Many ancient traditions have used different methods that allow people’s brain waves to slow down, meditation, chants, drum circles and dance being some of the most common. The rhythms created by these practices slow people's brain waves from their normal busy brain frequency called Beta (13-30 cycles per second or Hz), to Alpha (8-13Hz) -- meditation, Theta (4-8Hz) -- deep relaxation and dreaming, and Delta (.5-4Hz) -- slow wave or dreamless sleep.
In more recent times and based on new understanding of the brain coming from neuroscience, some people have developed Brainwave entrainment (BWE) technologies, which use rhythmic stimuli to alter brainwave frequency and thus brain states. Limited research exists about the use of these technologies, and their findings to date suggest that BWE is an effective therapeutic tool. People suffering from cognitive functioning deficits, stress, pain, headache/migraines, PMS, and behavioral problems benefited from BWE.
One of such researchers and developers is Jeff Cignac, creator of the Passive Brain Fitness programs. As a child he suffered from many developmental delays and with the work of both his parents –who are psychologists- he was able to overcome his limitations, an experience that would ignite a passion to learn about the brain. Jeff studied psychology and NLP (neuro linguistic programming), but this knowledge was of no great help for him to deal with serious sleeping problems, in search for some solution to his problem, he came across brain entrainment technologies. “The technology for me had a lot of promise, and a lot of potential; but I also recognized that there were many problems with the technology as it was. It was very difficult to listen to. I thought it was tragically underpowered based on how I understood the brain.”
Jeff recognizes first hand the benefits associated with brainwave entrainment, but from his own experience and research, he came to realize that there was something else happening that was not necessarily entrainment and based on this breakthrough he has been developing a new series of brain stimulation programs. “When I use stimulation to help somebody, it's not for the purpose of coaxing a person's dominant electrical activity to navigate to one specific frequency range necessarily. Rather, it's about giving frequency ranges that we know are very beneficial to human beings as a whole, and letting that person, letting that brain respond to those frequencies to its highest good. That is the main difference.”
SuperConsciousness spoke with Jeff about his personal journey in understanding the brain and how certain technologies can be used to help people struggling with different mental problems. What differentiates the programs he develops from others that are available on the market and what are some of the potentials from emerging technologies and its application not only to alleviate mental problems but also to enhance cognitive abilities.
SuperConsciousness: Tell us about your background, where and how did you develop the knowledge base to understand and create this brain entrainment technology, and how did you become interested in it?
Jeff Cignac: My background and my interest in the human brain started a very long time ago, before the age of 15. When I was growing up as a young child, I had a lot of developmental delays. I was labeled with a lot of learning disabilities; and while it was never known for sure if they were actual hardcore learning disabilities, certainly the symptoms were there, I was in speech therapy and all the time I had to be pulled from class. The teachers were constantly trying to get me into special education, special classes, but my parents being who they are, -they are both psychologists-, knew how to advocate for me, and they fought to keep me in a regular classroom, hoping that I would catch up someday. They worked with me every day after school. I couldn’t take tests like normal kids. I had problems in math, speech, memory, writing, everything. Even though neuroscience back then, -this was in the late '70s-, wasn't a really big field, my parents did everything they could. Everything my parents knew about they did. As I was going into seventh grade, everything seemed to click, all of a sudden I didn’t need speech therapy anymore, all of a sudden I could speak clearly, I could remember, take tests normally, read aloud in classrooms. All the things that caused me pain and embarrassment as a child, growing up, just disappeared. I was acutely aware that it was what my parents did and all the time that they spent with me that made that difference. It was the work that they did with my mind that allowed me to make these new connections and helped me to learn. I don’t know where I would have been without them, but it was that experience that made me very passionate about learning and working with the brain.
So, starting very young it was instilled in me. Then very quickly afterwards my dad found out that I had a really good ability to use words and to use hypnosis to help people relax. So much so, that he taught me a little bit and I was able to do some with my mother and help relieve some of her pain that she was experiencing. That's just part of my background and where I came from. I started studying NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). I went to university for psychology, and became a clinical hypnotherapist. I was fascinated with all these different modalities that people were using, experimenting with, to improve people's lives. Fast forward a little bit into my adult life, I was going through a very troubled time, having trouble sleeping and managing my emotions. Even though I had all this education and all this background, I was still having some difficulty. I was looking online and found these people talking about brain waves and how stimulating brain waves could actually help induce restful sleep. I looked into it, and I bought up a bunch of stuff that was available online at the time, used it and found that it worked. I was amazed because all the stuff that I learned in the university, hypnosis and NLP, when I was trying to apply it to myself it really wasn’t working, but yet I put this little piece of technology on and it was enough to shut off my brain and help me go to sleep.
As I thought about it more, it started to make sense. When somebody's very stressed and upset, what happens in the brain is that the blood flow constricts away from the prefrontal cortex, and the electricity begins to bundle up on one side of the brain or the other, and so a person's capacity to use their own brain, actually diminishes when they have very bad feelings, if they are stressed or overwhelmed. Trying to use your brain, to think your way out of a bad situation is very hard to do sometimes, especially if it is characterized by all this negative emotion. The technology for me had a lot of promise, and a lot of potential; but I also recognized that there were many problems with the technology as it was. It was very difficult to listen to. I thought it was tragically underpowered based on how I understood the brain. When I looked at much of the research that was out there on this technology, they referenced stimulation and not so much entrainment, yet everything that was sold out there talked about entrainment. This whole idea to force people into a very specific brain wave frequency, -7.83 cycles per second-, so on and so forth. But the best research out there, does not reference entrainment at all. They just say, "Hey, if you give people these really great frequencies, the act of the brain responding starts to produce the result."
SC: What is the difference between stimulation and entrainment?
JC: Entrainment is trying to get a brain to match and follow a frequency. Stimulation is to simply provide frequencies that are healthy, and vital to a human brain, and letting that person's brain, respond, as it naturally should.
The idea of entrainment is using outside stimulus, which is either auditory or visual, and if we want to get really creative, we can use kinesthetic as well, although we don’t use it that often, because it is hard to put that through a digital download. But in private sessions I can incorporate that. The whole purpose of entrainment is to use stimulation to get somebody's dominant brain wave electrical pattern to match and follow whatever it is being given. I could look and say, "Oh, this individual really needs to relax, and it's my belief that at ten cycles per second this person will relax deeply. I'm going to give them all this stimulatory technology for the purpose of trying to get their dominant brain wave functions to match and follow, and then stay at ten cycles per second. There are many benefits from that, because research shows that ten cycles per second is actually a nice alpha state, and probably will help a person relax.
Stimulation is a little different. When I use stimulation to help somebody, it's not for the purpose of coaxing a person's dominant electrical activity to navigate to one specific frequency range necessarily. Rather, it's about giving frequency ranges that we know are very beneficial to human beings as a whole, and letting that person, letting that brain respond to those frequencies to its highest good. That is the main difference.
SC: What kind of understanding did you arrive at, that allowed you to change and improve from the already existing technology that you initially bought online? What is the difference that you incorporate on your products?
JC: Years ago when I first started, I didn’t have my $100,000 worth of EEG monitoring equipment, -very sophisticated equipment I now use to monitor people. The only thing I had was the research that other people did. So when I built my own tracks and when I set out to solve the problems that I perceived with the technology, all I had to go on was best practices on other people's research. All I had to go on was my own rational thinking and what I thought would work. Basically I was creating entrainment tracks based on the best of my knowledge and the best of the research that I could do. I created something called "the perfect sleep system.” It got picked up on a national chain in Canada, and it is still circulating today. It had wildly great reviews from psychiatrists, psychologists. To this day it's being used in military bases. I built this system based on the best entrainment practices that I knew of. I gave it to everybody, I tested it, and people said it worked. My assumption was that it must have been creating entrainment in order to work.
Entrainment is trying to get a brain to match and follow a frequency. Stimulation is to simply provide frequencies that are healthy, and vital to a human brain, and letting that person's brain, respond, as it naturally should.
I began to have more success and money started coming in. I built businesses and bought expensive equipment to test the products, test the technology and make innovations on it. One day it occurred to me to test the perfect sleep system, -if it was actually creating entrainment protocols-, and to my surprise it wasn't. It did not create entrainment. In about five percent of the people that I tested, it actually creates a physical entrainment. Well, it made me think, "Then why is it working? If the whole premise is that it takes entrainment to create a result, if that's the premise, then why is this working, because it is not creating entrainment. It is not doing what it said to do," and so I started to look into it more deeply, and what I realized is that everybody is a little bit different, in terms of their brain, and the way that people respond to the technology is different too. What I found, -and I didn’t know what I was doing at the time-, I was providing a beautiful range of delta frequencies that were sweeping in and out, and depending on who I tested with the EEG machines, we would see their brains respond all over the map, but as their brains responded, they still shifted down into lower frequency ranges. We never got entrainment, but yet they did calm down, slow down, and their brain shut off. But it wasn't through the process of entrainment; and so it was right then and there I realized something else is going on, there was something more important to pay attention to. That was the key defining moment that really started to make me look at these other processes aside from entrainment that might make this technology work, and there are several other processes that in my opinion are far more powerful and far more beneficial to the human brain than this concept of frequency following response and entrainment.
SC: What are these elements and how do they work on the brain?
JC: One of the major ways that the technology I've created is very different than other ones out there, is that we take advantage of the way the auditory system and the visual system are hardwired in all of us from birth, that's typically not considered. For example, the auditory system is a periphery organ that is unlike any other organ in our body. When it is stimulated properly, we can get a massive amount of cross-hemispheric communication between the hemispheres of the brain, and we can cause the brain to do a massive amount of internal mapping and that is because our auditory system is hardwired from birth to help us understand our position relative to our environment. It helps us find where things are in relationship to us. When we were running away from storms, and moving towards environmental friendliness, we were able to use the frequencies coming in from our environment to determine which way to run, or which way to go; and to this day every single mammal has this capability as well. We know that when there’s an impending earthquake and things of this nature, elephants and horses are already going the other way. This is part of that mechanism. So as information comes into one side, or the other, or both, but from different angles, what happens, is that the electricity gets bounced back and forth between the hemispheres of the brain and it happens in an infinitely more complex way than it does with the eyes, smell, taste, or any other organ in the body.
By understanding how that works in our brain, I was able to create a series of stimulatory patterns and frequencies that take advantage of this and encourage cross-hemispheric communication in the brain. This is incredibly valuable and important, because when it comes to stress reduction, when it comes to optimizing our brain for better memory, focus, concentration, alleviating symptoms of ADD or ADHD, or reducing symptoms of anxiety, the most important thing that we can do is balance the electrical activity in the brain. Anything that we can do that helps increase that cross-hemispheric communication will do two things: it will help balance the electrical activity out, and it will increase blood flow. Negative emotions usually constrict electrical activity, and also constrict blood flow away from the prefrontal cortex, which is what we really need to use to make the best possible decisions. So, in using my understanding of the brain and the brain's ability to really zone in on frequency ranges that are associated with natural human language, I'm able to embed stimulatory frequencies inside these frequency ranges and deliver them in such a way that stimulates electrical activity to flow and bounce between the hemispheres, unlike anything there is out there; and just that alone has an amazing improvement in terms of how a person's brain will work over time. What neuroscience tells us is, the more that we engage in activities that balance our brain, that balance our electrical activity and increase blood flow, the more naturally we will be able to repeat it and continue to do it over time. That is one of the powerful ways that this is very different.
In the visual aspect of it, which we are now including in passive brain fitness videos, what I have noticed is this: typically light and sound machines just use flashes of light to stimulate the brain, and it's been clinically proven to work. We know it works. However, it doesn’t carry a lot of meaning. Flashes of light do not carry a lot of meaning to us. The visual system projects into roughly 40 percent of the cortex in the brain. It's a big chunk, and a lot of that processing power is reserved for understanding shapes, contours, and depths. Part of our ability to recognize faces instantly, with not even having to think about it, comes from this amazing power of our brain to process shapes, contours, and the differences, subtle cues in different colors and shapes. My thought was, "What would happen if instead of using flashes of light, we use geometrical shapes that have different relationships to one another, that actually move in a visual field, and inside those shapes we included these flashes, these stimulatory frequencies, would we get a stronger cortically-invoked response?" The answer is absolute yes. Using the visual system in this way plays to the strengths in our brain and how it is hardwired. Very quickly, instead of 30-, 40-, 60-minute sessions, we can have ten-minute sessions that adequately stimulate the brain through the visual field in a way that we simply can't do using the other methods.
SC: This is done to reinforce the effect that the audio stimulation has?
JC: That's right. All at the same time. Imagine what you would be doing is, having headphones on while watching a video on-screen. So, you are getting the auditory stimulation, the passive brain fitness audio, which includes my very special way of encouraging cross-hemispheric communication in the brain, as well as the advanced stimulatory factors from the visual field.
SC: What are some of the effects and benefits that you have observed? What kind of people mostly benefit from using this technology? Can you give more concrete examples of people that might have some issues and how this technology would resolve or help alleviate them?
JC: This technology really shines with chronic mood problems, for people that struggle with feeling good, people that struggle with depression, anxiety lack of focus and attention too; with anger and frustration. I'm not saying that the only thing you have to do is put on a set of headphones and all of a sudden all the anger is gone, or all the depression is gone, no, of course not. That would be magic. This is not magic it's technology. When you take this technology and use it in a planned way, -to desensitize generalized fear and anxiety in people's lives, for example-, it becomes very effective at doing that. On my website I have a great video that actually shows me working with my mother, who was one of the main reasons I made one of these latest breakthroughs in my technology. It was so important to me, because nothing had worked for her in terms of getting rid of this generalized anxiety. She had spent near to six figures in the last three years, and nothing had helped; and in literally 15 minutes we were able to desensitize one of her strongest triggers by using this technology, with a simple process that we wrapped around it. So, that's the power in this.
when it comes to stress reduction, when it comes to optimizing our brain for better memory, focus, concentration, alleviating symptoms of ADD or ADHD, or reducing symptoms of anxiety, the most important thing that we can do is balance the electrical activity in the brain.
One of the ways that myself and my staff use this technology all the time is prior to doing some important coding or some important research. If we're fiddling with our technology, trying to make the sensors better, or whatever we are doing, something that we have to really apply our focus and concentration on, we can use a ten-minute passive brain fitness video, and that ten minutes will help clear our mind, it will rev up our higher brain functions, and then the next few hours the way that we use our brain is enhanced, it's optimized for that activity. I've had people pick up the phone, call me and say, "Jeff, I was ready to kill myself." I'm not kidding, a lady named "Deb," called me and she said, "Two weeks after using your technology, I no longer wanted take my life. I've reclaimed my own happiness, and my brain feels like it's mine again." Some of these are really big examples, but everything in-between can happen.
SC: So it is not just when you're having certain problems, but also for regular use if you want to create a more optimal mental environment?
JC: Absolutely. Even people that pick it up and say, "You know what, I'd like to feel a little bit better more often. Maybe I'm struggling with anger, anxiety or fear a little bit and I want to use this to help balance my brain out in those situations. “ Even when you don’t have those situations, you can pick out a passive brain fitness video to enhance the way your brain works based on the activity you are doing. It just makes sense, that extra ten minutes will make your next few hours go a lot better, so don’t only save it for the problems, use it to augment what you can already do.
SC: I have looked into some of the files that you allowed me to see, especially the one that you were talking about your mom, and I think it would be important for the people who read this interview to get a little bit better understanding of how you are able to actually measure and know that there is a response when they're using the technology. Can you explain in more detail about the application of the EEGs and what does that show?
JC: What I do is attach an EEG device to a subject's head, and what it does is it measures the electrical activity in the brain. In doing that, we can see what various stimulation or activities has affect on the brain. What I did with my mother in the video that you saw is we had it strapped on her head, and then I induced fear and anxiety and we saw what that did to her brain. Her EEGs were all over the place, and then I had her focus and concentrate on something, and what you could clearly see is that she couldn’t do it. The price of fear and anxiety, it shut down her brain and her ability to use it. Then we cleared her mind, I induced fear and anxiety again, but then I gave her a physical pattern interrupt, which is part of a process that I teach, and then I gave her a ten-minute passive brain fitness video, and as you watch this video, you see my mom's brainwaves change in real time as she's hearing the sounds coming into her ear, and seeing the light capturing into her eyes. As a matter of fact, I think it's about four seconds before her brain began to respond to it, right away, and that's what the EEG machine picks up. It picks up those subtle changes in electrical activity, and you can see the impact that the technology had on her brain, almost instantly. After the ten minutes ended, we gave her another activity to focus on, you could see she was able to use her brain, and she was able to focus and concentrate unlike before. This is why we use the EEG so we can show before and after, and clearly demonstrate that the technology is producing a solid effect.
I'm not saying that the only thing you have to do is put on a set of headphones and all of a sudden all the anger is gone, or all the depression is gone, no, of course not. That would be magic. This is not magic it's technology. When you take this technology and use it in a planned way, -to desensitize generalized fear and anxiety in people's lives, for example-, it becomes very effective at doing that.
SC: How long have you been working on this technology now?
JC: It's been 15 plus years.
SC: With all the technological advancements occurring today, like 3D imaging becoming very accessible to the general public. What do you see as the future of this technology?
JC: It is coming as a matter of fact, we have coming down the pipe some planned integrations with 3D and virtual systems. We are constantly in development mode, and we are in the coding phase, because the technology aspect of it is anything but simple, it is incredibly complex. It is very easy to use once it's delivered to you, but what is behind it, is very complex. I see this being used in military bases in psychological facilities all around as we really learn how to integrate the 3D models of this where we can really get eye movement tracking, and we can work with visual/spatial environments. I believe that we are going to be able to use this to increase our ability to learn. I think we are going to be able to get rid of phobias, and anxieties at a rate and speed that is unheard of right now. For veterans that are coming in, people that are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, I think we are going to be able to use some of this technology to help these gentlemen and women in days, instead of weeks and months.
SC: I don’t know if there's something else you would like to add that I haven't, didn’t cover, didn’t ask.
JC: I would just like to add that this is a field that is becoming very important to neuroscience, because neuroscience is very interested in anything that affects the neuro-plasticity of the brain, and we can show beyond a shadow of a doubt when this technology is being used we are changing the way the brain is responding to certain things; and it's true especially if you use my method. That active response is changing the plasticity of the brain in a positive way. So, you watch over the coming years, neuroscientists and the people who study the brain in general are going to be looking at this with ever-greater precision and interest.
For more information please go to jeffreygignac.com/brand-new/
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