Neurogenesis new brains all around
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.