How brain wave science supports Parkinson’s self-management
Zen practice can reduce beta wave activity, which has been linked to symptoms
Brain wave research has the potential to improve management of Parkinson’s disease because beta wave bursts have been linked to the condition. Beta waves are generated when the mind is active and engaged, often accompanying vital fundamental behaviors such as attention, sensation, and motion, which are associated with disorders like Parkinson’s. The bursts could possibly explain surges of my episodic symptoms.
In a 2021 article published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers with the Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco share findings from a study about brain wave patterns. As a university press release notes, “Their research provides the first evidence, during normal activities of daily living, for a long-held hypothesis that Parkinson’s symptoms are related to erratic brain wave patterns.”
Several research groups have even tied beta wave activity to deep brain stimulation (DBS), and researchers have applied adaptive DBS to patients with advanced Parkinson’s. Additional findings about beta wave activity and the concept of bursts may help clarify underlying factors in Parkinson’s disease. But each patient will likely have unique brain wave fluctuations.
Alpha waves, on the other hand, are associated with times of rest and reflection. I believe that increasing alpha wave output and decreasing beta activity through meditation practices can provide the groundwork for improved Parkinson’s self-management.
The neurological benefits of a Zen mind
Last week, I wrote that practicing the Zen mind has had the most significant impact of all strategies on my quality of life with Parkinson’s. Stress increases both beta wave activity and Parkinson’s symptoms. The alternative to this beta wave brain noise is a calm, quiet mind from practicing Zen.
According to a 2020 article published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, yoga and meditation can help increase alpha wave production while simultaneously reducing beta wave production. Skilled meditators produce different patterns of brain waves from beginners.
Western researchers define meditation in many forms. Generally, they agree it’s any contemplative practice involving mental relaxation and a conscious regulation of attention, thought, and emotion. That’s from a Sapien Labs article, which describes the main goal of meditation as a means to control our mind and attention while facing external stimuli each day. Benefits of the practice include feelings of peace, happiness, and a reduction of anxiety, as well as clinical improvements in heart and immune function.
In addition, according to a 2005 article published in Scientific American Mind, “Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that during meditation, Zen Buddhist monks show an extraordinary synchronization of brain waves known as gamma synchrony — a pattern increasingly associated with robust brain function and the synthesis of activity that we call the mind.”
A 2008 research article published in eLife notes that “patients with Parkinson’s disease, who do not take any medication, show reduced gamma synchronization. The greater the loss of synchronization, the more slowly patients move. … Patients with Parkinson’s disease show a reduction in the number of bursts, but not in their duration or intensity.”
Even the Dalai Lama has demonstrated active support for the neuroscience of meditation.
Finding what works for you
Another benefit to studying and practicing the Zen mind is that there’s prolific information on the topic. In your search, find information on meditation practices that resonate with you. Zen isn’t a religion, yet it’s considered a sacred process. It’s the art and science of retraining the brain.
If you’re a beginner in using meditation to retrain the Parkinson’s brain, then it’s going to be challenging. That’s just the reality of the practice.
The other challenge is that brain rewiring takes time — lots of time. There are no shortcuts. The upside? You don’t have to go through the arduous hunt and trial-and-error processes I went through to discover how wonderful the Zen mind can be in managing Parkinson’s.
But you do have to show up every day and do the work.
The two books I wrote about Parkinson’s describe the preparation work needed for shifting into the Zen mind whenever a Parkinson’s beta burst “flicker” occurs. This shifting practice is done throughout the day and requires a high level of mindfulness.
One reader called it “mindfulness on steroids.” It’s hard work to reduce the suffering connected with Parkinson’s. All I can say to those starting out on the journey is to remain patient and keep at it. The rewards are worth the effort.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.
Thank you for this excellent article, Dr. C. I am relatively new to the PD journey, but I am starting to see it as a wake-up call forcing one to meditate.
I use Insight Timer, an app that keeps track of meditation sessions and encourages depth and regularity of practice. I call it "sports training technology for meditation."
You can directly target those alpha and beta brain waves with EEG Biofeedback! An amazing tool for Parkinson's symptom management and self-regulation.
How do we get Dr. C's books and Lisa Tatryn EEG tool?
Which EEG Biofeedback equipment do you recommend ?