Tag: Mind

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Four months ago I began babysitting my granddaughter three days a week while her parents headed to work. Both physical therapists, my daughter and son-in-law have great jobs, ones for which they are well trained and that they enjoy. Fortunately, as a retiree though also a volunteer to vast entities, I knew I could scramble up the free time to accept this wonderful prospect: bonding with my little sweetheart.

I am willing to sacrifice many items when it comes to helping others, but exercise is not one of them. Yes, I would probably give it up a little if I could not otherwise care for my granddaughter, but… Having started running in college, 45 years later it is a vital part of life, along with swimming, walking, and gardening. Oh, yes, there is all of the other “stuff” I do as well like playing the piano and writing, but a day without exercise is stifling, non-productive, and exhausting. So right before I began my babysitting stint I checked out the local running trails and paths and was pleased to find a terrific variety just steps from the kids’ front door. However, knowing that during the winter roads might be slick and that darkness might force cancellation, I headed toward a local fitness club to check out the facilities.

Friendly staff immediately led me on an extensive tour of the fitness equipment, swimming pools, and other predominant features of the gym and then they handed me a list of classes also available. I scanned the list when my eyes lit on “Yoga”. Two of my sisters swear by their yoga sessions, always encouraging me to give it a whirl. But time and other obligations have prevented me taking them up on this idea. Until now, that is. Opportunity and timing are in synch and so mornings include rigorous activity and also a smattering of yoga.

My first day in yoga class I was completely lost. I didn’t know a thing about mats and blocks let alone any of the movements or their names. Luckily, a gentleman led me to the equipment area and made recommendations. I then proceeded with my bundle to a dark, unobtrusive corner of the room, hoping to become invisible as I learned the ropes of my new endeavor. Knowing that I had to leave class a little early so that I could be home to assume Grandma duties, I did not want to interrupt, if possible, during my exit. Soon our instructor strode into the room, greeting familiar faces and smiling at the newbie. Following the rest of the class, I folded myself into sitting position and then mimicked the group as we moved through a number of positions. I found it very interesting and I was also shocked to realize how stiff and rigid some parts of my body had become. But I survived, and returned the next morning.

Yoga is slow, sustained movement with lots of stretching and repositioning back and arms and legs and necks and every other vital body part. The biggest problem I encountered was the slow part. After all, I am a runner and a swimmer. Can you fathom what it is like to move in a sloth-like format for 60 minutes? You who are of the pent-up energy type will understand my frustration and edginess. But I was committed to improving posture and flexibility and so I returned week after week, glimpsing progress with each session. I was moving better. However, I would not say that I was happy or content. Just dedicated.

And then the day finally arrived. It was a week when I had been able to attend four sessions and by the third day I was getting into the groove. Our class of 30-35 was only about 15 that day so our instructor had us get belts to hook onto the wall, then wrap the belt around our waists. Next we slung one leg over the belt and twisted forward, securely held and thus prevented from unwanted face-plants, we began to glide. We swept up with hands waving above our heads then swooshed downward with fingers touching our toes. Up and down and up and down …

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Interested in improving your attention, memory, thinking skills, ability to manage stressful situations? Good news: “Recent research in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change in response to information and new activities – shows that brain cells and new pathways continue to develop throughout life…”, say mainstream newspapers like the New York Times, who are increasing their coverage on the growing movement of “brain training” games and technologies.

An article titled “Mind Over Matter, With a Machine’s Help” provides a great overview on how to combine cognitive therapy with fMRI (an advanced neuroimaging technique that enables movie-like visual feedback on what areas of the brain are getting activated). Another article, titled “Calisthenics for the Older Mind, on the Home Computer”, reviews a number of commercial software packages.

I have interviewed 10 neuroscientists and experts in cognitive and emotional training to better understand the research behind this field and the implications for our lives. Let me share with you some of my favorite quotes:

1) “Learning is physical. Learning means the modification, growth, and pruning of our neurons, connections-called synapses- and neuronal networks, through experience…we are cultivating our own neuronal networks.”- Dr. James Zull, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at Case Western University.

2) “Exercising our brains systematically ways is as important as exercising our bodies. In my experience, “Use it or lose it” should really be “Use it and get more of it”.- Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, neuropsychologist, clinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine, and disciple of the great neuropsychologist Alexander Luria.

3) “Individuals who lead mentally stimulating lives, through education, occupation and leisure activities, have reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms. Studies suggest that they have 35-40% less risk of manifesting the disease”- Dr. Yaakov Stern, Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York.

4) “What research has shown is that cognition, or what we call thinking and performance, is really a set of skills that we can train systematically.” – Dr. Daniel Gopher, Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Human Factors Engineering at Technion Institute of Science.

5) “Elite performers are distinguished by the structuring of their learning process…You need to protect and optimize that practice, learning time… It is important to understand the role of emotions: they are not “bad”. They are very useful signals. It is important to become aware of them to avoid being engulfed by them, and learn how to manage them.” – Dr. Brett Steenbarger, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, SUNY Medical University, and author of Enhancing Trader Performance.

6) “We have shown that working memory can be improved by training” – Dr. Torkel Klingberg, Professor at Karolinska Institute, and Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, part of the Stockholm Brain Institute.

7) “I don’t see that schools are applying the best knowledge of how minds work. Schools should be the best place for applied neuroscience, taking the latest advances in cognitive research and applying it to the job of educating minds.” – Dr. Arthur Lavin, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western School of Medicine, pediatrician in private practice.

If you are interested in learning more about this exciting field of “brain fitness” and “brain exercise”, please keep tuned. Over the next weeks we will publish new interviews with:

– Dr. Judith S. Beck, Director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and author of The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person.

– Dr. Robert Sylwester, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon. His most recent book is The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy. The Education Press Association of America has given him two Distinguished Achievement Awards for his syntheses of cognitive science research.

Now you know: Nutrition, Physical Exercise and Stress Management are very important to your brain health and fitness, but you can also exercise and improve your “Mental Muscles”!

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Source by Alvaro Fernandez

Unlocking the Mind Muscle Connection

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Because of the repetitive nature of a lot of fitness routines it is common that people do not actually focus on the motions of the exercises, but instead zone out by thinking about what they will eat for dinner or plug into their iPod.

Does this sound like the approach you use to exercising? If so then it is very likely that you are not getting the most out of your work out sessions. There is something that you need to be aware of that is relevant to anyone working out on a regular basis, yet it is not something commonly known. The concept is called the mind muscle connection, unlocking this connection will allow you to increase the effectiveness of every single exercise that you do by harnessing more muscular power through focus and concentration on the motions you are doing.

Understanding the connection

You already know that there must be some type of connection between the mind and the muscles in order for movement to take place. However in the context of physical exercise, focusing this connection can be used to stimulate your muscles so that you harness the full potential. This involves contracting your muscles in isolation to each other and really focusing on the muscle that is used for a particular motion.

Part of the equation is blood flow and muscle fibre stimulation, when the mind knows you are about to use a particular muscle it floods it with additional blood and the muscle fibres are stimulated in order to prep the muscle for contraction. The extent to which this happens can be enhanced through focusing on the specific muscles which will be used for the motion that’s about to take place

Another part of the equation is tapping into your subconscious. Before you can do this you must first believe that the subconscious can actually help you. For example, consider the following scenario; you buy a new pair of trainers that are expensive and were advertised to improve your running performance. Subsequently, you manage to consistently run an extra 25% further on your jogging sessions for the next month. Is this a result of the trainers or something else? While you would like to believe it is the trainers, it is actually your subconscious giving you an extra boost. The development of a strong mind muscle connection, involves allowing your subconscious to help you push through pain barriers which in turn lets you gain access to higher levels of physical performance.

How to go about developing your mind muscle connection

Consider the bicep curl, this common exercise typically involves lifting a dumbbell by contracting your bicep. However after an exhaustive number of reps do you feel that the tension mostly appears in the hands, shoulders or even your back? To overcome this issue you need to focus on your bicep muscle as the bicep curl is taking place. Firstly, visualize the contraction before it happens and then really focus on it once you are in motion.

A very common mind muscle connection development technique involves “posing”, which is most effectively done in front of a mirror. Here the idea is to contract the individual muscles of the body at will. The mirror helps you get feedback on how the muscle is transforming as you are contracting it. This is recommended as the first step to developing a solid connection.

The next step after posing would be to use a slow motion reps technique. This involves doing your usual reps, but at a very slow speed and lower weight or resistance setting. While at the same time concentrating very hard on the muscle contractions as they are happening. After doing this for a period of 2 to 3 months, you can begin to incorporate the habits developed by the mind muscle connection into your usual fitness routine and reap the benefits.

Is this extra work really necessary for my fitness routine?

For people exercising on a regular basis, getting fit is important, but being able to do it whilst not sacrificing too much free time is considerably more so. This means time spent doing workouts needs to be as efficient as possible. Which includes working …

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