Why Neurofeedback? By guest blogger Austin Rose
Do you ever feel like who you are limits who you could be? Have you ever felt negative thinking influences how you live your life? Political theorist William Connelly describes the activity in our brains when he says, “to think is to move something. And to modify a set of brain/body connections helps to draw a habit, a disposition to judgement, or a capacity of action into being.” In other words, thinking creates patterns of thought which become actions and ultimately form habits. These patterns create a framework, or reference, for the things we can think and do. As we think, we can modify or strengthen these patterns, in turn making our thought processes more flexible or rigid. These patterns of thought are deeply rooted in ourselves and the multitude of experiences we encounter throughout our lives. They can be very difficult to change. We do not have much control over how these patterns are created as we live our lives. Our brains are organs of survival. Bombarded with so much stimulation day in and day out we can often feel lost and powerless to change our thoughts, reactions and habits. However, contrary to what scientists previously believed, new research in neuroscience is finding that the brain is malleable. This is referred to as “neural plasticity.” It turns out that we have the capacities to establish new patterns of thought, rework old manners of thinking and unleash previously hidden potential.
Neurofeedback (brainwave biofeedback) is a therapy which capitalizes on this plasticity of the brain. Neurofeedback as a therapy has been shown to be useful in treating ADD, ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, depression, anger, traumatic brain injuries, and chronic migraines. It has also been shown to increase performance in athletes, and can enhance energy and brain functioning in healthy individuals.
Neurofeedback is a treatment to aid our brain in deciding which pathways it should strengthen and which to modify. A metaphor I return to frequently when thinking about neurofeedback comes from Grant Rudolph, who describes it as, “a rainstorm blowing dead leaves and branches out of a tree – the living branches stay connected and new growth accelerates.” By sending weak electrical signals to our brain (feedback), signals which are weaker than those emitted by a watch battery and are akin to micro-voltage in the brain itself, neurofeedback stimulates increased neural flexibility. The brain decides which pathways are useful (healthy branches) and which pathways are limiting us in our current experience (dead leaves). With increasing neural flexibility, we experience more space, or thinking power, to develop new habits and growth in our brains.
My Experience with Neurofeedback
A little over a year ago I stumbled across LENS (stands for Low Energy Neurofeedback System) neurofeedback thanks to Dr. Louise Rose who suggested I might find similarities between it and the political theory that I was immersed in at Marlboro College. I also have a history of head injuries. As an active young man I throw my head around a lot and sometimes it hits things.
My first neurofeedback treatments found me with considerably more energy and creativity. I was able to utilize this new energy for my thesis work at school and my procrastination dissolved. I also experienced my hand-eye coordination increase dramatically, becoming three to four times what it used to be. After several treatments my senses were working at a much higher level than before. It was as if a dial had been turned up heightening my perception. Not only was I perceiving more, I felt the need to share these perceptions with the world. I began to make music, write poetry, have long engaging conversations, and I even began to start on my school work…before school even started. I felt great and wanted to share it with others.
Back in Vermont during the fall term I felt these effects begin to wear off. My motivation declined as school picked up momentum and creating began to feel like a chore. I found things I enjoyed writing about but felt like what I wanted to say was no longer important to me or had already been said. Where was the heightened energy and creativity that I had felt in August? I was still feeling heightened awareness of my surroundings but found myself falling back into old patterns of thought.
When I returned to Portland for winter vacation I jumped at the opportunity for more neurofeedback. However after the treatments I felt little to no change in my body or mind, although my brain map did look considerably different from the previous one. I didn’t really think too much about it as there were many other things on my plate. I was distracted and wasn’t surprised when I didn’t feel anything new.
When I settled back in at school, I began to think about why neurofeedback had worked so well for me in the summer yet not after my winter treatments. Also, why did other members of my family not see the same results I had? Soon I realized the major difference lay in my meditation practice.
When I first started neurofeedback I concurrently began to meditate using Dr. Les Fehmi’s Open Focus meditations. Open Focus works to increase ones awareness of the body and it’s surroundings. Open Focus meditation is a practice designed by Dr. Fehmi a pioneer of neurofeedback technology, and is similar to some eastern meditation practices. As I returned to regular Open Focus practice, I found many of the effects I felt from neurofeedback begin to return. At first I wondered if what I had felt originally were only the effects of Open Focus. However as my practice matured, I began to see parallels between the two and how one strengthened the other.
If neurofeedback works by “blowing dead leaves and branches out of a tree (the mind), leaving the living ones and encouraging new growth,” then the question becomes, what can I do to stimulate this new growth alongside my neurofeedback treatment. By merely continuing through my daily routines after neurofeedback, I was not moving my brain to think in new ways. Though I may have begun to see some changes in my habitual thought patterns, without the support of the active retraining of meditation, these thoughts seemed not to have long lasting effects. Caught in my routines, I was still thinking in habitual patterns that were consequently reinforced. My hypothesis is that If we push our minds to experience new things, we will create new frameworks of thought and capitalize on the neural plasticity provided by neurofeedback. Since we do not know the myriad of ways we could feel, being open to new experiences gives us the opportunity to develop these new frameworks. This is how I see the flexibility resulting from neurofeedback combined with Open Focus practice; an increased ability to immerse myself in my own body and it’s surroundings, while distancing myself from unhealthy deep neural patterns that my emotional baggage has created. Since I began to practice meditation concurrent with my neurofeedback treatments, I have seen incredible leaps forward in my thinking, and productive changes in my brain maps produced by the LENS Neurofeedback software. While in my experience, meditating dramatically increased the effects of neurofeedback treatment, Dr. Rose has many patients who have benefited by neurofeedback alone. In my experience, when attempting to move my brain in new ways, the catalyst to long lasting effects of neurofeedback lies in an openness to new experiences. If, after a treatment you feel inclined to clean out a closet, or begin your memoirs, don’t hesitate, act on it. If you do not feel many changes after a couple appointments, think about how you can stimulate changes in your routine. This could be as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, shaving in a new pattern than before, or taking up a meditation practice. Also, if changes are not immediate after treatment, do not be dissuaded. Sometimes the brain is stuck in very rigid habits requiring time for neurofeedback treatment to gently rock it out of these patterns. By being open to new experience, we stimulate the growth of living, strong and flexible branches in our minds and bring a new capacity of action into being. -By Austin Rose
Astragalus– immune stimulating (increases macrophages and natural killer cells) and adrenal tonic. great for anyone with spleen qi deficiency, supports good digestion. Very safe, mildly sweet flavor, overall tonifying.
Burdock root- Liver tonic, blood cleanser, alterative. Mildly bitter and therefore stimulating to the digestive system. Historically used for hormone balancing and skin conditions.
Dandelion Root- Alterative, liver tonic, nutritive. Wonderful for detoxification and elimination processes.
Licorice Root-Anti viral, immune modulating, adrenal tonic. Sweet flavor. Used to treat colds, coughs, stomach upset, chronic fatigue. (caution in high doses if you have high blood pressure)
Codonopsis – Also known as Dangshen, or poor man’s ginseng. Used to increase resistance to stress, increase energy, modulate immune response (increase response in cancer, decrease in autoimmune conditions).
Ginger– potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, carminative (good for nausea, gas, dyspepsia). Warming.
Cinnamon-wow, a powerhouse of health benefits! Anti-inflammatory (great for arthritis pain and menstrual cramps), antimicrobial, promotes healthy blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, can promote healthy cholesterol levels. Warming and delicious!
Black Peppercorns– Helps with digestion, is antioxidant and antimicrobial.
Cloves-Pain relief, high in antioxidants, antibacterial, digestive stimulant.
The amount of herbs pictured (I’m bad about measuring things, but you can see it’s a tablespoon or two of each herb) made one gallon of chai. Simmer the herbs for 45 minutes to an hour, add black tea and steep for 4 minutes. Strain. You can keep this mixture in the fridge for a week, heating up one cup at a time. Add cream and honey to taste. You might not need to add any honey as some of the herbs are quite sweet.
I recommend drinking super tonic chai daily to build strong adrenals, and keep your immune system healthy!
Yarrow is a common medicinal plant and familiar wild flower. In traditional herbal practice it is used to stop bleeding, reduce fever, and also as a bitter herb to tonify the digestive systerm. Herbalist Matthew Wood says in The Book of Herbal Wisdom, “Like a number of good blood medicines, Yarrow both stops hemorrhage and breaks up congealed blood.”
Who doesn’t love lavender? Just about to pop into full bloom at the clinic. My appreciation for Lavender deepens.
Lavender has potent volatile oils which are the aromatic medicine of the plant. It is useful for anxiety, headaches, depression, insomnia, and nervous exhaustion. Soothing and uplifting to the spirit. The essential oils have powerful antifungal, antimicrobial action and the oil can be used in wound healing and for burns. Next time you have an itchy bug bite try dabbing a drop of lavender oil and a drop of peppermint oil on it. The peppermint will help stop the itching and the lavender promotes healing! To buy high quality essential oils click HERE.
Easter and Eggs. Rebirth. Resurrection. Eternal life. Spring. Baby chicks. Bunnies. Asparagus. Hollandaise. Macaroons.
Last week I bought a giant bunch of gorgeous asparagus, and made several batches of hollandaise sauce to adorn it. So delicious and an easy way to get choline rich egg yolks, and CLA rich butter into our diet. Only using the egg yolks in hollandaise left me with a jar of egg whites. In the past that used to mean that an angel food cake was in my future, but now that I steer clear of gluten, I came up with a new plan.
6 Egg whites
2/3 cup honey
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 cups unsweetened wide flake coconut (if you want to read more about the many health benefits of coconut click here)
Into my vitamix (which serves me very well, but you could do this in a mixer or with a bowl and a whiskl) I put the egg whites. I blended on low power for a minute or so, then drizzled in the honey while it was on. I kept blending for another minute or so. The point is not to “beat the egg whites” into a meringue, but they did become smooth, silky and well blended. Add the salt and vanilla until incorporated. Pour the egg white mixture over your coconut (in a bowl) and mix by hand. Let this “batter” sit in the refrigerator for 30 min or more. It will stiffen up a bit and make it easier to shape into cookies. Try not to keep opening the refrigerator door to sample the mixture (like I did). I hear raw egg whites are not good for you. To shape the cookies you can scoop them with a small ice cream scoop, or use a tablespoon, or do it with your hands (I did), but the idea is to press the coconut together with some enthusiasm. The will tend to want to fall apart. I greased the baking sheet with coconut oil, but parchment paper or a silpat would have been much better. Bake in a low oven (I have a convection oven, so mine was at 250 degrees-if you have a regular oven try 300) until they are all toasty brown. After you take them out of the oven let them cool on the cookie sheet. If you try to move them right away they will fall apart. After they cooled I found they were difficult to get off the pan, even though I greased it. So I (pretty pleased with my brilliance) gently heated the bottom of the cookie sheet on a burner for just a few seconds and they came right off. I was quite delighted with how they came out. Chewy, sweet, perfect. Enjoy! I could imagine instead of balls, you could shape them into little nests to hide a chocolate egg or a dollop of lemon curd.
Anybody who has been hanging around me lately has gotten an earful about this book. Integral to my philosophy of medicine is that mental/emotional wellness and overall health are inseparable. As a naturopath, I believe in the healing power of nature. I do not use or prescribe pharmaceutical drugs without carefully considering and exhausting other options first. But even the lens of my bias against drugs did not prepare me for the shocking revelations in Robert Whitaker’s well researched book Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. His exhaustive investigative journalism exposes vast depths of untruths and myths that we have been force fed by the pharmaceutical industry. He set out to find out why the number of mentally ill adults and children has skyrocketed in the last fifty years, at the same time that we’ve been told of newer, more efficacious psychotropic drugs with fewer side effects- a veritable “psychopharmacological revolution”. “Every day, 850 adults and 250 children with a mental illness are added to the government disability rolls.” Whitaker systematically takes the reader through this historical introduction of drug after drug, from anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants, ADHD meds, mood stabilizing drugs for bipolar disorder, and psychotropic drugs used to manage schizophrenia. Anyone who lived through the 1980’s and 90’s remembers hearing the message that mental illness is a “chemical imbalance in the brain” and that these new drugs can correct the imbalance. Whitaker exposes that claim which has no scientific support. In fact he makes the case that the drugs are causing a chemical imbalance, which then makes it difficult when patients try to discontinue the drugs. It turns out that when the outcomes research is studied, patients maintained on psychotropic medications do worse than unmedicated folks. Most alarming are the numbers of children as young as 2 years old who are being prescribed these medications. According to Whitaker, mental illness has never been shown to have a biological basis, as was claimed, and research about poor outcomes and poor efficacy was buried by the drug companies. It’s a compelling read. It reveals an important perspective on mental health. These days all of our lives are touched by some loved one who struggles with depression, anxiety, ADHD, or other mental health issues. Anatomy of an Epidemic should be required reading for patients and physicians.
I’ve been doing a little hibernating lately. It only seems appropriate during the shortest days of the year, and in soggy Portland. My menu these days reflects my desire for warming, grounding, nourishing foods.
Chicken and root vegetables in white wine
Into my dutch oven start some chicken thighs cooking in white wine, added golden beets, turnips, parsnips, celeriac, rutabaga, garlic cloves. Simmer in white wine with bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary, peppercorns, whole fennel seed, and a can of diced tomatoes, until the chicken falls off the bone, and the roots are tender.
Eat up and then go back to your good book by the fire!
Grain Free Goji Berry Granola
I wanted to find a solution to what to eat with greek yogurt when I need a quick and easy snack/dessert. Having discovered that I am much healthier and happier when I avoid grains in my diet, I’ve been missing my homemade granola.
Into a bowl I started tossing seeds and such. Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chopped almonds, fennel seeds, ground cinnamon. I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter and honey together, and tossed with the seeds until they were coated.
Next I spread it out on a sheet tray and baked in a slow oven (300) until toasty and almost done. Then I added some large flake coconut and put it back in the oven for a few minutes (watch it closely!) until toasty brown.
After the mixture cooled, I added a few handfuls of dried goji berries (AKA wolfberries). While I don’t usually indulge in dried fruit because it delivers such a big shot of sugar, goji berries have actually been helpful in balancing blood sugar, they are high in antioxidants, and protect the brain and the eyes. If you are interested in reading more about goji berries click here.
Store in an airtight container. Eat as a snack or sprinkled on greek yogurt with berries. Mmmmm.
Still on my domestic roll here:
Grain Free Banana Raspberry Muffins
Makes 10 large muffins
1 banana, mashed up in the eggs
vanilla (I used a lot- like 2-3 tablespoons. yes, really!)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons coconut butter, melted (not coconut oil, but the actually fleshy buttery coconut spread-really hard at room temperature, but delicious and spreadable if you heat it up)
1/2 cup honey, melted
Mix together the wet ingredients.
1 cup whole, raw almonds
1/2 cup coconut flour
Grind finely in food processor.
1/4 cup flax seeds
Add to wet ingredients.
Mix together and add frozen berries of your choice. I used raspberries, and I put in about 1 cup and a half. Fresh berries would work too, but it is January.
Spoon into buttered muffin pan, bake at 325 until done. I know, that’s skirting the issue. But it’s true! You want to check them after about 15 minutes and see how they are coming along. Then every 10 min or so after that. You can tell that they are done when they are browned on top, maybe cracking a little, come out of the muffin tin easily. By all means, break one open and test it!
These muffins are high in protein, good fats, and fiber. And fairly low in sugar. They keep well and are a handy snack to have around! I’m going back to my den now!
I love my pumpkin pie, but I am determined this year to not have regrets about what I ate over the holidays! How many times do I need to learn that the recovery time is not really worth the few bites of gluten laden decadence? For those of you looking for a delicious alternative to feeling regret, read on! I started with a real pumpkin because my CSA gives them to me! But working with canned pumpkin is just fine too. The only thing is you won’t have the yummy roasted pumpkin seeds to snack on while you are waiting for the pie to cool!
Start by baking a pumpkin, if that’s your plan.
Scoop out the guts and seeds of the pumpkin.
Bake face down on a sheet pan at 350 degrees until soft. Let cool before scooping the flesh out of the shell into a measuring cup.
Meanwhile, separate the pumpkin guts from the pumpkin seeds. Rinse the seeds and roast with a little oil (I used delicious, nutritious coconut oil which I got here) until you hear popping sounds coming from the oven. They should be crunchy and irresistible, especially with good salt. Pumpkin seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition. Known to be a good source of minerals including zinc and magnesium as well as protein and essential fatty acids. Research suggests they are useful for prostate health, bone density, parasites, arthritis and healthy blood lipids. Find out more here.
In a food processor make the crust:
3/4 cup raw pecans or pumpkin seeds (grind ‘em up real good in the food processor)
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 tsp good salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 free range egg
Process dry stuff, add the coconut oil and process. Then add egg and pulse until it comes together. It will be sticky.
Press into a pie plate or tart pan. Freeze for 15-20 minutes, then bake for 20 minutes at 325 degrees until lightly browned.
Next mix up the filling in the food processor:
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup (or less)
1/2 tsp good salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
pinch of cayenne
pinch of ground cloves
1 can coconut milk (not LITE)
Blend everything together until it is a smooth puree. Pour into partially baked pie crust. Tap to release bubbles.
Bake 45-55 minutes at 325. Be sure to let it cool before you serve it.
Delicious ending to a healthy fall meal, but honestly it makes a darn good breakfast too!