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The “Take 5” De-Stress Exercise

STRESS

Stress is at the root of so many physical and mental health struggles Americans deal with; and comes at a major cost to not only ourselves, but our families, communities, jobs, the health care system, and beyond.

From the obvious of anxiety, depression, and PTSD – to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia; the reduction or elimination of psychological stressors in our life can pay huge dividends both personally and financially.

I had the great pleasure recently of interviewing a well-known mindfulness expert who has been featured on Dr. Oz and other popular programs. Cory Muscara shared with me, and my listeners, a simple, yet highly effective technique to break the cycle of damaging stress responses in just a few short breaths.

How it’s done

  • Hold your hand in front of you, palm side up, with elbow bent at 90°
  • Take the index (pointer) finger of the opposite hand and place it in the palm facing you just in front of the wrist crease
  • As you begin to inhale slowly and deeply, slide your finger along the course of your thumb to the tip
  • Follow the course of the thumb with your finger back to the wrist as you slowly exhale
  • Proceed as such for the pointer, middle, ring, and pinky fingers for a total of 5 breaths
  • Initially perform with eyes open, then try with eyes closed

What it does

Pausing to breath like this, while bringing your attention to the tactile sensation of your finger sliding on your hand, creates a few moments of mindfulness that can interrupt most any stressor and get your brain back on track. This technique creates a parasympathetic (relaxation) response that will lower your heart rate, normalize breathing patterns, and simply make you feel better!

Practice often and you will find that even thinking about it will evoke the same responses.

To listen to the full podcast with Cory, please visit www.TrainYourBrainPodcast.com – Episode #339.

For other posts on stress and stress management, click here.

Your Brain’s Clock – Timing is Everything

Every breath you take, every move you make (enter the distinct guitar sounds of The Police’s wildly popular 1983 hit) is controlled by your brain’s innate timing system. Whether physical movements or production of thoughts, your brain’s ability to time these magical feats appropriately is the difference between unnoticed normal everyday functioning and disastrous consequences.

Most can relate to the impact timing has on the way we move. We’ve all seen someone with Parkinson’s disease or brain injury, or simply decline in function with aging, struggle with what most of us take for granted (i.e. walking, tying shoes, speaking, etc.). Our ability to effortlessly time movement is taken for granted… Until that ability is lost.

On the other hand, it might be a bit more difficult for one to consider that the disorganized thoughts of those with schizophrenia or similar conditions has anything to do with timing. This is in fact a growing area of research where disorganized or uncoordinated thoughts are being related to uncoordinated motor activity such as walking and speech. When movements are improved through various types of physical training, individuals experience more efficient thought processing and communication of these thoughts. Through this lens it is quite easy to see how our thoughts, and even emotions, can be impaired by improper mental timing.

Can I improve my brain’s timing???

Musicians, dancers and other athletes would tell you… Absolutely! Simply involving yourself in activities that revolve around a regular beat or rhythm (cadence) will help to strengthen your mental timing ability. The obvious here would include activities such as music and dance.

But what if there are problems with my brain???

Previously mentioned brain injury and Parkinson’s disease would be natural barriers to improving timing in the brain. Studies also show that key physical abilities (bio-markers) such as balance and eye movements are impaired in those experiencing cognitive decline with aging. Challenges in these and other abilities will undoubtedly have an impact on our ability to improve timing. Addressing the physical and metabolic aspects of these conditions would be the logical first step in improving mental timing in any situation. For those with severe impairment, and for those looking to be the best they can be, there are other options.

Can my mental timing be measured and improved???

Fortunately, yes! With sophisticated measurement and training tools such as the Interactive Metronome, those with neurological conditions and peak performers alike can have their brain’s timing measured quite accurately. This particular program utilizes auditory (sound) cues to first measure and then train one’s mental timing capacities. Through matching body movements to a standardized metronome beat, the computer software can determine (down to the millisecond) how accurately one is timing. Numerous aspects of timing can be measured including early and late timing tendencies, left vs. right side of body differences, upper vs. lower body timing differences, consistency in timing from one beat to the next, and much more. Armed with this information, experienced clinicians such as those at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC can design and deliver specific Brain Training programs to repair the deficient timing issues to the highest degree possible.

What does this all mean for me???

With intact and efficient mental timing our risk of injury due to falling decreases… Thought processing and problem solving become more efficient… Attention and focus get sharper… Memory formation and retrieval becomes much easier… Certain unwanted behavioral traits improve… Academics and test taking require less effort and produce less anxiety… Our limits of physical performance can skyrocket…

I believe you get the point. There are few aspects of humanism that are not positively impacted by an improvement in our brain’s innate timing abilities. Go exercise that rhythm – your brain will thank you!

Boot Camp for Your Brain?

03E08469[1]Google defines ‘boot camp’ as: a short, intensive, and rigorous course of training. Aside from the obvious military style boot camp, many are seeking out boot camps in all shapes and sizes to help with everything from fitness to addiction.

Why not boot camp for your brain???

A basic understanding of how the brain works will help you realize that a boot camp is the most effective way to train your brain. From those with neurological issues, to those looking to elevate their level of performance to new heights, a well-trained brain will help ensure you are functioning at your highest possible level (both physically and mentally).

Neuron Theory, 101

Your brain’s sole purpose in life is to receive and transmit information. Sensory information from the environment and your body travels up to your brain to be processed; and thoughts, actions, hormone circulation and more are the end result of that input. The brain receives and transmits information through neurons (nerve cells), more specifically networks of neurons, in the brain and body. The more powerful the information traveling in those networks, or pathways, the stronger they become. In short, from a theory developed in the mid-20th century by the psychologist, Donald Hebb: cells that fire together, wire together!

What determines if cells get ‘wired’ together is the intensity and frequency of the stimulation delivered to them. There can be equal parts frequency and intensity, or more of one or the other. Using the example of learning how to play a guitar; one can play 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week – representing moderate frequency and low intensity – and could expect slow gains in the ability to play guitar. The same individual could participate in a ‘guitar boot camp’ playing for 1-2 hours, 3-5 times per day, for 5 days – very high frequency AND intensity – and expect to make much larger gains in their skills on 6 strings.

Now, About that Brain Boot Camp

Paying respect to the understanding that cells that fire together, wire together, it should now make good sense that training of brain function would yield the greatest outcomes in this high frequency, high intensity boot camp model. Every brain is different and unique, and faced with its own sets of strengths and challenges; and the frequency and intensity of individual aspects of Brain Training can be adapted to fit these unique needs.

Another added benefit of the boot camp training model is that of fitting a great deal of learning into a very short period of time. Moms and dads, sons and daughters, athletes and CEOs, brain injured and infirmed – time is a valuable commodity, and to compress months (if not years) of benefit and improved quality of life into a 5, 10, or 15 day period of time is something most folks could not put a price tag on. Further, the longer we wait (and the longer it takes) to train our brains, the less benefit we will gain from the experience.

To learn more about our Asheville, NC based Brain Boot Camps for learning and behavioral issues, peak performance, concussion and brain injury, and more; contact us at 828.708.5274 for a FREE 15 minute consultation.

iPads for Everyone!!!

Logo concept FINAL_RGB_WEBEveryone that signs up for a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC, that is! (Unique offer details below).

While technology and all that come with it can cause significant impairment for many, it can also be used to provide an extreme advantage when it comes to Training your Brain. The ever-growing list of hi-tech applications (apps) for mobile devices and tablets is astounding, many of which hold significant promise for re-training brain dysfunction, and for improving upon already strong performance in those looking to reach their peak potential. As with anything, there is a downside – apps used improperly and not under expert guidance can, in some cases, be counter-productive, and even harmful!

The following are the main areas of apps for brain performance: 

  • Memory and Attention: We have all heard of that brain training program that begins with ‘L’ that most folks pronounce incorrectly! While this and many other similar apps are quite useful and largely without side-effects, they may not be providing all they claim in the absence of a comprehensive brain health program. 
  • Eye movements: The secret is out, eye movements are directly related to our higher, more human, cognitive brain functions. A simple Google search of ‘eye movements and cognition’ should get you rolling there! The challenge is that these sensitive windows into higher brain function can very easily be trained incorrectly, leading to further dysfunction or significantly limiting peak performance. User beware: Expert direction is essential with these type of apps! 
  • Neurofeedback/Biofeedback: By far the newest and most concerning area of mobile brain training, app stores are piling up with programs that will help you regulate your brainwaves, heart rate, muscle tension, and more. Common sense should let you know that training your brainwaves in the absence of higher education in neurophysiology and neuroplasticity might not be a very wise choice. Once again, user beware!

Although just a sampling of what’s available in the various app stores in the cyber world, the take home message here is that ANY effort in training your brain should be directed by a qualified health care provider trained in these areas of brain performance for maximum benefit and decreased probability of side-effects.

Enter the iPad…

All clients entering into a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC through May 31, 2015 will receive a FREE iPad Mini with Retina Display (or comparable device) as a valuable aid to your brain training program, and to help you continue progress once discharged. All you would need to do is have an iTunes account to purchase any needed applications (typically less than $35.00), and the desire to make your brain the best possible brain it can be.

This special offer is not to be combined with any offers and you must reference this post at the time of consultation or admission for validation purposes. Let us help you harness the power of technology and put you in the driver’s seat on your journey to Building a Better Brain!

NaturalNews Blog: What NOT to Eat While Studying

Read my new blog on the NaturalNews Network to get great tips on what not to eat while studying and why. Not all food is brain food, and my blog explains why. It is much harder to drive yourself to better test scores with low grade fuel in your tank. You’ll also get my recommendations on foods you can eat to increase your brain power.

Your brain is the most energy hungry organ in the human body. And the brain requires the highest quality, most energy rich fuel when it is learning something new. The types of foods you eat when you are studying have a direct impact on the amount of information you will be able to retain.

Read the full article here.

We have helped many clients improve their brain health, and their academic performance, through metabolic and nutritional therapy at APEX Brain Centers. See for yourself how positive dietary changes and nutritional supplementation can help you get higher test scores and achieve peak performance in the classroom.   

Read all of my NaturalNews blogs by visiting my profile.

Study Less, Score Higher: The Real Reasons You’re Not Passing the Exam

When you cram the night before an exam, do you ever stop to think that your brain cannot hold the mountains of information you are trying to squeeze into it? Or, that it won’t be able to process what you tried learning before the big test? As amazing as they are, our brains are not wired to devour and process massive amounts of information in short periods of time. Further, for some us, our brains are not ‘wired’ efficiently enough to effectively learn what we are studying.

Take the individual who pays attention in class, studies regularly in small doses, has a tutor, and seems prepared to do well on a test. He fails. His friend waits until the last possible minute, pulls an ‘all-nighter’ and she passes with flying colors. What gives?

Obviously these two brains are not wired similarly, and not just because they are male and female brains. That discussion is for another day! There are a host of reasons why your brain might not be able to process and retain information, and why you might not be able to access what you learned when you need it the most on test day. Here is a list of four common challenges to effective test preparation:

  1. Developmental challengesADHD, autism, vision or hearing loss, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities like dyslexia all impact the way one learns and can have a profound impact on test taking ability. Oftentimes, given the right interventions, many of these disabilities can be overcome and what was once a disability now becomes a strength.
  2. Stress and anxiety – The sheer number of tests and responsibilities faced by students today can be quite overwhelming. Even ace students can easily become stressed. Stress can lead to significant difficulty in one’s ability to effectively prepare for tests or perform well on exam day. The problem of text anxiety and academic stress often compounds over time (I have seen this with my children’s friends during the dreaded end of grade testing).
  3. Metabolic issues – Food is fuel. Imagine trying to drive a Ferrari fueled by lawnmower gas that’s been sitting in the garage for two years. When your diet consists mostly of refined and processed foods you make exam preparation much harder for yourself. You cannot expect good test performance when you tank up on lousy fuel.
  4. Poor sleep – While you were so busy cramming for that test you forgot to do the single most important thing that will help you pass it…SLEEP!  

Whether you are in grade school or grad school, the vast majority of times it is not about how much you study that gets you good grades on tests. Your academic performance also depends on your level of brain function, the quality of the fuel you put in your tank, and environmental factors that are well within your control. You have the power to improve your test scores and Brain Training can help. What would it mean for you, your family, your career, even society, if you were able to improve your test performance and achieve the grades you desire?

Train your brain for better test performance. It really works!

Keep Your Mind Sharp Over Summer Recess: 8 Ways to Beat the Summer Brain Drain

Summer break often conjures up images of the beach, going to bed late, sleeping in, camping, and, for those in school, a vacation from books, homework, and tests! While summer is commonly used as a time to recharge, it is not often used as a time to learn. Evidence suggests it should be. In his groundbreaking 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell masterfully details how those who achieve great success have stacked the cards in their favor. His book illustrates that the amount of time spent doing something directly relates to how successful you become at it. So, while you’re enjoying some rays on your body, extra Z’s in the morning, and s’mores around the campfire, do not forget to spend time learning. Feed your noggin to grow your brain through the summer months. Here are 8 tips you can use to keep your mind sharp over the summer:

1. Read

– Reading is one of the best ways for you to maintain and grow your brain. The type of reading you do is quite important. Stretch and challenge your brain by choosing books that encourage learning. Learning creates new neural pathways and strengthens existing ones!

2. Learn a new skill

– Summer is the perfect time to sign up for that golf lesson or photography class you always wanted to take. You can learn enough in a few intensive sessions to forge new neural pathways.

3. Get out in nature

– Nature stimulates brain growth and protects the mind from the negative side effects of technology. From controlling cortisol levels and blood pressure, to improving focus and attention, nature does a brain good!

4. Take a technology vacation

– Most of us cannot completely escape our tablets, phones, laptops and TVs, but we can control how much we use them. Technology vacations are just what the doctor ordered. Take breaks from technology for short and long periods of time. Keeping your smartphone and other devices out of your bedroom can lead to improved sleep, cognitive function, communication skills and job performance.

5. Socialize

– Yes, talking with other human beings face to face, rather than from behind a keypad, can have a profound impact on the way your brain functions. Lack of real social contact can cause the covering of the cells in your brain (myelin) to break down, resulting in problems with nerve conduction.

6. Eat well

– You are what you eat…it doesn’t get much simpler than that! When you put poor fuel in your tank (i.e. refined and processed foods) and your brain does not work as well as it should. This is especially common during the summer months. When you fuel your body with nutrient rich whole foods your brain will thank you by performing at its peak ability.

7. Exercise your brain

– Brain games on computers and mobile devices, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and board and card games all help to keep your brain sharp. The ability to solve problems, discover patterns, and reach goals are extremely helpful for brain enhancement and prevention of cognitive decline.

8. Move your body

– If we have no need to move, we have no need for a developed brain. Scientific research conducted over the last several decades has revealed that exercise not only benefits our bodies, but our minds as well. Exercise allows for improved fuel delivery to your brain, strengthens connections between nerve cells, and reduces the harmful effects of stress on the brain.

Contact us here at APEX Brain Centers to get more detailed information about how you can train your brain for peak performance this summer.

How to Improve Your Test Scores

Eat a good breakfast the morning of a test. Get a full night’s sleep. Study. Don’t cram. Make flash cards. Take practice exams. Write practice essays. Do these test preparation tips and strategies sound familiar? Practically any study guide will repeat these same suggestions. It’s good advice, but there are additional ways to achieve higher test scores or better academic performance, and there are likely neurological underpinnings that are preventing you from effectively following this simple advice.

Brain Training for test preparation can help a student prepare for exams by improving mental skills:

  • Boost memory
  • Enhance focus and lengthen attention span
  • Increase mental processing speed (the rate at which you think and make decisions)

No matter what type of exam you are preparing for: GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, SAT, ACT, GRE, GED or state bar, you can give yourself the highest chance of success by training your brain for peak performance.

The Relationship Between Timing in the Brain and Academic Performance

Your test performance abilities are determined in part by the timing of all the processes that go on in your brain. The faster your brain can absorb and process information the better you’ll perform mentally and physically.

Interactive Metronome is a brain training tool we use to help clients improve test scores. IM training feels like playing a game. You hear a rhythmic tone, and see real-time feedback on a computer screen that directs you in how to perform a physical action in time with the beat, such as clapping your hands. You get immediate feedback on your performance down to the millisecond so you can continually improve as you proceed through the training.

How IM Training Helps Improve Test Scores

IM challenges your brain to quickly process and respond to auditory and visual cues. As you practice and improve your timing, your brain grows new connections and improves the efficiency of existing ones. That new brain growth and development will help you get faster and better at processing information, so you can see improvements in your ability to pay attention, learn, and communicate. Higher test scores are only one of the positive changes you can see after completing IM training.

Research into Interactive Metronome and Academic Performance

Scientific studies into the timing of the brain and IM training support the connection between IM and improved academic performance. A 2011 study published by Jamshid Damooei, Ph.D. measured changes in academic performance of California elementary and middle school students who underwent Interactive Metronome training. All of the test subjects were chosen to participate because they were struggling in school. The reasons for their academic problems ranged from learning and attention disorders to autism. The students who completed the program overwhelmingly showed improvements in key areas: ability to focus, reading and math comprehension, and a remarkable increase in processing speed.

If you are interested in learning more about Interactive Metronome and other brain training tools and strategies that can help you improve your test scores contact the APEX admissions department.

Train Your Brain to Pass the Bar Exam

Experts suggest that you study for the bar no less than 8 hours a day, 6 days a week for the full two-month period between law school and date of the exam. The good news is that intensive study is not the only method you can use to prepare your brain to pass the bar exam. Just as you exercise your body to train for a marathon, you can exercise your brain to train for the bar exam.

The bar exam can be seen as a mental marathon. Over the course of this grueling two or three day exam you will answer 100 to 200 national Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) questions and write multiple in-depth essays drawn from a wide range of legal topics, including:

  • Contracts and sales
  • Wills and trusts
  • Equity
  • Torts
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Constitutional law
  • Civil procedure
  • Real property
  • Family law
  • Professional ethics

A bar exam prep course will give you access to the information you need to know, but your brain’s ability to absorb, process and apply that knowledge will ultimately determine how well you perform on the test.

Brain Training Exercises for Bar Exam Prep

Scientific research has repeatedly shown that the brain is capable of growth and change, a concept called neuroplasticity. Cutting edge Brain Training strategies, such as qEEG directed neurofeedback and Interactive Metronome training, are designed to help you boost your cognitive performance by changing the structure and function of the brain in beneficial ways.

Brain Training can increase your mental and physical abilities in the following ways:

  • Improved memory
  • More efficient information processing
  • Enhanced focus and attention

We have seen in our own practice that you can improve on what you are already doing, no matter what level of performance you are at currently. It is never too early to begin preparing your brain to achieve success on the bar exam. APEX Brain Centers offers multiple resources and customized Brain Training for test preparation. Contact us today to find out more about how APEX Brain Centers can help you pass the bar exam and achieve your academic and professional goals.

APEX Brain Centers is leading the way in neuroplasticity-based brain enhancement programs that are opening new doors for those struggling with addictions, learning and behavioral disabilities, test performance, athletic performance and more.

2 Walden Ridge Drive (STE 80) ~ Asheville, NC 28803 ~ 828.708.5274
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