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.
John is a 66-year-old grandfather and successful businessman from Asheville, NC who plays tennis and counts flying among his favorite hobbies. But he is concerned that his memory is starting to slip. There’s no family history of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
John, however, did have a car accident and subsequent skiing accident in which the fall he suffered was so serious that his helmet broke. He also admits that he is often dizzy, fatigued, easily angered, and frustrated over his physical and mental limitations.
Intervention for balance and cognitive decline
John underwent comprehensive Brain Training at a frequency of three times per day over the course of five days. His brain function was carefully monitored throughout the training process with measurement of EEG brainwaves, vital signs, eye movements, balance, mental and physical timing, and more to ensure he was receiving the proper amount of therapy without exceeding fatigue limits that might promote worsening of his symptoms as is often the case in more conventional rehabilitation programs.
Understanding the relationship between physical functions such as balance, timing and eye movements and higher cognitive functions like memory (both major challenges in his case), we implemented the following Brain Training procedures: EEG neurofeedback, Interactive Metronome, vestibular rehabilitation, metabolic/nutritional therapies, eye movement and neurological rehabilitation, electrical stimulation, breathing exercises, lifestyle changes and home care therapies.
Outcomes with Brain Training
John reported midway through his five-day training program that he had “one of his best games of tennis.” He also said he felt less dizzy and improvements in his mood and memory were noticeable to him and others. “I walk better, talk better and feel better,” he said.
Actual measurable, objective improvements recorded with post-intensive diagnostic testing included:
Interactive Metronome (Timing): 14% improvement in timing accuracy and normalization of hyper-anticipatory timing tendency with motor tasks (i.e. becoming more ‘in-sync’ with a specified reference tone).
Videonystagmography (Eye movements): Significant improvements in numerous aspects of oculomotor functionality including: gaze holding, slow and fast eye movements, optokinetic responses, and spontaneous/involuntary eye movements.
Computerized Assessment of Postural Stability (Balance): 24% improvement in balance under the most challenging circumstances (eyes closed on an unstable surface – noted as PSEC on charts below below). Near complete normalization of a hazardous posterior center of pressure (tendency to carry his body or sway to the rear):
Implications Following Treatment
After his treatment was completed, John says he was able to recapture the moments of joy and sense of accomplishment he experienced through playing tennis and flying his aircraft, his two favorite hobbies; as well as being more engaged with his family.
He reports his memory has improved, he has fewer symptoms of dizziness and fatigue, and most important – he is now a safer, happier pilot following his specific Brain Training program.
Testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, oxytocin and vasopressin…
These brain chemicals and hormones have everything to do with all phases of love, from attraction or ‘love at first sight’ to long-term relationships and attachment.
The phase of superficial attraction vs. the deeper bonding you may be in dictates what chemicals will be present and in what amounts. Also, factors such as gender and overall physical and mental health play a role in what stages of love one is (or isn’t) in based on the nature and quantity of chemicals produced.
In general, earlier stages of attraction are dominated by adrenaline and dopamine; which account for behavioral traits of being clumsy and tongue tied due to stress responses encountering your love interest with the former, and having increased focus and energy with the latter. Serotonin is what can get you into trouble as this is what causes you to focus on your attraction more than anything else – very similar to the decrease in serotonin levels observed in those with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The latter stages of attachment and deeper bonding are orchestrated primarily by oxytocin and vasopressin; although other factors are present at all stages in varying amounts, depending on level of attachment and continued attraction. Oxytocin has been called the “cuddle hormone” and is an integral part of bonding between couples, mother and child, and, interestingly enough, dogs and their humans. (our four-legged friends produce this when they see their favorite person). Vasopressin has been shown to enhance interpersonal relationships through positive communication.
So, while we don’t want to dissect this most natural of emotions too much during the Valentine’s Day season, a basic understanding of the brain chemicals discussed and the many influences upon them (e.g. diet, exercise, stress, sleep, environmental factors, brain injury, mental health disorders, etc.) is in order for you to better understand how you view the world and how it views you through the “eyes of love”.
Ali presented to APEX Brain Centers in August of 2015 in search of concussion relief. She was struggling with a host of debilitating complaints due to multiple head injuries and concussions over the years. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, emotional distress, restless legs, tightness in the chest, tingling in her limbs, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), dizziness, spatial awareness difficulties, loss of muscle mass and hair, gastrointestinal (GI) difficulties and more were all part of her normal daily experience. She was in a constant search for concussion relief. She had been to a host of specialists with limited outcomes; including osteopaths, naturopaths, ENTs, cardiologists, allergists, chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists and massage therapists. She was an exceptional student and athlete prior to her injuries.
Ali traveled from Virginia to seek care at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC in late August, 2015 on referral from a friend who had similar problems with exceptional outcomes at APEX. She underwent an intensive course of Brain Training where she was admitted into in an individualized program directed by extensive diagnostic testing, and led by clinicians highly experienced in functional neurology and functional medicine. What follows is a sampling of some of the cutting-edge clinical interventions and amazing functional gains Ali experienced during her time at APEX.
Intervention for Concussion Relief
Ali underwent comprehensive Brain Training at a frequency of 3 times per day over the course of 10 days (with 2 days off between each week for much needed rest and recovery). Her brain function was carefully monitored throughout the training process with measurement of EEG brainwaves, vital signs (particularly important in those with POTS), eye movements, balance, mental and physical timing, and more to ensure she was receiving the proper amount therapy to be effective; but not too much so as to reproduce/amplify symptoms. Laboratory tests were ordered to evaluate for suspected food reactivity, markers of inflammation, altered stress responses and amino acid insufficiencies; among other factors. Modalities implemented included, but were not limited to: neurofeedback (NFB), Interactive Metronome, vestibular rehabilitation, metabolic/nutritional therapies, eye movement and neurological rehabilitation, whole body vibration, electrical stimulation, cognitive training, breathing exercises and home care protocols.
Ali’s Outcomes after Brain Training
Subsequent to her initial Brain Training program, Ali reported subjective improvements in all areas of pre-intensive complaint. What follows are a sampling of Ali’s words describing outcomes in several of these areas:
My heart rate is down significantly and I have fewer palpitations
I rarely feel unbalanced anymore
The tingling in my hands and feet is gone
Brain Training has greatly decreased my widespread pain
Since leaving APEX I have only had a few minor headaches, and none that have turned into a migraine
Now I can really engage with my children for long periods of time
My emotions are on a more even keel
I can recover from a workout and exercise again the next day
My immune function is improved
I expect all of my capabilities to return and even excel beyond what they used to be in light of the new and better lifestyle I’ve adapted!
Cognitive Testing: Increase in her Neurocognition Index of 13%, which is a standardized overall measurement of cognitive performance. Executive function (reasoning) scores were improved by 35%. Increases in various aspects of memory, attention, processing speed and more were as high as 13%.
Interactive Metronome: 43% improvement in task average with motor timing and 15% improvement in hyper-anticipatory timing tendency with motor tasks (i.e. responding prior to a pre-set reference tone).
Computerized Assessment of Postural Stability (CAPS): 8.2% improvement in balance on an unstable surface with eyes closed; which brought her from a moderate to mild reduction in balance compared to her age and gender matched peers.
Videonystagmography (VNG): Significant improvements in numerous aspects of oculomotor (eye movement) functionality including: gaze holding, slow and fast eye movements, optokinetic responses, and spontaneous/involuntary eye movements.
It should be noted that due to the overwhelming success of her first program Ali returned for a second intensive Brain Training program in November of 2015. She experienced further objective and subjective benefit and continues to update us on her progress.
Concussion Relief IS Possible
An alarming number of individuals do not seeking care for head injuries. It is important to recognize the symptoms of these debilitating injuries and that something can be done about them. The ‘wait and see’ approach to concussion and mild traumatic brain injury is no longer acceptable. Early intervention is key! The longer one waits, the more difficult it is to recover and have full engagement with life!
If you or someone you love is experiencing ANY of these symptoms, call APEX now at 828.708.5274. You may also email us at [email protected] for more information, or to set up a free consultation.
At the time of presentation to APEX Brain Centers, Roger was a 70-year-old male struggling with severe balance problems, clumsiness, fatigue, and a general disinterest in life. He used to enjoy life as a family man, successful entrepreneur and golfer. Just over 10 years prior he had undergone radiation therapy for cancer that damaged his 8th cranial nerve (the balance and hearing nerve). He had also undergone prism therapies and surgery for eye position abnormalities, which have caused further insult to his ability to maintain good balance and to learn effectively. Although not listed as a primary complaint, he also suffered from significant cognitive decline in several areas as evidenced by very low to low average scores on standardized cognitive testing.
Roger sought care at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC in May of 2015 and underwent an intensive course of Brain Training. He was admitted into in an individualized program directed by extensive diagnostic testing, and led by clinicians highly experienced in functional neurology. What follows is a sampling of some of the cutting-edge clinical interventions and amazing functional gains Roger experienced during his time at APEX.
Intervention for balance and cognitive decline
Roger underwent comprehensive Brain Training at a frequency of 3 times per day over the course of 15 days (with 2 days off between each for much needed rest and recovery). His brain function was carefully monitored throughout the training process with measurement of EEG brainwaves, vital signs, eye movements, balance, mental and physical timing, and more to ensure he was receiving the proper amount therapy to be effective, but not too much so as to be counter-productive. Modalities implemented included, but were not limited to: neurofeedback (NFB), Interactive Metronome, vestibular rehabilitation, metabolic/nutritional therapies, eye movement and neurological rehabilitation, whole body vibration, electrical stimulation, breathing exercises and home care recommendations.
Outcomes after Brain Training
Subsequent to his Brain Training program, Roger reported subjective improvements in the vast majority of his pre-intensive complaints. More profound than that; his wife was quoted as saying, “it’s like I have my old husband back”. She noted that he used to be the life of the party and had been slowly deteriorating over time to the point of sitting in his chair all day and sleeping more and more often. He was finally plugging back into life, putting an end to his isolation and apathy. As is demonstrated by his balance testing, he is also experiencing a renewed ability to maintain balance, allowing him to be safer and more efficient in navigating his physical environment.
Actual, measurable objective improvements recorded with post-intensive diagnostic testing include:
Cognitive Testing: Increase in his Neurocognition Index of 48%. This is a standardized overall score of cognitive performance. Increases in various aspects of memory, attention, processing speed and more as great as 21%.
Interactive Metronome: 56% improvement in task average with motor timing, and normalization of hyper-anticipatory timing tendency with motor tasks (i.e. responding prematurely to a pre-set reference tone).
Computerized Assessment of Postural Stability (CAPS): 20.5% improvement in balance on an unstable surface with eyes closed – bringing him from severe to mild reduction in balance compared to his peers. Elimination of a posterior center of pressure (CoP); significantly reducing his risk of falling backwards.
Videonystagmography (VNG): Significant improvements in numerous aspects of oculomotor (eye movement) functionality including: gaze holding, slow and fast eye movements, optokinetic responses, and spontaneous/involuntary eye movements.
With an alarming increase in the number of baby boomers and seniors experiencing balance issues and cognitive decline (that are in fact related), it is important to recognize the symptoms of these potentially debilitating disorders and, more importantly, that something can be done about them. Early intervention is key, as the longer one waits and the more function is lost, the more difficult it is to recover and have full engagement with life!
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!
Business professionals often ask me if brain training can help them be more successful. In many cases, the answer to that question is yes! Read my new blog on the NaturalNews Network to find five questions that business leaders can ask themselves to find out for certain if brain training would be beneficial.
Sense of purpose, clarity of thought, communication skills, motivation, and countless other uniquely human brain traits determine the level of success you will achieve in your professional life. Brain training may hold the key to achieving more than you thought possible. Are you are ready to elevate your level of leadership by harnessing the unlimited power of your brain?
At APEX we have worked with business executives of all levels, including CEOs, who were ready to achieve a higher level of brain function. We have overwhelmingly found that an advanced brain training program that includes tools such as the Interactive Metronome, neurofeedback, and transcranial magnetic stimulation can help strengthen the cognitive abilities that are essential for success in business.