Your Brain… on Yoga

Yoga in all its forms has proven its benefits across multiple generations and continents. Interestingly, modern science is now confirming its usefulness for improved mental and physical health and even brain fitness.

Indeed, yoga has been shown to support healthy brain function and stave off neurological decline. That’s particularly good news for those with limited mobility or early onset dementia, as some form of yoga (such as chair yoga, water yoga, yoga for the blind, and gentle yoga) is accessible for a wide majority of people, regardless of age or fitness.

Here are yoga’s effects on the human brain:

  • Recent studies demonstrate a positive effect on the structure and/or function of the hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and cingulate cortex.
  • Psychologically, regular practice has also been shown to lower stress, reduce body image dissatisfaction and anxiety.
  • Brain scans of regular yoga practitioners show they have thicker cortexes and greater gray matter volume and density in several brain regions, including the frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital and cerebellar regions. This research seems to confirm that yoga appears to negate the otherwise normal decline in total gray matter volume that occurs with age.

Interestingly, these beneficial brain changes appear to occur fairly rapidly when yoga is done at least once (one hour session) per week.

Other ways yoga has proven benefits for your brain

  • Twenty minutes of yoga weekly improves speed and accuracy of mental processing to a greater degree than 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (jogging).
  • Yoga helps improve a variety of mental health problems, including psychiatric disorders like anxiety, ADHD, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia, in part by increasing brain chemicals like gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). Without GABA, nerve cells fire frequently and easily, triggering anxiety disorders, seizures and conditions such as addiction.
  • Yoga also boosts serotonin, and some studies suggest yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants.
  • Yoga can help improve teenagers’ emotional resilience and ability to manage anger. This is especially helpful as teen frontal brain lobes (the seat of language and reason) are still being formed, leaving them to overly rely on their amygdala (the seat of emotions).

“It appears that the unique combination of physical movement and deep breath work of yoga offers these healthy brain benefits,” sums up Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback.

The evidence is clear. Regardless of your age or physical agility, consider finding a yoga class that you can do on a regular basis.

How to tame inflammation – the cause of so many health issues

Inflammation is a contributing factor in many serious health conditions that affect both body and your brain.

Of course, not all inflammation is bad. Healthy bodies react to injuries with acute inflammation to speed circulation and bring healing nutrients to the affected site.

But when inflammation becomes chronic, that formerly helpful inflammatory response works against health and well-being. Chronic inflammation is largely due to lifestyle habits that welcome free radicals and the cellular damage they cause.

Here are 5 highly effective ways to control — and begin to reverse — chronic inflammation:

  • Know which foods are inflammation-causing and eliminate them from your diet:
    • Sugar
    • Soda
    • Deli and processed meats
    • Fried and fast foods
    • Omega-6 oils
    • Refined wheat products
  • Add inflammation-taming foods instead:
    • Berries
    • Fatty fish
    • Cruciferous vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Green tea
  • Consult with your doctor about taking supplements, including:
    • Astaxanthin
    • Curcumin (turmeric)
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Probiotics
  • Make good sleep a priority every night. Allow for 7-9 hours of restorative sleep each night. Turn off electronics, block external lights, and keep your schedule even on weekends.
  • Manage your stress, which floods your bloodstream with chemicals that increase inflammation. Make reducing stress and (often accompanying) negative feelings another top priority. Belly breathing, meditation, and regular exercise work well to help your mind and body release stress.

 

The team at INDY Neurofeedback reminds you that taming inflammation and stress should always be a part of your health routine. When you start eating healthier and dealing actively with stress, your body releases “feel good” chemicals in response to positive thoughts and emotions. That’s why it’s so important to practice techniques that help manage your emotions and stress.

INDY Neurofeedback has well researched tools to help you create a more positive and healthy environment for your brain body connection. What can we help you with?

Self Compassion — Stress Relief That Lasts

Stress — the feeling of being overwhelmed by your to-do list, social media, politics, multi-tasking, being ever available via your phone, judging yourself harshly… the list goes on… indefinitely.

So, what to do? Next time you’re feeling particularly frazzled, try this new stress hack: Be compassionate to yourself.

Sounds too easy, right? It’s actually harder than you think to be kind to yourself. Turns out that judgy voice in your head is strongest when it’s judging you!

A new study in the Clinical Psychological Science found that practicing self-compassion has great health benefits, including reducing:

  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • sweating 
  • anxiety levels

The above symptoms are triggered by the body’s threat response system (adrenaline surges) that chronic stress can cause. Being in a state of constant chronic stress is terrible for your brain, your heart, your digestive system, your ability to keep from getting sick, and your overall wellbeing and longevity.

However, learning to be more self-compassionate appears to put the body in a state of safety and relaxation — which shows up as a slower pulse (heart rate) and slowed breathing. Both can be regulated by sending loving thoughts inward.

Try it for yourself

  • Take a moment to stop what you are doing and close your eyes 
  • Slow down and deepen your breathing 
  • Mentally scan your body from head to toe
  • Bring awareness to and give gratitude for each body part and what it does to keep you healthy and active.

This may be difficult at the start, so give it time. As Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback says, “We believe everyone can train themselves to be self-compassionate. Being kind to yourself is like flexing a muscle. The more you practice, the easier it will become.”

Learn to Quiet Your Brain — and Live Longer

Those of us at INDY Neurofeedback were fascinated with a new study recently published in the medical journal Nature, which linked quieter brains with longevity. We were fascinated because it confirmed what we have been seeing in our neurofeedback clinic for years.

It makes sense that a less active or calmer brain would use less body energy. That’s the theory behind activities such as mindfulness and meditation – which have been around for thousands of years. It also supports the HeartMath HRV (heart rate variability) program all clients are taught in conjunction with our neurofeedback training. 

In the Nature study, researchers from Harvard Medical School reported that a calm brain with less neural activity could lead to a longer life. 

Here’s what the Harvard study showed:

  • The study analyzed donated brain tissue from people who died (aged from 60 to over 100). 
  • A protein that suppresses neural activity — called REST — was found to be associated with neural activity and mortality.
  • Researchers noticed that the longest-lived people had lower levels of REST as well as genes related to neural activity.
  • The study showed that daily periods of slowed activity spent in meditation, uni-tasking, being in quiet environments, or sleeping, were just as important for life-long brain health and longevity as more well-known maxims such as staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercise. 

“Even though our brains weigh only about one-seventieth of our total weight, brains consume nearly one third of all the energy in our body,” explains Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback. “So it is incredibly important that we learn how to quiet our brains to give them a chance to rest – especially when all around us, we’re encouraged to multi-task and stay engaged.”

“Learning how to quiet our overly-busy, multi-tasking brains is vital for our mental health. And now, we know it is also connected to longevity.”

Here is what INDY Neurofeedback tells our clients:

  • Begin to tune into and listen to your body. Find out where you are holding in tension, and acknowledge those areas. When you acknowledge your body, you are more open to what is really going on for you.
  • Learn to recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Practice mindfulness and deep breathing.
  • Try regular meditating. It’s a good way to stay tuned to your internal mental state.
  • Learn to stop reacting and talking, and be present. Really listen to what others are communicating.
  • Be brutally honest with yourself about having clear boundaries. Know when you need to take a break from work, children, problem-solving, or being with others. 
  • Spend time alone, doing what you enjoy.

Those of us here at INDY Neurofeedback have noticed that by incorporating both HRV and neurofeedback techniques, individuals can learn to gain control over various over or under active parts of our brains, providing the tools for healthier more optimal brain function.

How Screams Trigger Our Brains 

Why is it that a high-pitched scream causes us to drop everything and give 100% of our attention to the source of the noise?

It’s not just because screams are loud. Lots of other things in our daily lives are loud. But high decibel screams in particular are impossible to ignore. 

Here’s why: Human screams contain fast, barely perceptible fluctuations in loudness, usually at frequencies of between 40 and 80 Hz. This frequency makes them acoustically shocking to our ears. And now, thanks to new studies, we understand why human screams hijack our brains into paying attention. 

A research team at the University of Geneva has found that the 40 to 80 Hz frequency range triggers reaction in brain areas related to more than hearing – this frequency also triggers the brain’s aversion to pain. 

The new study, published in Nature Communications, invited16 participants to listen to streams of repetitive clicks played at various frequencies, between 50 to 250 Hz. At frequencies below about 130 Hz, participants could hear distinct clicks. Above this frequency, the clicks were usually perceived as being one continuous sound. 

The participants reacted particularly vehemently to very loud, unpleasant sounds, with fluctuations in the range of 40-to-80 Hz. This is the same range of frequencies heard in home alarm systems, sirens, and human screams, including a baby’s scream of intense distress.

Researchers attached a type of EEG directly to study participants’ brains so they could see what areas of the brain were aroused when these particular screams were heard. They found that when an intense 40-to-80 Hz scream was experienced, it was perceived as excruciating and affected highly specialized areas of the brain. 

In fact, the EEG showed synchronized patterns of activity in a number of brain areas, including the amygdala, hippocampus and insula. These areas are all related to the experience of pain, which explains why participants perceived these intense sounds as being unbearable. The amygdala, hippocampus and insula areas if the brain experiences these intense sounds as high danger, activating cortisol release – the “fight or flee” hormone — so that the sounds are impossible to ignore. 

Listening to our environment, we hear how we have learned to exploit the brain’s recognition of danger calls by engineering car alarms, home alarms, tornado sirens, and fire engines with the same danger frequency range to get their urgent messages across. 

At INDY Neurofeedback, we find our complex brains endlessly fascinating. If you have a question regarding the way your brain works, let’s talk. Our goal is for your brain to work optimally.

How Your Brain Reacts to Fright

Why do some of us like getting a good scare now and then?

When something startles you, your body’s response is pretty interesting. And like so many things, it all starts with our amazing brains.

Here’s why we jump and how getting scared works:

  • When we experience something scary, your brain sends out an immediate alert to your amygdala, the brain’s control center for emotions and reactions. 
  • When the amygdala receives the alert, it activates your fight or flight response, sending a rush of adrenaline coursing through your bloodstream. This adrenaline sets you into a hyper alertness; your pupils dilate and your eye muscles tense to open your eyes wide, expanding your field of vision.
  • The adrenaline also causes your heart to immediately pump faster, increasing your blood pressure and breathing rate. 
  • Your arms and legs raise with goose bumps, the mammalian response (seen frequently in cats) to make us appear larger to predators. 

A few seconds later, another region of your brain kicks in, your prefrontal cortex — the region that rules your thinking. Only then does the assessment part of your scare begin.

Your brain begins to decide whether or not there’s a rational reason to be scared. If your fear is well founded, your prefrontal cortex finds ways to keep you safe. If not, it begins to shut down all that adrenaline, and your body begins to go back to normal.

Does anything good come out of all this?

Assuming we were watching a scary movie and not running from a bear, it might not seem as if anything good could come from being frightened. But — your body’s response to fear can give you some small health boosts. 

Being scared can heighten concentration. You are more likely remember details about the situation (again, your amazing brain to the rescue helping you recognize patterns in case the scare reoccurs). That heightened concentration will also help you to remember your lines in a play, or nail a job interview.

If you are sharing your scare — such as watching a scary movie with friends or family, as you calm down, the act of sharing that extreme emotion will encourage the secretion of the hormone oxytocin, encouraging bonding. 

How to calm yourself down when you are overly panicked:

Most of us cannot control the first part of panic, when your amygdala takes over. But we can train ourselves to react to fear less violently by learning to control our secondary stress reactions.

  • First, breathe deeply and steadily. That will help slow down the production of stress hormones, steadying your heart rate and helping your muscles relax.
  • Second, remind yourself that your body is responding in the way it is designed to, working to self protect. Embracing and understanding the process will help you calm down faster.
  • You can add to that calm by focusing on your vegus nerve  — gently massaging from the top of your ear to the lobe. This has been proven help reverse your body’s fight of flight response and calm you down.

Now that you know what’s going on in your body, feel free to enjoy a little scare now and then!

How We Breathe Influences Brain Functions And Behavior

woman yoga beach deep breathing exercisesDid you know that the rhythm of your breathing influences brain activity such as memory recall and emotional judgment?

In an interesting new study by Northwestern University School of Medicine, scientists have discovered that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that actually enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.

Specifically, these effects on behavior depend on whether you inhale or exhale — and whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth.

Here’s how the study worked:

  • Subjects looked at faces on a computer screen while having their electric brain signals recorded.
  • The recorded electrical signals showed subjects’ brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The recorded activity occurred in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.
  • Participants were able to identify a fearful face more quickly when inhaling, compared to exhaling.
  • They were also more likely to remember an object they viewed if they saw it as they inhaled rather than when they exhaled.
  • The recorded signals showed brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The activity occurs in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.
  • This startling effect disappeared if breathing occurred through the mouth rather than the nose.

What it means:

This study suggests that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation, but not during exhalation. When you inhale through your nose, scientists found, you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and across the complete limbic system.

“Since the amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing—especially fear-related emotions,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “this new finding is fascinating. We all have experienced the faster pace of our own breathing when we are startled or scared.”

When faces were encountered during inhalation, subjects recognized them as fearful more quickly than when faces were encountered during exhalation. This was not true for faces expressing surprise. These effects diminished when subjects performed the same task while breathing through their mouths. Thus the effect was specific to fearful stimuli during nasal breathing only.

“If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster,” O’Neil summarizes. “That said, you’ll spend more time inhaling when you are in a calmer state of mind. These findings suggest that rapid breathing may provide an innate advantage when we find ourselves in a dangerous situation.”

At INDY Neurofeedback, our clients are trained on proper breathing using the HeartMath emWave Pro system. We are fascinated about how our amazing brain works! If you have a question about brain health and brain behavior, let’s talk.

Non-Prescription Help With Adult ADHD

Although many associate ADHD or ADD diagnosis with children, the syndrome is not age specific. Since ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is the syndrome recognized by the American Medical Association, it is the term we reference here at INDY Neurofeedback.

How do you know if you have ADHD? In 2013, the FDA approved brainwave testing to diagnose ADHD by measuring brainwave patterns.  Christy Foreman, a director at the FDA, said in a statement that the protocol would help health care providers more accurately determine whether ADHD was the cause of a particular behavioral problem.

In addition to identifying ADHD, brain wave testing also provides the basis for neurofeedback training which can be used to help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with ADHD.  In October of 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report that is intended to serve as a guide for medical doctors in choosing appropriate treatment interventions for many childhood conditions.  The report lists neurofeedback as a Level One, Best Support Treatment for ADHD – as effective as medication but without dangerous side effects.

The following are common symptoms medical practitioners recognize as frequently occurring in adults with ADHD:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing
  • Poor time management skills
  • Problems focusing on a single task
  • Excessive activity or restlessness
  • Low frustration tolerance.

“If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, there are ways to help with your symptoms safely – over and above taking prescribed medications (which come with their own drawbacks),” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback.

“At INDY Neurofeedback, we can work with you to retrain your adult ADHD brain using neurofeedback techniques.”

Beginning with a consultation and a self-administered questionnaire, we’re happy to talk with you about your symptoms. If you wish, we can move forward with an initial QEEG brain mapping appointment to help you better understand what parts of your brain are most affected. (LINK to FEB BLOG #25, “My experience with brain mapping at INDY Neurofeedback”)

Next, we can set up a series of guided EEG biofeedback (a/k/a neurofeedback) with a trained professional to address your specific issues. The sessions are fascinating!

What else can you do to help address adult ADHD symptoms? Here are a few helpful recommendations:

  • Exercise regularly. And if you don’t exercise much, you aren’t doing your brain any favors. Physical activity can improve your memory as well as help you make decisions and pay attention.
  • Make healthy eating choices: Restaurant food and fast food is packed with calories, sugar, salt, and fat, and low on fruits and veggies. Limit junk food. Eat at home and plan your diet around healthy choices.
  • Get more sleep. Lack of sleep and ADHD often go hand in hand. Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you tired, it can also worsen symptoms such as lack of focus and problems with motor skills. Anxiety, depression, and stimulant medications can be to blame. Be frank with your doctor about your symptoms and quality of sleep.
  • Get a good diagnosis. If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, consider a QEEG brain mapping to fully understand the dysregulation.

Know that:

  • ADHD meds don’t always work well if you have substance abuse problems.
  • Drugs for major depression can make ADHD worse.
  • Some ADHD medications can make anxiety worse.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Your first morning meal can help keep you focused longer as the day progresses. Choose healthy proteins.
  • Get rid of clutter. Messy homes and offices can make ADHD symptoms worse. Clearing the clutter can make you more productive and reduce stress.
  • Reduce screen time. Doctors have found numerous links between ADHD and over dependence on cell phones, screen time (including games) and Internet use. Stay on top of your screen habits – especially just before bed.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we can help with ADHD symptoms. Ask for a consultation to find out how we can help you.

What is Anxiety Disorder?

According to the National Institutes of Health, some 2.6 billion people – or 33.7% of the population of the world — will at some point experience an anxiety disorder. And yet, the disorder is widely misunderstood.

The experience of clinical anxiety can range from distractedness, to persistent fretfulness, to a full-blown panic attack, complete with hyper-ventilation, heart palpitations, and other physical symptoms. All of it feels scary and difficult or impossible to control — which compounds the misery.

The most common anxiety disorders include: include general anxiety disorder, agoraphobia (or fear of being in public situations you can’t escape), social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and separation anxiety disorder.

Happily, not only are these anxiety disorders diagnosable and controllable, but they are also very treatable.

Anxiety may, by definition, feel bad, but that doesn’t mean it is always bad. It exists as a way for your brain to grab your attention when you’re stumbling into danger, which is handled by two brain regions: the amygdala and the more complex cerebral cortex.

The amygdala processes very basic emotions like fear, anger, guilt, and envy. A good example of this is the fear you experience from a scary movie. The job of the cerebral cortex is to determine whether or not the threat is real, and what to do about it. Sometimes, however, the fear alarm gets stuck and the cerebral cortex has trouble trying to sort real risks from exaggerated ones. Moreover, extended bouts of insomnia can also produce anxiety.

How do you know if you have an anxiety disorder that should be addressed? Since there is no blood test to tell for certain, here are the red flags denoting a problem:

  • You have a high level of distress that gets in the way of day to day activity.
  • Your panic is persistent.
  • You avoid things because of your fears.
  • Your fears interfere with your daily life.

In general, says Leanne O’Neil, if your enjoyment of life becomes compromised by anxiety, it’s a good idea to seek help. Although no one can live a life untouched by anxiety, with the right skills and help, no one needs to live a life that is destroyed by it, either.

INDY Neurofeedback has an effective program to help those with anxiety. Come talk to us to see if it is right for you.

Understanding resiliency and why we want to achieve it

Why is it that some people react extremely negatively in the face of stress and adversity — sometimes even getting physically ill — while others seem able to shake it off and carry on? Since chronic stress can contribute to physical ailments such as heart disease and stroke, it’s important for us to know – is resistance to stress, a/k/a resiliency, something that can be acquired through training?

In a recent study, psychologists at Northwestern University used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the brains of 218 young people living in violent neighborhoods in Chicago. The study found that the youths who had higher levels of functional connectivity in the central area of their brains (in other words, better resiliency) had better cardiac and metabolic health than their peers who had lower levels of connectivity (reference this study here).

What explains all this?

One possible reason, says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, is that greater activity in the brain’s central network increases self-control. Self-control, in turn, can reduce the number of unhealthy behaviors people often use to cope with stress, such as eating junk food or smoking.

In other words, we can increase healthy behaviors with simple behavioral interventions.  In fact, one good example is mindfulness training through neurofeedback.

How might that work?  When we get help practicing:

  • attention control
  • emotion regulation
  • increased self-awareness,

we open up the potential to increase connectivity within the brain’s “central network”, leading to behavioral change. It does seem that our resilience is related to our brain connectivity, O’Neil concludes.

Someday we might be able to protect young people exposed to violence and adversity by supplementing their brains with neuroprotective growth factors. Meanwhile, O’Neil explains, we know enough to help less resilient brains through exercise, mindfulness training and other support systems, especially neurofeedback.

There will always be stress and adversity in our lives, it seems.  But we believe that resiliency is something that can be acquired through training.

Interested in finding out if neurofeedback can help you re-train your brain toward a specific behavioral goal? Call 317 888 8500.