But­ter­flies helped me to re­train my brain

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY BEV­ER­LEY D’SILVA An ideal brain map is all white; mine had splodges

I’M WATCH­ING a video of but­ter­flies flit­ting above a field of flow­ers. I’m star­ing hard at them, will­ing them to fly down on to the blooms be­low. Cov­er­ing my scalp is a ma­trix of sen­sors, which are con­nected to a com­puter. When­ever the but­ter­flies set­tle on the flow­ers — ping! — my brain is re­warded via the sen­sors, which cre­ate pos­i­tive new neu­ral path­ways. My brain un­der­stands this as: “Yes! I got it right!”

At Brain­Works, in Lon­don’s Clerken­well, I am un­der­go­ing neu­ro­feed­back — a non-in­va­sive train­ing tech­nique or “struc­tured ex­er­cises for your brain”. My ther­a­pist is Brain­Works’ co-founder, Christina Lavelle. The ther­apy, she says, can be used for many rea­sons: from in­creas­ing peak per­for­mance or at­ten­tion and co-or­di­na­tion, to al­le­vi­at­ing emo­tional prob­lems, from anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion to post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. Ad­dic­tions and sleep prob­lems can also be ad­dressed.

While the treat­ment is still gain­ing aware­ness and ac­cep­tance here, it is an es­tab­lished prac­tice in Amer­ica and other parts of Europe, such as Ger­many and Swe­den.

So how does neu­ro­feed­back work? “The aim is to iden­tify what is block­ing a client’s way,” says Christina. “Then we de­sign a brain-train­ing pro­gramme to help them re­shape their brain and achieve their goals.” Neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes, emo­tions and be­hav­iours can be ad­dressed and the re­sults can be last­ing if not per­ma­nent.

My fears that it might “take over” my mind were al­layed by the fact that any changes are grad­ual and care­fully mon­i­tored and side-ef­fects are min­i­mal, maybe fa­tigue in the ini­tial stages (as with any new learn­ing ac­tiv­ity).

Be­fore start­ing, my brain was charted with a QEEG (state of mind) brain map, con­nected via those sticky pads or sen­sors, to lis­ten to the brain’s elec­tri­cal im­pulses and show up prob­lem ar­eas. An “ideal” di­a­gram would be all white, whereas my brain showed splodges of red and green — in­di­ca­tions of in­flam­ma­tion and anx­i­ety (or “neu­rotic chat­ter”).

As some­one who suf­fers with stom­ach prob­lems and who lives in Lon­don, with all its stresses, this was no great sur­prise to me, but I was glad to hear that neu­ro­feed­back could help im­prove that.

Clients have t o help them­selves too — be­ing aware that good nutri­tion nour­ishes the brain, while al­co­hol, sugar and junk food de­tract from clear think­ing and co­or­di­na­tion.

The ther­apy it­self was pleas­ant and pain­less: be­sides the but­ter­flies game, I viewed films on na­ture, land­scapes and cul­tural sites. These are shown in slow-mo­tion or slightly skewed so the brain ad­justs what it sees and is ad­justed by the sen­sors.

Christina com­mented from time to time on my beta (awake and pro­cess­ing) and al­pha (awake and re­laxed) brain­waves; thank­fully I never slid into a delta (deep sleep) state.

The treat­ment promised pos­i­tive, mea­sur­able re­sults in most cases, so I was keen to note the changes. Af­ter six ses­sions, Christina showed me a re­vised snap­shot of my brain; the

The brain’s elec­tri­cal im­pulses can be mapped to show prob­lems in­flam­ma­tion and neu­rotic chat­ter had re­duced, to maybe a third of what they’d been at the out­set. In fact, my hus­band and friends had no­ticed that I seemed calmer and “less flappy”, which in turn had helped my stom­ach.

Four ses­sions on, I no­ticed another in­ter­est­ing change. I had been go­ing to a dance class for years. Although our teacher, Ali­son, is bril­liant and pa­tient, I had never picked up the moves easily or quickly. I just was not a nat­u­ral, I told my­self.

Then one day she called across the dance class: “Where have you been prac­tis­ing, Bev­er­ley?” And at the next class, Ali­son said to me: “You used to dance as a child, didn’t you?”

I didn’t, but I had be­come aware my foot­work was bet­ter, I was more co-or­di­nated and I was learn­ing the moves faster, and with less ef­fort. My class­mates no­ticed a dif­fer­ence, too. I’d like to take the credit for it, but I sus­pect it was the neu­ro­feed­back that im­proved my danc­ing. I may never be Ein­stein — but there could be hope for me on Strictly yet!


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