Alpha Waves – A Positive Mental Result of Swimming

Copper Coast Bunmahon to Dungarvan 5 ft swell Feb 07

Anyone having the misfortune to have a surfer as their partner will know how capable surfers are of missing any occasion regardless of importance.

Something that’s common amongst surfers while out surfing is an enhanced sense of relaxation and a decreased sense of time.  It doesn’t always happen but it does seem more prevalent on certain days, days in which the water is calm and there may only be a light offshore wind, and the swell isn’t too large. Add in a long wave period and time between sets, and surfing a reef rather than a beach and you have the perfect conditions for the surfers mind to disappear.

Onshore winds, breaking beach waves or large swell disrupt this, whether from having to work harder or from greater adrenalin. But on those other days, an experienced surfer is often just sitting their board (I wonder if some equestrian grammar would apply to surfing) waiting for waves. It becomes an exercise in calmness and meditation, so time and the outside world disappear.

There are six main types of electrical (EEG) waves produced by the brain Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Mu and Theta. Beta waves are normally predominant when we are awake, alert and concentrating.

EEG Beta Waves

Alpha waves usually occurs when we are falling asleep or waking up and are associated with relaxation and have been shown to be associated with creative people. However it has been shown that Alpha waves are often produced when we enter a meditative state. Therefore Alpha waves often associated with stress reduction. (Important since stress is one of the most dangerous states that we all endure). Contrast these two graphs. The Beta Waves remind me of an onshore sea. Jagged, choppy, unpredictable, whereas the Alpha Waves have the smoothness of offshore winds and swell, of great waves and calm water.

Alpha brain waves on an EEG

I’ve almost never become aware of entering the state of enhanced Alpha wave calm while pool swimming, (though I wonder if the few times where I’ve completely lost track of time and lengths and ended up crashing into the wall were such occasions).

But I have no doubt that that sense of enhanced relaxation is one of the reasons that compels us sea swimmers to the ocean. And there’s another possibility, that the enhanced buoyancy is subconsciously reminiscent of amniotic fluid. When pool training we operate on times and lengths, sets and drills, counting up and down.

But in the sea, you can just swim.

I couldn’t think of a better way to put that, it seems so banal… just swim.



Just swim the Alpha waves.


2 thoughts on “Alpha Waves – A Positive Mental Result of Swimming

  1. Pingback: Explorations of Mindfulness in Swimming – I – Pool T60 | LoneSwimmer

  2. Pingback: Dark Night of the Soul | LoneSwimmer

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