The system of exercises we have developed for adults in the Brainercize series are organized around the following functions of the brain: memory (Rememberercize) , imagination (Imagercize), the five senses (Sensercize), emotions (Limbercize), and movement (Movercize). Because the brain for young children is structurally different than for adults, and thus their learning needs are different, there is an additional category for them: imitation (Mirrorcize). Classes for both adults and children are based on these categories of brain stimulation. Adult classes are one hour. Children’s classes are 45 minutes.
The Intensive Brainercize classes address specific brain templates that create dysfunctions that we generally experience as psychological in origin: fear and anxiety; depression; temper; worry and obsessiveness; impulsivity. In the Intensive classes, we learn which part of the brain is correlated with which dysfunction.
Each month we offer an extended class called Brainathon. It lasts 3 hours.
Each class also provides essential information on how to continue your Brainercize program at home. Topics such as brain nutrient supplementation, brain voyaging and brain dreaming are covered in short but informative talks.
Memory is emphasized above all else in Brainercize because memory is the mother of all brain functions. Whenever anything goes wrong with the brain, memory is the first system that is affected. Any fluctuation in mental state–depression, anxiety, stress–will negatively impact on the brain’s memory systems. Similarly, following brain injury, memory is often lost.
The brain uses different strategies to store and retrieve data. There are several exercises we do for memory, but here is one exercise that stands head and shoulders above all others. It is called sequential processing, and it is core to our entire program. Most commonly, sequential processing is evaluated through the administration of a quick test of digit span capacity. Digit span is the measure of how many digits can be taken in through the eyes or ears and repeated in correct order. It is a memory test, asking the performer to utilize a specific memory system in the brain that we call short-term memory. It is performed most simply in the form of a tester saying 3 to 7 numbers at one-second intervals, and asking the applicant to repeat back the numbers.
Digit span is an accurate representation of our ability to process information because it directly measures the capacity we have in our auditory and visual short-term memory systems. Used in this way, digit span is thought to give one measure of innate intellectual ability. Sequential processing is included in all IQ tests because numerous research projects have documented that the ability to repeat random items back (usually numbers) is highly correlated with intelligence.
In Brainercize, we use the sequential processing ability as a diagnostic indicator, as it has been used classically for several decades. But we also use it as a tool, an exercise that actually improves cognitive skills. All of our clients do our sequential processing exercises–from those who are highly gifted to those who are cognitively impaired. The training we give in sequential processing elicits blood flow to the areas of the brain that are crucial for memory.
Data on the power of imagination stunned researchers. They found that imagining an act engages the same motor and sensory programs in the brain that are involved in actually performing the act. Imagination is not some ethereal, immaterial entity, cut off from the material brain, as we are used to thinking about it. Rather, everything our immaterial mind imagines leaves material traces, a physical signature in the brain. One of the early experiments on this phenomenon was done by Alvero Pasccual-Leone of Harvard Medical School. He taught groups of people how to play a passage on notes on the piano. One group was taught on the piano, two hours a day for five days. The other group learned to play in their imagination; they similarly rehearsed two hours a day for five days, but the rehearsal was only mental. The mental practice produced the same brain changes and the same level of accuracy of playing as the actual practice.
All of us practice mental rehearsal. Students do it when they are studying for a test; adults do it when they are preparing for a presentation. But because few of us do it systematically, we underestimate its effectiveness. In the Imagercize exercises, we use our imagination to unleash previously unused powers of our brain. Because so much of so many of our adult lives involve rote and routine procedures, for many, this is the most fun part of the Brainercize program.
Associative memories allow us to use what we already know in order to learn what we don’t know. Old memories, then, become the building blocks for new learning. The exercises performed in the Sensercize part of the program teaches us to relate all new data to existing memories. The more familiar hooks we can hang onto a new fact, the more likely we are to recall it. Memory is stored in many parts of the brain: smells in one place, colors in another; touch and sounds all exist in different arrays of brain cells. Any one of those components can be stimulated to trigger a reconstruction of the multi-sensory richness of an event.
An excellent program for building brain versatility is by presenting it with non-routine experiences using various combinations of the five senses: vision, hearing, taste, touch and smell. The trick is to create as many possible triggers as we can by bringing as many associations as we can, utilizing different senses. Exposing the brain to random and unusual combinations of sensory input stimulates patterns of neural activity that create more connections between the areas of the brain. In addition, the exposure causes nerve cells to produce natural brain nutrients, called neurotrophins, which increase the size and complexity of nerve cell dendrites. With an increased production of neurotrophins, cells are made stronger and more robust to damage.
We call this set of exercises Limbercize because the Limbic system in the brain houses the emotions and feelings. According to Jill Bolte Taylor (author of My Stroke of Insight), emotions have a biochemical lifespan of a mere 90 seconds. This lifespan of emotions represents a typical neurological reflex in the circuitry of the brain. Instead of engaging muscle tissue, the synaptic connections are merely between neurons, thus making the reflexive connection even faster than if any muscle tissue were involved. A feeling is triggered, chemicals representing the emotion then surge through the body and gives a physiological experience. Yet, these chemicals are completely flushed out of the bloodstream within 90 seconds. If you continue to feel the feeling (say, anger, or frustration or disappointment) beyond the 90 seconds, it is because you have chosen to stay with that particular neuro-circuitry. The memory of an emotion can last for an hour or a day; but sometimes it lasts for decades, and continues to impede our growth throughout our adult life. Yet, the choice of what to feel can be made conscious, and thus changed. Exercises are chosen in the Limbercize part of the program that allow us to release and be set free from old, damaging emotions.
Abundant research supports the fact that exercise helps to grow brain cells. Specifically, it is thought that voluntary exercise increases the number of neural stem cells that divide and give rise to new neurons in the hippocampus. One study showed that even as little as a 50 minute walk, three times a week, resulted in better cognitive scores, and the effect lasted for a full year after the exercise program was stopped. Another study concluded that people who were physically active had a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of developing dementia than people who were inactive. Researcher Darla Castelli found a strong association between aerobic fitness and performance on standardized testing, grades, and other measures of cognitive performance.
In the Movercizes part of our program, we do specific movement exercises that research has documented to increase brain functionality.
Humans are hard-wired to learn through imitation. Learning by imitation occurs from the simplest pre-verbal communications to children to the most complex adult expertise. We have an actual physiological mechanism in the brain, called “mirror neurons” that allows us to imitate and to learn through the act of observation. Children are particularly adept at learning through copying what they see. They activate their mirror neurons in such diverse tasks as learning to feed themselves to learning how to tie their own show-laces. The mirror neurons are also responsible for the important human emotion of empathy. It is through this natural human emotion that people learn to care for each other and to survive as a civilization. As well, mirroring what we see – on the levels of attitudes, emotions and behavior – is one mechanism through which we collectively bequeath the tradition of music, the arts, and sports from one generation to the next. In Brainercizing, we provide clear behavioral signals–through hand dancing and other activities–that are stimulating to brain development in children and augment constructive social interaction.