – and then measuring feedback and providing rewards. Over time, the brain learns to associate rewards with certain brain states, allowing them to occur more often. 

 
The Insight Clinic
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