Deepening Connection: Alpha Phase Synchrony with
ROSHI and pROSHI
- Rich Glade, MA, LCSW
Much more often than most of us realize we are in a physical state that can make it quite difficult to fully take in and understand the others around us. We live in a society, which provides a mix of physical and psychological contact or closeness with people we barely know or may not know at all; often we have only brief time with those we count as family and intimate friends. It is common to develop a defensive and unavailable internal stance, which is overlaid by an overtly friendly and even warm style of interaction. We may have difficulty in dropping our internal protectiveness, even when we have the opportunity to spend intimate time with those with whom we would like to have deep connection. We may be able to share activities, and even solve problems together, but we remain just a little distant and defensive, and we feel somehow we would like to relax, be seen and be accepted; but, we just don’t know how.
A fully healthy human being has the capacity and skill to experience unconditional closeness as well as clear and unambiguous separation. When our lives are busy and involve many people we can loose this full range of possibilities and we struggle with our close relationships. Sometimes we feel too close and impinged upon; sometimes we feel disconnected and unseen. We attribute the qualities of our experience and especially our dissatisfactions to others and to our circumstances. We may completely miss the conditioning effects of our habitual styles of attending on both our own psychophysiology and on our capacities to connect with those around us.
As a young man I worked with horses and had the good fortune to be a stable boy for an accomplished horse trainer. In rubbing down horses after they had been worked, and other chores, the trainer that I worked for, monitored my activity quite closely. Some of his comments and instructions were about how to use my attention to calm and control a horse. He taught me to use my attention to “maintain firm, friendly, but insistent contact—the horse needs to experience you as both present and responsive through your hands. If the horse feels you moving away and making him an object, or your attention drifts, you lose your connection and influence; – trouble can easily happen.”
I learned enough to get along with horses and became successful as a horse trainer. It never occurred to me that the reason I didn’t do nearly as well with people was that I wasn’t aware of ‘HOW’ I was paying attention to them. With horses I was practiced at staying connected and present, but with people my mind was either narrowly absorbed in my experience or fused with my ideas, feelings and expectations about the other person.
When I came across Les Fehmi’s ‘Open Focus Handbook’, I recognized that the way in which I was using my attention conditioned all my experience.
“How we pay attention—and how our attention has been conditioned to react to situations and emotional stress—is at the root of more problems than we realize. Taking medication to mask emotions does not necessarily solve the problem, any more than disconnecting the oil warning light in your car gets at the cause of the mechanical problems the light is warning you about.”(Les Fehmi, Ph.D. in Mastering our Brain’s Electrical Rhythm)
“If Neurofeedback can be used to help an individual discriminate between thought and attention/awareness….then it is a technological breakthrough as important to the explorer of the mind as the compass and sextant are to navigation.”(R. Adam Crane in Mindfitness Training, p. 109)
As part of my psychotherapy practice I offer attention training for individuals, couples and others who wish to develop attentional flexibility and develop their capacities for the full range of human connection. With each client I develop an individually tailored approach to strengthen existing attention skills and to build new ones. I have learned that attention training naturally falls into three stages, each building on and unfolding the potential of the previous stage:
-Developing the capacity to stay in a state of physiological ease, balance, openness and alertness so that one is able to remain free of emotional reactivity and at one’s responsive best (this is Fehmi’s ‘Open Focus’);
-Deepening the ability of two or more persons to generate a shared state of psycho-physiological synchrony. This state is often described as producing the subjective experience of deep connection simultaneously with the experience of being more fully oneself (mutual ‘Open Focus’).
-Developing rapport skills which can provide invitation and support for others to stay relaxed, free of emotional reactivity and at their best;
While my work with couples often includes the second and third stages I usually work with the couple individually to develop the primary self-regulation skills of stage one first. I explain up front that my approach as a psychotherapist has two dimensions: to engage and hopefully ‘work through’ the difficulties that have brought them to therapy and to assist them in acquiring the skills necessary to effectively engage those difficulties. Occasionally when the couple has developed these basic skills they find that the presenting issues that brought them for relationship therapy are now workable and further training isn’t necessary.
The ROSHI II+ and BioExplorer are used in each of these stages of attention training. The client(s) learn to self-regulate physiology, emotions, and attention. In this article I will present a specific training protocol for training phase synchrony between two people, the third level of attention training suggested above.
Phase Synchrony and Attention Training
It is beyond the scope of this brief article to articulate either the rationale, which underlies phase synchrony or the research, which supports its clinical and personal usefulness and benefits. Phase synchrony appears to be an important aspect of brain dynamics as evidenced by the long and ongoing history of research in this area (see bibliography for a beginning list of references). One of the researchers in this area is Les Fehmi Ph.D. whose early work proposed the mechanism of phase synchrony to explain some apparently non-temporal forms of information sharing within the brain. Phase synchrony can allow connection without merger, much like what occurs for musicians playing together when each is fully herself and yet deeply a part of a larger organism. Fehmi discovered a causative correlation between Alpha Phase Synchrony and one’s style of attention.
Fehmi has developed a description of the varieties of attentional styles, which are available to us as human beings. Imagine two dimensions. Along the horizontal axis attention styles vary from tightly and narrowly focused to diffuse and inclusive; along the vertical axis attention styles vary from distant, cold and objective to immersed or fused. This gives us four basic styles:
-Distant, cold, objective and tightly focused;
-Distant, cold, objective and diffuse;
-Immersed and diffuse; and
-Immersed and tightly focused.
According to Fehmi’s research, attending in an over-focused style activates the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. An over-focused attentional style is ‘selective perception’ and automatically triggers our defenses both physically and psychologically.
This over-focused attentional style is trained early and continually reinforced in many social contexts. In our busy and fast paced lives, we become over-focused in order to have some order. Over-focus becomes our main attentional set and we only shift it between distant, objective styles and immersed, absorbed styles. We try to be intimate by becoming narrowly absorbed and end up feeling hurt when the other either becomes absorbed in something else or becomes distant and objective; alternately we feel intruded on or overwhelmed by the others’ absorption in us and then unseen when the absorption shifts to objectification.
While the immersed diffuse (meditation and other states of open spacious awareness) and the objective diffuse styles (‘panoramic view in a symphony of sensory experience’) tend to be less commonly experienced in our culture they offer possibilities that are relieving and refreshing alternatives to habitual over-focus.
Dr. Fehmi discovered a fifth attentional style, which occurs when we are more centered and flexible. In this style there is a flexible interaction of all four previously described styles. This style of attending arises as a consequence of, and simultaneously with, global Alpha Phase Synchrony. Dr. Fehmi refers to this style of attention as ‘Open Focus’. ‘Open Focus’ is a natural and effortless attending which is inherently flexible and responsive. In ‘Open Focus’ one experiences mental and autonomic normalization and attentional balance; also, an ongoing reduction in experienced stress and tension and a sense of ease in connection are commonly experienced.
Fehmi’s research lead to an understanding of the crucial role one’s attentional habits can play in one’s levels of physiological arousal and the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. The cultivation of voluntary on/off Alpha Phase Synchrony appears to produce an overall reduction in physiological stress and the lessening or remediation of many stress related physical symptoms. This cultivation of voluntary on/off Alpha Phase Synchrony, seems to be most easily learned through the combination of specific types of guided attention training coupled with neurofeedback. Dr. Fehmi’s ‘Open Focus’ CDs coupled with the both the ROSHI II+ and the BioExplorer software, have been very effective in training clients to voluntarily move in and out of Alpha Phase Synchrony.
Initial assessment using:
- paper assessment instruments as appropriate to the client;
- an assessment of autonomic functioning, breathing and Heart Rate Variability (J&J C2 with USE 3 software);
- Eduardo Rocotti’s 19 channel sQEEG.
I then, work out a training plan with the client(s) and proceed with the first stage of training. I use the ROSHI II+ and protocols tailored by the assessment and the client’s interests and preferences to train several basic attentional skills and then the skill of ’Open Focus’. When the client is able to reliably evoke this basic ‘Open Focus’, I am usually satisfied that they are ready to do couples work if they wish.
I also do some specific preliminary exploration, with couples considering shared Alpha Phase Synchrony training. Both should be able to stay somewhat centered and relaxed with each other and should share an interest in changing the quality of their connection in a positive direction. A week before the synchrony training begins, I give them the statement: “I am willing to be both unconditionally close to you and unambiguously separate from you.” They are asked to reflect on this statement daily making notes about anything which arises for them and which they consider important to explore, before the first session. If there is an issue, which, arises and requires exploration, that exploration is usually undertaken either prior to or coincident with the actual shared Alpha Phase Synchrony neurofeedback session. In some cases the couple is given several ‘Open Focus’ CDs with which to practice together, at home. After home practice sessions, it is useful to review both ‘Pre-Session’ and ‘Post- Session Reports’ and address any issues or concerns. As much as possible I employ the ‘rapport’ skills, which can provide invitation and support for others (my client[s]) to stay relaxed, free of emotional reactivity and at their best’ (as in the third level of training above).
I consider the two contra-indications for shared Alpha Phase Synchrony training to be:
-significant emotional dis-regulation;
-unresolved hostility and aggression toward the other person with whom one intends to train.
Interestingly, the synchrony training seems to actually support separation as well as connection and is not contra-indicated in my experience by the contemplation of ending intimate partnership. Mutual acceptance and a loss of emotional entanglement can equally facilitate deeper intimacy and connection or a clear relaxation of entanglement and a willingness to allow dissolution.
The Equipment and Protocols
My early work implementing the Fehmi Alpha Phase Synchrony and ‘Open Focus’ training was done with a stand-alone Autogenic single channel Alpha-Theta Trainer. The active electrode placements were either at Cz, Pz, or Oz (all these protocols use linked ear references). I trained Alpha up while listening to ‘Open Focus’ tapes (feedback was provided by a built in analogue sound generator); with the use of a ‘y’ connector I progressed to summing Cz and Oz or O1 and O2. Later I purchased Dr. Fehmi’s 5 channel Phase Synchrony Converter. With the 5 channel box I was then able to use my AT single channel set up with placements at Fpz, Cz, Oz, T3, and T4. With this set up I was able to train both, voluntarily increasing and reducing global Alpha Phase Synchrony.
Dr. Fehmi and his wife Susan convinced me that the states I was able to experience in my own training could be shared with a second person. I began to work with two Fehmi boxes and a five-electrode placement for each person. I acquired a multiplier box from Photosonix so that I could have both people receiving the same visual feedback from the ROSHI II+ Complex Adaptive port. When combined with ‘Open Focus’ CDs, this set up was quite effective in producing shared global Alpha Phase Synchrony. Clients reported a sense of ease and mutuality as well as feelings of freedom and separateness. I began to offer this training to meditation students and psychotherapy clients.
While I continue to use the Fehmi boxes and have been experimenting with Dr. Fehmi’s new NS500 multi person unit (I can currently do sessions for up to 4 people), about a year ago I began to experiment with simply using BioExplorer and the ROSHI II+ to train Alpha Phase Synchrony either between hemispheres or between the front and back of the cortex. I use matching placements in either temporal, parietal, or occipital lobes, and linked ear references. For front /back training I use Fpz or Fz and Pz or Oz. I have designed several BioExplorer protocols, which train Alpha Phase Synchrony between two channels. Given my impression that the ROSHI II+ with its powerful Complex Adaptive closed loop feedback seems to increase connectivity and relax fixation I was willing to experiment with Alpha Phase Synchrony training without the Fehmi 5 channel boxes. I have been quite pleased with the results. (I now use the pROSHI with blue see thru glasses and the ‘+’ setting to increase Alpha Phase Synchrony and the ‘–’ setting to reduce phase synchrony. This seems to produce even better results when training two people).
It is possible to use the BioExplorer Alpha Phase Synchrony protocol (without the Fehmi 5 channel boxes) with one person hooked up in each channel and an active placement, at either Cz, Pz, or Oz. While this doesn’t train global Alpha Phase Synchrony it does allow the training of shared Alpha Phase Synchrony at single sites. Using this approach with meditation students has produced reports of deep connection similar to that produced by the 5 channel boxes if both people are also using the pROSHI and following the ‘Open Focus’ guided practices.
The basic BioExplorer Alpha Phase Synchrony protocols I use train:
-Alpha Ratio (the power in the Alpha band compared against the full band defined as 3Hz to 35Hz.);
-Phase Synchrony between channels;
-Narrow the gap between dominant or peak frequencies between the channels.
This approach follows that developed by Adam Crane and Charles Stroebel and implemented in their CapScan 5 as well as the approach developed by Les Fehmi.
Following Fehmi’s approach I train for proficiency, first in increasing all three of the above parameters, and then I train for the ability to significantly reduce the values in all of these parameters. The overall outcome is significantly increased flexibility in ‘how’ one attends and an increased openess and ease in connection with the other person. To teach these abilities more quickly and thoroughly and to insure their transfer into daily life I combine the Fehmi ‘Open Focus’ guided attention training (on CDs) with most neurofeedback sessions. I request clients to practice at home with the ‘Open Focus’ CDs at least four times a week. Sometimes these home sessions may include temperature biofeedback and or HRV training. Clients are expected to bring records of their home practice when they come for their following session.
Clients who have experienced this training seem to universally like their results. I have one couple who come twice a week and have been doing so for almost a year. Both of them report ongoing positive change and describe their experiences as ‘nourishing for both their relationship and their individuality’. Unlike the other couples in my practice this couple has not been willing to continue at home practice with the ‘Open Focus’ CDs; they prefer to come to my office for a forty-five minute shared session.
Conducting the Session: Information for Clients
Phase Synchrony Training: Information for Clients
PRE-SESSION: It is your job to show up ready to ‘work’ which means that you are free of the influence of drugs or alcohol, and are ready and available for practice. If you have concerns, be sure to note them on your ‘Pre-session Report’ (attached) and share them with your trainer before your session.
If you are training alone your session will be about 35 minutes (ask if you wish it to be as short as 25 minutes or as long as 45 minutes). If you are training with a partner your session will be 40 to 50 minutes.
1. Take a few moments and settle; bring your attention here, and then relax, noticing how you are attending. If you become aware of something that will help you settle and relax, go ahead and do it now (just breathe, get some water, adjust your clothing etc.) It may be useful to recall your last session and review your last session report.
2. Complete the ‘Self-Report’ and then add anything else that seems significant.
3. Summarize what your ‘current reality’ is, and also review what your concerns and outcomes are.
4. Spend a few moments attending to your body sensations and stretch gently in different directions to release tension. Take a couple of full body breaths breathing out as you bend at the waist. Gently shake loose any additional tension.
5. Assist your trainer to adjust your hook ups and the feedback sounds and images.
6. Relax and fully engage your practice session.
7. Settle and allow the session to integrate*.
8. Complete ‘Post-session Report’ and note anything of significance.
*Ask your trainer for assistance if you have a concern or something else to share.
It is the job of your trainer to assist you in insuring that you are re-oriented to your ordinary reality and ready to re-engage it (without impairing your learning and your integration of that experience). Be gentle with yourself to allow natural deeper processing of your session. Do not try to figure out what your experience ‘means’…a premature assignment of meaning may block or impair the learning and integration of this experience.
While the training of global synchrony with the combination of ROSHI II+, pROSHI and the 5 channel Fehmi synchrony boxes remains the most powerful approach for training shared phase synchrony these boxes are not indispensable. I have written this article with the intention of encouraging others to explore the potential of training shared Alpha Phase Synchrony:”Open Focus’ with the ROSHI instruments. Working with the 2 channel Phase Synchrony protocols in BioExplorer is a way to begin this exploration. Adding the support of pROSHI seems to allow a quicker and perhaps deeper experience, particularly when doing Shared Alpha Phase Synchrony.
Changing how you attend to others and how you experience both your connection with them and your own relaxed presence while with them, can be profoundly life changing.
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