The Woman Who Changed Her Brain

I found Barbara’s story particularly poignant because so many people experience variations of what she described. And it happens all the way along the age continuum…from children with learning disabilities of varying degrees to adults with dementia of various types and severity.

Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s vision is a lofty one—that cognitive exercises become a normal part of curriculum, and that school becomes a place that we go to strengthen our brains. The good news is, she has done something about it. The Arrowsmith Program is offered at schools throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

And what can we do?

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Engaging Your Whole Brain

Last week I wrote about using your whole brain when making decisions. That post included a TED talk by a practitioner of Psych-K (psychological kinesiology). As the name suggests, Psych-K uses body movement (kinesiology) to assist the brain in working as it’s meant to.

Psych-K was my introduction to energy psychology many years ago. Psychologist Rob Williams had blended principles of psychology with body movement from Edu-K (educational kinesiology), also known as Brain Gym.

Braqin Gym book

Brain Gym is a set of 26 movements aimed at integrating the two halves of your brain. It was developed by Paul Dennison to help himself with learning challenges when he was a post-secondary student. Seeing the potential to help others, he and his wife, Gail Dennison, developed the Brain Gym program. They found that people doing these movements experienced improvement in a number of areas, including concentration and focus, memory, physical coordination, and organization skills. The photo is my copy of the original book. It is still available on the Brain Gym Bookstore. Continue reading

Simplify. Use your whole brain.

Making decisions about health can be complex and frustrating. How can you possibly know what is the right thing to do?

The complicating factor is that most of us make decisions with only one-half of our brain. For example, suppose you want to know what is the best diet. Your left brain will have a field day. You can listen to interviews, read blogs and books, ask family and friends. You’ll find masses of eating rules, opinions, and theories—many of them conflicting.

With all of that to consider, your left brain may be driven to distraction trying to determine the pros and cons of these various approaches. It may seize on something and make a plan with great enthusiasm, only to have it fail shortly after you implement the plan. That makes no sense to you because the idea or theory was such a logical conclusion from the information you found. Frustrating? No doubt!

Here’s the missing piece…

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Tyranny of the Test

As I mentioned recently, testing is one of the hallmarks of personalized medicine. These days there are so many tests to help zero in on what’s really happening in your body. When used judiciously, test results can provide comprehensive information which helps your doctor or health coach develop an individualized plan for you.

Lab testing

Image via NPR

Thanks to technology, doctors are able to see images of your heart and carotid arteries in action, graphs showing a heart under the stress of walking up an incline, and more graphs of your heart beats and blood pressure during daily activities. They can see your brain in glorious colour and your body in three dimensions. They’re able to monitor the level of all manner of things in your blood. They can measure good and bad bugs in your gut, and find out if you have genes that predispose you to certain conditions you’d rather not know about.

Sounds like a good thing? Continue reading

Do your assumptions trip you up?

Mine did. Literally. Tripped me up.

Here’s the evidence. In full colour, an unretouched photo.

Me with blackened eye

So…how did I get a black eye, and how does it relate to assumptions?

I tripped on a curb. Well, not a curb exactly. I was stepping onto the accessibility ramp that transitions the pavement to the sidewalk.

There was no snow or ice. I was not in a hurry. I was not distracted by my phone or iPod. I did not faint and then fall. I was wearing flat shoes that are old friends. There was no obvious reason for this to happen.  Continue reading

Personalized Medicine

Whether it’s called personalized medicine, precision medicine, or individualized medicine, it means you are being treated on the basis of your uniqueness. A study-of-one approach allows for comparison of different treatments in the same person. You get feedback by observing your condition before and after a particular treatment. It allows you to determine whether that particular treatment is effective in your case.

This is different from conventional research, which uses many subjects who are divided into two or three groups. each group is given a different treatment and then the average responses of the groups are compared. This is known as a randomized controlled trial, and study results are reported as a statistical average.

Truth is, this does not provide helpful information for us as individuals. Just because a research study found that a particular treatment works on average, it may not work for you in particular. Or it may even make your condition worse even though it worked for most people. Continue reading

Something to try…for a general tune-up

In the spirit of being the director of your own study-of-one, here’s an experiment for you. This activity takes about 3 minutes and engages parts of your body that improve energy flow and oxygen to the brain. According to Dr. David Jockers, it has dramatically improved the health of many people with ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, depression, brain fog and dementia.

It’s a fast, simple, and drug-free method of improving brain function, according to the doctor interviewed in the following news report.

The next video is Dr. David Jockers demonstrating how to do SuperBrain Yoga. He mentions that a person with limited mobility can make adaptations. They aren’t demonstrated, so here’s his description from near the end of his article. This uses visualization in the same way that high-performance athletes do.

Science shows that visualizing a technique can actually result in positive benefits as if your body physically performed an exercise or experience. …adults with limited abilities to squat should sit in a chair with feet grounded and hands [holding earlobes the same as if standing]. While performing the same breathing patterns, visualize the exercise…

I did this every day for about 3 weeks and didn’t notice cognitive difference, but my knees sure improved, even though they emphasize this is not about exercising muscles. However, in my world, that’s a substantial benefit because I haven’t been able to squat down very far for years. At the 3-week mark, I got a cold, didn’t feel up to doing it,and hadn’t picked it up again. Prompted by writing this post, I did it again and was shocked how much of my knee mobility I’d lost. That’s good enough incentive to keep me going.

So…I’m curious. If you try it, what happened for you?

You’re a “study of one”…and the director of it.

Last week I wrote that we are complex organic systems, each with a unique combination of inherent constitution and life experiences. Under such conditions, the best way to address health issues is with an individualized plan.

In this model of achieving wellness, you are the subject in the study of you. Of course, a study also needs someone to direct it, and that is you too, since the medical system hasn’t yet embraced this approach beyond trying one prescription and then something else if that didn’t work.

How you think makes a difference to the process.

To handle your role as the study director, it helps if you will:

  1. adopt an experimental mindset,
  2. recognize that it’s a zig-zag path to where you want to be,
  3. look for clues,
  4. experiment judiciously, and
  5. think creatively.

Adopt an experimental mindset.

An experimental mindset is a huge asset because it keeps you from being trapped in the mode of doing things as they’ve always been done. It allows you to think, “There has to be another way.” This is not the typical medical approach, so you inject fresh energy into the situation when you approach an issue with an inquiring mind.

An experimental attitude allows you to be curious, to see what happens when you make a particular choice. It opens up possibilities and gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s the attitude that has been behind many innovators and inventors, including Thomas Edison.

Recognize that it’s a zig-zag path to where you want to be.

In the search for another way, you’ll be reading, listening to interviews, and asking questions. As you do that, it will become apparent that there are very few definitive answers about solutions to health issues.

One expert advocates a certain approach, another takes an opposing position that is equally convincing. Both are quoting research that supports their position. How does that make sense?!

Because there isn’t just one perfect answer. Each of those contradictory protocols has worked for some people. The main variable in solving your particular issue is your specific symphony of information, as Dr. Kelly Brogan said so eloquently at the beginning of this post.

Your job, as the director of your study of one, is to find what works in your particular case. By judiciously trying things, you can gain information that will help you determine how to proceed. Then it’s a case of “rinse and repeat” as you apply your learnings from one stage of the experiment to determine what to do next. In doing so, you’ll almost certainly find yourself taking a zig-zag path.

This is not the typical approach In our culture, which is goal-oriented and success-driven. We don’t appreciate trial and error. Instead we look for a direct path to the right and perfect solution, and consider ourselves failures when our chosen solution doesn’t work the way we expected.

However, the search for the perfect and correct answer can be a handicap because it sometimes prevents any action at all. As psychologist Barry Schwartz found in his research, this occurs because you can never be really sure you’ve chosen the perfect resolution from among an over-abundance of possibilities. This is true whether you are buying a pair of jeans or trying to figure out how to bring down high blood pressure.

Look for clues.

Self Help visual

Over the past three years, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe my process as I worked my way toward wellness. I notice that I’m always alert for clues when I read or listen to expert interviews. I watch for things that stand out, catch my attention, ring bells for me. I make note of those ideas and often end up experimenting with them.

Let me be clear—I’m not implementing every idea that crosses my path. That would be a recipe for disaster, as Aesop pointed out in his cautionary tale of The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey. The old man and his son adopted every suggestion made by people along the road to market, instead of doing what made sense to them. In the end, they unintentionally drowned their donkey, losing something of great value in their lives.

Experiment judiciously.

When experimenting judiciously, we consider the inputs from others, including the experts, without blindly following them. All inputs need to be filtered through our own inner knowing to determine the best course of action in any given situation.

Clues can come from many places. Experts are an obvious source. But something might come up in conversation with a friend that unexpectedly catches your attention. Or a relative may mention something about one of your parents that gives you new insight into your current condition.

Your body is also a rich source of feedback and clues. Be alert. What does it seem to be asking for? How does it respond when you try something, whether it’s a new supplement, a medication, a different type of exercise, or regular meditation?. What makes it feel worse? …better? Why is there a knot in your stomach whenever your cousin walks into the room? Why do you sleep better when you’re on holiday?

These are all rich sources of information that become “grist for the mill,” as my grandma used to say.

Think creatively.

Clues provide information and ideas. Combining ideas in unusual ways is the hallmark of creativity. And it’s the key to finding solutions that work. Psychologist Keith Sawyer studies creativity and innovation in business, but the same principles apply to creating wellness for yourself.

Last fall, Dr. Sawyer spoke to a gathering of tech visionaries and experts in human flourishing. He began with this description of creativity:

Creativity is not mysterious. Creativity is not a rare insight, that comes to you suddenly, once in a lifetime, to change the world. It’s just the opposite. Creativity is a way of life. It’s a process. The process starts with an idea. But it’s not a big insight–it’s a small idea. And that small idea can’t change the world by itself. In the creative life, you have small ideas every week, every day, even every hour. The key is to learn how to bring those ideas together, over time, and that’s the essence of the creative process.

More next week about personalized medicine. In the meantime, here’s Dr. Sawyer’s short talk about creativity.

We are organic systems. Not mechanical.

Organic. Not mechanical. That means we need to think differently when trying to fix problems in the system. Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process.

Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on one correct thing to do when you have a health issue.

Integrative Health Approach

Institute for Functional Medicine Clinical Matrix for Core Imbalance. From the Institute for Functional Medicine: Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, Wash: The Institute for Functional Medicine, 2005, p 100. © 2005 The Institute of Functional Medicine. Via the Cleveland Clinic

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Psychologist Barry Schwartz (#4 in a series: I Couldn’t Have Said It Better)

The Paradox of Choice

Last week I wrote about the dilemmas of too much information. It strikes me that too much information is like having too much choice. It complicates things, even though there’s a good side as well.

The paradox of choice caught my attention when I was teaching college classes about consumer issues. In the TED Talk below, researcher Barry Schwartz speaks about choosing consumer goods, but his findings can also be applied to health and wellness decisions. Continue reading