Archive | March, 2013

Exercising Your Brain

20 Mar

Eight ways to enhance your physical, mental and spiritual health – according to breakthrough findings from leading neuroscientist.

#8  Smile! even if you don’t feel like it.  Smiling repetitively helps to interrupt a bad mood and strengthen your brain’s ability to maintain a positive outlook on life.  People will respond to you with more generosity and kindness, and smiles are contagious!

#7  Stay intellectually active.  Intellectual stimulation strengthens your ability to communicate, solve problems and make rational decisions.  By the way, a highly functioning frontal lobe also makes it easier to diet, exercise and avoid tempting activities that have health risks!

#6  Consciously relax.  Scan each part of your body to reduce muscle tension and fatigue, listen to pleasant music, repeat a simple meaningful activity or knit!  Relaxation lowers tension, stress and anxiety.  It also interrupts the brain’s release of harmful chemicals.

#5  Yawn!  This is my favorite!  Yawning quickly brings you into a heightened state of cognitive awareness – ridding you of sleepiness, helping you stay focused, giving you a sense of self and helping you become more introspective and self-aware.  Yawning will relax you and bring you into a state of alertness.  *how to do yawn therapy described at the end.

#4  Meditate.   Meditation or intensive prayer permanently strengthens neural functioning in the specific parts of the brain that are involved in lowering anxiety and depression and enhancing social awareness and empathy. Mediating for  10-15 minutes a day on a consistent basis has been shown to reduce smoking and binge-drinking behavior!

#3  Aerobic exercise.  All forms of exercise enhance brain performance (the more aerobic the better.)  Exercise improves academic performance, repairs and protects the effects of stress, boosts immune function, reduces anxiety, and can decrease depression.  It slows the loss of brain tissue as you age, protects you from Alzheimer’s disease and reduces vulnerability to chronic illness.  Need I say more!

#2  Dialog with others.  This is not monologues at another person, but actual social interaction (put the newspaper, phone and iPad down and converse!)  If we don’t use our language skills large portions of our brains will not effectively interconnect with other brain functions.  Isolation will damage important mechanisms in the brain leading to aggression, depression a social disorders.

#1  Faith.  In this case, faith is equivalent with hope, optimism and the belief that a positive future awaits us. Being optimistic and having faith decreases stress, helps you resist catching the common cold, reduces your risk of coronary artery disease, increases longevity and improves copying skills during hardship.

Your choice today is to try the yawning exercise – it works!!  I did this with a group of people in one of my training session, hilarious and helpful!  It was 2:00 in the afternoon, the sleepies had set in, I asked if they were up for a yawning exercise and they said yes.  Here are the steps to yawn therapy.

  1. Stand up.  (If possible) find a quite place where you won’t be disturbed  (needless to say I broke rule number one – most people chose to face the wall).
  2. Take a very deep breath and then open your mouth wide.  Exhale with a sigh.  Start yawning, even if you have to fake the first few.
  3. Yawn 12 – 15 times; this should take no more than 2 minutes.  Your eyes will probably start watering and your nose might run (that did happen for most of the people in my class so have Kleenex handy!)

It was crazy!  Within 5-10 minutes after the exercise almost everyone in the room agreed that they felt refreshed, less sleepy and more alert.  So before tackling a difficult problem, before a sporting event or when you’re tired – yawn!

SPECT Scans, Book Report Part 2

4 Mar

From This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin

If you haven’t seen a SPECT scan of the brain, seriously – do it!!  So cool!!, you can see brains on meth, marijuana, AD/HD, etc.

Henslin, like many therapists and pastors, assumed that all brains are created equal, meaning everyone has the same capacity to choose and functions from the same level of free will.  Based on the brain’s inner workings, it is now evident that all brains are not equal and not everyone has the same power to choose.

If a brain isn’t working correctly, all the counseling, trying, discipline and theology will only work partially, at best.  (This does not take people off the hook for their anger, anxiety, depression or hyperactivity; however, understanding how their unique brain is wired can offer new insights and answers.)

Much of Henslin’s book is based on Dr. Amen’s area of expertise, SPECT scans (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) – a type of imaging that shows how blood flows through the brain. SPECT scans might be more sensitive to brain injury than either MRI or CT scanning because it can detect reduced blood flow to injured sites.   To read more about the scans:

The book examines common brain issues associated with ADD/ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, anger and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   SPECT scan can offer enormous insight into these issues.  For example it is quite common to find a person with rage issues has had damage done to their temporal lobe, causing reduced blood flow.  This is often correctable.

As cool as it would be to get a SPECT scan, not everyone can afford one. Even if you lived by one of the Amen Clinics, they reportedly cost $3,300 and health insurance probably isn’t going to help.

There is a no cost alternative that you might want to look at.  Dr. Amen has created a questionnaire, or a checklist, to help establish if there is an imbalance that might require medical assistance.  Here is a link to the questionnaire.   The ‘key’ for the checklist and instruction for taking the quiz are in the book report on page 5.

The choice I’d ask you to focus on today has to do with judgment.   We are often quick to judge those that behave in ways we do not appreciate.  We might assume they are not trying hard enough to change or aren’t disciplines enough or don’t have enough faith to be better.

Today’s point of choice, identify 3 people whose behaviors bug you enough to distract you.  Can you consider the possibility that they really are doing the best they can with the brain they are working with?  Can you cut them some slack?  If you are in a position to help them, will you help them?  Maybe you just start with the questionnaire.