Check Your Head
From sophisticated (and expensive) to simple (and not so expensive), brain-wave training instruments for the home
If you're feeling headstrong about peak performance and want to try brain-wave training on your own, consider the following in-home options (or see the list of neurofeedback clinics).
Sure, it's the price of a titanium mountain bike, but you may get more bang for your buck out of a Peak Achievement Trainer ($2,695; www.peakachievement.com). Compatible with most computers, the PAT includes software, a sensor headband, an instructional video, a nine-lesson manual, and audiotapes. The display is simple: A line shrinks and an audio signal changes pitch when you reach the zone.
One of the more popular in-home units is the BrainMaster 2E ($975; www.brainmaster.com). It includes a brain-wave amplifier, sensors, and software for a personal computer. Power up and play a game ($350 extra for the software) that features a flight down the Grand Canyon. Maintain the target brain-wave frequency and you won't crash.
The E2 EEG Brainwave Trainer ($725; www.mindfitness.com) is a new, self-contained, book-size device that allows a range of different frequency programs. Rewards vary from chirps to music.
Psychologist Les Fehmi's Open Focus tapes ($50; www.openfocus.com) are among the least expensive portals into DIY brain-wave training. The tapes contain a series of suggested visualizations designed to drop the brain into a relaxed state.
The Sportslink ($295; Opnet2@aol.com) is not a biofeedback device, but rather an "audiovisual learning and relaxation system." Now in English: Instead of teaching you how to access different brain-wave states on your own, this unit uses flashing lights inside special goggles that nudge the electrical frequency of your brain higher or lower, depending on the chosen program.
Getting a handle on all that electrical activity in your head isn't as mind-boggling as you might think. Psychologists reference four categories of brain waves, each defined by a different range of frequencies. Here's the breakdown, in hertz:
* Delta (0–4 Hz). You're basically unconscious—either sleeping or, God forbid, comatose.
* Theta (4–8 Hz). The semiconscious realm between sleeping and waking—you're dozing, but not fully asleep. During theta activity, you access stored images of peak performance (like dunking over your buddy during a pickup hoops game).
* Alpha (8–13 Hz). Your "idle" brain state. At the low end, you're daydreaming; at the high end, in a state of relaxed alertness. The optimum range for most conscious activity is between 8/9 Hz and 15/16Hz.
* Beta (13–21 Hz). Your state of greatest alertness. The lower end of the range corresponds to linear thinking and problem solving. At the high end of the range, however, you've really redlined your anxiety, and your body may tense up and become difficult to control.
True, peak-performance neurofeedback clinics aren't quite as prolific as Starbucks—yet. While we wait for the groundswell, you can find professional brain-wave training at these established facilities:
The ADD Centre
50 Village Centre Place
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Austin Biofeedback Center
3624 N. Hills Dr., Suite B-205
Austin, TX 78731
1800 12th Avenue NE, Suite 210-W
Bellvue, WA 98004
BrainMaster Technologies, Inc.
24490 Broadway Avenue
Oakwood Village, OH 44146
EEG Spectrum International, Inc.
16500 Ventura Blvd., Suite 418
Encino, CA 91436
Life Quality Resources
8404-B Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC 27612
Neuro Health Center
2132 N. Nevada Ave.
Colorado Springs, CO 80907
Neurofeedback Professional Center
11024 N. 28th Dr., Suite 200
Phoenix, AZ 85029