Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis new brains all around

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - Dish­pan Hands Sheila Quinn

For the last year, doc­u­men­tary film­maker Al­bert Neren­berg and Joey Kasz (Joy­ful) have been work­ing on a project re­lated to 'neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis', oth­er­wise known as brain growth. This month, in West Bolton, the pair are lead­ing a sec­ond re­treat re­lated to the con­cept.

'The East­ern Town­ships is made for Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, brain stim­u­la­tion,’ said Neren­berg. 'You want na­ture. Fresh air, chang­ing ter­rain, and a host of po­ten­tially stim­u­lat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, healthy food and novel ac­tiv­i­ties.'

Al­bert: 'There was an as­sump­tion for many years that the brain is fully formed by the late teens or twen­ties, and (he laughs) it's all down­hill from there. The think­ing pointed to adult brains be­ing on a downslide of de­cay and de­com­po­si­tion un­til death. What a de­press­ing idea!' Al­bert Neren­berg laughs again, and he knows a lot about laugh­ter, with sev­eral doc­u­men­taries (in­clud­ing 'Ex­treme Laugh­ter' and 'Laugh­ol­ogy') out from un­der his lens.

'What was any­one sup­posed to look for­ward to?'

Joey Kasz, also known as Joey Joy­ful, ex­plained that stud­ies have be­gin to demon­strate that it is pos­si­ble that our brains ac­tu­ally take about fifty years to grow - 'I'm on my sec­ond brain!' he laughs too, eas­ily and is as dis­arm­ing as Al­bert, 'My goal is to grow three over my life­time!' I'm the one laugh­ing this time.

Al­bert ex­plains that what makes a brain grow is con­sid­ered neu­ro­genic whereas what makes a brain shrink is neu­ro­toxic. 'Un­for­tu­nately, most peo­ple don't want to hear it, but some­thing like al­co­hol is a neu­ro­toxin.'

Joey pipes in, 'At­ti­tudes, diet, habits - we in­tu­itively know a lot of what is neu­ro­genic or neu­ro­toxic.'

Many of the stud­ies on the brain not grow­ing any fur­ther ap­pear to have just been, well, be­lieved. How could adult neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis ex­ist? There was no rea­son for the brain to con­tinue to grow. Re­searchers be­gan to see dif­fer­ently, how­ever, when changes in en­vi­ron­ments caused brain change in older an­i­mals. That prompted a cor­re­la­tion with the po­ten­tial for there be­ing the po­ten­tial for neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis in the adult hu­man brain.

In the last twenty years there has been a great deal of change and fo­cus on qual­ity of life in older age. Brain health and brain growth ac­tiv­ity has be­come a pop­u­lar fo­cus for youth, par­ents, ag­ing groups, in­clud­ing res­i­dences for the el­derly. A quick search on­line re­veals what seems like lim­it­less com­pa­nies and groups en­cour­ag­ing in­cor­po­rat­ing brain ac­tiv­ity with all ages.

Ini­tially, Al­bert and Joey were work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary (an on­go­ing project), yet they found that or­ga­niz­ing the first ever Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis Re­treat brought them to the sur­pris­ing re­al­iza­tion that ac­tu­al­iz­ing the neu­ro­genic ac­tiv­i­ties with an event, gath­er­ing a group to­gether, was re­ally FUN. Al­bert re­mem­bers a se­ries he wrote for The Gazette on 'the sci­ence of fun', 'When some­one was giv­ing a speech, if the per­son de­liv­ered the in­for­ma­tion in an un­pleas­ant way, those lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing al­most like a headache light­ing up the same part of the brain. How­ever, if the per­son used hu­mour to de­liver the con­tent, it was like a fire­work in the brain! Fun is brain-stim­u­lat­ing!'

The pair in­ter­viewed Brant Cor­tright, PHD, author of 'The Neu­ro­gen­ics Life­style - Up­grade Your Brain, Up­grade Your Life'. When they asked Cor­tright why he had put such time into syn­the­siz­ing the in­for­ma­tion in his book, he stated, 'I did this be­cause as a teacher of psy­chol­ogy at a univer­sity, I can ac­cess the stud­ies - but the pub­lic doesn't know!' Al­bert and Joey were in­spired to not sim­ply share the in­for­ma­tion in a doc­u­men­tary film, but also in the form of a re­treat.

Joey elab­o­rates, 'We wanted to span the gap be­tween peo­ple and the sci­ence - to show them easy ap­pli­ca­tions and habits that can be ap­plied to peo­ple's lives.'

The pair are ba­si­cally tak­ing the edge off of change. Ac­tiv­i­ties in their sec­ond re­treat, to be held Novem­ber 16th, 17th and 18th at a cot­tage in West Bolton, as well as in part each day at Spa Bolton, in­clude Laugh­er­cize, Ac­tor­cize, eye gaz­ing, REM hyp­no­sis, im­prov and time at the Bolton Spa, among other ac­tiv­i­ties. Ac­tiv­i­ties are de­signed to flow smoothly, and last ap­prox­i­mately thirty min­utes - al­low­ing peo­ple who feel less in­spired by one ac­tiv­ity to look for­ward to other el­e­ments to come.

Twelve dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments at the spa lend them­selves well to the con­cept of change stim­u­lat­ing one's brain. 'We made this re­treat en­joy­able to cre­ate - and that re­ally avoided the stress as­so­ci­ated with bring­ing peo­ple to­gether for an ex­pe­ri­ence.'

Al­bert: 'One of our main rules in lead­ing these re­treats is that we could pro­pose an ac­tiv­ity, and then when par­tic­i­pants asked why it was neu­ro­genic, we would have in­for­ma­tion to ex­plain how it fit into brain growth.'

He con­tin­ues, 'We're both re­ally busy peo­ple - but it is so much bet­ter to share this ex­pe­ri­ence with neu­ro­gen­ics. There were things we didn't ex­pect. The 'tribal' bond of just be­ing to­gether through the ex­pe­ri­ence of learn­ing about brain growth was a re­ally heal­ing part of the process.'

Sleep is con­sid­ered a crit­i­cal part of the neu­ro­gen­ics process, and so the group ac­tiv­i­ties will start as of 11:00 a.m. on both Satur­day and Sun­day.

Part of the process in­volves per­se­v­er­ence in learn­ing to cope with mov­ing from discomfort to an­other process - in­clud­ing the eye gaz­ing ses­sions, some­thing many peo­ple are not com­fort­able with - and some are not able to main­tain for long enough to truly 'get' the ex­pe­ri­ence. The re­treat also in­cludes 'tap­ping', also known as Emo­tional Freedom Tech­nique, where par­tic­i­pants learn to tap out un­pleas­ant sen­sa­tions, such as anx­i­ety, or tap in pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences, such as a rev­e­la­tion. A Har­vard study con­cluded that this tap­ping tech­nique reached the amyg­dala, deep in the brain's me­dial tem­po­ral lobe, that plays a key role in the pro­cess­ing of emo­tions. An­other ac­tiv­ity (that sets most par­tic­i­pants to shiv­er­ing, just think­ing about it) is cold ex­po­sure. Joey and Al­bert use the Wim Hof method, based on the fa­mous Ice Man - a record-break­ing cold ex­po­sure ex­pert from Hol­land (the man who climbed Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in shorts). The idea is to learn how to light your meta­bolic 'in­ner fire'.

At the ini­tial re­treat there was an amaz­ing break­through for a par­tic­i­pant who claimed to have a cir­cu­la­tory con­di­tion, but who be­gan to re­spond to the very gen­tle process of cold ex­po­sure used by Al­bert and Joey. She de­cided to im­merse her­self at the foot of the wa­ter­fall at Spa Bolton, and said she would do so for ten sec­onds that she turned into SIXTY sec­onds un­der the cold water. The sense of alert­ness is pow­er­ful. Al­bert tells of how he closed his pool closer to the end of Oc­to­ber than the usual Septem­ber end date, tak­ing twenty minute morn­ing swims at 43 de­grees.

'We work on a lot of prepa­ra­tion be­fore the cold ex­po­sure ac­tiv­ity - and of course it's all strictly vol­un­tary!' Al­bert re­as­sures. 'Most of the ac­tiv­i­ties we un­der­take, peo­ple could learn on their own, but do­ing so in com­mu­nity is truly heal­ing.'

The re­treat in­volves ac­tion-based work­shops, in­cludes a neu­ro­genic diet - all healthy foods such as blue­ber­ries, wal­nuts, sal­ads, pro­mot­ing brain health over the course of the week­end.

For more in­for­ma­tion, please search Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis 2.0 on Face­book, where more de­tails on the event are fea­tured.

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