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.
As the Old Saying Goes…
…If I had a dime for every time someone with concussion said “my doctor doesn’t listen to me”. Nearly every day in clinical practice patients report to me one way or another this very real concern. While this is true across all areas of specialty at our center, it is far more prevalent in those suffering the effects of concussion and post-concussion syndrome.
There are several theories as to why many doctors don’t take the time to listen. These can be explored at length with a simple internet search. Here, I will briefly explore some of these more accepted views and, more importantly, what I have come to see is the real truth behind why so many are being ignored, and in many cases dismissed, by their ‘trusted’ health care providers.
The Usual Suspects
- Time. Most primary care physicians are pressured by the demands of heavy patient loads and declining insurance reimbursements. That leaves you as the patient at the mercy of a provider that may only give you one minute or less to voice your concerns; which for those of you with concussion are often too many to list.
- Distraction. Electronic records, insurance forms, mobile devices, and excessive patient volume can cause doctors to get caught up in things that are not right in front of them. That is you, the patient. If a doctor is distracted, they will not do a great job at listening.
- Bias. It has been established that many doctors will spend less time with individuals based on race, gender, and other factors such as socio-economic status. Also, patients that come in with recurring complaints are more likely to be dismissed or ignored.
While I believe these are accurate (although unacceptable) reasons for many being short-changed when it comes to their health care provider’s attention; there are more specific reasons doctors don’t listen when it comes to the laundry list of life struggles that can accompany concussion and post-concussion syndrome.
The Real Story Doctors Don’t Listen to Those With Concussion
- Ignorance. This may seem like a harsh term to many (particularly the doctors), although it simply means that most primary care providers lack the knowledge and information necessary to properly question and screen for these types of conditions.
- Invisible. Concussions are not seen on CT scans or found in blood work. They are silent injuries that result in functional problems with balance, vision, cognitive abilities, and more. Conventional medical approaches are not well suited for these conditions; therefore, doctors are less inclined to listen to problems they cannot treat.
- Overwhelming. The number of symptoms and conditions that can result from a hit to the head are staggering (we’ve compiled a list of over 50!). Most doctors when presented with 5, 10, or more complaints may focus only on 1 or 2 as this is what they are accustomed to.
- Unknown. Even with all the attention given to concussion over the past several years in sports, the media, and movies, this is still uncharted territory for most providers in mainstream medicine. This is also true for many of the doctors those with concussion are being referred to.
So, What’s the Answer?
The internet is full of strategies to get your provider to listen better. This, however, is not the focus of this article. And, it will not serve you well to try and get those that don’t understand concussion to listen to you! What you need to do is seek out the services of a qualified functional neurologist who is well versed in the art of listening. And, who understands the multitude of symptoms those with concussion and post-concussion syndrome experience. Only then will you be able to get answers as to what the best method of treatment will be for you. Concussions are real, and so are the symptoms and solutions!
For more information please call us at 828.708.5274, or visit any of the following resources:
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!
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.
As scientific research continues to be done in the area of neuroplasticity and its application in the process of brain training, the possibilities are becoming more exciting than ever!
One particular area of discovery has caught our attention at APEX Brain Centers because it deals with high-level performance improvement, an area in which we have a lot of experience. When people think of brain-related performance improvement it’s usually in areas such as helping CEO’s and computer programmers improve their focus and mental agility, or helping an athlete maintain concentration for longer periods of time (all things we’ve done successfully). This latest opportunity though is something far more finely-tuned and exacting. We’re referring to helping the batter in a baseball game quickly recognize and respond to different pitches.
Let’s put this in perspective. A professional baseball pitcher might pitch the ball at speed from around 65-80 mph for a curve-ball, up to the highest fastball speeds of 95 mph or higher. The ball travels around 60 feet from the pitcher’s hand to the plate, so the batter has less than a second to react. In fact, even a relatively slow 50 mph pitch gives the batter a reaction time of only 0.825 seconds, and a 100 mph fastball arrives at the plate in just 0.413 seconds. In that time, the batter must try to identify the pitch, estimate its trajectory, decide if it will reach him in the strike zone, and if so, adjust his swing dynamics for the best possible opportunity of a successful contact with his bat. All in quite literally the blink of an eye (the human eye blinks at between 0.3 and 0.4 seconds).
It’s not difficult to imagine that even a very small improvement in the batter’s mental acuity and visual response time could yield huge dividends. When you address the process of brain training using the kind of objective clinical methods used by APEX Brain Centers, it’s actually possible to measure the “starting point” of the brain’s physiology, plan a very specific improvement protocol, and often just a few days later measure the resulting change in the brain’s activity. Translating that into the batter’s performance at the plate is the next logical step, and the one that we’re about to begin studying.
We already know how to do the clinical part so we’re excited to see the results on the field. For us, that will be a real home run (pun intended)!
Everyone 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!
Football can be a brutal sport full of heavy hits and injuries. All too often bravado (or, as some would see it, ignorance) keeps players on the field after they have suffered devastating injuries. As a clinician who has helped many young athletes who are struggling with life altering symptoms caused by concussions, I have seen the high costs paid for this ignorance. Players, teams, and families all suffer when coaches choose to ignore the signs that a player has an injured brain.
Case in point…the recent University of Michigan football game where the Wolverines were trailing significantly late in the game and quarterback Shane Morris took what appeared to be a blatant illegal hit to the chin from a Minnesota defender (Watch the video at Deadspin).
That hit would have stopped any person of great strength dead in their tracks, and could have potentially killed one of lesser stature.
Sure, roughing the passer was called on the defender that inflicted the blow. That was the lesser of disciplinary options for this type of aggressive action that was clearly delivered to take Morris out of the game, even though he was no longer a threat to the Minnesota squad.
But What About the Coaches?
What about the very individuals that this young man’s safety, well-being, trust, and livelihood were entrusted to?
Certainly there is a mindset and code of conduct in the ultra-competitive sports world that many on the outside will never understand, but there is also a time when common sense prevails and stories like this need to be used as an example to protect those that have given their all to the sports they love.
Cries for the removal of Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke, and even Athletic Director Dave Brandon, have been pouring in to the University since the time of the incident, mostly from University of Michigan fans. Rallies are being held on the Michigan campus and awareness is spreading nationally in protest of the ignorant inactions taken on the sidelines at this particular game. Director Brandon was quoted as saying, “Ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of our student-athletes resides with each team’s coach and with me, as the Director of Athletics.” He further noted, “We are committed to continuously improving our procedures to better protect the health and welfare of our student-athletes.”
These words are mere lip service. What Brandon said does not change the fact that that this young man continued to play after suffering a traumatic brain injury, as evidenced by his incoherence and inability to stand on his own two feet. How is it that the announcers immediately recognized the severe nature of Morris’s injury and suggested he be sidelined, yet the coaches on the field made no attempt to remove and evaluate the young star? You would think they would want to preserve and protect one of their biggest assets, particularly in the case of an impending loss.
What Should Have Been Done
Morris should have immediately been removed from the game the moment he started showing signs that he had a concussion; which was the moment he went to the ground and barely got up! Whether he was facing a loss in the last quarter or playing for a national championship, his inability to walk, focus, and communicate was of no great service to himself, his team, or his University. Further, this put him at an alarming risk for an even more serious head injury (think of a fighter waiting for the knockout punch when his opponent is dazed and confused). Morris’s basic physical and cognitive functions should have been tested immediately after he took the hit. Tests measuring his basic memory and cognitive skills (i.e. name, date, hometown, basic addition, etc.), eye movements and light responses, gait, balance, and vital signs (i.e. blood pressure, heart rate, etc.) should have been performed.
After a period of rest, more advanced tests of function would be warranted: videonystagmography and saccadometry for eye movements, Computerized Assessments of Postural Systems (CAPS), cognitive testing batteries for focus, memory and attention, and more advanced studies such as quantitative EEG for measurement of brainwave activity. Effective intervention to eliminate his functional deficits and decrease the probability of future injuries can only be delivered if thorough examinations are performed.
What Good Will Removal of the Coaches Serve?
While I am entirely in favor of the removal of the coaches who did not protect the interests of Shane Morris, I’m not certain this will prove any more effective than the penalties placed on the players delivering these hits that are often not appropriately enforced in cases such as this. There will always be the next Brady Hoke in line to take the job of protecting our athletes. In my opinion, the cultural norms in this high performance world need to shift in order to ensure incidents like this are minimized, and hopefully eliminated. That can only come from the top and I sincerely hope that the NCAA and other organizations take copious notes here to develop action plans to truly protect the players and hold those accountable that put them in harm’s way.
Whether they are running, cycling, swimming, auto racing, playing ball sports, or participating in weekend warrior contests; athletes of all shapes, sizes, and abilities have one thing in common. They all want to WIN!
The road to excellence in sports has changed quite a bit over the past several decades. The vehicles that bring athletes to their peak today look nothing like the horse and buggies that used to get them there. Sports performance is a high-tech, fast-paced, ultra-competitive industry where new advances in training the human body are popping up around every corner, in every discipline.
Today you may commonly choose to enhance your athletic performance through strength, agility, and endurance training specific to your sport, metabolic therapies, and possibly indulge in cross training and sports psychology therapy. But something is missing from this list. Something BIG. Something that could make all the difference in the world. Brain Training can help you achieve peak athletic performance. Training your brain to perform at a peak level is shaping up to be the biggest, and likely most important, aspect of training for ANY athlete. Brain Training can also amplify the effects of other training methods.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, then you are ready to take the next step in your athletic training program:
1) Do I want to be faster?
Most sports require speed and endurance, and training your brain to be faster can be a game changer. Balance, coordination of movement, core stabilization (shunt muscles) and voluntary movement (spurt muscles), all controlled by your brain, are key factors in determining how fast your muscles will move your body. The more “tuned-up” these systems are, the faster you will be.
2) Do I want to increase my reaction time?
Advanced applications like the Interactive Metronome were designed to improve timing abilities in key areas of the frontal lobes of your brain that govern your ability to react appropriately to stimulation coming from your environment (i.e. sight, sound, etc.). Training your brain’s ability to react to various types of stimulation, and to block other types out, can significantly speed up your reaction time and overall accuracy of thought and movement.
3) Do I want to improve my focus?
Focus, Flow, Concentration, The Zone… whatever you prefer to call it… is one of the most complicated of all brain abilities, and very likely the most crucial brain function when it comes to success at sports. Many abilities come together to create focus, most notably vision combined with your brain’s attention network. These abilities CAN be trained to achieve higher levels of concentration and attention. This is what creates the effortless focus on the task at hand – The Zone – that most athletes crave.
4) Do I want to outsmart my competition?
Training various aspects of memory, essentially increasing your intelligence, will provide invaluable assistance when stacking up against your competition. Working and procedural memory can be improved through intensive Brain Training programs that combine “brain games” and metal tasks with physical exercises and various types of sensory input shown to improve cognitive abilities.
5) Do I want to decrease my risk of injury?
The brain controls your muscles as well as the tone of your tendons and ligaments. Muscles, tendons and ligaments that are controlled by a well-functioning brain are more resilient, faster to respond, and less likely to be injured. In turn, if something has been injured it tends to send “faulty” feedback to the brain, further increasing risk of injury. Training brain-body connections is critical for any high performance athlete that wants to stay off the sidelines.
When most people think of ways to improve athletic performance they think about physical fitness, but forget to include brain fitness in the equation. Just as you train and condition your body, you need to train your brain for Peak Performance in athletic competition. But how do you know what Brain Training tools are right for you? Take a look at the following ways to see how you can improve athletic performance so that your brain and body perform at their maximum potential.
1. Get Over Mental Blocks
It’s no secret that physical fitness can improve athletic performance, but did you know that when you enhance your brain fitness you can overcome mental blocks that will improve your physical fitness? That’s why Olympic and professional athletes use tools like our Peak Performance training program, part of which includes to achieve a winning edge.
A qEEG is a map of the brain that measures specific brain wave patterns in individuals, and no two are alike. Using the brain map, we can identify places where athletes may be struggling and then target those areas to positively affect change. Using targeted neurofeedback, we train athletes through a process of brain self-regulation to overcome mental hurdles and perform better in competition. The end result? Athletes who work with us not only overcome mental blocks, but they can help control physiological processes such as muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rate to build better speed, balance, focus, and coordination.
In competition, it’s said that mental attitude accounts for up to 80% of success. Using Peak Performance training tools, athletes can help monitor physiological and psychological reactions to rise to the occasion and perform their best during any competition, with elevated confidence.
2. Improve Motor Coordination
With improved motor coordination and timing you can run faster, swing harder, catch and throw with greater speed and accuracy, and anticipate movements to be one step ahead of the game. The Interactive Metronome (IM) is a computer-based rhythmic training program that improves motor coordination, attention, focus, concentration, and sequencing in the brain. Originally it was designed to bring musicians to perfect timing, but athletes benefit significantly from the ability to focus, improve motor control, and block out crowd noise and other distractions.
Professional athletes, including the football players at Notre Dame, use the Interactive Metronome to enhance their motor control, coordination, balance, and gait, and it has additional benefits for language and cognition. When you can focus all your energy on the task at hand, on the field, or in life, you can get “in the zone” and really go for the win.
3. Ensure Proper Nutrition
Athletes achieve peak performance by training and conditioning the body, but of equal importance is what they put into their bodies. Food is a fuel, and optimal performance requires optimal nutrition, including healthy foods like whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and veggies. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is also hugely important.
What you put in your body also determines how well your brain works, and when your brain is working its best, you can physically perform your best. With the proper metabolic and nutritional guidance, athletes can enhance their brain power, and their physical abilities, with the highest quality fats, brain protectors, and specific brain nutrients.
Read more about Metabolic Brain Therapy.
4. Get More Sleep
Getting enough sleep is critical for athletic performance. Sleep is a time of recovery and neurological growth, and it helps the body rebuild muscle and body tissues. When we don’t get enough sleep–eight hours is recommended for most adults–we can’t perform our best. Using Peak Performance tools at APEX, we can help elite and aspiring athletes achieve more, and better quality, sleep.
A 2011 study showed that when the Stanford University basketball team added an average of almost two hours of sleep per night, their physical performance greatly improved. Players increased their speed by 5%, and free throws were 9% more accurate. Overall, the athletes had faster reflexes and felt happier. Other studies have shown similar benefits for football players and other athletes.
Find out how we can help you reach your athletic performance goals by learning more about APEX Brain Training Programs, and by contacting our Admissions Department today.